Cruceros Australis

 

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CONTEST DESTINATION OF THE MONTH

NOVEMBER 2010


The prize for the DOM in NOVEMBER is a marvelous All Inclusive Cruise on Cruceros Australis.


***Contest Destination of the Month - November 2010***

Please answer the following questions:


What people were known as Nomads of the Sea?

What is the name of the new ship that will be added next month to Cruceros Australis’ fleet?


To enter the contest, please send your answers to

info@uniquedestinations.cl

On the Subject line, please indicate:

Contest Destination of the Month - November 2010

NOTE: The winner will be drawn at random among all the qualified entries received

during the month of November, 2010.

Terms and regulations of the DOM contest:

  1. The winner will be chosen at random

  2. The Prize can be claimed until April 2011. 

  3. The prize is subject to availability.

  4. The prize excludes Special departures (Christmas and New Year’s)

  5. The prize is 1 cabin, all inclusive cruise on Cruceros Australis

  6. The prize does not include air fare to and from Punta Arenas and/or Ushuaia, nor does it include hotel accommodations prior to the sailing of the trip.

Tierra del Fuego, Cape Horn, the Straight of Magellan, the Beagle Channel - these are names and places of legends and history, of wilderness, ice, forests, and wildlife, like nowhere else on Earth.  Trying to think and write about Cruceros Australis, images arise almost unbidden from memory, forming a cascade of fantastic recollections.  Truly it is a life experience not to be missed!  


After an easy flight from Santiago to Punta Arenas, there are a few hours for a pleasant meal and a stroll, waiting for our late afternoon departure on Australis.  Punta Arenas vies with Ushuaia for the title of the world’s most southerly city.  Elegant and well cared for buildings abound in the city center, reminders of a far different time.

Review on Cruceros Australis

Stately buildings flank the main square in Punta Arenas, among them the Cabo de Hornos Hotel, a tradition for visitors.  It is newly refurbished inside but keeps its façade intact.  Close by are the Comapa offices where we leave our bags and check in for the cruise.  The staff is helpful and kind, and our bags are left to their care; passengers of Australis are welcomed and cared for from the start.


A few hours later, on the boarding ramp for Australis, you may feel butterflies in your stomach.  There is a mixture of anticipation for the trip, and wondering who among the many new faces you will meet or become friends with over the next days.  The famously unpredictable weather is another factor – will the voyage to Cape Horn and points along the route be successful, and what will we see?  The uncertainty adds to a sense of adventure, heightening the excitement and anticipation for the cruise.


To be starting a journey to the far end of the world, with only the Antarctic to the south, is an exhilarating feeling.  The mountains and fjords of far southern Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego are all that are between the Southern Ocean and us.  Cape Horn lies isolated nearly 400km south of our starting point in Punta Arenas.  Will we come ashore there, standing where few people ever go?


The cabins on the Australis are comfortably spacious, each with its own bathroom, closet and drawer space.  There are picture windows dressed with curtains with sea motifs in white and blue.  4 or 5 stations play a variety of selections if you want music in your cabin.

Australis features two large lounges for lectures, gatherings, and simply relaxing while watching the scenery slide by.  The lounges are also where we gather for instructions and pre-boarding preparations before each of the 5 planned excursions during the voyage.  English and Spanish are the official languages on board, but a number of the staff speak other languages to assist the passengers.  In fact there were many nationalities represented on our cruise: French, Chileans, Americans, Canadians, Swiss, Colombians, Argentineans, British, Spaniards, Mexicans, and Brazilians, all liven up the next 4 nights and days!


Cocktails and drinks as well as tea or coffee are available all day at any time in one of the lounges, with meals served in the main dining room.  Tables are set for 6 or 8 people so groups naturally form, and most people remain at a table with new found friends after the first meal or two.  Australis is small enough that there is an intimacy and feeling of shared adventure amongst the passengers, and it is easy to meet people. 

Breakfast is served as a buffet and there are a large variety of choices to satisfy most preferences.  Fruit, yoghurt, pancakes, eggs, bacon, toast, assorted breads, cakes, coffee, tea, juice, are all served with some variations each morning.  Lunch is also served as a buffet, with a different cuisine featured each day (Italian and Chilean were particularly memorable) so they do not repeat during the cruise.  Dinner was always a choice of two options for starter, main course and dessert.  The staff was extremely solicitous of passenger’s desires, and the meals were uniformly excellent. 


