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Visit the Emperor Penguins by helicopter!

Antarctica Birding Tours: Wonderful as they are, most Antarctica bird watching and wildlife holidays visit only the west side of the Antarctic Peninsula where no Emperor Penguins can normally be observed. This special Antarctica birding and wildlife expedition explores the Weddell Sea, where this remarkable species breeds, and where there is a very high chance of success with finding Emperor Penguin.

Monday 26th November — Thursday 6th December 2018
(11 days)

Leader: Oceanwide Expeditions leaders

Group Size Limit: 15

Tour Category: Easy walking and comfortable accommodations

If you have ever dreamed of seeing Emperor Penguins like this (and who hasn't?!), then this is the expedition for you. (Courtesy Polar News-Oceanwide Expeditions)

If you have ever dreamed of seeing Emperor Penguins like this (and who hasn't?!), then this is the expedition for you. (Courtesy Polar News-Oceanwide Expeditions)

An Emperor Penguin rookery is situated south of Snow Hill Island in the Weddell Sea. The captain of the vessel will do his utmost to position the vessel close enough to Snow Hill Island in order to enable us to offer ship-to-shore helicopter transfers to approx. 45 minutes walking distance from the Emperor Penguin Rookeries. If we succeed, this will be a fascinating and a once-in-a lifetime experience.

We shall be sailing on the MV Ortelius, a converted, ice-strengthened former Dutch naval vessel of 4575 tons and over 91 metres in length operated by the well-respected Oceanwide Expeditions, who are based in the Netherlands. While significantly more comfortable and more modern than the old Russian expedition ships, this is still not a ‘cruise ship’ in the traditional manner and is designed for exploring wild places and enjoying wild nature, rather than enjoying luxurious surroundings and ‘black-tie’ dinners with the officers. Ortelius can accommodate up to 120 passengers in 47 passenger cabins, all with private toilet and shower. Cabins consist of 4 quad cabins with a porthole and two lower single beds and two upper, 2 triple cabins with a porthole and two lower single beds and one upper, 24 twin cabins with a porthole and two lower single beds, 10 twin cabins with a window and two lower single beds, 6 superior twin cabins, with a window and one lower double bed and one lower single bed, and a separate day room, and one suite which is similar to a superior but larger. Cabins have ample storage space and an outside view.

Public facilities on both ships include restaurant/lecture theatre, an observation lounge/bar with panoramic views, a library and a small shop. Food is plentiful, of good quality, waitress-served and prepared by experienced chefs. Both ships carry a small complement of expedition staff who, as well as guiding excursions ashore and zodiac cruises, double up as guest lecturers and give informal talks on the environment, wildlife and history of the areas visited. There will be at least one birder/ornithologist among them who will also be there to point out seabirds and cetaceans at sea. The bridge is normally open to all (except when the ship is docking) and provides a great viewpoint whenever it is too breezy to stand comfortably outside.

Much of the sailing is done at night (or what passes for ‘night’ in summer in high latitudes), thus maximizing opportunities for going ashore and enjoying the harsh but beautiful Antarctic landscape to the full. Landings are carried out by means of a fleet of zodiacs/naiads, the rugged, fast-moving type of inflatables first developed by Jacques Cousteau for expedition work which allow safe landings on remote coastlines in all types of conditions. The speed and efficiency with which the crew and expedition staff carry out these landings allow everyone plenty of time ashore, a key factor when considering any cruise of this type. Ortelius even has its own on-board helicopters for this special expedition.

Further information about the cruise, including photographs and details of the ship layout, including all cabin categories, are available on the Oceanwide Expeditions website: www.oceanwide-expeditions.com.

The great advantage of taking these particular cruises, if you are especially interested in seeing Antarctic birds and other wildlife in all their glory, is that the itinerary and day to day schedule are strongly wildlife-orientated, and Oceanwide Expeditions always have at least one experienced birder/ornithologist amongst their expedition leaders to help with identifying birds at sea.

Birdquest has operated tours to Antarctica since 1990.


