Antarctica is surely the ultimate destination! The scenic settings are as magnificent as any on earth, and the scale of nearly everything is grand, to say the least. Complementing these astounding vistas are vast colonies of majestic penguins, brash skuas, giant albatrosses, weird sheathbills, somnolent seals and feeding whales that all add life to the region’s stark and amazing beauty.
Our voyage traverses some of the most productive regions of the Southern Ocean; notably the Falkland and South Georgia Islands, both of which are renowned as among the richest of all Subantarctic islands. South Georgia’s rugged beauty is worthy of Antarctica itself, while the Falkland Islands are better known as the battlegrounds for the 1982 Anglo-Argentine War. Several days are spent at sea, cruising from one island group to the next until we find ourselves on the Great White Continent itself. These crossings provide thrilling pelagic birding, with huge numbers of albatrosses, petrels, prions, skuas and other seabirds making a daily appearance. Cetaceans are also regular, ranging from the largest whales to the striking Hourglass and Commerson’s Dolphins.
This journey to Antarctica is truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience and cannot come more highly recommended!
Although ORYX has journeyed annually to Antarctica, this will be the first time since 2011 that we are taking a full Antarctic charter in collaboration with our sister company Rockjumper Birding Tours. We will have a team of ORYX Photographic and Rockjumper Birding tour leaders aboard the very comfortable Akademik Ioffe, one of the best rated small vessels doing this classic route. Our voyage will be the first of the season, which besides offering pristine snowscapes, will mean that we will encounter and photograph displaying penguins and other breeding birds, as well as duelling Southern Elephant Seal beachmasters (these giants are usually gone by late November when most expeditions come south). However, the main reason for our early season departure is to maximise our chances of finding the holy grail of the Antarctic; the Emperor Penguin. We have designed our cruise route to ensure we have time to head through the Antarctic Sound and as far into the Weddell Sea as ice and weather conditions will allow to search for the Emperors here, and get as close as we can to their breeding colony on Snow Hill Island.
The other advantage of this early season cruise is a lower cost structure; and this being our own charter, we will be able to ensure our landings will give us the best birding and photographic opportunities possible. We look forward to sharing this adventure of a lifetime with you.
This afternoon, we board our ship and begin our journey eastwards toward the Falkland Islands. As we leave the scenic harbour of the world’s most southern city, we enter the famous Beagle Channel. Forming the boundary between Argentina and Chile, we will have rugged cliffs and islands on either side of us and our photography will begin in earnest! Once we enter the open ocean, we will begin our lessons in pelagic bird photography. Here we will meet the first of many Black-browed Albatross, Cape and White-chinned Petrels, Southern Giant Petrel and Sooty Shearwater, as we enjoy our first watery sunset.
Our lenses will focus on seabirds and marine mammals from the bridge and the stern, where albatrosses and giant petrels should be following our ship.
Spectacular Wandering Albatrosses should make their first appearances, along with Grey-headed and Black-browed Albatrosses, White-chinned Petrel, Great Shearwater and Slender-billed Prion. Dusky and the localised Peale’s Dolphin may put in an appearance; and if we are lucky, we might be treated to a sighting of the rare Dwarf Minke Whale, one of the many possible mammal prizes of this adventure. In addition, information-packed, onboard lectures will serve as entertainment during some of the crossings.
This morning, we will wake up in the Falkland Islands! We will spend the entire day on the fascinating western side of the archipelago. Our first stop will likely be West Point Island, with its vast rookeries of Southern (Western) Rockhopper Penguin; while South American Sea Lion, South American Fur Seal and Peale’s and noisy Commerson’s Dolphins are likely in the surrounding waters (the latter known locally as “Puffing Pigs” due to their load huffing noises). We should come across confiding Striated Caracaras on the lovely hike to a Black-browed Albatross colony, the main objective for this morning. Here we will soak up the beauty of the spectacular wildlife on view; thousands of Black-browed Albatrosses nesting on a magnificent cliff; pairs in display and a continuous stream of individuals landing and taking off, all at touching distance – a truly incredible sight! As if that isn’t enough, entertaining Southern Rockhopper Penguins also nest among the albatrosses.
