Wildlife Group Tour

Antarctic cruise - Ross Sea Voyage with Friends of SPRI

Departing 16th February - 18th March 2020

32 days

from £28,350pp
  • Join this special voyage organised by Friends of SPRI to recognise their centenary
  • Hosted by Julian and Evelyn Dowdeswell from SPRI
  • An epic cruise including ship to shore helicopter transfers and expert naturalists
  • Sail in comfort onboard the ice-strengthened Ortelius

Travel to one of the most remote places on Earth. The Ross Sea is synonymous with the history of polar exploration and has epic landscapes to match the endeavours of men like Scott and Shackleton. The Ross Ice Shelf is the largest of its kind in the world and the icebergs found in the Ross Sea are some of the most impressive seen anywhere in Antarctica.

The Ross Sea became the starting point for expeditions to the South Pole. Shackleton's hut at Cape Royds and Scott's hut at Cape Evans are poignant reminders of man’s futile attempts to tame the White Continent. East Antarctica and Commonwealth Bay are synonymous with the explorers Mawson and d’Urville. A reminder of the challenges they faced can be felt first-hand at Cape Dennison in Commonwealth Bay, which has the title of the windiest place on earth. This is Antarctica at its most raw.

Start your expedition in Bluff, New Zealand’s southernmost city, from where you will explore the sub-Antarctic Islands including Campbell, Macquarie and Balleny islands, before crossing the Antarctic circle and heading for Cape Adare. Continue to the magnificent Ross Ice Shelf, the largest ice shelf in the world, which is constantly changing with the receding ice masses. Large icebergs are present here, along with great opportunities to see wildlife. Then sail through the Amundsen Sea, moving along and through the outer fringes of the pack ice. Afterwards, sail across the Bellingshausen Sea, bound for the Antarctic Peninsula, before ending your voyage crossing the Drake Passage.

Scott Polar Research Institute (SPRI)

Established in 1920 as part of the University of Cambridge, The Scott Polar Research Institute is a centre of excellence in the study of the Arctic and Antarctic. SPRI's mission is to enhance the understanding of the polar regions through scholarly research and publication, educating new generations of polar researchers, caring for and making accessible its collections (including its library, archival, photographic and object collections), and projecting the history and environmental significance of the polar regions to the wider community for public benefit.

This Ross Sea cruise is in partnership with the Friends of Scott Polar Research Institute (SPRI) and will be accompanied by expert glaciologists, Julian and Evelyn Dowdeswell. The voyage coincides with the Centenary of the Institute. Julian is a glaciologist, Director of the Scott Polar Research Institute and Professor of Physical Geography in Cambridge University. Evelyn is a glacial geologist with a number of seasons of field experience in the Antarctic and Arctic. They have written both scientific papers and more popular works about Antarctica. Julian has recently authored ‘The Continent of Antarctica” with his colleague and friend Michael Hambrey. The book is designed as an authoritative yet accessible introduction to the science, history and contemporary significance of Antarctica. Evelyn has written children’s books on both Scott and Shackleton which are used widely in schools.

Your Ross Sea Expedition vessel

The Ortelius was built in Gdynia, Poland in 1989. She served as a special-purpose vessel for the Russian Academy of Science and has the highest ice-class notation (UL1, equivalent to 1A) possible for an ice-strengthened ship. Ortelius can accommodate up to 116-123 passengers, has an abundance of open-deck spaces and is perfectly suited to navigate the ice-heavy waters of the Ross Sea.

Why join this Ross Sea Cruise?

The Ross Sea and East Antarctica are the most remote and challenging regions of Antarctica to reach, with only a handful of expeditions each year. Follow in the wake of the early explorers, and visit the basecamps (huts) of Scott, Shackleton, Mertz and Mawson.

What wildlife can I expect to see during this Ross Sea Expedition cruise?

