South Georgia and Antarctica: Double Cruise Mega-Expedition

Join Tropical Birding guides Iain Campbell, Alan Davies, and Ruth Miller on a stunning 26-day exploration of Antarctica and South Georgia! There are two back-to-back cruises, one to South Georgia, and the other to Antarctica. Join either or both; if both cruises are taken, a discount applies for bookings made before August 31st, 2019. There is also an optional land-based Tierra del Fuego extension before the South Georgia cruise.


SOUTH GEORGIA IN DEPTH – 6-21 November 2019

Please note that although our intention is to visit all of the areas listed below, the weather is extremely unpredictable in this region, and there may be situations where we are unable to land safely and visit all of the areas listed. This will be at the discretion of the experienced expedition leader who is skilled in operating in this region, and will always be accepted completely, as they understand best the risks of undertaking landings in various conditions.

South Georgia has rightly been called ‘the greatest wildlife show on Earth’ and after our in depth exploration of this remote island in the South Atlantic, we are certain you will agree. This seldom-visited corner of the planet is a place we know intimately and look forward to visiting every season. Even our experienced expedition staff, some with more than 100 journeys into the polar regions, cherish every visit to South Georgia. It really is that remarkable. Traditionally, our visits to South Georgia last only three or four days and are part of a much longer itinerary that also includes Antarctica. However, after many years of careful preparation and planning, we now offer the unique opportunity to spend eight full days of exploration. This is more than double the time traditionally spent exploring South Georgia. This particular departure is timed to coincide with the arrival of spring in the Sub-Antarctic region. Early November marks the beginning of the wildlife migration and commencement of the breeding cycle for many species. Scenes of male elephant seals battling for control of the beaches (and the female harems), the intimate and beautiful courtship rituals of the albatross and antics of the young penguin chicks, will have you believing you are ‘on the set’ of your very own wildlife documentary, not to mention the unbelievable spectacle of hundreds of thousands of King Penguins. While the soft light in the mornings and evenings adds to the colour palette for the photographers at this time of the season. For lovers of remote, small-ship expedition cruising, this voyage ticks all the boxes.

King Penguins in extraordinary numbers are the highlight of the tour for many
King Penguins in extraordinary numbers are the highlight of the tour for many (Nick Athanas)

DAY 0 – RECOMMENDED EARLY ARRIVAL IN USHUAIA (ARGENTINA) (TUESDAY, 05 NOVEMBER 2019)
We recommend arriving in Ushuaia at least one day prior to the scheduled voyage departure, or you might consider taking our pre-tour land-based Tierra del Fuego extension instead.

DAY 1 / USHUAIA (WEDNESDAY, 06 NOVEMBER 2019)
Our journey to Antarctica commences this afternoon in Ushuaia, in southern Argentina. We gather at our central meeting point and transfer to the pier and embark our expedition ship. After settling in to our cabins and exploring the ship, we meet our expedition team and fellow passengers. Excitement is in the air as we enjoy a welcome cocktail and dinner and cast off, bound for Antarctica and the adventure of a lifetime.

DAYS 2-4 / AT SEA – TOWARDS SOUTH GEORGIA
This stretch of the South Atlantic is rich in its bio-diversity and showcases an abundance of astonishing wildlife. We are joined by hundreds of seabirds including the wandering albatross. Giant petrels and smaller Cape petrels are also constant companions as make our way to South Georgia. Photographing these magnificent birds takes patience and skill and Iain Campbell will be on hand to show you the best techniques. Join the ship’s Captain on the bridge and learn about the operations of our modern research vessel. Throughout the day our onboard experts educate us with a series of presentations about the environment, wildlife and history of the locations we hope to visit in the coming days. History is a key theme of this voyage and the epic story of Shackleton is central to our journey.

Southern Royal Albatross
Southern Royal Albatross (Nick Athanas)

Cape Petrels often follow the ship during ocean crossings
Cape Petrels often follow the ship during ocean crossings (Nick Athanas)

DAYS 5-6 / KING HAAKON BAY & THE NORTHWEST COAST OF SOUTH GEORGIA
Majestic snow-covered mountains greet us on arrival in South Georgia. Weather permitting, we begin our exploration on the southern coastline. We hope to navigate the ship into the very historic location of King Haakon Bay. It was here that Shackleton and his men made landfall in their small lifeboat – the ‘James Caird’, after completing the perilous ocean crossing from Elephant Island, a century ago. This is a very dramatic place, visited by just a handful of ships each season. From here, we make our way around to the more protected waters of the north-eastern coast

