The spectacular Antarctic Peninsula is 600 miles south of Tierra del Fuego across the Drake Passage with impressive peaks such as Mount Owen, Mount Scott and Mount Jackson which are actually a continuation of the Andes. The north-western tip is ice-free for most of the year, making it the most accessible part of Antarctica, attracting vast colonies of penguins and seals and forming the feeding waters for whales. The Gerlache Strait is the centre-piece for most journeys into the western Antarctic Peninsula with stunningly beautiful scenery and an abundant richness of wildlife.
Most journeys set out from and return to Ushuaia spending a couple of days crossing the Drake Passage each way. Air-Cruise itineraries fly to the South Shetlands and travel to the Antarctic Peninsula from there. This avoids crossing the Drake Passage.
South Shetland Islands
The South Shetland Islands comprise a collection of 11 major islands including King George Island, Deception Island, Livingston Island and Elephant Island together with a number of minor ones. The South Shetlands are located around 60 miles northwest of the Antarctic Peninsula. Amongst the wildlife, there are colonies of chinstrap penguins, elephant seals breed on the beaches and humpback whales feed in the rich protected waters.
The quickest Antarctic air-cruise itineraries fly from Punta Arenas in Southern Chile to King George Island from where you board your expedition ship to the Antarctic Peninsula. Longer itineraries continue to the Falklands and some also include Elephant Island, which is best known as the place of refuge for Sir Ernest Shackleton’s crew after the loss and break up of the Endurance in 1916. Please note that landings on Elephant Island are difficult and not always possible.
Some of the longer trips to the western Antarctic Peninsula aim to navigate through the spectacularly beautiful narrow passage of Lemaire Channel and push further south to cross the Antarctic Circle. Between October and December the sea ice is too dense so such itineraries usually have to wait until January and February.
The Weddell Sea, on the eastern side of the Antarctic Peninsula, has a colder climate and more sea ice, making for more difficult navigation and unpredictable landings. But the sight of vast tabular glaciers (perhaps up to a mile in length) coming out of Antarctic Sound is truly breathtaking. Weddell and crabeater seals, humpback whales, killer and minke whales and adelie penguins abound.
Captain James Cook circumnavigated the island in 1775, made the first landing, claimed it for Great Britain and, for good measure, named it after King George III. South Georgia is 860 miles east-southeast of the Falkland Islands, the greatest breeding and feeding grounds for warm-blooded marine life. The island supports some 5 million fur seals, 100 million sea birds, around half the planet’s elephant seals and millions of penguins. The beach at Salisbury Plain alone is the breeding ground for half a million king penguins. Famously, after leaving his men at Elephant Island, Sir Ernest Shakleton reached South Georgia in dramatic journey in an open lifeboat and returned to rescue them. He is buried at Grytviken.
Each year a number of expedition cruises include a stop at the Falklands on a journey to South Georgia and/or on to Antarctica. These itineraries usually only stay for a day or two visiting such places as West Point Island, Carcass Island and Stanley. Amongst the birdlife are southern giant petrels, endemic Falkland steamer ducks, kelp and dolphin gulls, black-crowned night herons, red-backed hawks and peregrine falcons.
Please contact us to discuss longer tailor-made itineraries to the Falkland Islands, which we book either with flights from RAF Brize Norton or via Chile.
Every year there are just a few opportunities to travel to the Ross Sea from New Zealand. These tend to be much longer journeys (four weeks or more) and include the subantarctic New Zealand islands. Some itineraries include visits to the huts used by the explorers from the ‘heroic age’ of exploration, such as Captain Scott’s at Cape Evans, Shackleton’s at Cape Royds and Mawson’s at Cape Denison.
The Subantarctic Islands south of New Zealand in the great southern ocean that encircles Antarctica are havens for some of the most abundant and unique wildlife on the planet. They have all been declared Nature Reserves with World Heritage status. They comprise six groups: the Bounty Islands, the Antipodes, the Snares, the Auckland Islands, Campbell Island and Macquarie Island. Itineraries start and end in New Zealand’s South Island.
Antarctic Expedition Cruises
Most Antarctica itineraries start and end in Ushuaia, in southern Argentina, from where it is a day and a half’s journey to cross the Drake Passage to reach the Antarctic Peninsula.
The starting point for other itineraries is Punta Arenas, in Southern Chile with flights from there to Stanley in the Falklands, or to King George Island, in the South Shetlands.
If you don’t have good sea legs and want to avoid crossing the Drake Passage then the fly/cruise combination from Punta Arenas to and from King George Island is best.
We will book arrangements in Chile or Argentina at the start and end of your journey according to your needs.
Visits to Antarctica are governed by the provisions of the Antarctic Treaty under which ‘…Antarctica shall continue for ever to be used exclusively for peaceful purposes and shall not become the scene or object of international discord.’ Twelve countries signed the original treaty but today 53 nations are signatories to the accord. Of particular note are the Environmenal Protocols of 1991 concerning the protection of wildlife. Details can be found on the following website: www.iaato.org/visitor-guidelines.
We have outlinedthe range of ships that travel into Antarctica on our Expedition Cruises pages.