Dotted amongst the windswept waters of the Southern Ocean are a series of sub-Antarctic islands that harbour spectacular birdlife including several endemic species. The ships stop at a number of these on the journey from New Zealand. UNESCO World Heritage Macquarie Island rivals South Georgia for prolific wildlife and scenic diversity, home to 20,000 breeding pairs of royal penguins, along with king, gentoo and rockhopper penguins, elephant seals and various albatross species.


Passengers on a typical voyage are aged between 30 years old 80 years old, with most usually being between 45-65. This type of expedition attracts independent travellers from around the globe, characterised by a strong interest in exploring remote regions. We hope to attract at least 20 Friends of SPRI members to join this voyage so you should be sure of having something in common with your fellow explorers.

Do I need to be fit to join this expedition cruise to the Ross Sea?

You must be in good overall health and be able to walk several hours per day. The expedition is ship-based and physically not very demanding, but we spend as much time as possible on shore. You are, however, welcome to remain aboard the ship if you prefer. To join most excursions, you must be able to get up and down the steep gangway ― from the ship to the water level ― to board the Zodiacs. Staff will assist you in and out of the boats, and boarding will become progressively easier with practice, but conditions on shore can be slippery and rocky. Remember, you will be travelling in remote areas without access to sophisticated medical facilities, so you must not join this expedition if you have a life-threatening condition or need daily medical treatment.

Departing on:
  • 16th February 2020

For a detailed itinerary or to book your place on this tour, please contact us.

STARTFINISHPrice Excluding Flights £Flight cost fromSingle SupplementTour ExpertStatus 
16th Feb 2020 18th Mar 2020 £ 28,350 £ 2,500 £ 19,775 Julian Dowdeswell Limited
  Click here to see what is included/excluded

what is included

  • Accompanied by Julian and Evelyn Dowdeswell whilst onboard.
  • All meals throughout the voyage aboard the ship including snacks, coffee and tea.
  • All miscellaneous service taxes and port charges throughout the programme.
  • All shore excursions and activities throughout the voyage by Zodiac.
  • Comprehensive pre-departure material
  • Free use of rubber boots and snowshoes.
  • Group transfer from Kelvin Hotel in Invercargill to the vessel in Bluff.
  • Group transfer from the vessel to the airport in Ushuaia (directly after disembarkation).
  • Program of lectures by noted naturalists and leadership by experienced expedition staff.
  • Ship-to-shore helicopter transfers (with no specific amount of helicopter time guaranteed)
  • Voyage aboard the MV/Ortelius as indicated in the itinerary

what is excluded

  • Baggage, cancellation and personal insurance (which is mandatory)
  • Excess baggage charges and all items of a personal nature such as laundry, bar, beverage charges and telecommunication charges
  • Government arrival and departure taxes
  • Gratuities for onboard expedition crew
  • Internal flights
  • International flights
  • Meals ashore
  • Pre- and post- land arrangements
  • Visas


Itinerary at a glance

Collapse all
Day 1

Bluff, New Zealand Embarkation
This afternoon embark the Ortelius and begin the voyage to Antarctica. A shared transfer from a designated meeting point in Invercargill is included.

Special note: Crossing the International Date Line westward, a day is gained; Please take note of this when calculating your actual time travelled. The days listed in the itinerary duration reflect the actual time travelled.

Itinerary information
Please note all itineraries are for guidance only. Programs may vary depending on local ice, weather, and wildlife conditions. The onboard expedition leader will determine the final itinerary. Flexibility is paramount for expedition cruises. The average cruising speed of m/v Ortelius is 10.5 knots. During these voyages, we transfer our passengers to shore using Zodiacs. We also operate our two helicopters in sites where Zodiacs cannot be used. Potential areas for helicopter transfer are Cape Evans (the location of Scott's hut), Cape Royds (the location of Shackleton's hut), the Ross Ice Shelf, Peter I Island, and the Dry Valleys. Our plan is to make five helicopter-based landings, though a specific amount of helicopter time cannot be guaranteed in advance. Helicopters provide us a great advantage in reaching certain landing sites that are otherwise almost inaccessible, but this is a true expedition in the world's most remote area: weather, ice, and other forces of nature dictate the final itinerary. Conditions may change rapidly, impacting helicopter operations. Please understand and accept this. Safety is our greatest concern, and no compromises can be made. The vessel is equipped with two helicopters. If one helicopter is unable to fly for whatever reason, helicopter operations will cease or be cancelled. One helicopter always needs to be supported by a second functioning helicopter. No guarantees can be given, and in no event will claims be accepted.