There was something impossibly romantic, to be dining so well as we traveled through the vast wilderness of the Patagonian fjords.  We shared our reactions to the adventures of each day, turning each encounter into pleasant conversation among new friends.


Ainsworth Bay is our first destination on our first morning.  On arrival, we all gather nervously for final instructions before our first trip in one of Australis´ 4 zodiacs.  There are only three steps to board them, with no problems in the relatively sheltered bay.  Although morning is cold and raining lightly, but it is also calm, and our warm and waterproof layers serve well.


Luck is with us, so we see the small local colony of elephant seals.  With the early spring there are two pups only a few weeks old, clinging close to their mothers.  We also see the massive male resting close by, keeping an eye on his harem.  The elephant seals are the stars of the morning, with everyone’s cameras happily in use.  We spend quite a while admiring these enormous seals, giving them a respectful distance.  We are told they are biggest elephant seals on earth, with males weighing up to 7 tons. 


We are then guided through the nearby Magellanic Forest.  In the soft rain we see the neighboring hills rising into the mist, and Ainsworth glacier in the far distance from time to time.  The guides and naturalists easily transmit their knowledge and love of the region with a passion for the natural beauty around us.  Francisco explains that this is a humid forest in the cold Patagonia, not to be confused with a rainforest in the tropics.  He shows us the many variety of plants, trees, lichen, moss in the area, tells us a little about the human history of this now uninhabited place.  Listen carefully and pay attention.  Your knowledge might be tested later on the cruise! 


We finish our walking loop back at the beach where we had arrived on the zodiacs.  A welcome hot chocolate or whisky on the rocks awaits us.  Back on the zodiacs, we zip over the waves to our majestic looking ship.  What a pleasant way to end our tour of Ainsworth Bay! 

Back on board, we change into more comfortable clothes and go to the upper deck to admire the surrounding wilderness as we leave the bay.  Silence (except for the ship’s engine!) and air as pure as you can get on this Earth, surround us.


After a festive and very enjoyable lunch we take a nap in our cabin, the excitement of the morning and all the traveling the day before catching up to us.  We woke with just enough time the zodiac excursion around Tuckers Islets where we see an astounding variety of birds, including Magellanic penguins, rock cormorants, condors, caracaras (hawks), skuas, gulls, even an albatross in the distance. 


Interestingly, there was also an incident showing the high level of passenger service that the staff on Australis aims to deliver.  The announcement for the excursion woke us from a deep sleep.  Rather more slowly than we realized, we got up and got into our “zodiac gear” and went down to the 1st deck… only to discover that the boats had already left!  While we thought we had missed our chance to come close to the penguins, the crew didn’t hesitate and prepared a zodiac just for us!  We were given a “private” tour around the islets and could get very close to all there was to see on a delightful and sunny afternoon.  We were thrilled with the experience, and grateful to the crew of Australis for their willingness to literally go the extra distance for us  (Perhaps our new friends secretly envied us… but they were mainly happy for us that we shared the visit to the island).

That night we went to see how things worked on the bridge.  Australis welcomes passenger visits - you may knock on the door and the captain lets you in if things are not too busy.  You may ask any questions, and you will have the chance to see how the ship sails through the channels and fjords, and you can see on the charts how the captain measures the distances and tracks our voyage.


On our second day (having sailed past Cape Froward the evening before) we sailed through Desolation Bay and entered the northwest Beagle channel where Pia Glacier lies.  However, during the night a windstorm had been building.  When we arrived at the fjord of the glacier the wind was gusting to over 80 knots (almost 150 km/hr!).  It was fascinating and beautiful to see the wind gusts rolling across the water towards us, heeling the ship over ~10 degrees in the strongest gusts. There was no chance get close to Pia Glacier on the zodiacs.  Everybody was disappointed, but we knew from the beginning that this is a possibility that may occur due to weather conditions.  The crew of Australis always puts safety first, giving the passengers confidence that unnecessary risks are never taken.  We still had sublime views for Pia glacier from fairly close, and experienced some truly terrific weather!


