The Whale-Watching Web: Antarctica

Itinerary of Circumnavigation

Nov 23, 1996 - Jan 27,1997

Please read this itinerary as a guide only; our exact program will vary according to ice and weather conditions. Our progress may be slowed by unusually thick ice, which changes from year to year and throughout the season.

This is a 66-day, first-ever expedition around the continent including areas of the Antarctic never before visited by travelers - and our plans are flexible by design. We will make this voyage as full and exciting as possible, taking advantage of changing weather, light and ice conditions for landings. While most of the voyage will be in the ice, please note that time constraints and severe ice will mean some days sailing along the ice edge in open water.

NOV 23.1996

We meet fellow expeditioners today at our hotel in the heart of Santiago. Group air arrangements are available upon request.

NOV 24

Today we board our charter flight to the Falkland Islands, where we transfer to Stanley. After an opportunity to explore this friendly capital, we embark the Kapitan Khlebnikov and sail.

NOV 25-27

Albatrosses and other magnificent ocean wanderers accompany us 700 miles south to the South Shetland Islands and the northern extension of the Antarctic Peninsula. We plan a first landing at Elephant Island, where Shackleton and his men sought refuge after their extraordinary year on the ice.Thousands of Adelie, gentoo and chinstrap penguins nest on this rugged island along with macaroni penguins, Wilson's storm petrels, kelp gulls, Antarctic terns and other birds of the Far South.


Continuing east into the Weddell Sea, we first meet the barrier of pack ice. Much of this great ocean remains permanently frozen. From high on the bridge we maintain a lookout for our first emperor penguins and rarely-encountered Ross seals. We thrill at the spectacle of our powerful ship working in the ice and board the helicopters for a unique aerial perspective.

Deep in the Weddell Sea, we navigate the open water leads and dense pack ice along the Riiser- Larsen Ice shelf. Here at Riiser-Larsen and Atka Bay, we call at emperor penguin rookeries in spectacular settings. We make use of the continuous daylight for early morning and late evening landings, when the soft golden light can be magical.

From our closest approach by ship, we walk over the ice to the rookeries or land by helicopter at a safe distance. We take care not to disturb the penguins. In early December, thousands of these magnificent 90-pound birds and their charming young gather on the ice in the shelter of stunning blue icebergs and towering ice shelves.

During these days we also plan to land atop the ice shelf at Cape Norvegia, a sector of Antarctica claimed by Norway. Great Britain, Germany, South Africa and India maintain active research stations that are built directly on the ice sheives.The Kapitan Khlebnikov returns to the Weddell sea for its fourth season.

DEC 8-12

Continuing clockwise around Antarctica, we enter a rarely-explored sector of the continent. In the vicinity of the Russian Novolazarevskaya base,we make reconnaissance flights to little-known emperor penguin rookeries and plan sightseeing flights. An estimated 7,000 pairs of emperor penguins breed at the Riiser-Larsen Peninsula.

Further to the east we plan a call at Syowa Station, Japan's headquarters for Antarctic science since 1957. Set on a rocky island, the exposed rock around the station supports large lichen and moss communities. Adelie penguins and seals are abundant. This is a fantastic area to explore.

DEC 13-16

We continue to Molodezhnaya, named for the Molodezh or young people who constructed the station in 1963. The largest Russian station on the continent, Molodezhnaya has been the base for exploring much of Enderby Land. Several Adelie penguin rookeries are scattered along the coast.

We plan a landing at Proclamation Island, not discovered until 1930 by Sir Douglas Mawson and members of the Banzare expedition. From its summit, a vast area of the continent was claimed as Australian Antarctica on behalf of King George V. This coast is known for the extent of its fast ice.

DEC 17-20

The Kapitan Khlebnikov returns to the Australian sector of Antarctica for the first time since its pioneering 1992 Far Side voyage. These days should be exciting, although our exact route and excursions depend on the often challenging ice.We plan to call at the Auster Rookery, where towering icebergs provide shelter for up to 11,000 pairs of breeding Emperor penguins. Adelie penguins, Ross and crabeater seals are abundant in the vicinity. From our closest approach, we plan to explore Australia's Mawson Station, the oldest continually operating base in Greater Antarctica.