You will be staying at Ortelius, full board

Day 2

Sailing south towards Campbell Island
Sailing south with the seabirds trailing the vessel, across limitless horizons toward Campbell Island.

Remote, rugged and windswept, Campbell Island is one of the cornerstones of New Zealand’s subantarctic World Heritage Site. It is the most southerly of the five New Zealand subantarctic groups.

You will be staying at Ortelius, full board

Day 3

Campbell Island
Explore the sub-Antarctic New Zealand Reserve and UNESCO World Heritage Site of Campbell Island, with its luxuriant and blooming vegetation. The fauna on Campbell Island is fantastic, and a large and easily accessible colony of southern royal albatrosses inhabit the main island. Breeding wandering, Campbell, greyheaded, blackbrowed, and lightmantled sooty albatrosses can be found on the satellite islands, while eastern rockhopper, erect-crested and yellow-eyed penguins breed here. In the 18th century seals were hunted to extinction, but elephant seals, fur seals and sea lions have recovered.

You will be staying at Ortelius, full board

Day 4

Northwest by sea
Now sail northwest, again followed by numerous species of pelagic birdlife.

You will be staying at Ortelius, full board

Day 5

Macquarie Island
Macquarie Island, fondly know as Macca, was discovered by Australian sealer Frederick Hasselborough while searching for new sealing grounds. It is a Tasmanian State Reserve that in 1997 became a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Australian Antarctic Division has its permanent base on this island and the fauna here is incredibly diverse, hosting colonies of king, gentoo, and southern rockhopper penguins as well as almost one million breeding pairs of the endemic royal penguin. Elephant seals and various fur seal species, including the New Zealand fur seal, are also present.

However, due to the limited availability of landing slots for Macquarie Island, we have not been able to obtain a landing permit there for 2020. Hence, this trip will not include this stop on the itinerary, and we will instead make the best possible use of this day elsewhere during the trip.

You will be staying at Ortelius, full board

Day 6

Sailing the Southern Oceans
Once again enter the vast expanse of the Southern Ocean. Sea birds will be prolific on this leg, during which good weather conditions are hoped for.

You will be staying at Ortelius, full board

Day 9

Balleny Islands
The windswept Balleny Islands. Your intended route is past Sturge Island in the afternoon, getting an impression of these windswept and remote islands before crossing the Antarctic Circle.

Comprised of three large islands (Young, Buckle, and Sturge) and numerous islets and stacks (including Sabrina, Row, Borradaile, Chinstrap, and Monolith), the Balleny Islands are located approximately 150 miles off the coast of Victoria Land in the Ross Sea region of Antarctica. All of the islands are volcanic in origin and are thickly covered with ice.

You will be staying at Ortelius, full board

Day 10

At Sea
Spend today sailing toward the Antarctic Continent.

You will be staying at Ortelius, full board

Day 11

Cape Adare
Attempt a landing at Cape Adare, where for the first time humans wintered on the Antarctic Continent: The Norwegian Borchgrevink stayed in here 1899, taking shelter in a hut that to this day is surrounded by the largest colony of Adélie penguins in the world.

Cape Adare is an impressive and dark peninsula, towering as a prominent landmark above the entrance to the Ross Sea. Cape Adare was discovered and named by Captain James Clark Ross in 1841, who was unable to make a landing due to strong winds and high surf.

