As we steamed into Dusky Sound from our anchoring position, we were greeted by cloudy and quite cold conditions. However, the scenery was spectacular as we cruised into Dusky Sound. We spotted a few rare Fiordland crested penguins porpoising adjacent to the ship. Our main activity today was a Zodiac cruise around this stunning area. Conditions were kind to us. The rain held off, and the mountains and tree-lined islands appeared quite moody with misty light and low cloud cover. After our cruise, we returned to National Geographic Orion to head further south to commence our journey to the sub-Antarctic islands.
Española is the oldest of the Galapagos Islands, located on the southeastern end of the archipelago. The islands are of volcanic origin, and they formed because of the activity of what geologists call a “hot spot.” As the Nazca Plate slides to the southeast over the volcano-producing area, new islands develop. This means that the islands towards the northwest are the youngest, and the ones on the opposite end are the oldest.
Calm seas and clear skies granted us a smooth day on the Drake Passage, or, as naturalist Maria Intxaustegi taught guests, the Mar de Hoces. Amongst other seabirds, petrels, skuas, wandering albatrosses, royal albatrosses, and black-browed albatrosses all graced us with their presence today. Naturalist Eric Guth gave an in-depth presentation on “Southern Ocean Seabirds,” including some of the unique adaptations that allow them to survive in such a challenging environment. Throughout the day, guests familiarized themselves with National Geographic Explorer. Many spent time with the staff and crew on the bridge. From here, fleeting observations of wildlife kept everyone on their toes, from occasional humpback spouts to the rare sighting of an orca pod. In between exciting viewing opportunities, a handful of lectures were held. The lectures help guests build their foundational knowledge of the area and better hone their photographic skills so they are ready to capture the best images once we reach the continent tomorrow. All and all, it’s hard to imagine a better day at sea.
The Drake Lake refers to times when the famed Drake Passage has incredibly calm seas with little to no wave action, a light breeze, and no rain. This is what we experienced today. We couldn’t be happier to say that both crossings on this voyage were a cake walk. Through the ship’s windows, we had sporadic fleeting glimpses of whales and dolphins. Our naturalists gave talks on historical navigation and how organisms use smell to make sense of this extreme environment. In the early afternoon, we spotted a blue whale! We slowly cruised past Cape Horn and made our way to the Beagle Channel ahead of schedule, safely arriving to the Port of Ushuaia. Thank you all so much for an unforgettable journey over these past ten days.
Santa Fe Island is located at the center of the archipelago. The island is home to unique wildlife, and it has a high percentage of endemism. We started our morning with a pre-breakfast hike to see the wonders of this place. We spotted Santa Fe land iguanas, which are unique to the site, a huge colony of sea lions, lizards, and sea turtles. We snorkeled and took tours in the glass-bottom boat in the beautiful, protected bay. During lunch, we navigated to San Cristobal, one of the oldest islands of the archipelago. We finished our spectacular week with a stroll on a white sand beach with beautiful views.