We call at the Kloa Point emperor rookery and approach the Scullin and Murray Monoliths, which rise 1,000 feet from the surrounding ice sheet. These rocky towers are a magnet for seabirds - and a highlight of the voyage. Here clouds of Antarctic petrels, southern fulmars, snow petrels and storm petrels darken the skies; a staggering 157,000 pairs of Antarctic petrels nest at Scullin alone. A rookery of 20,000 Adelie penguins stretches along the coast, where blue glaciers complete the spectacle.

For the next few days we thread our way among hundreds of immense tabular icebergs. Weather permitting, we board the helicopters for exciting views from the air - and land on one of the tabletop icebergs for a celebration.We also plan to visit the Flutter Rookery, where 5,000 pairs of emperor penguins nest in some years.

DEC 21-29

Approaching the Amery Ice Shelf, we encounter another astounding concentration of fantastically- eroded icebergs. Conditions permitting, we land atop the 100-foot Amery Ice Shelf itself, a massive glacier system that drains 20-30 per cent of the East Antarctica ice sheet - one of the world's largest. The heavily crevassed face of the shelf extends 200 miles from the coast.

Thousands of emperor penguins and their chicks congregate in a fairy tale setting of granite islands, glaciers and icebergs at Amanda Bay. Here we encounter abundant seals and marvel at the lines of penguins trekking over the ice to their rookeries.

Along this coast are two of Antarctica's largest ice-free oases, huge numbers of nesting Adelie penguins and several research stations. The Chinese built their new base at Larsemann Hills, where rocky peninsulas stretch for 10 miles along the coast. To the south we explore the area near Australia's Davis Station, set among 100-foot-high hills, long fjords and freshwater lakes. Here are some 200,000 penguins along with leopard and Weddell seals, south polar skuas and snow petrels.

Continuing our voyage, we plan helicopter landings and sightseeing at the massive West and Shackleton ice shelves. We also plan to make excursions to the rookeries and sites in the vicinity of Mirny, the first Russian base on the continent.

DEC 29 - JAN 5, 1997

En route to the Australian Casey Base, we traverse a region noted for its magnificent grounded icebergs and stop among the Windmill Islands, a geologically fascinating place that is home to the world's southernmost colony of elephant seals along with Adelie penguins, snow petrels and cape petrels. Continuing along the ice edge, we approach the Dalton and Dibble Iceberg Tongues, where large concentrations of huge tabular icebergs lay grounded on the shoals below. Conditions permitting, we sail through this fairyland of ice,where our helicopters take us into the air for unbelievable views of these unique areas.

We next approach the narrow slice of Antarctica claimed by France, the site of Dumont d'Urville station and several penguin rookeries. With some good luck at nearby Commonwealth Bay, we land on the shore fronting Sir Douglas Mawson's winderoded hut. Huge numbers of Adelie penguins nest among the MacKellar Islands. Continuing our journey west we approach the 25-mile-wide Mertz Glacier Tongue, the seaward extension of a massive glacier. Weather permitting, we board the helicopters for sightseeing flights and land on the floating barrier of ice. En route to the Ross Sea we sail to the Balleny Islands, a rugged archipelago on the Antarctic Circle.

JAN 6-11

Views of the 12,000-foot Admiralty Range herald our arrival at Cape Adare. Here we see the 1899 hut where Borchgrevinck first overwintered on the Antarctic Continent - and the largest Adelie penguin rookery anywhere. Behind the broad, open beach hundreds of thousands of penguins tend their fast- growing young.

Dense pack ice often challenges us to the south near Coulman Island and Cape Hallet, where the United States and New Zealand established a now-abandoned base during the 1956-57 International Geophysical Year. We hope to navigate Edisto Inlet, a dramatic fjord surrounded by an amphitheater of glaciers and mountains.