The Cape hosted several Antarctic expeditions after that of Captain Ross, each of which spent some time at Ridley Beach, a small gravel peninsula on the west side of the Cape. There, the Norwegian Carsten Borchgrevink controversially claimed to be the first person to set foot on the continent of Antarctica.

Cape Adare is interesting not only for historical reasons, but also because it is home to one of the largest Adélie penguin colonies of the Antarctic. Thousands of penguins breedi both on the flat peninsula of Ridley Beach and on its steep, several hundred metre high slopes.

You will be staying at Ortelius, full board

Day 12

Cape Hallet
Sailing south along the west coast of the Ross Sea, it may be possible to land on the protected area of Cape Hallett with its large Adélie penguin rookery.

You will be staying at Ortelius, full board

Day 13

Inexpressible Island
If sea ice permits, land at Inexpressible Island, which has a fascinating history in connection to the less-known Northern Party of Captain Scott's expedition. It is also home to a sizable Adélie penguin rookery. It may be possible to head farther south toward the impressive Drygalski Ice Tongue if ice conditions prevent entry into Terra Nova Bay.

You will be staying at Ortelius, full board

Day 14

Ross Sea and the huts of Scott & Shackleton
Three days sailing through the Ross Sea the aim is now to visit Ross Island. Here you can see Mount Erebus, Mount Terror, and Mount Byrd, as well as many other famous spots that played an important role in the British expeditions of the last century: Cape Royds, where Ernest Shackleton's cabin still stands; Cape Evans, where the cabin of Robert Falcon Scott can still be seen; and Hut Point, from which Scott and his men set out for the South Pole. If ice is blocking the way but weather conditions are favorable, helicopter trips can be taken to land in one or more spots in this area. The American scientific base of McMurdo Station and New Zealand's Scott Base are other possible locations you might visit. From McMurdo Station you could also make a 10 km hike to Castle Rock, where there are great views across the Ross Ice Shelf toward the South Pole. Additionally, you may make a helicopter landing in Taylor Valley, one of the Dry Valleys, where conditions are closer to Mars than anywhere else on Earth.

You will be staying at Ortelius, full board

Day 17

The Ross Ice Shelf
The next goal is to enter the Ross Sea from the east, venturing south toward the Bay of Whales and close to Roosevelt Island (named in 1934 by the American aviator Richard E. Byrd for President Franklin D. Roosevelt). The Bay of Whales is part of the Ross Ice Shelf, the largest ice shelf in the world, and is constantly changing with the receding ice masses. Large icebergs are present here, along with great wildlife opportunities. Roald Amundsen gained access to the shelf en route to the South Pole, which he reached on December 14, 1911. Also, the Japanese explore Nobu Shirase had his camp in this area in 1912, at Kainan Bay. You may make a helicopter landing on the ice shelf if conditions allow. During this part of the voyage cross the International Date Line.

You will be staying at Ortelius, full board

Day 19

Amunsden Sea
These days will be spent sailing through the Amundsen Sea along and through the outer fringes of the pack-ice, which - depending on ice-conditions - will give you glimpses of the Antarctic Continent, while taking advantage of the west-going Antarctic coastal current. The sailing along and through the ice is very lively, with sightings of single straggling Emperor penguins, groups of seals on ice-floes, and also orca's and minke whales along the ice-edge, often accompanied by different species of fulmarine petrels.

You will be staying at Ortelius, full board

Day 24

Peter I Island
Peter I Island is an uninhabited volcanic island in the Bellingshausen Sea. It was discovered by Fabian von Bellingshausen in 1821 and named after Peter the Great of Russia. The island is claimed by Norway and considered its own territory, though it is rarely visited by passenger vessels due to its exposed nature. If weather and ice conditions allow, take a helicopter landing on the glaciated northern part of the island. This is a unique chance to land on one of the most remote islands in the world.

You will be staying at Ortelius, full board

Day 27

The Bellinghausen Sea
Sail across Bellingshausen Sea, bound for the Antarctic Peninsula.