After lunch back on board, we plan to proceed to the pristine Carcass Island, which supports the highest diversity and abundance of land and waterbirds in the Falklands. Our photography here will focus on Magellanic and Gentoo Penguins, Rock and Imperial Shags, the lovely Dolphin Gull, the aptly-named Kelp Goose that forages in the beds of giant kelp, The approachability of these birds is remarkable, and superb photographic opportunities can be expected. In the late afternoon, we will steam towards Stanley.
The roughly 2,000 people inhabiting the historic town of Stanley represent about 80% of the population of the entire Falkland Islands. Our visit will give perspective on the history of British settlement of the islands, plus the 1982 Anglo-Argentine War in which Argentinean forces invaded but were subsequently defeated and expelled by the British. Time will also be available to explore the museums, shipwrecks, historical trails and shops of Stanley. In the afternoon, we begin our multi-day cruise to dramatic South Georgia.
For the seabird photographic enthusiast, these are some of the most exciting waters in the world. As we cruise from the Falklands to South Georgia, we cross the Antarctic Convergence, where the warmer, saline water from the north meets the colder and less salty Antarctic water. This is a very rich feeding ground for seabirds and marine mammals, attracting large volumes of wildlife from distant breeding islands and waters. Though the Convergence attracts birds from both north and south, we will notice a shift of species and relative numbers between the waters on either side of the Convergence. Albatrosses and petrels will predominate here. In addition to the species already noted, we are likely to see and photograph Royal Albatross (usually both the Northern and Southern species are observed), and Light-mantled Albatross (arguably the most attractive of all albatross).
As we approach South Georgia, the marine avifauna is dominated increasingly by the species breeding there. Given the enormous numbers of seabirds nesting on South Georgia and its surrounding islets, this is not surprising. Although this island lies south of the Antarctic Convergence, its waters don’t freeze in winter, meaning it can support life throughout the year. As a result, vast numbers of birds and pinnipeds live here year-round – over 500,000 pairs of King Penguins call this island home, and walking through, and photographing their packed colonies is without a doubt one of the single greatest wildlife experiences on the planet. In fact, the area around Salisbury Plain is believed to have the highest density of wildlife of anywhere on Earth!
We have three full days to explore, and capture this mountainous, glaciated island. So, stark, but home to such mindbogglingly abundant and exciting wildlife. All landings will be weather permitting, but we will make every effort to explore the Salisbury Plain, where beyond the black sand beach, lies one of the world’s largest King Penguin colonies. In addition, we plan a landing at St Andrew’s Bay, where an even bigger King Penguin colony exists.
The beaches heave with South American Fur Seal, but one of our special targets of this early season voyage will be to watch enormous Southern Elephant Seal beachmasters battling for supremacy.
These enormous animals, the largest species in the order Carnivora, reach weights of up to 4,000 kg (8,800 lb.) and lengths of 5.8 m (19 ft). Their large proboscis, which gives them their name, allows them to roar extraordinarily loudly. This, combined with their fierce fighting, result in an incredible spectacle to experience.
We also plan to visit Grytviken, the whaling station where the largest individual animal known to have lived on earth, a huge Blue Whale specimen, was butchered. Here we will visit the South Georgia Museum, remnants of the whaling station and the grave of the famed Antarctic explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton. Of course, birds and pinnipeds are also resident, and photographic opportunities will be breathtaking throughout (Please bear in mind, that throughout Antarctica and the Subantarctic, landings are subject to the weather conditions; alternatives are usually available when winds and surf are unfavourable at a planned site).
Over 3 million pairs of Macaroni Penguin breed on the island, but are nowhere near as obvious as the Kings.
