Seeing Antarctica from the bird’s-eye-view
Taking a polar expedition cruise delivers no shortage of show-stopping highlights, but one of the most exhilarating is lifting off from the ship in a helicopter and taking flight over the incomparable Antarctic wilderness.
The penguins get so jealous.
On certain Ortelius voyages, we stage two helicopters on board that can (if conditions permit) lift you off the ship and fly you into the Antarctic adventure of your dreams.
Not only that, these aerial cruises take place in two of the Great White Continent’s most scenic and wildlife-abundant regions: the Ross Sea and Weddell Sea, remote areas known for their uniquely diverse species of whale, seal, and seabird – penguins included.
Here we’ll discuss some of the details of our thrillingly airborne helicopter adventures.
Image by Mark Vogler
Helicopter cruises in Antarctica’s Ross Sea
Our more frequent helicopter trips are our Ross Sea voyages, expansive Antarctic itineraries that run about a month long.
During these voyages you’ll sail through the Bellingshausen Sea, Amundsen Sea, and finally the Ross Sea, potentially visiting such jaw-dropping locations as the Ross Ice Shelf, Ross Island, Shackleton’s cabin at Cape Royds, Scott’s cabin at Cape Evans, Inexpressible Island, Cape Adare, and more.
Many of these sites are legendary in the history of Antarctic exploration, having witnessed some of its most defining moments and personalities.
Image by Delphine Aurès
You’ll also have the chance to see some of the beloved polar wildlife that makes the Ross Sea so coveted a destination: Emperor and Adélie penguins, fin, minke, and orca whales (killer whales), elephant seals and fur seals, and a nearly inexhaustible list of seabirds may cross your path during your time in the Ross Sea.
Our helicopters enable us to attempt landings at places we would otherwise not be able to visit, such as the glaciated northern shore of Peter I Island, the colossal Ross Ice Shelf, and sometimes even in Antarctica’s Mars-like Dry Valleys.
Image by Rolf Stange
The Weddell Sea’s helicopter high-lights
Less frequent but no less fantastic than our Ross Sea trips are our Weddell Sea voyages, where helicopters also prove invaluable to reaching areas impossible to see any other way.
One of the highlights of our Weddell Sea cruises is no doubt the emperor penguin colony on Snow Hill Island, a seldom-visited location we nonetheless managed to take our passengers to in 2017, 2018, and 2019.
But our other intended Weddell Sea landings are similarly exciting, such as the western slopes of the Antarctic Sound, Seymour Island, Devil Island, Brown Bluff, and Deception Island, among other unforgettable locations.
Image by Cecilia Vanman
Emperor penguin sightings are the priority of these Weddell Sea trips, but you could also spot Adélies, chinstraps, and gentoos as well as fin, orca, and other whales, leopard seals, and a cast of beautiful seabirds comparable to those found in the Ross Sea.
Our helicopters may land at or provide you panoramic views of several areas, such as Duse Bay or the Antarctic Sound, an especially awe-inspiring sight rarely enjoyed from the air.
Image by Henry Malkiewicz
Flying in helicopters: a few final details
Never fear that you’ll have all the information you need to stay safe and comfortable during your flights, or for the rest of our Antarctica helicopter trips, for that matter. In fact, you may get briefed more than you thought possible.
But when it comes to helicopters, “better safe than sorry” goes double.
Before you ever set foot in a helicopter, we’ll thoroughly inform you as to proper procedure as well as the basic equipment on board, such as seat belts, life jackets, and survival equipment.
Image by Rolf Stange
These briefings are mandatory. Without them you’re grounded, literally.
For flights you’ll be divided into groups of four or six passengers, depending on the number of seats in each helicopter. We understand that some people prefer to fly together, but this is not always possible.
We will make a dry run with each group, practicing helicopter procedure. This includes being called to the muster station, dressing for your flight, walking the route to the helicopter, and entering the helicopter (without running engines).
During the dry run, you’ll see how time consuming helicopter operations can be. Hence our need for everyone to be informed, patient, and ready for take-off.
Image by Hans Murre
As a friendly reminder, please keep in mind that helicopter operations of this type require strict regulations, more than are standard on our usual Antarctica cruises. We can only fly if all conditions are deemed safe. Weather, sea and sea ice, flying time and distance, visibility and technical issues can all impact flight plans, bringing helicopter ops to a grinding halt.
We cannot, therefore, guarantee everyone flying time or that we’ll even get to fly at all. Our first priority is your safety. Only after that can we try to get some air under your wings.
And all while trying not to make the penguins too jealous.
Image by Franklin Braeckman
These points represent only a summary of our helicopter operations info. You can get a more thorough version on our helicopter trips page.