You will be staying at Ortelius, full board

Day 29

Pendleton Strait
Arrive at the Antarctic Peninsula near the Antarctic Circle in the afternoon. If sea ice allows it, continue through Pendleton Strait and attempt a landing at the rarely visited southern tip of Renaud Island. Here you can see Adélie penguins as well as spectacular views of the icebergs in this surreal, snow-swept environment.

You will be staying at Ortelius, full board

Day 30

Drake Passage
Over the following days on the Drake Passage, take in some of the same experiences encountered by the great polar explorers who first charted these regions: cool salt breezes, rolling seas, maybe even a fin whale spouting up sea spray. After passing the Antarctic Convergence - Antarctica's natural boundary, formed when north-flowing cold waters collide with warmer sub-Antarctic seas - you are in the circum-Antarctic upwelling zone. Wandering albatrosses, grey-headed albatrosses, black-browed albatrosses, light-mantled sooty albatrosses, cape pigeons, southern fulmars, Wilson's storm petrels, blue petrels, and Antarctic petrels are a few of the birds you might see during the crossing.

You will be staying at Ortelius, full board

Day 32

Ushuaia Disembarkation
Disembark in Ushuaia, Argentina after breakfast onboard.

Situated on the southern shore of Tierra del Fuego, Ushuaia is the most southerly town in the world. Founded in 1884, the town was a penal colony until 1947. The location is fantastic, with views over the Beagle Channel and across to the Chilean Island of Navarino. Ushuaia can be either the jump off point for Antarctic cruises or the base from which to explore Tierra Del Fuego National Park and The Beagle Channel.


Below you can see some of the wonderful places we recommend you stay on your journey.



Originally built in Poland in 1989 as an ice strengthened passenger vessel, the 91-metre Ortelius spent many years plying the frozen waters of the Arctic and Northern Pacific before being totally refurbished in 2005....

View Accommodation

For a detailed itinerary or to book your place on this tour, please contact us.

Destination Experts

Our experts have unrivalled firsthand knowledge of Antarctica

James Armitage, Travel Expert

"The help and great knowledge James offered really made the holiday special"

"James listened and managed our expectations and therefore made sure we were prepared for all eventualities when going on our holiday to Brazil"

"James was brilliant and all the advice was spot on."

Read More

John Faithfull, Travel Expert

"Personalised service. Seemed to really want to get it right for us. Very impressed when I first called and John spent 40 minutes finding out what we wanted to do and tailoring it for us."

"The expertise that John has really gave us faith in where we were going, the regions, the hotels, the trips. John knew about it all, he described them in detail, and when we asked for different regions he was straight in there with suggestions and ideas. The way the whole trip was planned and presented to us, never any pressure to book or any problem to change plans /ideas."

"John Faithful was wonderfully helpful and conscientious in arranging the itinerary and was always ready to suggest alternatives or rearrange matters without any hesitation; this and his detailed knowledge gave one great confidence."

Read More

Sue Grimwood, Travel Expert

"It was tremendously helpful to be able to speak to someone who had been to Antarctica before - Sue had been on the ship we had booked, so was able to give us some very useful information. We felt that at every stage of the booking process that we were in safe hands. "

""I was uncharacteristically worried about this trip - neurotic some might say - and I was given 110% support and help with everything. I had been disappointed by not being able to get a space on the 2014 trip and so Sue was stuck with me for 2 years - a testament to her patience and professionalism. I was confident in Sue - she knows Antarctica and speaks from experience, that is worth a huge amount. Emails, which I would send were responded to almost immediately.""

Read More

For a more detailed itinerary with great ideas on what to do and where to stay, please get in touch with our experts.


Scott Polar Research Institute (SPRI)

Scott Polar Research Institute (SPRI)
The Scott Polar Research Institute, established in 1920 as part of the University of Cambridge, is a centre of excellence in the study of the Arctic and Antarctic. The Institute houses the World's premier Polar Library, extensive archival, photographic and object collections of international importance on the history of polar exploration, and a Polar Museum with displays of both the history and contemporary significance of the Arctic and Antarctic and their surrounding seas.