Our final day on spectacular South Georgia features some of the most dazzling scenery yet, especially around the south-east tip of the island; while the stunning Drygalski Fjord is framed by sharp, non-glaciated mountain peaks. For photographers, this day offers some truly spectacular photographic opportunities.
Weather and ice will dictate our crossing of the Scotia Sea from South Georgia to Antarctica, leading us perhaps to Elephant Island. As with all of our itinerary planning, our expedition leader and captain will make a decision based on the conditions at the time, also bearing in mind our plan to try access the Weddell Sea.
As we cruise south-west towards Antarctica, we cross increasingly polar waters. More temperate species disappear; while the true Antarctic species become more prominent, but total numbers and diversity will drop. Our informative onboard lectures will continue to provide breaks from the hours of photographing seabirds, whales, dolphins and icebergs. At some point, we will encounter sea-ice, and it is at the ice-edge where we increase our chances capturing high-Antarctic species, such as Snow Petrel, Chinstrap Penguin and the predatory Leopard Seal.
As we edge ever closer to the frozen continent, large icebergs announce our arrival in Antarctic waters. If conditions allow, we will hope to see the dark cliffs of Elephant Island appear on the horizon. Shackleton and his men were encamped here for many months, having lost HMS Endurance in the thick sea ice, far to the south in the Weddell Sea, in 1915. From the desolate beach at Point Wild, Shackleton and six companions set off on the rescue mission to South Georgia, aboard the tiny lifeboat, James Caird. To this day, the epic ocean crossing is considered one of the greatest in history. If conditions and time allow, we will attempt a landing at Point Wild on Elephant Island.
On the morning of day 13, we hope to wake up in the Antarctic Sound, a channel between the north-eastern tip of the Antarctic Peninsula and Joinville Island. Here we will encounter awe-inspiring tabular icebergs, large fragments of the vast Weddell Ice Shelf, and the ice shelves along the east side of the Antarctic Peninsula. At this time of year, we stand a very reasonable chance to find the holy grail of Antarctica, the Emperor Penguin. This highly sought-after true denizen on the Antarctic, famed for its ability to nest through the hard polar winter, is only guaranteed on exceedingly expensive fly-in tours to their colonies. However, we will head as far south through the Antarctic Sound into the Weddell Sea as ice conditions will allow. Each mile southwards towards the Emperor colony on Snow Hill Island will improve our chances of finding one of these incredible birds resting on the ice.
We may take our first landing at Paulet Island, a tiny island boasting a huge colony of beautiful Adelie Penguins. Whilst we photograph these delightful creatures, we will also be entertained by more Snowy Sheathbill, Brown Skua and a nearby colony of Antarctic Shag, a very beautiful cormorant. Our first steps on the Antarctic continent itself may be at Brown Bluff, where we will be treated to spectacular scenery, colonies of Gentoo and Adelie Penguins. Mammals in this region include Leopard Seal and its favourite prey, Weddell and Crabeater Seals, as well as Antarctic Minke Whale and pods of Orca.
Next, we will head north again, and around 60 miles off the coast of the Antarctic mainland, we find the South Shetland Island chain. Possible landing sites could include Half Moon Island or King George Island, and dazzling wildlife sightings await us on our excursions to these islands. Weather conditions permitting, we will sail the ship into the flooded volcanic caldera of Deception Island. With rugged scenery, great sites of geologic interest and an overwhelming display of whaling and scientific exploration history, Deception Island is a perfect museum of natural and exploration history! At one or more of these landings, we can expect to find the delicately-patterned Chinstrap Penguin, which however emits a yowl that is far from a pleasant! We will also add another new bird to our list: South Polar Skua, which occurs in smaller numbers than Brown Skuas.
