Atlantic Odyssey: Antarctica to Ascension

This is an incredible trans-Atlantic sojourn aboard an ice-strengthened Polar expedition ship. This cruise takes in the amazing and remote South Georgia archipelago before heading to the seldom visited Gough and Tristan groups in the mid-Atlantic, and finally plying the subtropical waters of St. Helena and Ascension Island. For those of you who still have not had enough, onward passage to Cape Verde is in the offing.



This trip promises a voyage from the poles to the tropics via some of the wildest and most remote island groups on the planet. We ought to notch up an impressive number of seabirds and cetaceans, plus a handful of island endemics seen only by a handfuls of people. Highlights should include the great oceanic journeymen such as Wandering, Southern Royal and the Critically Endangered Tristan Albatrosses. The elegant Light-mantled and Sooty Albatrosses should all be logged too. We should manage five species of penguin, including the impressive King, cute Gentoo, and both forms of Rockhoppers, often considered separate species. We can expect an exceptional diversity of pelagic birds, with around 30 species of petrel and storm-petrel on offer.

This cruise is also amazing for marine mammals, mouthwatering lists of up to 6 seal and 17 cetacean species have emerged from previous cruises. Such delectable treasures as Kogia Sperm Whales, Orcas, False Killer Whales, Hourglass, Rissos and Clymene dolphins have all been found before. It is truly an amazing journey that can and will deliver a bevy of treats never to be forgotten, so join us for this incredible trip to parts of the World traditionally enjoyed by so few.

Day 0: Arrival in Ushuaia While this day is not technically part of the cruise, it should be considered essential to arrive a day early as insurance against travel days. Our office can help with hotel booking and airport transfers if necessary.

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 2-5: At sea. uring 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 Petrels, Southern Fulmars, Wilson’s Storm Petrels, Blue Petrels and Antarctic Petrels.

Southern Royal Albatross
Southern Royal Albatross (Nick Athanas)

Days 6-8: South Georgia. We aim to visit some of the major King penguin rookeries in the World. The late season offers an outstanding chance to see the King penguins on eggs and with small chicks. The rookeries are packed at this time of year and the traffic to and from the beach is astounding. Salisbury Plain offers this scenario in mind boggling quantity. We will see the huge King penguin colony along with Elephant seals and endless numbers of fur seal pups playing in the surf. On Prion Island in the Bay of Isles we can see breeding Wandering Albatrosses. We will also find time to visit the old whaling settlement in Grytviken, where now the penguins walk through the streets. Grytviken is home to a small, but highly informative museum and also offers a chance to visit the graves of Sir Ernest Shackleton who is buried here alongside his trusted friend and second in command Frank Wild. We will attempt to land Gold Harbour and St Andrews Bay with stunningly beautiful scenery and a wildlife density second to none. King penguins are truly Kings here!

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)

Days 9 – 13: At sea. In the Westerlies we have often have a pleasant tailwind. On both sides of the Antarctic Convergence, we observe many species and great numbers of Antarctic and sub-Antarctic seabirds.

Soft-plumaged Petrel is sometimes fairly common on our sea days.
Soft-plumaged Petrel is sometimes fairly common on our sea days. (Nick Athanas)

Day 14: Gough Island. Today we plan to approach the unique Gough Island for zodiac cruising in Quest Bay. As always weather permitting. Here we can see the Northern Rockhopper Penguins, and Sub-Antarctic Fur Seals. In previous years we managed to circumnavigate all but four miles of the 33 mile circumference of the island in the ship, saw spectacular scenery and an unprecedented abundance of wildlife. We felt very privileged to be among the few visitors who have been able to experience Gough Island and in particular, to see it at such close quarters. We hope to be lucky to repeat this unique experience with you.

Days 15-17: Tristan Da Cunha. In the Tristan da Cunha archipelago we plan to call on the settlement at the west side of the main island. We will also try to make landings at Nightingale Island and Inaccessible Island with millions of seabirds ranging from Yellow-nosed Albatrosses to Brown Noddies. We allow one day in reserve for bad weather. Please note that we will try and approach for landings, however due to the weather conditions this is not always possible.

