Today, many of us started the day much earlier than normal. The proximity to land was a welcomed sight after a few days at sea. A few intrepid explorers successfully overcame the landing pier and the swell and managed a visit to Georgetown, the capital of Ascension Island. All of us happily went out later in the afternoon for a visit to the incredible Boatswain Bird Island, one of the best islands in the world for tropical seabirds. Huge numbers of seabirds breed on this island, including, until very recently, the entire population of Ascension frigatebirds!
National Geographic Explorer
We awoke to a beautiful morning in our final destination – Madeira! We had an early start with a full day of activities that began with the first departures at 7:30 a.m. Following an early breakfast, the birders among us departed for the Madeira highlands to look for several endemic species, including the laurel pigeon, the Madeira firecrest pipit, the chaffinch, and the Micronesian kestrel! The second morning departure headed for a scenic drive around the island and up to the Pico dos Barcelos to take in the fantastic panoramic views of Funchal, including the bay, the harbor, and the surrounding hills. We passed through the village of Cârmara de Lobos, the Sea Wolves Lair, a charming fishing village once painted by Winston Churchill. We continued our drive through forests of pine and eucalyptus on our way to Cabo Girão, the highest cliff in Europe with views as far as the eye can see! In the late morning, we headed up the mountain pass and along the vineyards of Estreito de Câmara Lobos, followed by a tasting of wine and “ginja,” the local brandy. The last of the morning departures took the rest of us on a full day tour of this remarkable island! We drove through small villages, along the central mountain range, and over the island to Pico do Arieiro, the island’s third highest peak. We descended into the village of Santana with its charming and traditional houses and vineyards to have lunch. In the afternoon, we arrived at Porto da Cruize for a short visit. On the way back to the ship, we made a photo stop at Ponta do Garajau and Christ the Redeemer, with his outstretched arms overlooking the sea. Following lunch on board National Geographic Explorer , afternoon half-day tours begin. These started with a food and culture tour, where we were guided through seven food-tasting locations to sample the best of the regional flavors of Madeira! The more adventurous departed for a half-day hiking tour along the island’s eastern coast. Hikers kept an eye out for butterflies and endemic birds along the way. In the evening, we were treated to a performance by local folklore group Boa Nova on board National Geographic Explorer . By the end of the performance, many guests were on their feet dancing!