Later, we will zigzag back through the Bransfield Strait heading south-westwards towards Mikkelsen Harbour and Cierva Cove. In this area, we will enjoy zodiac excursions through the pack ice, marvelling at the myriad of shapes and colours of these ancient formations. Although we are unlikely to get many new additions to our list, we will have plenty photo opportunities and time to experience the scenery and wildlife of this amazing region. We again plan to make landings on the Antarctic continent. The scenery here, from the colossal icebergs to the seemingly endless Antarctic ice-sheet with distant high mountains, is truly breathtaking.
Later, we sail past or maybe even land on the Orne Islands with its large colonies of Chinstrap Penguin and a beautiful view across the Gerlache Strait to Cuverville Island – a small precipitous island nestled between the mountains of the Antarctic Peninsula. Cuverville Island is home to the region’s largest Gentoo Penguin colony and most of the region’s breeding bird species. Such penguin colonies and their inevitable attendants are frequent highlights.
Here, again, we can explore by zodiac, join your photographic guides for close-up penguin photography, and possibly visit a science base or an old historic hut if the opportunity presents itself. For the more adventurous, kayaking* up to several miles from the ship is an option for a truly memorable experience.
*Sea kayaking – Please note, if you have some experience with sea kayaking and are interested in doing this activity during the expedition, you will need to book this option prior to departure from home (sea kayaking price is extra and is not included in the tour cost). We cannot book this activity once onboard. There is a separate document for sea kayakers that you will need to review beforehand. It’s also important you have some prior paddling experience. If you are unsure, please contact our office for further information.
Sadly, we will bid farewell to this frozen wonderland and head north through the famous Drake Passage between Antarctica and Tierra del Fuego. With another crossing of the Antarctic Convergence, we will again have many opportunities to photograph the region’s rich seabirds and cetaceans. Post-processing lectures continue to provide entertaining diversions and educational information; while on our last night, we will toast the conclusion of our amazing venture with a celebratory dinner.
Today, we cruise into the Beagle Channel and land at Ushuaia in the early morning. This provides another chance to see sea and land birds of Tierra del Fuego, before bidding farewell to the fellow travellers with whom we have shared this remarkable voyage of a lifetime.
Kirsten Frost began his interest in nature and photography at a young age with a small point-and-shoot camera in hand. His work soon became recognized in the South African photography scene, and by the age of 16 he was sponsored professional level equipment. His work was seen gracing the covers of national magazines before the tender age of 18. Kirsten’s passion for Africa’s wild places led him to further his studies in Nature Conservation. After successfully completing his theory component, he went on to gain experience in the field, with a particular interest in wetland ecosystems.
His photographs have been featured in numerous national and international publications including; African Birdlife, Africa Geographic, GO! Magazine, Getaway Magazine, Birders World (USA), Wildside Magazine, Country Life Magazine. PIX Magazine, Wildlife Photographic Magazine and Digital Camera Magazine (UK). Kirsten has also been awarded in numerous photographic competitions, including the Botswana Wildlife Photographer of the Year, FujiFilm Getaway Wildlife Awards, GO! Magazine Photography Competition, and 2017 Nature’s Best Africa Photography Awards.
After completing his studies, Kirsten spent time photographing along the Chobe River in Botswana. He later secured a job as a photographic guide at Mashatu Game Reserve, which was his home for a seven-month stint, where he shared his knowledge on wildlife photography and the natural environment with guests. He was awarded 2017 Botswana’s Wildlife Photographer of The Year for his work created at Mashatu. Kirsten has since lead photo safaris to Kenya’s Maasai Mara, Botswana and Madagascar. His image awarded in the 2017 Nature’s Best Photography Africa awards is currently on exhibit at Iziko South Africa Museum in Cape Town, South Africa.
As one of ORXY’s youngest leaders, Kirsten’s future expeditions are sure to be exciting adventures in search of nature’s fleeting moments.
Kirsten Frost is a Photo Tour Leader for ORYX private and scheduled departures.
