Journey Log: Antarctica, South Georgia & Falklands Expedition, 4–21 January 2024

Journey Log: Antarctica, South Georgia & Falklands Expedition, 4–21 January 2024
January 2024

January 6, 2024 | Ushuaia

We got an early start at our lovely hotel in Buenos Aires, transferring to the airport for our flight to Ushuaia, gateway to Antarctica. Upon our approach, we marveled at the snow-capped peaks of Patagonia. Excitement was high during a hotel lunch high above the southernmost city in the world, overlooking the Beagle Channel.

Disembarking, we made our way to the port, boarding luxurious ‘Le Lyrial’ and setting sail on an adventure of a lifetime. After we met our skilled Expedition team, we were officially welcomed aboard and enjoyed a fantastic dinner while heading toward Port Stanley in the Falkland Islands, a distance of 462 nautical miles.

January 7, 2024 | At Sea, Crossing the Patagonia Shelf

We awoke well-rested to a calm day at sea. Beginning the day’s enrichment, ornithologist Patricia Silva introduced seabirds of the Southern Ocean. Soon after, we spotted hourglass dolphin around our vessel, along with a plethora of petrel, prion, shearwater and mighty albatross.

Our two onboard Nikon ambassadors, Renato Granieri and Canadian Michelle Valberg, then shared images and photography tips, aimed at helping us best capture Antarctica’s wonders. Next, geologist Jason Hicks enlightened us on the Falklands’ features, among them fascinating rock rivers. Lending further insight, naturalist Peter Clement — a Falklander — gave an overview of the remote islands, where sheep farming and squid fishing drive the economy.

This evening, Captain Michel Quioc welcomed us aboard 'Le Lyrial' during a festive cocktail party. After meeting his senior officers, we sat down to a sumptuous dinner, concluding a fine day at sea.

January 8, 2024 | Stanley, East Falkland Island

Enjoying the superb weather, we sailed through “the Narrows” into Stanley Harbour. Disembarking, some of us walked to town, where we explored the quaint city of Stanley. The capital has much to offer visitors, from the cathedral with its Whalebone Arch to the Falkland Islands Museum and National Trust, 1982 Liberation Memorial, impressive British architecture, and fine food and drink. Others chose to visit Gypsy Cove, seeing Magellanic penguin, stunning beaches and flora typical of the region.

As we prepared to return to ‘Le Lyrial,’ we spotted small, playful commerson's dolphin could be seen swimming around a docked vessel.

Back aboard our floating hotel, a family of Falklanders waved and cheered as we departed, an endearing end to our exploration of the British overseas territory.

Before bed, we set our clocks forward in anticipation of our next adventure.

January 9, 2024 | Cruising the South Atlantic

We arose to a beautifully calm ocean. Fog later rolled in, limiting visibility.

Some began the day with a stretch. We then learned how aperture can improve our photographs. Next, our onboard storyteller discussed the life of great Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen, whose plane disappeared in 1928 during a rescue mission in the Arctic.

As we continued sailing toward South Georgia Island, we were briefed on the importance of dressing in layers and Zodiac safety. Ending the day’s enrichment, our marine mammal expert offered a fascinating talk about cold water whale and dolphin.

Cruising onward, we sat down to a lovely dinner, followed by an engaging game of trivia.

January 10, 2024 | At Sea En Route to South Georgia Island

It was a foggy morning with calm seas as ‘Le Lyrial’ continued to South Georgia Island and we heard about the diversity of penguin. Next, we learned how to capture images of birds in flight.

Passing close to Shag Rocks — six small, 150-million-year-old islets rising from the sea like shark's teeth — we explored their geology. Next came an informative talk on iPhone photography.

After sitting down to Parisian tea, our storyteller began discussing polar explorer Ernest Shackleton. Suddenly, a proliferation of humpback whale, fur seal and winged wonders were spotted around our ship. Mesmerized by the wildlife spectacle, we watched whale breach and lunge feed on krill. Returning to our talk, we gained insight into Shackleton’s harrowing expedition aboard the Endurance. The daring, 800-mile journey resulted in a shipwreck — and the triumphant rescue of its stranded crew.

After dinner, excitement was high as we watched a dance performance in the theater.

January 11, 2024 | South Georgia Island

On a lumpy ocean, we entered sheltered Stromness Bay, where calm conditions prevailed. Our Zodiacs were lowered to take us ashore.

Clouds hung low and rain fell as we explored the abandoned whaling station, which featured prominently in Shackleton's 1916 rescue journey. Nothing could dampen our enthusiasm — penguin, elephant seal and Antarctic fur seal were seen in abundance. Continuing onward, we walked up the valley, viewing a gentoo penguin colony and the waterfall Shackleton's men descended during their arduous ordeal. Meanwhile, the rain turned to snow above 800 feet, transforming the hilltops white.