King Penguins come onto shore, heading to the nest colony
King Penguins come onto shore, heading to the nest colony (Nick Athanas)

We can now indulge in an in-depth exploration, navigating into the bays and harbours the entire length of the island. Elsehul Bay allows for great Zodiac cruising and will be a possible location we will launch the kayakers for a paddle. One of the most anticipated sites in South Georgia is Salisbury Plain. The black sand beaches and tussock covered dunes are home to a staggering abundance of king penguin adults and their young. The rookery is estimated to have a population of up to 100,000 adult and juvenile penguins. This is just one of several such king penguin rookeries on South Georgia. At the height of breeding season, the rookeries are believed to have more wildlife per square foot than any other place on the planet. The majestic ‘Kings’ are not the only wildlife on display as we explore the rugged coastline. Fur seals can be seen poking their heads above the water, the elephant seals enjoy lazing about the beach, while the skuas and giant petrels fill the skies above. Meanwhile, the albatross – our constant companion on this journey – is never far away.

We should see good numbers of Gray-headed Albatrosses in and near South Georgia
We should see good numbers of Gray-headed Albatrosses in and near South Georgia (Nick Athanas)

DAYS 7-8 / FORTUNA BAY, STROMNESS, GRYTVIKEN & CENTRAL NORTH COAST
Fortuna Bay is a majestic three-mile long fjord. It was named after the ship ‘Fortuna’ – one of the original vessels of the Norwegian–Argentine whaling expedition which established the first permanent whaling station at Grytviken – further along the coast. History comes into sharp focus as we continue west to Stromness and onto Grytviken. From 1912 until the 1930s, Stromness (and nearby Leith and Husvik), operated as whaling stations and the rusted and ghostly remnants of these old stations seem out of place in such a pristine environment. This area is key to the Shackleton story and it was here in 1916, that Shackleton and his companions, Frank Worsley and Tom Crean, arrived after their epic mountain crossing from King Haakon Bay on the south coast. This is after having completed their 800-mile journey by small boat from Elephant Island in Antarctica. If the weather co-operates, we hope to hike in Shackleton’s footsteps, the last few miles across the saddle separating Fortuna Bay from neighbouring Stromness. Eventually we enter the broad expanse of Cumberland Bay, anchoring off Grytviken – the largest of the old whaling stations on South Georgia.

Glacial scenery near Grytviken
Glacial scenery near Grytviken (Nick Athanas)

DAYS 9-10 / ST ANDREWS BAY, GOLD HARBOUR & EASTERN COAST
Our next few days take us to St Andrews Bay and Gold Harbour – places that are teeming with wildlife including fur seals, elephant seals and massive colonies of the colourful king penguins. As with all of our landings we will exercise every opportunity to explore on foot with our experienced guides. Gold Harbour is so called because the sun’s rays make the cliffs yellow with their light in the morning and evening. It’s an exhilarating location. Drygalski Fjord at the far eastern extremity of the island has been called one of the most spectacular sites in South Georgia and we think you will agree.

King Penguins at Gold Harbour
King Penguins at Gold Harbour (Nick Athanas)

Snow Petrels are a highlight near the ice fields of Drygalski Fjord
Snow Petrels are a highlight near the ice fields of Drygalski Fjord (Nick Athanas)

A South Georgia Shag taking off near Prion Isle
A South Georgia Shag taking off near Prion Isle (Nick Athanas)

DAY 11 / GODTHUL & PRION ISLAND
Our exploration of South Georgia is not over and we navigate our way back along the northern coastline. There are a few special locations we have in mind – including the old whaling depot at Godthul. There is a terrific hike here up to a beautiful lake. Nearing the end of our visit to South Georgia, we hope to enjoy a shore landing at Prion Island – which many consider the jewel in the crown. This location has been designated as a ‘Special Protected Area’ by the South Georgia Government due to the breeding wandering albatross colonies at this location. Boasting the largest wingspan of any living bird, typically ranging from 2.5 to 3.5 m (8ft to 11ft), albatross spend most of their life in flight, landing only to breed and feed. Distances travelled each year are hard to measure, but one bird was recorded travelling 6000 km in just twelve days. We are exceptionally lucky to be able to attempt a landing here as the site is closed to visiting ships between late November and early January, due to the concentration of fur seals on the beaches. The boardwalks provide access to several observation platforms where we view nesting wandering albatross in close proximity. As we depart South Georgia, we pause to reflect on our time in this spectacular location and chart our return course towards the Falkland Islands.