From New Harbor on the west coast of the Ross Sea we plan helicopter excursions to the Dry Valleys, a 1,000-square-mile ice free area with fantastically eroded rocks and unique desert scenery. NASA used these unique valleys to model conditions on the planet Mars. Extraordinarily beautiful, the valleys are a mosaic of ice-free ground, lakes, streams and glaciers. Scattered on the ground are ancient mummified seals, which mysteriously wandered inland and died.

Pushing south we moor along the ice fronting McMurdo Station, the sprawling United States facility in the shadow of Mt. Erebus, an active volcano. Pods of curious killer whales are often sighted along the ice edge, where minke whales and Weddell seals patrol in search of food. We are invited to tour the station, a center for logistics that houses 1,000 people in the summer.The modern facility surrounds Scott's remarkably preserved 1901-1904 Discovery Hut. A few miles away on the other side of historic Observation Hill is Scott Base, the headquarters of New Zealand Antarctic science. Here at McMurdo Sound we celebrate our farthest south - just 800 miles from the South Pole.

Shackleton and Scott staged their expeditions to the Pole from Ross Island, a volcanic land dominated by towering Mt. Erebus and Mt. Terror. We plan to visit the historic huts at Cape Evans and Cape Royds, beautifully restored by the New Zealand Antarctic Heritage Trust. At Cape Evans, the largest historic building on the continent stands on a desolate black beach, the headquarters of Scott's 1910-13 Terra Nova expedition. We call at Cape Royds, the dramatic site of Shackleton's hut, which is surrounded by the world's southernmost penguin rookery.

Continuing east we approach the Ross Ice Shelf, a 100-foot-high floating barrier of ice the size of France. Amundsen built his headquarters on the ice shelf at the Bay of Whales, which has since drifted out to sea. We plan a helicopter landing on the towering ice cliffs and to navigate among milelong tabular icebergs that are calved from this remarkable geological feature.

JAN 12-20

Crossing the International Date Line (where we gain a day), we continue along the edge of the pack ice deep into the Amundsen Sea. Here we expect thrilling hours crashing through the ice - and more emperor penguins and Ross seals.The penguins loiter on the ice between their extraordinary 1000-foot dives.

En route to the Antarctic Peninsula, we hope for good conditions and a landing at Peter I Island, the remote outpost discovered by the Bellingshausen in 1821. Few have ever seen the mountains and glaciers of this 5,500 foot-high island, home to Adelie penguins, storm and southern fulmars.

JAN 21-23

During these days we explore the dramatic waterways, islands and rugged coast of the Antarctic Peninsula - an extension of the Andes Mountains and best known region of Antarctica. Each austral summer large numbers of gentoo, Adelie and chinstrap penguins gather here, along with nesting Antarctic blue-eyed shags, sheathbills, kelp gulls, skuas and cape petrels.

We plan to land at Petermann Island, where Jean Baptiste Charcot first overwintered in Antarctica, and navigate the spectacular Lemaire Channel, a narrow geologic fault between the imposing mountains of Booth Island and the Antarctic Peninsula. Whales and seals are abundant in these waters. Petermann is home to the world's southernmost rookery of gentoo penguins.

We navigate the Danco Coast at Paradise Bay and sail into the flooded caldera of Deception Island in the South Shetland Archipelago.Tens of thousands of chinstrap penguins nest on the volcanic slopes of this island. Our exact landings vary to take best advantage of local conditions.

JAN 24

Excitement builds as we again approach the mountains of Elephant Island after two months and many adventures all around the continent - thereby completing our historic circumnavigation. We prepare for a celebration and a last Antarctic landing.

JAN 25-26

On this, the last leg of our remarkable journey, we pause and reflect on the marvels of Antarctica, and our lecture staff sponsors a symposium of the fate of this last, great continent.

JAN 27

Today we bid farewell to the Kapitan Khlebnikov in Stanley, a remarkably green place after our weeks in the ice.We continue to Santiago and home.

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Rauno Lauhakangas