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FRENCH SUBANTARCTIC ISLANDS OF THE INDIAN OCEAN

A 'once-in-a-lifetime' opportunity

Birdquest's French Subantarctic Islands of the Indian Ocean birding and wildlife watching tour is one of those rare adventures that are only on offer from time to time. Our French Subantarctic Islands of the Indian Ocean tour explores some of the most remote and least-visited islands on our planet (Kerguelen, Crozet, St Paul and Amsterdam), home to a series of rare seabirds and other endemic birds. Needless to say, pelagic seabirding is extraordinary.

Thursday 7th November — Thursday 5th December 2019
(29 days)


Leader: Mark Beaman

Group Size Limit: 5

Tour Category: Easy for the most part (some moderate grade walking)

In the vast expanses of the southern Indian Ocean, it is a rare chunk of land that interrupts this immense sweep of sea and wind. Far and few, far and few are the lands where the seabirds come to breed in this remote part of our planet, and far apart and very few in number are those who have ever set foot on them.

With the exception of St Paul and Amsterdam (which lie roughly at the halfway mark between the Cape of Good Hope and Australia, and which still host a French fishing industry, most of the few islands that exist are situated to the south of the shipping lanes, so Prince Edward, Marion, the Crozets, Kerguelen and Heard were rarely visited except by whalers, sealers and penguin-oil collectors, and later by small numbers of explorers and scientists.

Yet these tiny fragments of land, both because of their small size and the fact they represent the sole possible breeding places for seabirds in this immense yet rich expanse of ocean, teem with life, offering a home for millions of seabirds of a great variety of species, and including a series of rarely-observed endemics and restricted-range specialities.

Being so far from anywhere, and not on the now comparatively well-travelled routes between southernmost South America or New Zealand and Antarctica, they are very rarely visited even by expedition ships, and in fact a cruise like this one (taking in the Crozets, Kerguelen, Amsterdam and St Paul, and thus almost all the regional specialities) represents a ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ opportunity for most people.

We start our epic journey on the French island of Réunion and from there sail southwards to the Crozet Islands, home to Indian Yellow-nosed and Light-mantled Albatrosses, the endemic Crozet Shag, the restricted-range Black-faced (or Lesser) Sheathbill and Kerguelen Tern, as well as King, Gentoo, Macaroni and Rockhopper Penguins, and large numbers of Antarctic Fur Seals and hulking Southern Elephant Seals.

Next we explore Kerguelen Island, which lies far to the east of the Crozets. Discovered by Captain Yves Joseph de Kerguelen-Tremarec, who was searching for the supposed ‘Terra Australis’, this volcanic, plant-rich island is home to the endemic Eaton’s (or Kerguelen) Pintail and Kerguelen Shag, and the restricted-range Kerguelen Tern, while numerous other seabirds nest, including Kerguelen Petrel and Wandering Albatross.

The next leg of the voyage takes us northwards to St Paul and Amsterdam Islands, which hold a huge colony of Indian Yellow-nosed Albatrosses, the rare Amsterdam Albatross (that breeds only here), the beautiful Sooty Albatross, Antarctic Tern and many other seabirds.

All those days at sea will not be wasted either as we look for a fantastic collection of pelagics including Kerguelen, Barau’s and Réunion Petrels, St Paul, Salvin’s and Fulmar Prions, Flesh-footed Shearwater and White-bellied Storm-Petrel, to name just a few.

By the time we eventually return to Réunion we will have joined a small band of birders who have explored these small but rich islands in the middle of a vast ocean.

Accommodation & Transport: We shall be sailing on a supply vessel for the research bases in the French Indian Ocean Territories. The ship, while surprisingly comfortable, is a fairly large cargo vessel and not a ‘cruise ship’ in the traditional manner and will appeal most to those for whom exploring wild places and enjoying wild nature is the prime attraction.

Cabins are furnished with two berths and have some storage space and an outside view (all have en-suite bathroom facilities). Public facilities include a restaurant and lounge/bar. Food is plentiful and of good quality, waiter-served and prepared by French chefs.

Landings are carried out by zodiacs, the rugged, fast-moving inflatables developed by Jacques Cousteau for expedition work which allow safe landings on remote coastlines in all types of conditions, and by the ship’s helicopter (now that is something special!).

Important: Owing to the possibility, however small, of a severe airline delay, we would recommend that all participants have at least one night in Réunion prior to the cruise. Kindly note that in the event you do not arrive in time, the ship will not wait and there will be no 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.

Walking: The walking effort is mostly easy, but there are a few optional harder walks.

Climate: Quite mild at this season. Temperatures range from cool to warm in the north of the subantarctic islands region and from cool to cold in the south (although even in the south it can feel relatively mild on a sunny day if there is no wind). It feels decidedly cold on windy days at sea in the far south, however! Sunny spells are interspersed with (often longer) overcast periods and some rain is to be expected.

Bird/Sea Mammal Photography: Opportunities are outstanding.

ITINERARY

Day 1  Board our ship at Réunion and set sail for the Subantarctic Islands. We will spend 28 nights on board.

Days 2-28  Sailing between, and exploring, the French Indian Ocean Territories, including Amsterdam, St Paul, Kerguelen and the Crozet Islands.

Day 29  Return to Réunion and disembark.

Dates are provisional (but should not vary greatly from those indicated). Exact dates will only be confirmed approximately 5-6 months before sailing!

FRENCH SUBANTARCTIC ISLANDS OF THE INDIAN OCEAN BIRDING & WILDLIFE TOUR: PRICE INFORMATION

Bookings and Deposit: Please contact us if you are interested in participating. The trip is provisionally full as of 14 May 2018, but a space or two may become available.

Prices are provisional

€8670 (£7539, $10577) Réunion/Réunion.

Includes surface transportation, accommodations, meals (including some some drinks) and entrance fees.

This tour is priced in Euros (the exchange rates used for the indicative Pound Sterling and US Dollar prices are: £1 = €1.150, €1 = $1.220).

Gratuities for the crew are not included in the tour price. The level of gratuities is entirely a matter for personal discretion. The crew work very long hours to make such voyages a success. We suggest gratuities of between Euros 200-400.

Single Cabin/Room Supplement: Single occupancy of cabins can be obtained in return for a 100% supplement, space permitting. 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.

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 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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