Dale Morris’ addiction to wildlife films at a tender age instilled a deep love for animals and the great outdoors. He has spent the last 20 years travelling the globe working with and photographing its wildlife and cultures throughout the world’s utterly diverse destinations such as Madagascar, Brazil, Borneo, the plains of Tanzania’s Serengeti, and other equally spectacular areas.
Dale’s wealth of knowledge and imagery has found its way into numerous publications. He has produced more than 400 nature, travel and photography oriented magazine articles and has worked on numerous wildlife documentaries including for the BBC. His photographs have appeared on high profile front covers and he has won several awards with global publishing companies.
His sense of humour and relaxed demeanour ensure that he is a hit with all the people he guides, both young and old, creating long-lasting clientele whilst easily captivating new guests on a tour with him.
Ranging from the icescapes of Antarctica to the tropics of Bornea, Madagascar, Brazil and more, Dale’s endless passion and knowledge makes him a perfect Photo Tour Leader for your next ORYX tour.
Dale Morris is a Photo Tour Leader for ORYX private and scheduled departures.
“This was my second big expedition with ORYX. As I write this I am reminded of the full title of this young and dynamic company: ORYX Worldwide Photographic Expeditions.
The Antarctic is certainly at the end of our wide world and no doubt on many bucket lists.If you have thought of wanting to go to the Great White continent then plan and book now. If you are a photographer then do it with ORYX.
We travelled in a group of nine with Marius Coetzee, founder of ORYX and expedition leader from 28 December 2013 until 15 January 2014. We were aboard the sturdy purpose-built Russian ice-capable research vessel, the Akademik Sergey Vavilov with a total of 90 passengers. The expedition was managed and run by super staff from One Ocean Expeditions based in Canada. They were professional in every regard, from on ship duties to Zodiac outings and landings, and there was a great emphasis on education with numerous interesting and informative lectures, including from their resident photographers Ira Meyer and Tony Beck.
Even with an expedition crew that has two professional photographic guides you need to have someone like Marius Coetzee to really help you get the shots you want.
Marius has an easy way of discussing the days planned activities and sharing gems about the shots to get. His advice on equipment is first rate and in the field he will seek out the best vantage points and preferentially let his clients shoot. Even with more creative photographers he continuously looks for compositions and movement and shares his ideas freely. This is a rare capability in a first class photographic guide.
ORYX has an extensive network of ground contacts, and landings and transfers are facilitated professionally at ports and airports with no stress for the traveller. As an aside, Marius and I went up to Iguaçu Falls with a private guide, Miguel, and all of ORYX’s abilities including their choice of venue, accommodation and guide scored top marks.
Booking and communication details and other requirements are effortless with Kirsty at the home office.
Get out there and live your life: go on an expedition with ORYX Worldwide Photographic Expeditions.”
“Thanks Marius for a great trip! We had a wonderful time and you managed it all fabulously: Asanti Sana! Your tips and suggestions to make the photography more interesting were enlightening. Even the other passengers were impressed.”Antarctica
“I’ve been back two weeks now, following a trip of a lifetime to Antarctica with ORYX Photography Tours. It was a phenomenal adventure and exceeded all expectations. Marius is a pleasure to travel with; he has a great sense of humor and is very attentive to all.
I was the least experienced photographer in our small group, but was given all the help and guidance I needed not just from Marius but from all in our group. Marius is very good at reading people and understanding what they will like and when they need help, he ensures that his clients get the shots they want and always puts them first.
I would highly recommend this trip to anyone who wants an epic adventure and go with ORYX as you won’t regret it! Wish I was still there, but alas not, so instead I’m in the process of booking my next trip with ORYX and Marius for later in 2014!”
I arrived home safely at midnight on the 16th and was so busy at work that I’m just finding the time now to write to you. I only have positive things to say about the trip, Antarctica was a fantastic experience, Dale was perfect (as always) and the rest of group very easy to get along with.
It’s late in Geneva and I’ll be brief: there is no doubt that I will join another ORYX expedition, I don’t know when, but soon I hope (and with Dale again for sure).