Back aboard, everyone changed out of their wet clothing and warmed up. ‘Le Lyrial’ proceeded to the small, sheltered bay of Godthul for a glorious afternoon Zodiac tour in dry conditions. Relishing South Georgia's scenery, some of us were fortunate to see macaroni penguin and endemic pipit and pintail duck.

As we departed Godthul, the most incredible icebergs appeared before our vessel, completing the magical scene. This was a day that wildly exceeded our expectations.

January 12, 2024 | Grytviken

‘Le Lyrial’ spent a calm night in Royal Bay before continuing to Saint Andrew's Bay this morning. Conditions were sublime as we boarded our Zodiacs and set out for a tour along the breathtaking shoreline. Unsure where to point our cameras, we gazed in wonder at a vast colony of king penguin, numbering about 150,000 pairs. Elephant and fur seal were also seen on the beach and in the water.

Back aboard, we proceeded to Grytviken (Pot Cove), where we viewed the Southern Hemisphere’s first whaling station. We then hiked up to the nearby cemetery to visit the graves of Ernest Shackleton and his crew member, Frank Wild. At the South Georgia Museum, we saw a replica of the 22-foot James Caird lifeboat. Its 800-mile journey — undertaken by Sir Ernest Shackleton and five companions — led to the rescue of Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition crewmembers.

After learning about Shackleton's death and burial, we continued to the post office and enjoyed some retail therapy. As the sunny, warm afternoon turned windy, cold and rainy, we returned to our vessel and attended a talk about the complex breeding cycle of king penguin. The monogamous species typically raise two chicks every three seasons.

January 13, 2024 | Gold Harbour

After another calm night in sheltered Royal Bay, we continued to Gold Harbour early this morning. Set at the foot of the Salvesen Mountains, the scenic area got its name from the iron pyrite — fool’s gold — found in the local rocks.

As snow fell, we boarded our Zodiacs. An amphitheater of hanging glaciers and vertical cliffs rose straight from the ocean, while thousands of king penguin, elephant seal and other winged species were seen on the beaches. Some also saw a leopard seal hunt, capture and eat a penguin.

By noon, we began our long journey to Antarctica. Upon rounding the southern tip of the island, the swell increased markedly and ‘Le Lyrial’ — adept in such conditions — became lively beneath our feet.

Skirting the sea, we enjoyed a beautifully illustrated talk about regional seal, followed by a discussion on Gondwana. The ancient supercontinent once contained South America, Africa, India, Madagascar, Australia and Antarctica.

Before heading to bed, we turned our clocks back to GMT-3.

January 14, 2024 | At Sea to the South Shetland Islands

After a bumpy night onboard, we slept in and awoke to a calm day at sea. Our enrichment program then began with a talk on the ecology and evolution of penguin.

Naturalists spent time on deck with guests, spotting wildlife and assisting with cameras and binoculars. We then heard the story of Captain Robert Falcon Scott’s 1902 attempt to reach the South Pole. After turning back due to ill health and sub-zero conditions, Scott and his crew later reached it on January 17, 1912 — only to learn explorer Roald Amundsen beat them to it.

After a talk about snapping award-winning images, we sat down to tea and eclairs. Next came a presentation on humpback whale, which have rebounded in number since commercial whaling ceased.

This evening, we changed course and headed toward the world’s largest glacier, tabular A23a, which spans nearly 1,500 square miles. We ended the evening with a screening of David Attenborough’s “Seven Worlds One Planet.”

January 15, 2024 | At Sea to the South Shetland Islands

We approached A23a — earth’s largest iceberg — around 8:45 a.m. This colossal ice mass covers an area four times that of New York City and twice that of Greater London. With a keel depth of 1,330 feet, A23a broke off the Filchner Ice Sheet in the Weddell Sea in August 1986 but remained anchored to the sea floor for 30 years. Now, wind and ocean currents move nearly one trillion tons of ice northward about 29 miles per day. Staring in awe as it disappeared into fog, we learned it creates its own microclimates.

Continuing our day at sea, we heard about lesser-known Antarctic heroes, like Henry Robertson Bowers, Apsley Cherry-Garrard, William Lashly and Tom Crean. Then, Polar Medal recipient Russ Manning shared experiences from his years spent in Antarctica.

After lunch, we viewed “The Endurance,” a BBC documentary about Shackleton's expedition, narrated by Liam Neeson. Over tea, we gained additional photography tips and our geologist offered an entertaining presentation on the cryosphere. Sadly, views of Elephant Island were obscured by fog as we continued toward Penguin Island in the South Shetland Islands.

