Antarctic Peninsula and the South Shetland Islands | Trip Itinerary
A typical itinerary to the Antarctic Peninsula with South Shetland Islands is illustrated below. All itineraries are for guidance only. Programs may vary depending on local ice and weather conditions, the availability of landing sites and opportunities to see wildlife. The final itinerary will be determined by the Expedition Leader on board. Flexibility is paramount for expedition cruises.
Day 1: Ushuaia - In the afternoon, we embark in Ushuaia, Tierra del Fuego, Argentina, the southernmost city in the world located at the Beagle Channel and sail through this scenic waterway for the rest of the evening.
Days 2 & 3: at sea - During these two days we sail across the Drake Passage. When we cross the Antarctic Convergence, we arrive in the circum-Antarctic up welling zone. In this area we may see Wandering Albatrosses, Grey Headed Albatrosses, Black- browed Albatrosses, Light- mantled Sooty Albatrosses, Cape Pigeons, Southern Fulmars, Wilson’s Storm Petrels, Blue Petrels and Antarctic Petrels. Near the South Shetland Islands, we spot our first icebergs.
Days 4 – 9: Antarctica:
We will sail directly to “High Antarctica”, passing the Melchior islands and the Schollaert Channel between Brabant and Anvers Island. On Cuverville Island, a small precipitous island, nestled between the mountains of the Antarctic Peninsula and Danco Island, we will find a large colony of Gentoo Penguins and breeding pairs of Brown Skuas. If we land on Danco Island we can observe Chinstrap Penguins and possibly Weddell and Crabeater Seals. In Neko Harbour we will have the opportunity to set foot on the Antarctic Continent in a magnificent landscape of huge glaciers calving at sea level. We enjoy the landscape surrounded by alpine peaks during zodiac cruises. In Paradise Bay again with its myriad icebergs and deep cut fjords, we have the opportunity to set foot on the Antarctic Continent again. We shall have the opportunity for zodiac cruising between the icebergs in the inner parts of the fjords. In this area we have good chances to see Humpback Whales and Minke Whales.
We sail through the spectacular Lemaire Channel to Pleneau and Petermann Island where we can find Adelie Penguins and Blue-eyed Shags. In this area there are good chances to encounter Humpback Whales, Minke Whales and Fin Whales. A visit to one of the scientific stations in Antarctica will give you an insight about the life of modern Antarcticans working on the White Continent. Further south we may visit the Ukrainian Vernadsky Station, where we will receive a warm welcome from the station crew. Sailing north through Neumayer Channel, we hope to get permission to visit the British research station and post office Port Lockroy on Goudier Island. Close to Port Lockroy we may also offer a landing on Jougla Point with Gentoo Penguins and Imperial Shags.
On our way North through the Gerlache Strait we finally arrive at the South Shetland Islands. We will sail to Deception Island. Our ship braves its entrance into the crater through the spectacular Neptune’s Bellow into the ring of Deception Island. We hope for a good long walk and kayak trip which will depend on site availability and weather conditions.
Deception is a sub-ducted crater, which opens into the sea, creating a natural harbor for the ship. Here we find hot springs, an abandoned whaling station, thousands of Cape Pigeons and many Dominican Gulls, Brown and South Polar Skuas and Antarctic Terns. Wilson’s Storm Petrels and Black-bellied Storm Petrels nest in the ruins of the whaling station in Whalers Bay.
We leave from here and sail to Half Moon Island, where we will find a variety of Chinstrap Penguins. Seals often haul out on the beach. These volcanic islands of the South Shetlands are windswept and often shrouded in mist and fog, but do offer subtle pleasures. There is a nice variety of flora (mosses, lichens and flowering grasses) and fauna, such as Gentoo Penguins, Chinstrap Penguins and Southern Giant Petrels.
Our voyage continues through a narrow Strait to the open sea with direction Ushuaia.
Days 10 – 11: at sea - On our way north we are again followed by a great selection of seabirds while crossing the Drake Passage.
Day 12: Ushuaia - We arrive in the morning in Ushuaia and disembark.
B=Breakfast, L=Lunch, D=Dinner
The Antarctic Peninsula is part of the Antarctic Continent and is the southern continuation of the mountain chain that runs from North America through South America into the Scotia Sea. Here it continues as a mainly sub-marine ridge, the Scotia Ridge, until it comes above sea-level at the northern tip of the Antarctic Peninsula. The peninsula consists of an 800 kilometres (500 mile) long mountain chain, the highest peaks rising to approximately 2,800 metres (9,186 feet), and numerous off-lying islands. The Peninsula offers the most dramatic scenery and biggest variety of wildlife in Antarctica. Visitors are easily overcome by sensory overload by the huge amount of ice-bergs, glaciers, high mountains and the abundant and tame wildlife.
The history of discovery runs parallel to that of the South Shetland Islands. Here, exploitation was again the major force behind the early explorations. Nowadays the Antarctic Peninsula is protected by the Antarctic Treaty, which has been signed by 46 countries. The signatory parties have agreed to abstain for 50 years from recognizing, disputing, or establishing territorial sovereignty claims. The parties also agreed to set aside Antarctica as a scientific preserve, established freedom of scientific investigation and banned military activity on the continent.
Antarctica can boast several records with relation to climate. It is the coldest, driest and windiest continent on earth. Although the Antarctic Peninsula is part of the continent it does not show these extremes. During the Austral summer temperatures as high as 15°C (59°F) have been recorded at the west side of the peninsula, however, the average temperature is around 2°C (36°F). Although blue skies and calm weather are common in the sheltered bays and channels, cold katabatic winds, caused by cold air accelerating under gravity from icecaps and glaciers, pick-up quickly and form a strong opponent for the Antarctic traveller.
