An Australis cruise… to the end of the world


| February 5, 2019

Setting out on an adventure to the end of the world is about as exciting as it gets. Travelling to the southern tip of Patagonia, I was following in the footsteps of intrepid adventurers such as Magellan, Drake and Darwin to a wild and remote land.

Australis cruise

Although I arrived not so fresh-faced in Santiago, it was a clear-skied, sunny Saturday. I stayed at the centrally located The Singular hotel in the historical neighbourhood of Lastarria. The hotel is within walking distance of the Chilean National Museum of Fine Arts, Forestal Park and the rooftop bar had views of San Cristobal Hill, which is the second highest point in the city. On a walking tour of the city, I began to understand some of the history of this intriguing city and was welcomed by friendly faces. 

Santiago

After a quick stop in the capital city and full of anticipation for what was to come, I flew with eight others to Chile’s southernmost city and gateway to Antarctica, Punta Arenas. From here, we embarked on the fjords of Tierra del Fuego cruise to Ushuaia in Argentina, also commonly known as ‘the end of the world’. We were greeted by some of the best weather the city had seen in weeks. Lying below the 46th parallel, the first attempts to settle here were nearly half a millennium ago by the Spanish. At the viewpoint of Cerro de la Cruz, I was able to get my bearings and catch a glimpse of where I would be travelling for the next five days.

Cerro de la Cruz viewpoint

 Cerro de la Cruz viewpoint

We travelled on the Ventus Australis expedition ship, meaning ‘southern wind’ and suitably named after the gusty weather of the region. The small ship has 100 luxurious cabins and is able to navigate through narrow fjords and channels. My cabin had an impressive vista window at the foot of my bed, which acted as a picture frame to a number of spectacular Patagonian vistas.

As we peeled away from the port and turned to face the Strait of Magellan, we waved goodbye to civilisation. It was time to begin our own sea adventure to the notorious Cape Horn, which was an extremely dangerous trading route in the past. The opening of the Panama Canal in 1914 created a trans-isthmian route between the Atlantic and the Pacific, resulting in less sailors journeying to the end of the world.

Leaving Punta Arenas

 Leaving Punta Arenas

For our first evening aboard, we had a delicious welcome dinner with our new shipmates. A rich three-course meal consisting of ceviche – raw fish cured with lime juice – followed by a Chilean steak served with potato gratin and to finish, a melt-in-the-mouth chocolate fondant. All paired with some of Chile’s finest wines.

Scallop ceviche with olive tapinade

Scallop ceviche with olive tapinade

Awaking to calm seas and a crisp blue sky, it was time for our first excursion to Ainsworth Bay. Split into groups of 10 to 12, we boarded the Zodiac boats. You could then choose whether you would like to join the standard or more challenging hikes. Our guide explained the route, which was an hour-long hike along the crest of a glacial moraine. There were stunning views of both the fjord and the Darwin mountain range that surrounded us. After the excursion, we warmed up with some well-earned hot chocolate and an optional addition of whiskey.

Our guide showing us the route

 Our guide showing us the route

After lunch, we took the Zodiac to Tucker islets, home to some of the 4,000 Magellanic penguins that inhabit the small islands. Other species of birds that can be seen here include Chilean skua, king cormorants, oyster catchers, and sometimes even an Andean condor if you are extremely fortunate. That evening, we chatted about our day together over a delicious Patagonian sour, which is a twist on the original Pisco sour, made with the Calafate berry. I also tried the sweet, dark Austral beer, an ale made with the Calafate berry and easily identifiable by its colouring. There was a briefing on the following day’s itinerary, followed by the fascinating documentary Eden at the End of the World, filmed by National Geographic.

 Spotting penguins from the Zodiac

I woke up to the desolate, rugged landscape of the Ballenero Channel. That morning, I was able to see what the Australis crew does to keep us safe by visiting the bridge and engine room. A highlight of mine was the ship’s navigation map, which was signed and auctioned on our final night. As the ultimate memento from our voyage to Cape Horn, it sold for $1,500.

In the afternoon, we saw the sprawling ice-blue Pia glacier; an intimidating sight as it lurched from the shore. After a short hike to a viewpoint, we overlooked the glacier and saw its sheer size. You could hear the groans of the ice calving, similar to an eruption of an avalanche. It’s one of the three glaciers that’s still expanding in the Southern Patagonian Ice Field, along with the Perito Moreno glacier in Argentina’s Glaciers National Park.

Pia glacier

Pia glacier

Returning to the ship, we continued along Beagle Channel, named after the British ship HMS Beagle that first surveyed the area between 1826 and 1830. We saw a string of glaciers that spill out of the Darwin Ice Field, known as Glacier Alley. Most of the glaciers had been named by Ferdinand Magellan after European countries: Germany, France, Spain, Holland and Italy. It was thought that Italy was the smallest as he disliked the country. That evening, we are cleverly served a dish from each of these countries. A highlight for me was the French cheese, which had travelled as far away as we had, to be served in comfort in the sky lounge.

Cox & Kings arranges escorted group tours and tailor-made private travel throughout Chile & Argentina. To take a cruise from Punta Arenas to Ushuaia with Australis described in this article, you can add it as an extension from our popular Splendours of Chile or Patagonia: Untouched Wilderness group tour or private journey. Alternatively, find out more about all our tailor-made holidays to Patagonia here, or complete our tailor-made request form and one of our experts will get back to you to help you plan an itinerary.

 

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