SPRI's mission is to enhance the understanding of the polar regions through scholarly research and publication, educating new generations of polar researchers, caring for and making accessible its collections (including its library, archival, photographic and object collections), and projecting the history and environmental significance of the polar regions to the wider community for public benefit.

Other tours by this lecturer:

Evelyn Dowdeswell

Evelyn Dowdeswell
Evelyn Dowdeswell is a glaciologist, working in the Bristol Glaciology Centre. Her main research interests are the form and flow of glaciers and ice sheets using satellite remote sensing techniques and glacial geology and sedimentology. She has carried out field work in Baffin Island, Spitsbergen and Antarctica. She has also written a book on Captain Scott and the history of his exploration of Antarctica for young children.

Julian Dowdeswell

Julian Dowdeswell
Julian is a glaciologist, working on the form and flow of glaciers and ice caps and their response to climate change. In a career of over 30 years, he has taught in the Universities of Aberystwyth, Bristol and Cambridge. Since 2002, he has been Director of the Scott Polar Research Institute, including its Polar Museum. He was awarded a Doctor of Science degree by Cambridge University in 2016.

Julian graduated from the University of Cambridge in 1980 and studied for a master’s degree at the Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research in the University of Colorado and for a Ph.D. in the Scott Polar Research Institute, University of Cambridge. He has worked, on the ice and from aircraft, in Antarctica and many parts of the Arctic, including Greenland, Svalbard, Iceland and the Russian and Canadian Arctic archipelagos. He has also undertaken many periods of work on icebreaking research vessels in the Norwegian-Greenland Sea, in the fjords and on the continental shelves of Svalbard and Greenland, and around Antarctica. He has also represented the UK on the councils of both the International Arctic Science Committee (IASC) and the Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research (SCAR) and is a past chair of the UK National Committee on Antarctic Research.

Julian was awarded the Polar Medal by Her Majesty the Queen for ‘outstanding contributions to glacier geophysics’ and has also received the Founder’s Gold Medal (2008) from the Royal Geographical Society. In 2011 he was awarded the Louis Agassiz Medal by the European Geosciences Union and, in 2014, he was received the IASC Medal from the International Arctic Science Committee ‘as a World leader in the field of Arctic glaciology and for his outreach and communication activities which have been instrumental for public understanding of Arctic change’. Julian has also spoken recently on polar environmental change at the World Economic Forum in Davos and represented the UK at a White House meeting on the Arctic.
Enquire about this Wildlife tour:

Group Size:

Min 10 / Max 116

Tour Expert:

Evelyn Dowdeswell, Julian Dowdeswell, Scott Polar Research Institute (SPRI)

Departure Date (S):

  • 16th February 2020

  • Moderate Activity - The cruise will involve visits to a variety of sites throughout the duration of the itinerary and be at a moderate pace. There will be a number of long days at sea.

Holiday Ideas in Antarctica

You are unique, so we believe your holiday should be too.

We listen to what you want and create a personalised itinerary tailored around you.

Your holiday. Your experience. Your way.

Can’t find what you’re looking for?

Call our Travel Experts on +01285 880 980
Start Your Journey


  • Established for over 25 years creating journeys across 100 destinations worldwide
  • Exclusive access to the best private guides


  • We negotiate the best rates with hotels and expert guides
  • Be protected from fluctuations in exchange rates


  • Each time you travel with us we donate £5 to a local charity in the UK and £10 to an international charity

Fully Protected

  • Your monies are financially protected
  • 24/7 Emergency UK contact whilst abroad

Featured in the Press

Financial Times
The Telegraph
Sunday Times logo

Our Partners

African Parks
Galapagos Conservation Trsut
Restless Development
Save The Rhino
Tusk Trust
World Land Trsut
Gorilla Doctors

© Steppes Travel, 51 Castle St, Cirencester, GL7 1QD, United Kingdom