Please note: A typical itinerary to the Weddell Sea 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. If ice-conditions are favorable and the route to Snow Hill Island is free of multi-year pack-ice, we will reschedule our voyage and offer ship-to-shore helicopter transfers to Snow Hill Island (as carried out successfully in 2013) at approx. 45 minutes walking distance from the emperor penguin Rookery. If we succeed, this will be a fascinating and a once-in-a lifetime experience. However, we made attempts to reach Snow Hill Island during our voyages in 2012, 2013 and 2014. We only succeeded in 2013; therefore the chances to reach Snow Hill Island are indeed less than 50 %.

Day 1 Embarkation and departure from 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 will 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 meet 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.

Days 4 - 7 Weddell Sea

A typical itinerary in the Weddell Sea could be as follows. This is a sample only, the final itinerary will be determined by the Expedition Leader on board.

We will sail into the Weddell Sea and if the Antarctic Sound is accessible and the ice does not prevent us to sail further, we might see the huge tabular icebergs that announce our arrival to the eastern side of the Antarctic Peninsula.

During these days we use the helicopters in our attempts to find individual Emperor Penguins. During our previous voyages we were always able to locate emperors. We will also offer scenic flights and – if the conditions allow us - helicopter landings on tabular ice-bergs and locations otherwise inaccessible so early in the season.

Possible landing sites is for example Brown Bluff, probably the most scenic spot in the entire northern tip of the Antarctic Continent. With steep canyon walls and tumbling boulders, an ice-cap looming above, beautiful volcanic creations and the scene is complete with thousands of adelie penguins nesting on the slopes, and a few gentoos mixed in for fun.

Helicopter flights are a great contribution to the voyage, for example on the west side of the Antarctic Sound, an area usually only rarely seen from the air. The scenery is stunning with landscapes of layered sandstones, lava flows, glaciers tumbling into the sea and ice-bergs and pack-ice as far as the eye can see. We can observe individual emperor penguins and adelie Penguins on the ice floes; cape, snow and giant Petrels fly high in the sky while kelp gulls, skuas and wilson’s storm petrels scavenge down below us. The landscape is dominated by Jagged mountains pierced through the ice-caps and walls of ice dropped onto the slopes below.

A beautiful helicopter flight over huge blue ice bergs and fast ice can also be made close to View Point in Duse Bay. We land on a rocky hillock close to an old refuge hut overlooking the bay. There will be still a lot of snow and ice but much of the intended walk on the Antarctic continent will be over a beautiful frost-shattered rock, almost entirely covered with the most fascinating lichen of all shapes and colors.

If the ice-situation allows us to go further into the Weddell Sea area, we will visit Devil Island and Vega Island with a large colony of Adelie Penguins and a magnificent view for those hikers who can make it to the top of the hill. Melting ice sometimes provides spectacular waterfall from the cliffs close to point ‘Well-Met’. Further south, we may also visit Seymour Island, where many fossils can be found.

On our way north through the Antarctic Sound we might pay a visit to the Argentinean station Esperanza on the Antarctic Continent. We will still look out for emperor penguins on the ice-floes. In the afternoon we may visit Gourdin Island, with three penguin species; chinstraps, gentoo and adelies.

Day 8 Half Moon Island

In the morning we plan to visit Half Moon Island where we can see chinstrap and gentoo penguins, various other bird-species and southern elephant seals and Weddell seals.

Early in the afternoon we will sail to Deception Island where we have the last landing of our voyage at Pendulum Cove or Whalers Bay.

Days 9 - 10 At sea

In the Drake Passage we have again a chance of seeing many seabirds and to take advantage of the knowledge of our lecture team.

Day 11 Arrival in Ushuaia and disembark

We arrive in the morning in Ushuaia and disembark.

Days 5 - 6 Alternative program if the route to Snow Hill Island is free of multi-year pack-ice (less than 50% chance):

The use of helicopters has a great advantage and can support us in our goal to reach the Emperor penguin colony, but the itinerary is ruled by the forces of nature, ice and weather conditions. If the conditions are favourable, we intend to spend the first two days in the Emperor penguin rookery. The helicopter operation will take a full day and the flight duration takes approximately 15 minutes. The helicopter can accommodate 6 passengers per helicopter flight. The landing point of the helicopters will be carefully chosen and we will make sure that the Emperors penguins are not disturbed or stressed by helicopter noise. Therefore, after arrival, the passengers continue their expedition on foot. After a walk of approx. 45 minutes, passengers will experience an amazing rendezvous with the magnificent Emperor penguins. Keep in mind that we are in the world’s most remote area and there are no guarantees, including a specific amount of helicopter time. Conditions may change rapidly, having its impact on the helicopter operation and passengers should understand and accept this. Safety is our greatest concern and no compromises can be made.

