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Highlights from our 30th anniversary cruise to South Georgia, the Falklands & Antarctic Peninsula

Naturetrek Group

Naturetrek Group, 2016

This year marks an important milestone for Naturetrek. Thirty years ago, back in the summer of 1986, David and Maryanne Mills wrote the very first Naturetrek brochure from a small Berber house high up in Morocco’s High Atlas Mountains. Such a special anniversary needed to be marked by an equally special celebration, and so, on 21st January 2016, 105 excited ‘Naturetrekkers’ (over four times the number of people who travelled with us in the whole of 1987!) boarded the MV Ortelius in Ushuaia for our 30th Anniversary cruise around the Falkland Islands, South Georgia and Antarctic boarded boarded the MV Ortelius in Ushuaia for our 30th Anniversary cruise around the Falkland Islands, South Georgia and Antarctic Peninsula. The 23-day holiday (which included 18 nights aboard the exclusively chartered 116-berth MV Ortelius) had been more than two years in the planning and, although we arrived in Argentina with high hopes and building anticipation, none of us had any idea just how special and unforgettable the trip was going to be.

Key to the success of this cruise was our group itself, and the fact that all participants had booked through Naturetrek and so were keen naturalists with similar interests and goals. This, coupled with the dedication and keen eyesight of our tour leaders — especially Nick, Tim, Martin, Peter, Paul, David and Simon — meant there was barely a minute between dawn and dusk when there wasn’t somebody out on the bow of the Ortelius scanning the horizon for birds, cetaceans and other wildlife. Such persistence and ‘hard work’ paid off and, by the end of the holiday, our group had collectively seen 164 species of bird (a few of which were seen on our pre/post-cruise nights in Ushuaia and Buenos Aires) and 23 species of mammal, including an incredible 14 species of cetacean!
 
The Southern Ocean is, of course, one of the most productive seas in the world, so there was never a shortage of birds and other wildlife to enjoy and photograph throughout the cruise. Our days at sea between the islands introduced us to the wealth of petrels, prions, shearwaters and albatrosses that feed and breed in the region, from the tiny Grey-rumped Storm Petrel and pure-white Snow Petrel, to the huge and graceful Wandering and Royal Albatrosses. The Falklands Islands (our first stop) were bathed in bright sunshine and our time on both Saunders and Carcass Island rewarded us with wonderful views of nesting Black-browed Albatrosses and colonies of comical Rockhopper Penguins. The keen birders amongst us also enjoyed the endemic landbirds of these isolated outposts including Cobb’s Wren and Striated Caracara.

St.Andrew's Bay

King Penguin Colony, St. Andrew's Bay (Peter Dunn)

As enjoyable as the Falklands were, however, they were but a taster for the seabird spectacular to come. Our four days spent exploring the stunning coastline of South Georgia were truly breathtaking and some of the scenes we witnessed, and the landings we made, will remain in our memories for ever. It is impossible, for example, to adequately describe the full sensory experience (sight, sound and smell) of overlooking the vast King Penguin rookery at St Andrew’s Bay. Here an orange, black and white ‘sea’ of birds stretched out before us … over half a million penguins backed by jagged snow-capped mountains and clear blue skies. At Elsehul we cruised beneath displaying Light-mantled Sooty Albatrosses, whilst on Prion Island we dodged the Antarctic Fur Seals to watch nesting Wandering Albatrosses and at Grytviken we raised a glass at the graveside of Sir Ernest Shackleton, one of history’s greatest Polar explorers. From the endemic South Georgia Pipit to piles of huge Southern Elephant Seals, from hanging glaciers to noisy colonies of Chinstrap and Macaroni Penguins, there were new and stunning sights around every headland and in every bay. It was not only the land that kept us enthralled, for offshore we were continually amazed by the sheer number of cetaceans, not only hundreds of Fin and Humpback Whales, but more Southern Right Whales than the ship’s expedition staff had ever seen in these waters and a lone Blue Whale, the largest animal on the planet!
 
Continuing south, we cruised past huge tabular icebergs, yet more Fin and Humpback Whales and tens of thousands of ‘rare’ Antarctic Petrels (most cruises are lucky to see one or two!). The Antarctic Peninsula itself offered yet more breathtaking landscapes and unforgettable wildlife experiences. The sunshine caught up with us again on Paulet Island, home to a huge and active Adélie Penguin colony. Pushing deeper into the Weddell Sea, we were finally rewarded by an unforgettable encounter with a large pod of Orcas, after several fleeting glimpses of pods of this top predator several days before. Whilst enjoying a slice of Naturetrek’s 30th Anniversary cake – and a cup of hot chocolate – we watched these amazing animals for nearly an hour-and-a-half cruising around (and under) our ship as they hunted Adélie Penguins.
Wandering Albatross (Peter Dunn)

Wandering Albatross (Peter Dunn)


 
Even the notoriously fickle Drake Passage was kind to us and, at the end of our cruise, we rounded Cape Horn in almost flat-calm seas. And so our time on the Southern Ocean ended where it had first begun, back in Ushuaia. It genuinely had been a ‘trip of a lifetime’ and a privilege to have been able to visit and explore some of the last true wildernesses left on Earth. The holiday had also been a fitting way to celebrate Naturetrek’s 30th year and we would like to say a big ‘thank you’ to all of those who shared the experience with us and to our tour leaders and expedition staff who helped to make the trip so enjoyable and successful.
 

A Date for the Diary
Following the great success of this cruise, Naturetrek will be operating another exclusive wildlife charter to the Falklands, South Georgia and the Antarctic Peninsula in January 2019. Provisional dates and prices are outlined below. To register your interest please email alisonsteel@naturetrek.co.uk or call Alison Steel on 01962 733051.
 
Dates: Mon 21st Jan – Tue 12th Feb 2019
Cost: from £10,995
(Dates and prices to be confirmed)

Contact: please call Paul Stanbury or email paul@naturetrek.co.uk for further information about our 2019 cruise to the Falklands, South Georgia and the Antarctic Peninsula.