This Patagonia cruise follows the fjords at the southern edge of the Tierra del Fuego archipelago and highlights the stunning, natural beauty of this corner of Patagonia and takes in some of the important historical sites of the region. This four-day journey includes visits to wildlife-rich Ainsworth Bay, the massive Pia Glacier and Glacier Alley, as well as mystical Wulaia Bay and the legendary Cape Horn.
Board the vessel at 6 PM. After a welcoming toast and introduction to the captain and crew, the ship departs for one of the planet's remotest corners. During the night you will cross the Strait of Magellan and enter the labyrinth of channels that define the southern extremities of Patagonia. The sparkling lights of Punta Arenas will gradually fade over the horizon, and you will enter the Whiteside Canal between Darwin Island and Isla Grande de Tierra del Fuego.
By dawn, you will be sailing up Admiralty Sound, a spectacular offshoot of the Strait of Magellan that stretches nearly halfway across Tierra del Fuego. The snowcapped peaks of Karukinka Natural Park extend along the north side of the sound, while the south shore is defined by the deep fjords and bays of Alberto de Agostini National Park. You will go ashore in Zodiacs at Ainsworth Bay, which is renowned for its birdlife and a colony of southern elephant seals which can sometimes from the boats. Two guided excursions are available: one is along the edge of a stream, peat bog and beaver habitat to a waterfall-and-moss-covered rock face tucked deep inside a pristine sub-polar forest; the other is a more strenuous hike along the crest of a glacial moraine. Both afford views of Marinelli Glacier and the Darwin Mountains.
Leaving our Ainsworth Bay behind, you will sail west along the sound to the Tucker Islets. After lunch, you will board the Zodiacs again for a close-up view of the Magellanic penguins that inhabit the tiny islands. More than 4,000 penguins use Tucker as a place to nest, give birth and nurture their chicks. Many other bird species also frequent the area including king cormorants, oystercatchers, Chilean skuas, kelp geese, dolphin gulls, eagles and even the occasional Andean condor. In September and April when the penguins are at sea, this excursion is replaced by a short walk to a glacier at nearby stunning Brookes Bay.
Overnight we sail around the western end of Tierra del Fuego via the very narrow Gabrial Channel, Magdalena Channel and Cockburn Channel. After rounding the remote Brecknock Peninsula, the Australis cruise tacks eastward and enters the Beagle Channel again. By morning we are entering Pia Fjord and boarding the Zodiacs for a tour of Pia Glacier. After disembarking we take a short hike to gain a panoramic view of the spectacular glacier, which extends from the mountaintops down to the sea or a longer much more difficult walk up a lateral moraine of the old Pia Glacier.
No one knows for certain how the hulking mass of snow and ice got its feminine moniker, but one theory says it was named for Princess Maria Pia of Savoy (1847-1911), daughter of the Italian king.
Back on board the ship, we continue east along the Beagle Channel through an area called Glacier Alley. Living up to its name, the passage features a number of impressive tidewater glaciers flowing down from the Darwin Mountains and Darwin Ice Sheet on the north shore. Most of them named after European countries -- Holland, Italy, Germany, Spain and France.
During the morning we cruise across Nassau Bay into the remote archipelago that includes Cape Horn National Park. Weather and sea conditions permitting, we shall go ashore on the windswept island that harbours legendary Cape Horn (Cabo de Hornos). Discovered in 1616 by a Dutch maritime expedition -- and named after the town of Hoorn in West Friesland -- Cape Horn is a sheer 425-meter (1,394-foot) high rocky promontory overlooking the turbulent waters of the Drake Passage. For many years it was the only navigation route between the Pacific and Atlantic, and was often referred to as the "End of the Earth." The park was declared a World Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO in 2005. The Chilean navy maintains a permanent lighthouse on the island, staffed by a lightkeeper and his family, as well as the tiny Stella Maris Chapel and modern Cape Horn Monument.
In the afternoon we navigate the narrow Murray Channel between Navarino and Hoste islands and drop anchor at historic Wulaia Bay, one of the few places in the archipelago where the human history is just as compelling as the natural environment. Originally the site of one of the region’s largest Yámana aboriginal settlements, the bay was described by Charles Darwin and sketched by Captain FitzRoy in the 1830s during their voyages on the HMS Beagle. This area is also renowned for its mesmerizing beauty and dramatic geography. After a visit to the Australis-sponsored museum in the old radio station -- which is especially strong on the Yámana people and European missionaries in the area -- passengers have a choice of three hikes (of increasing degrees of difficulty) that ascend the heavily wooded mountain behind the bay. On all of these, you will be strolling through an enchanted Magellan forest of lengas, coigües, canelos, ferns, and other endemic fauna to reach a panoramic viewpoint overlooking the bay. Before leaving Wulaia Bay, drop something into the wooden mail barrel inside the museum – letters or postcards meant to be hand-delivered by future travellers – an ancient mariner tradition revived by Australis.
The following morning we sail into Argentine waters and dock in Ushuaia, the world's southernmost city.
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