We will try to land on Prion Island to see Wandering Albatrosses nesting up close
We will try to land on Prion Island to see Wandering Albatrosses nesting up close (Nick Athanas)

DAYS 12-15 / AT SEA TOWARDS FALKLAND ISLANDS
Our final days are spent catching up on journal entries, or perhaps downloading and reviewing photos in the multi-media lab. Tropical Birding’s Iain Campbell will be offering Photoshop help for anyone who needs it. For some, it’s a chance to catch some well-earned rest after a busy ten days of exploration. The wonderful lounge and bar on our ship provides fantastic panoramas and is a great place to sit with a book and a hot drink. The educational presentations continue and we enjoy an entertaining and memorable voyage recap by our Expedition Leader. A particular highlight of our return journey will be frequent sightings of the majestic albatross, petrels and other seabirds as they soar above the ship on the winds of the Southern Ocean. Take the time to enjoy a quiet moment on the outer deck and reflect on a truly remarkable journey to the farthest reaches of the planet.

DAY 16 / ARRIVE STANLEY (FALKLAND ISLANDS) – FIRST VOYAGE CONCLUDES (THURSDAY, 21 NOVEMBER, 2019)
This morning we find ourselves back in the port of Stanley. Those not joining the Antarctica cruise will say goodbye to our crew and after some free time in town, make their way to the airport for our return charter flight to Santiago. On arrival in Santiago your journey comes to an end. Onward regional and international flight connections may be possible this evening. A transfer is provided to a downtown location for those choosing to stay and explore Santiago and the delights of Chile. For those joining the Antarctica cruise, we intend to arrange a visit to some birding sites near Port Stanley to take in some Falklands wildlife during our free time before boarding.

ANTARCTICA: OFF THE BEATEN TRACK – 21 November – 1 December 2019

Please note that although our intention is to visit all of the areas listed below, the weather is extremely unpredictable in this region, and there may be situations where we are unable to land safely and visit all of the areas listed. This will be at the discretion of the experienced expedition leader who is skilled in operating in this region, and will always be accepted completely, as they understand best the risks of undertaking landings in various conditions.

Early season is a time of intense activity in Antarctica. The wildlife migrations have commenced and the sea ice is quickly receding, allowing access to locations which have been ice choked since winter. We anticipate exciting ice navigation on the ship and will be among the first to visit many of the well-known sites this season. For all these reasons, it’s one of our favourite times of the year to visit Antarctica. What makes this journey so special is the enhanced program of off-ship activities offered on this departure. Taking advantage of optimal snow and ice conditions in November, we offer a range of additional activities which complement our regular programming. For those with some technical ability and experience, we offer optional back-country ski touring. Snow-shoeing is another exciting option. If you have some experience sea kayaking, why not enjoy this optional activity? Accompanied by a small group of paddlers, your expert guides will allow you to experience Antarctica in a very different way. All this is complemented with a fascinating series of onboard presentations, led by adventurers, marine biologists, naturalists, ornithologists, glaciologists, historians and our onboard photographer. Tropical Birding’s Iain Campbell will also be on board to offer photoshop tutorials during the long sea crossings.

This voyage has been designed for birders, nature enthusiasts, and adventure lovers. Yet it has great appeal to those who wish to experience Antarctica at a magical time of the season. Several additional days of exploration in Antarctica compared to the 10-night voyages is an added bonus.

Adelie Penguin
Adelie Penguin (Nick Athanas)

DAY 1 / CRUISE COMMENCES – (THURSDAY, 21 NOVEMBER 2019)
For those coming from the South Georgia cruise, we intend to arrange a visit to some birding sites near Port Stanley to take in some Falklands wildlife during our free time before boarding. For the those joining today, you depart Santiago this morning on our special charter flight direct to Stanley, the small capital of the Falkland Islands. Arriving in Santiago at least a day before this charter flight should be considered essential as insurance against missing the boat. We are met on arrival and transfer from the airport into town. There is time to explore the town or enjoy a guided visit to nearby Gypsy Cove which provides our first opportunity for observing the local wildlife, including nesting Magellanic Penguins and other sea birds.

Magellanic Penguin in the Falklands
Magellanic Penguin in the Falklands (Nick Athanas)

Making our way to the port, we board our expedition ship, RCGS Resolute in the afternoon. After settling into our cabins and exploring the ship, we meet our expedition team and fellow passengers. Excitement is in the air as we enjoy a welcome cocktail and cast off to explore one of the most remote regions on Earth.