January 16, 2024 | Ushuaia

We got an early start at our lovely hotel in Buenos Aires, transferring to the airport for our flight to Ushuaia, gateway to Antarctica. Upon our approach, we marveled at the snow-capped peaks of Patagonia. Excitement was high during a hotel lunch high above the southernmost city in the world, overlooking the Beagle Channel.

Disembarking, we made our way to the port, boarding luxurious ‘Le Lyrial’ and setting sail on an adventure of a lifetime. After we met our skilled Expedition team, we were officially welcomed aboard and enjoyed a fantastic dinner while heading toward Port Stanley in the Falkland Islands, a distance of 462 nautical miles.

January 17, 2024 | Danco Island, Errera Channel and Neko Harbour

Nothing could have prepared us for the wonders we experienced today. Early this morning, we slid into the breathtaking Errera Channel, one of the most beautiful icescapes amid the Antarctic Peninsula.

We landed on Danco Island, charted by the Belgian Antarctic Expedition under Adrien de Gerlache, 1897–1899. Here, gentoo penguin breed on the beach. We saw eggs, young and a parent helping a hatchling out of an egg. Hiking up — and down — the snowy slope with help from our Expedition Team, we observed penguin colonies and took in spellbinding views.

Later, we watched a BBC documentary about Antarctica. Before long, we arrived in Neko Harbour — and the Antarctic continent. We took pictures commemorating our arrival and appreciated the surrounding beauty. We then hiked uphill, gazing in wonder at glacial calving and the impact of avalanches. Spectacles of nature surrounded us at every turn.

After dinner, we enjoyed the stylings of a classical pianist — the perfect ending to an extraordinary day in Antarctica, one beyond our wildest dreams.

January 18, 2024 | Cierva Cove and Mikkelsen Harbour

Today is our final day in Antarctica, leaving our expectations high. In beautiful weather, we glided into Cierva Cove, named after Juan de la Cierva, designer of the single-rotor aircraft.

We then set off by Zodiacs to explore, with abundant icebergs in the bay. We saw various chinstrap penguin colonies, watching as they slipped into the water; scaled cliffs to reach their nests; and went about their daily business. Some of us were lucky enough to glimpse minke whale as well.

Scientists at Argentina’s Primavera Base study leopard seal, which are abundant here. For ages, we observed one swimming about our vessels, beautifully backlit by a pale blue iceberg. The creature spy-hopped out of the water to investigate us more closely.

Capping off a wonderful morning, A&K surprised us with mimosas aboard a bar boat. Upon returning to ‘Le Lyrial,’ we proceeded to Mikkelsen Harbour in driving snow. First discovered during the Swedish Antarctic Expedition of 1901-04, it’s named for the whaling manager who was lost in the whaling grounds.

Snow continued falling all afternoon, promising a true Antarctic setting for our final landing. Exploring further, we spotted a gentoo penguin, whale bones and a lone Weddell seal, while taking in glorious, panoramic views.

After dinner, we enjoyed lively music in the lounge, reassured ocean conditions appear benign for tomorrow’s Drake Passage crossing.

We could not have hoped for a more fitting final day on the White Continent.

January 19, 2024 | Crossing the Drake Passage

The Drake Passage treated us to a calm day at sea as we shared images in three categories — landscape, wildlife and creative — to be judged anonymously in a photo contest. The results will be announced tomorrow.

Next came a talk on Nils Otto Gustaf Nordenskjöld, Jean-Baptiste Charcot and Douglas Mawson. It could be argued their survival stories match Shackleton’s. Changing gears, we attended an emotive talk on the role fisheries play in seabird conservation and learned A&K Philanthropy contributes to the protection of albatross and petrel.

After lunch, we went to the theater to view James Balog's sensational documentary, “Chasing Ice,” which starkly portrays the recession of glaciers. Geologist Jason Hicks then followed with a poignant presentation on climate change.

This evening, we dressed up for the Captain’s festive cocktail party and farewell dinner. Many of the staff we had yet to meet were introduced on stage. Capping the fun-filled evening, crew members put their singing talents on full display.

January 20, 2024 | Ushuaia

Our geologist dove deeper into climate change, discussing our roles as stewards of this planet. As the journey neared its end, we then handed back our borrowed boots and waterproof trousers. After viewing a memorable video of our trip, we watched a short movie about sailing around Cape Horn aboard the massive bark ‘Peking.’

At teatime, we indulged in crepes Suzette. Then, between packing and preparing to disembark, our storyteller spoke about the women closest to Scott's Polar party.

Preparing to return to our daily lives, we reflected on this extraordinary voyage with A&K, a seminal experience for each one of us.

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