Days 18-21: At sea. A journey of 1330 nautical miles (2140km) lies ahead, as we move steadily north, and away from the cool waters of the South Atlantic into subtropical waters. The seabird diversity within these warmer waters will be markedly lower than that experienced further south, but we should still add new species, as the trip wears on. These could include Masked Booby, Bulwer’s Petrel, Band-rumped Storm-Petrel, White Tern and Black Noddy by the end of this section of the voyage. Cetaceans, like False Killer Whale and Sperm Whale may also feature too. Evidence of our arrival into warmer tropical waters are also likely to be provided by large numbers of flying fish that shall spice up this journey somewhat.

Days 22-24: St. Helena. St. Helena has a good anchorage and landing site at Jamestown. On this island, we will have opportunity to enjoy local culture, pleasant climate, and endemic plants and birds. We will visit Longwood House, the place where Napoleon lived and died in exile. There will be opportunities to explore the Island on your own and for snorkelling in the shallow surf where we can find a multitude of tropical and sub-tropical fish species.

Days 25–26. At sea to Ascension Island. We spend the next few days en route to Ascension, a journey of around 700 nautical miles (1125km), where we hope to see Band-rumped and Leach’s Storm Petrels, Arctic Tern, and perhaps also Cory’s and Sooty Shearwaters, and the odd jaeger. As we approach Ascension we look for Ascension Frigatebirds, White-tailed Tropicbird, Black Noody and Masked, Brown and Red-footed Boobys.

Days 27-28: Ascension Island. Ascension Island is a dry volcanic island with a moist and richly vegetated top. The Sooty Tern (wide-awake) colony sometimes consists of more than 1 million breeding pairs. We will try to make a trip to the moist summit of Ascension Island and make a zodiac-cruise around Boatswain Bird Island. At Comfortless Cove near Georgetown we can offer a very comfortable swim with good snorkelling too (no snorkelling gear is supplied). We may also witness egg-laying sea turtles coming ashore at night. Some passengers may disembark and fly with the scheduled RAF (Royal Air Force) flight to Brize Norton in Oxfordshire, UK. Others may proceed with the voyage to the Cape Verdes. In the evening the vessel will depart from Ascension Island.

Cape Verde Extension (7 days)

After departing from Ascension, you will be at sea for another 6 days en-route to the incredible Cape Verde Islands, 1400 nautical miles (870km) to the north. As we ply north into the more temperate waters of the north Atlantic we should see an improvement in numbers and composition of the seabirds. Cory’s Shearwaters, Leach’s Strom Petrel and jaegars should become more frequent. As we approach Cape Verde we hope to encounter Fea’s Petrel, Boyd’s and Cape Verde Shearwaters. Cetaceans may include Spotted, Pantropical and Risso’s Dolphins, as well as Cuvier’s and Blainville’s Beaked Whales, and Short-finned Pilot Whales. Reaching the Cape Verdes, we shall visit some of the historical sites of this archipelago, plus pick our first birds, including endemics such as Alexander’s Kestrel, Cape Verde Swift, Cape Verde Warbler, and Iago Sparrow, along with more widespread species like Gray-headed Kingfisher, Spectacled Warbler, and Blackcap. After freshening up, or an overnight at a hotel, it will be time to either catch a flight back to ‘civilization’, or else to extend your stay and do some additional birding on the amazing Cape Verde archipelago.

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TRIP CONSIDERATIONS

CLIMATE: Very variable, from freezing conditions in Antarctica to hot and humid in the tropics of Ascension Island, it is fair to say that almost any type of weather can be expected on this trip.

DIFFICULTY: Easy. The zodiac trips are fairly relaxed, boarding and disembarking from the dinghies being the only challenge. There are several short walks on land, but these can be enjoyed by people with only a moderate level of fitness required.

ACCOMMODATION: The cabins on the ship are excellent, and food is wonderful throughout the voyage.