DAYS 2-3 / AT SEA – TOWARDS ANTARCTICA
We chart a southerly course for Antarctica. This stretch of the South Atlantic is rich in its bio-diversity and showcases an abundance of wildlife. We will be joined by hundreds of seabirds including the wandering albatross. Giant petrels and smaller Cape Petrels are also constant companions as we make our way south. Photographing these magnificent birds takes patience and skill and Iain Campbell will be on hand to show you the best techniques. Join the ship’s Captain on the bridge and learn about the operations of our modern research vessel. Throughout the day our onboard experts educate us with a series of presentations about the environment, the wildlife and history and the locations we hope to visit in the coming days. As we approach the coastline of Antarctica, we anticipate an increase in whale sightings.

Wandering Albatross
Wandering Albatross (Nick Athanas)

DAY 4 / SOUTH SHETLAND ISLANDS & ANTARCTICA
We awaken today and the magnificent snowy peaks of the South Shetland Islands are laid out before us. We are now heading north towards Antarctic Sound – the gateway into the icy Weddell Sea. Along the way we hope to make a planned visit at Deception Island. If weather conditions permit, we sail the ship right into the middle of a volcanic caldera. History is all around us as we explore the old whaling station, with the rusted relics and old wooden structures. At the far end of the beach is an old aircraft hangar. This is where Australian, Sir Hubert Wilkins made the very first flight in Antarctica in 1928. There is an outstanding hike here to a location known as ‘Neptune’s Window’ – high up onto the rim of the crater.

Chinstrap Penguin at a nesting colony in the South Shetlands
Chinstrap Penguin at a nesting colony in the South Shetlands (Nick Athanas)

Extreme close-ups with Chinstrap Penguins and other wildlife are to be expected
Extreme close-ups with Chinstrap Penguins and other wildlife are to be expected (Sam Woods)

DAYS 5-7 / GERLACHE STRAIT (ANTARCTICA)
Heading south along the coastline of the continent, our busy program of activities will now be in full swing. Our days are spent exploring on and off the ship. Popular activities include guided hikes on shore and visits to wildlife colonies with our expert naturalist guides, while the historic huts and science stations provide a fascinating glimpse into the past and the present. Zodiac cruising among the ice is always a memorable activity.

Giant Icebergs litter the waterways around the Antarctic Peninsula
Giant Icebergs litter the waterways around the Antarctic Peninsula (Sam Woods)

Based on site characteristics, the ski-touring group may set off to explore the pristine terrain and range several kilometres inland with our experienced mountaineering guides. What a unique thrill it is to carve ‘fresh tracks’ in the virgin snow of Antarctica. The expedition snow shoe group may follow in the tracks of the skiers, climbing to high points which afford breathtaking views. If you are not up to the more strenuous snow shoeing program, you will be able to try this unique activity at many of our landing sites. Our expedition sea kayakers will head out on excursions which may last all day. An overnight kayak/camping excursion is available to the more adventurous in the group. Everyone aboard will have an opportunity to optionally camp onshore for the night in Antarctica if the weather conditions co-operate. We have all the gear to keep you warm, dry and as comfortable as possible. Photography enthusiasts will enjoy the chance to spend an entire day with our expedition photographer, on an all-day field workshop. We range as far south as ice conditions permit and hope to navigate as far as Neko Harbour and into the Errera Channel.

Zodiac cruising in Antarctica
Zodiac cruising in Antarctica (Nick Athanas)

Leopard Seal
Leopard Seal (Nick Athanas)

DAY 8 / SOUTH SHETLAND ISLANDS
The adventure is not over and we plan an additional day of exploration in the South Shetlands. Prevailing weather conditions will dictate our landing locations. Aitcho Island is a possibility and is a great spot for a hike or a Zodiac cruise. There are several other landing sites in the South Shetlands including Half Moon Island, or the broad pebbly beach at Yankee Harbour, where we sometimes encounter Weddell seals sunning themselves. This is another great spot for a hike. At Hannah Point we may see the elephant seal colony and nesting Antarctic petrels. In the evening, we navigate north and into the Drake Passage, charting a course for South America.

A classic Antarctic scene: A Leopard Seal resting on an iceberg
A classic Antarctic scene: A Leopard Seal resting on an iceberg (Sam Woods)

DAYS 9- 10 / DRAKE PASSAGE – RETURN TO FALKLANDS
Making our way back to South America, the educational presentations continue and we enjoy a memorable voyage recap by our Expedition Leader. Join our photography experts in the multimedia room and download and back up your precious images. Approaching the coast of the Falkland Islands in the early evening light, we enjoy a special dinner attended by the Captain of the ship.