Enjoy your weekend.
I recently got back from Antarctica and it was absolutely spectacular. Out of about 10 photographer-guides I’ve traveled with in the past, Dale is the best overall. He’s a wonderful teacher, has almost no ego, and is always concerned about his clients getting great shots. I never fail to be impressed by his talent in photographing animals and landscapes, his technical ability, attention to detail, and aesthetic sensibility. He’s highly attuned to the animals and their behavior, which is one reason why his photos are so successful. My photos are much better when I travel with him.
I loved the Akademik Ioffe ship and staff. The mostly Canadian staff and Russian crew were excellent and exceeded expectations in professionalism and competence. The food was very good, with many courses and options, and different every single day. The cabins were comfortable with stunning antarctic views. The staff planned activities all day long to fill up the downtime days so we were constantly entertained and the 3 weeks flew by. There were other options for Antarctica, but I’m so glad I chose this one and it’s a memory of a lifetime!Antarctica
Thank you and the ORYX team so much for your email welcoming us home!
In every respect, we truly did have a wonderful time in Antarctica. I do not know where to start… comprehensive and regular communication from the time of our initial enquiry, the friendly tone of all your emails, your promptness in responding to our enquiries, your care and concern.
The One Ocean experience on Akademik Ioffe: this was our first cruise and it exceeded all expectations. The professionalism and friendliness of all staff, service, amenities, activities, conservation principles, amazing variety and healthy choices at every meal, a surprise birthday cake from Bob for me on 5 January (every birthday was celebrated with a personalised cake with a candle! – so thoughtful), fellow passengers from all ages and stages!
Graham learnt so much from Dale, not only about his camera, but also about new and varied angles for photographing wildlife! This was also our first photographic tour and we look forward to many more. Graham’s passion for birdwatching and photography was more than fulfilled– he has so many amazing shots and our bird count tally was increased by 50 new species!
It is difficult to relate to others what you experience in Antarctica – the stillness, purity, abundance of wildlife, pristineness, the ocean in every shade of blue, the privilege of being there…
I will recommend our overall experience with you all in a heartbeat!
Thank you again for helping us to achieve this bucket list item in such a memorable way.
Kind regards and take careAntarctica
Hi Nicolette, Thanks to you and the entire ORYX team. This was truly the experience of a lifetime. My only wish was that my wife was there to share it with me. Having said that Penny did everything possible to make this trip the absolute best it could be. She was so attentive – to both shooting and post production, that I know my photography skills took a big jump forward. I have been on many photo expeditions over the last 6 or 7 years and Penny’s instruction and attention were well beyond what I have experienced previously.Antarctica
You guys have been fantastic, from my initial enquiries, through supporting me with payments to the information you provided beforehand. But most importantly Penny was an absolute super star. It was an incredible trip. Exhilarating, intense, thought provoking and really fun. Penny was patient, really easy to get along with (for 3 weeks on a boat is not easy to achieve!), supportive and taught us both so much. Having Penny with us the whole time opened my eyes to a different way of seeing things. She has an incredible creative eye, and the way we looked at animal behaviour, and thought about the context that surrounded Antarctica, moved my photography beyond basic documentary to something that had more purpose. Instead of solely trying to capture beautiful images we were trying to tell stories in a place where there are so many important stories to tell. This has not only made my photography better and more interesting (I hope!) but it also given it more meaning. And having more meaning for me has given me a whole new excitement and sense of purpose for my photography in general.Antarctica & South Georgia
“Many thanks for the warm welcome back, all your organisation went off seamlessly. We had an amazing experience and after South Georgia and the Peninsular, our souls were enriched and hard drives full of amazing photos. The rest of the trip was also amazing, with a lot of great memories.We are eventually getting over the jet lag and would really like to thank you and your team for all the hard work that you put into making this once in a lifetime expedition such a success.”