Flora and Fauna
In the southern summer the large ice-free areas at the peninsula's north-west coast provide breeding grounds for large numbers of seabirds such as petrels, skuas and four species of penguins. On beaches and ice-flows nasty Fur Seals, sheepish Crabeater Seals, ferocious Leopard Seals and friendly Weddell Seals can be seen in abundance. In the waters around the Peninsula Fin Whales, Humpback Whales, Minke Whales and Killer Whales are common.
Vegetation is scarce on the peninsula though. Besides abundant lichens and mosses the only higher plants are Antarctic Hairgrass and Antarctic Pearlwort.
Frequently Visited Places
- Cuverville Island, at the entrance of the beautiful Errera Channel. Surrounded by steep mountains and glaciers of the Antarctic mainland. The island has an extensive Gentoo Penguin colony. Both Antarctic plants also can also be found here. The waters around the island offer good zodiac cruising as ice-bergs often run aground nearby.
- Neko Harbour, named after a floating factory whaling ship that was once based here. Bordered on one side by spectacular glaciers this is a perfect place for a landing on the Antarctic Continent. Gentoo Penguins breed on the hill above the beach and Weddell Seals and Fur Seals often haul out.
- Paradise Bay is unequalled in its scenery. A true Antarctic paradise formed by the dozens of dramatic glaciers that drop down into the bay, the cathedral-like ice-bergs that run aground and the whales that frequent the bay. At the Argentine Almirante Brown Station the Antarctic Continent can be reached.
- Port Lockroy on Goudier Island. During the 2nd WW the British Forces build several secret stations in Antarctica. One of these was Base A at Port Lockroy. After the war the station became a scientific station until 1962. Now the station is restored and acts as a museum station and post-office.
- The narrow and spectacular Lemaire Channel. Surrounded by mountains and glaciers and a popular passage for several species of whales journeying up and down the sheltered Antarctic Peninsula waterways.
- Petermann Island, south of the Lemaire Channel. It has one of the most northerly Adélie Penguin colonies. Besides Adélie Penguins, Gentoo Penguins and Blue-eyed Shags breed on the beautifully located island.
- The Argentine Islands. Often the southernmost destination of our Antarctic Peninsula voyages. The small archipelago is located at Latitude 65º South. The Ukrainian research station Vernadskiy (previously the British Faraday Station) is based on Galindez Island and is often visited. Here can be seen how scientist live and work in the harsh Antarctic climate.
The South Shetland Islands is a 540 kilometre (335 miles) long chain of islands that is located about 800 kilometres (500 miles) from Tierra del Fuego and about 120 kilometres (75 miles) from the Antarctic Peninsula. The archipelago consists of 11 major islands and numerous smaller ones. They are mainly mountainous and more than 80% glaciated. The islands are of volcanic origin.
Although the islands might have been sighted before, the first recorded sighting is that of William Smith, a British sailor whose ship was blown off course while rounding Cape Horn in 1819. Soon after, seal hunters frequented the islands in search of Fur Seals. The Fur Seals were almost completely wiped out only a couple of years later. Nowadays the seals are totally protected, but today few Fur Seals are found breeding around the South Shetland Islands.
The South Shetland Islands are located at Latitude 62º South, which is still north of the Antarctic Circle. In fact they are almost at the same latitude as their northern counterparts, the Shetland and Orkney Islands of northern Scotland. The climate around the South Shetland Island is quite different though. Their location within the Antarctic Convergence and the proximity to the Antarctic Continent means that they have a much colder climate. Still, the islands are sometimes called "the Banana Belt" for their fairly mild climate in comparison with Antarctica proper. The average summer temperatures are about 1.5°C (35ºF). Snow, sleet and rain can be expected in summer.
Flora and Fauna
Several of the islands are home to seabirds such as petrels, skuas and penguins. Gentoo, Chinstrap, Adélie and even a couple of Macaroni Penguins breed on the islands. The marine mammals consist of species such as Crabeater Seal, Leopard Seal, Weddell Seal, Fin Whale, Humpback Whale, and the Southern Right Whale, a rich species list as the Southern Ocean contains the greatest quantity of animal protein on Earth and so is ideal for sea mammals.
Frequently Visited Places:
- Barrientos Island at the Aitcho Islands. The 1,5 kilometres (1 mile) long island is dominated by steep cliffs on which Giant Petrels breed. Several of the beaches are taken by Gentoo and Chinstrap Penguins and a gentle walk brings you to an Elephant Seal wallow.
- Deception Island, a unique island in the world. The ring-shaped island is in fact the top of a volcano, a caldera. On one side there is a narrow entrance through which ships can enter the crater. Below some of the beaches the seawater is heated geothermal by the still active volcano. In Whalers Bay the remains of an early 20th century whaling station can be seen.
- Hannah Point on Livingstone Island, a small but fantastic Antarctic zoo with high concentrations of penguins, petrels and seals. It is one of the few places where (a couple of) Macaroni Penguins breed in Antarctica. Access to Hannah is restricted for environmental reasons.
- Half Moon Island. The crescent shaped island lies close to Livingstone Island and is home to a colony of Chinstrap Penguins and Blue-eyed Shags. On the island a small Argentine station, Teniente Cámara, can be seen.
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