DAY 11 / ARRIVE STANLEY (FALKLAND ISLANDS) – VOYAGE CONCLUDES – FLY BACK TO SANTIAGO (CHILE) (SUNDAY, 01 DECEMBER, 2019)
This morning we find ourselves back in the port of Stanley. We say goodbye to our crew and after some free time in town, make our way to the airport for our return charter flight to Santiago. On arrival in Santiago our journey comes to an end. Onward regional and international flight connections may be possible this evening.

Tierra del Fuego extension – 2-6 November 2019

Day 1: Arrival. Your flights arrive in Ushuaia, the southernmost city on mainland South America. After transferring to the hotel, you can relax or enjoy an easy stroll around the town or the waterfront. Night in Ushuaia.

Day 2: Tierra del Fuego National Park. This morning we will head to the national park just outside the city. Beautiful scenery awaits with snow-capped mountains cloaked in rich Southern Beech forests, and dotted with glassy, montane lakes. Our main target here will be the massive Magellanic Woodpecker, the largest in all of South America, with males being up to 18 inches in length. These beech forests also hold the cute, nuthatch-impressionist, White-throated Treerunner and odd Thorn-tailed Ryadito too. We will also check the coasts and lake shores for Upland and Kelp Geese, Magellanic Oystercatcher, Flying Steamerduck, Imperial Cormorant, Rock Shag, Crested Duck, Red Shoveler, and Dark-bellied Cinclodes. Depending on activity, we may spend the whole day there, or we may do some birding closer to single supplement Ushuaia in the afternoon. A trip to a local dump might does not sound particularly interesting but can be surprisingly good for the local White-throated Caracara trying to scavenge all it can along with the far more common Chimango and Southern Caracaras, and maybe a few Black-chested Buzzard-Eagles too. Coastlines near town can be good for Kelp Gull as well. Night in Ushuaia.

Patagonia's flagship species, the magnificent Magellanic Woodpecker
Patagonia's flagship species, the magnificent Magellanic Woodpecker (Sam Woods)

Day 3: Ushuaia to Northern Tierra del Fuego. If we didn’t visit the dump yesterday we will be sure to stop in today before driving north. As we leave the taller forest behind, we will get into range for a number of other bird species confined to the north of the island. En route we may see our first Guanacos (a powerfully built relative of the camel), and note Fire-eyed Diucons perched along the roadside fenceposts. Lakes and ponds hold waterfowl including Flying Steamer-Duck, Chiloe Wigeon, Yellow-billed Pintail, Red Shoveler, and Yellow-billed Teal. We’ll bird near the town of Rio Grande in the afternoon, where a shorebird sanctuary offers chances to see Two-banded Plover, Magellanic Oystercatcher, Brown-hooded Gull, and large flocks of wintering shorebirds. Lakes near town often have flocks of Ashy-headed Geese. Night in Rio Grande.

The local White-throated Caracara can be seen at the Ushuaia dump
The local White-throated Caracara can be seen at the Ushuaia dump (Sam Woods)

Day 4: Northern Tierra del Fuego to Ushuaia. We’ll start the morning birding in a massive sheep ranch not far from town. The scrubby plains offer chances to see Short-billed Miner, Cinnamon-bellied Ground-Tyrant, South American Snipe, Correndera Pipit, Patagonian Yellow-Finch, Austral Negrito, Black-faced Ibis, and others. We’ll check some low-lying flooded areas for the scarce Magellanic Plover, but we’ll need some luck to find one. In the afternoon we drive back to Ushuaua, where we spend the night.

Austral Negritos are very common in Patagonia
Austral Negritos are very common in Patagonia (Sam Woods)

Day 5: Start of the cruise. Depending on the boarding time for the ship, we may have time for some more birding near Ushuaia. We may return once again to Tierra del Fuego National Park or head up to the impressive Martial Glacier which looms large above the city of Ushuaia. We’ll then return to the hotel to prepare for our voyage, and then head to the designated meeting point in town.

Ship Info

RCGS Resolute offers exceptional onboard facilities and provides an ideal platform for exploring South Georgia and Antarctica. She features the highest ice classification of any passenger vessel in the world. Outstanding observation areas both inside and from the outer decks allow you to be completely absorbed by the coastal landscapes along the way. Our priority is to craft specially designed itineraries that provide you with maximum time in the pristine locations we visit. The vessel has capacity of just 146 guests and we are able to achieve our daily goals by breaking into smaller special-interest groups. There are hiking options onshore, visiting penguin rookeries and wildlife colonies, historic sites and science bases. Cruising in the Zodiacs photographing the icebergs, or observing marine life is a highlight for many. For the more adventurous, sea kayaking is another memorable Antarctic experience.