The next leg of our voyage immediately after the visit to Pia glacier was a cruise through the famous ¨Glacier Alley¨ of the beagle channel.  The wind and most of the rain from earlier in the afternoon were gone, so the views were lovely.  Several massive glaciers flow off the ice cap that resides on the Darwin range; through the late afternoon we were treated to a wonderful palette of glaciers painted on the canvas of the Darwin mountain range. 

Around dawn on our 3rd day we woke up to swells rocking the ship while sailing to Cape Horn.  Before breakfast is served we will disembark via zodiacs to the Cape and visit it for as long as we like, or rather for as long as the inclement weather permits!   This is the last full day of our trip, and all of the passengers seem determined to make the most of this last day.   We get “dressed for the occasion”, and while some feel a little peckish no one minds an exciting excursion before breakfast.  Like children, thrilling with the anticipation, we gather on the first deck to board the zodiacs.


In groups of 10-12 per zodiac we set off on our biggest adventure of this cruise.  The sea seemed a little rough to some, but Australis is docked in a relatively sheltered cove near the Cape, and the zodiacs easily fly over the waves.  We get to the disembarkment point on the Cape; 160 steps await us to climb up the cliff of the rock.  We divide into groups and set off on the short walks to the monument, or the lighthouse.  A military family lives at the Cape for a 12-month rotation to maintain Chilean sovereignty of the Cape, and a Chilean flag flies proudly on its mast. 


Standing at the monument to the thousands of sailors who perished while trying to round the Cape is a sobering and solemn moment.  We stand at the uttermost end of the inhabited world, seeing below us a few large waves that hint at the dangerous waters to the south.  Several monuments and memorials dot the bluff overlooking the ocean, the most famous of which is in the form of a silhouetted gull.


One of our guides alerts us on concerns about the weather worsening so we have to scurry back to the ship before the sea makes it difficult for the zodiacs to be in the water.  Like a flock of birds we gather at the bottom of the cliff, ready to board and take our places on the zodiacs.  Cold wind hits our faces, the zodiac hits the waves hard; there it is again, that exhilarating feeling that one gets when experiencing a great adventure.  Back on board, we are greeted by a wonderful, revitalizing, breakfast…


That morning we sail north, and into a beautiful sunny day with blue skies, and, amazingly, dolphins swimming near the ship.  Albatrosses follow us in the distance.  The weather has changed a long ways from the cold, breezy morning with light rain!

After lunch that day we disembark for our final excursion at Wulaia bay, where we have the option of a stroll along the beach, or a climb 90 meters high to get the most amazing view of the bay.   We get to the shore where close by lies the house that is being restored as a Yamana museum by Cruceros Australis.  The hike up the hill on the pleasant afternoon attracts us so we follow our leader, we are in luck, and Francisco is our guide this time again.  The hike starts innocently enough, pausing every now and then for our guide to explain a few facts of the place and its vegetation.  Then, we get to the steep part where we slow down our pace but don’t give up; a guide remains at the back end of our line to keep anybody from getting so far behind that gets lost in the woods for this area is long uninhabited.  As we crest the hill we are rewarded with a view across the bay to Holt Island, covered by glaciers in the distance.  The view is magnificent!  We all find a spot to sit down and rest for a while before we begin to climb down.  A voice is heard: “condor!” and one glorious specimen glides down towards the bay, passing very close to us.  Cameras click incessantly until it is too far to get a good shot anymore.  My husband stays alert, camera ready, zoom lens on, and a second condor passes by us!  My husband is satisfied with his second chance shots!


Once we get back down –which takes us half the time that it took us to get to the top!- we visit the Yamana museum.  It is very nicely put together, and Cruceros Australis is still working on it.  Most impressive is the replica of a Yamana canoe.  The Yamana (known as the nomads of the sea) spent 60-70% of their lives on the water, living in tiny bark canoes, rarely going ashore.  We stroll down to the beach, where hot chocolate and whisky on the rocks again await us.  Revitalizing!


That evening we have a very special dinner.  The captain bids us, his guests for the past 4 nights, farewell and after dinner we toast with a glass of champagne.  It has been a wonderful cruise, and emails and addresses are exchanged, and hopes to visit one another.  Cruceros Australis is truly a life experience to be lived and cherished.  Next month, a new, bigger, more modern and more spacious ship shall be added to Cruceros Australis’ fleet: the Stella Australis.

All text and photographs copyright by Alejandra Cádiz and Richard Simon