Visiting Antarctica - an Introduction

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For anyone wanting to explore the Antarctic, there are now multiple different options which WildWings can assist you with. You will find a brief summary here with further detail available by following the relevant links below.

Antarctic Peninsula

For anyone looking to visit the "Great White Continent", the Antarctic Peninsula is by far the easiest to reach with trips departing multiple times each week from November until March. Most of these sail from the small Argentinian town of Ushuaia (which is a three hour flight south from Buenos Aires) and involve two days in the Drake Passage. Whilst some companies now off trips which allow you to fly across "the Drake", we do not recommend these as you then miss out on the opportunity to look for seabirds and cetaceans on the crossing.

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The Gentoo Penguin is the most frequently encountered penguin species on a trip to the Antarctic Peninsula.

Most trips typically spend 3-5 days around the Antarctic Peninsula but there is usually a day scheduled in the South Shetland Islands where there are options to visit a colony Chinstrap Penguins. Adelie Penguins have declined markedly in recent decades in this part of Antarctica but there are still several places where it is possible to find this species.

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Falklands, South Georgia and the Antarctic Peninsula

For anyone who can justify both the time and expense, we strongly recommend a trip that includes South Georgia as the wildlife here is truly exceptional with huge colonies of King Penguins amongst the many highlights. In recent years, South Georgia has been declared free of rodents and already the results are astonishing with the endemic South Georgia Pintail and South Georgia Pipit now being much easier to find than just a few years ago.

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A visit to one of the huge King Penguin colonies on South Georgia is a truly unforgettable experience with a few of the colonies holding tens of thousands of individuals.

Typically these trips last 17-21 days and our recommendation is to have a minimum of three to four days at South Georgia as the weather can be bad at times, so by having several days scheduled here, this increases your chances of being able to visit one or more of the amazing penguin colonies at places such as St Andrew's Bay, Salisbury Plain or Gold Harbour.

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The Subantarctic Islands of Australia and New Zealand

For anyone looking to see all the world's penguins, a trip to the "New Zealand Subs" is an absolute must as there are three species of penguin breeding here (Snares, Royal and Erect-crested) that are found nowhere else in the world. A trip to these islands is, however, about much more than penguins, as the list of other seabirds which can be found on the islands and at sea between them is arguably the best in the world.

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Snares Penguin is one of the specialities on a cruise around the subantarctic islands of Australia and New Zealand

On Campbell Island, for example, most of the world population of Southern Royal Albatrosses come to breed, whilst Pyramid Rock in the Chatham Islands is the only place where Chatham Albatross nests.

With chances for the critically endangered Magenta Petrel, as well as an incredible list of other seabirds including Antipodean Albatross, Fulmar Prion, Mottled Petrel, Subantactic Shearwater plus an impressive number of endemic cormorants (more than seven species are possible) and unique landbirds, this expedition cruise is unquestionably one of the best in the world for those interested in seabirds.

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Ross Sea

Typically lasting at least a month, a trip to the Ross Sea is an incredible experience and gives a very different 'Antarctic experience' compared with visiting the Antarctic Peninsula. For birders, arguably the biggest attraction of heading to this region is the high likelihood of seeing Emperor Penguin, a species which is only very occasionally seen on trips to the Peninsula.

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There are excellent chances of seeing both Emperor and Adelie Penguins when visiting the Ross Sea.

Generally these expedition voyages also visit some of the subantarctic islands such as Auckland and Campbell and will occasionally also pass the extremely remote Balleny Islands which is where the Greater Snow Petrel is found.

For anyone interested in Antarctic history, a visit to the Ross Sea also offers the unique opportunity to visit some of the huts used by explorers such as Captain Scott and Ernest Shackleton over 100 years ago. Some of these have been preserved like time capsules and it truly is like stepping back in time with many original artifacts remaining.

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Southern Indian Ocean

The Southern Indian Ocean and the islands of Kerguelen, Crozet, Amsterdam and Heard are places that very few people have had the opportunity to visit and with some of the worst seas on the planet, this is an area which only the hardest of seabirders is likely to want to visit.

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Black-faced Sheathbill is only found on the Indian Ocean Subantarctic Islands with Heard Island being one of the places where this species can be found

WildWings is, however, currently working on plans to visit this region in the coming years so if you are interested in looking for Amsterdam Albatross, Black-faced Sheathbill and the other specialities of this region, please register your interest and when details are finalised, we will let you know.

All photos © Chris Collins