Accommodation & Road Transport: For details of the ship, see the introductory section.

Walking: The walking effort is mostly easy.

Climate: Quite mild at this season. Around the Antarctic Peninsula the temperature is generally a little above freezing point and on sunny days it can feel relatively warm if there is no wind (but it feels decidedly cold on windy days at sea). Sunny spells are interspersed with (often longer) overcast periods and some rain or snow are to be expected. In southern Argentina conditions are typically cool, but considerably warmer than further south.

Bird/Sea Mammal Photography: Opportunities are outstanding.

Important: Adverse weather conditions may prevent landings.

Prices and dates are provisional

Tour Price: For Usuaia/Ushuaia arrangements:

€9100 (£7913, $11102) in a quad-berth cabin with porthole and private bathroom

€9800 (£8522, $11956) in a triple-berth cabin with porthole and private bathroom

€10350 (£9000, $12627) in a twin-berth cabin with porthole and private bathroom

€10800 (£9391, $13176) in a twin-berth cabin with window and private bathroom

€11300 (£9826, $13786) in a superior cabin with private bathroom

€11900 (£10348, $14518) in a suite with private bathroom.

Kindly note that this tour is priced in Euros (prices in Pounds Sterling and US Dollars are only indicative and based on the exchange rates prevailing at the time of calculation: £1 = €1.150, €1 = $1.220). If you are paying in Pounds Sterling or US Dollars your deposit and final balance payment due will be calculated according to the exchange rate prevailing at the time.

Price includes all transportation, all accommodations, all meals, some soft drinks, all excursions, all entrance fees, leader services.

Gratuities for the expedition staff and crew, and any fuel surcharge that may be imposed by the cruise operator, Oceanwide Expeditions, are not included in the tour price. The level of gratuities is entirely a matter for personal discretion. The staff work very long hours to make such cruises a success, including a great deal of night sailing, and we have been told that most passengers give gratuities of around US$100-150 for such a 10 days cruise.

Important: Owing to the possibility, however small, of a severe airline delay, we would recommend that all participants have two nights at Ushuaia prior to the cruise. Kindly note that in the event you do not arrive in time, the ship will not wait and neither the cruise operator nor ourselves can make a refund in such circumstances. Arriving early also has the advantage that your luggage could still catch up with you, should it go astray. We can make hotel bookings for you on request.

Single Cabin/Room Supplement: Single occupancy of twin-berth cabins can be obtained in return for a 70% supplement on top of the tour price. Please note that if you are willing to share but no cabin-mate is available you will not have to pay the single occupancy supplement.

Deposit: 20% of the tour price (including any single supplement).

If you are paying the deposit in Pounds Sterling or US Dollars rather than in Euros, please contact us before sending payment so that we can provide you with the appropriate figure based on the current exchange rate.

Air Travel To & From The Tour: Our in-house IATA ticket agency will be pleased to arrange your air travel on request, or you may arrange this yourself if you prefer.

Many of the flights and flight-inclusive holidays on this website are financially protected by the ATOL scheme. But ATOL protection does not apply to all holiday and travel services listed on this website. Please ask us to confirm what protection may apply to your booking. If you do not receive an ATOL Certificate then the booking will not be ATOL protected. If you do receive an ATOL Certificate but all the parts of your trip are not listed on it, those parts will not be ATOL protected. Please see our booking conditions for information, or for more for more information about financial protection and the ATOL Certificate go to: www.atol.org.uk/ATOL Certificate

Birdquest Ltd is Registered in England, Company No. 01568270. The address of our registered office is Two Jays, Kemple End, Stonyhurst, Clitheroe, Lancashire BB7 9QY

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