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Australis cruise routes all encompass the hidden canals, fjords and environments of this evocative part of Patagonia. We have access to areas that other cruise operators do not, meaning that your on-land and offshore excursions – whether trekking towards giant glaciers, wandering forest trails or exploring the delights of the Penguin colony – will be in complete isolation.

Our itineraries also include a stop at Cape Horn, the southernmost point in the Americas which is often nicknamed the ‘End of the World’. First discovered in 1616 by brave Dutch sailors, this area connectsthe Paci c and Atlantic Oceans, so not only is itgeographically symbolic but also happens to be beautiful to look at, atmospheric and a true once-in-a- lifetime experience to visit.

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Magdalena Island

The ancient sailors and explorers had to stop here to get supplies. This island is home to an immense colony of Magellanic penguins, which we can see on our walk to the lighthouse, which currently guides ships on their way through the strait. *The use of poles for cameras is prohibited on Magdalena Island.

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Cap Horn

There are few places in the world in which man feels as vulnerable and surrounded by a mystic aura of spirituality as Cape Horn. Its location between two oceans at 55°56’ South latitude and 67°19’ West longitude, along with the intensity of the climatic phenomena that occur there, make its passage a unique and incomparable experience. 

Entire books have been written about the difficulties that the sailing ships of yesteryear had in traveling around Cape Horn. The extraordinary feats and countless dramas that took place there can be illustrated by three pieces of information: 

European eyes first set sight on Cape Horn at the beginning of the 17th century. In the small port of Höorn, the French merchant, Isaac Le Maire, and the sailors, Guillermo Cornelio and Juan Schouten, signed the constitution of the Southern Company and outfitted two ships: the 360-ton Endracht (Unity) and the 110-ton Höorn, which sailed from Texel, Netherlands on June 14, 1615. 
 

The Cape Horn Monument was solemnly inaugurated on December 5, 1992. It was erected as an initiative of the Chilean chapter of the Chilean Association of Cape Horniers, in memory of the seamen from every nation who perished in the battle against inclemency of nature in the southern seas around the legendary Cape Horn. 

This seven-meter-high monument consists of two independent pieces each made of five steel plates, and is the work of the Chilean sculptor José Balcells Eyquem. The plans and construction were carried out by the Chilean Navy under the basic premise that the structure would have to withstand gusting winds of up to 200 kilometers per hour (125 mph). The construction took more than a month, between October and November 1992. 

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Punta Arenas

Located on the shore of the Magellan Strait, Punta Arena is the capital of Region XII of Magallanes and the Chilean Antarctica. The city’s historic background has made it one of the more popular places to visit in Chile. By air, it is a four-hour trip from Santiago de Chile. If you choose to travel by land, you must take Route 5 south to Osorno before crossing the Cardenal Samoré Border pass. Things to do in Punta Arenas include visiting the historic Bulnes Fort and Los Pingüinos Natural Monument, where thousands of penguins are located. Book your Punta Arenas excursions in order to start exploring the wonderful region of Patagonia and take it as the beginning of your Australis expedition cruise.

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Ushuaia

Take an adventure cruise aboard the M/V Stella Australis and explore the natural beauty of the route between Ushuaia and Punta Arenas. Ushuaia is quickly becoming one of the best places to visit in Argentina. Ushuaia, founded on October 12, 1884, is home to one of the first encounters between the Yamana and Anglican cultures. Its name comes from the Yamana word that means “Penetrating Bay.” Located on the Argentine side of Tierra del Fuego, Ushuaia is on the shore side of the Beagle Channel. 

This city is easy to get to as Aerolíneas Argentinas provides eight daily flights that stop in Calafate. Some things to do in Ushuaia include visiting Museo del Fin del Mundo, Tierra del Fuego National Park and Glaciar Martial. As for shopping attractions when visiting Patagonia, make sure to check out Paseo de Artesanos and La Última Bita Store, just to name a few.

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Puerto Natales

Puerto Natales, the provincial capital of Ultima Esperanza, is located in the Chilean Patagonia at sea level on the shore of the Señoret Channel. Planning on flying into Puerto Natales to begin your Patagonia vacation is fairly easy as there are nearby airports. There are many different things to do in Puerto Natales that will keep you busy. A popular spot to visit is the Southern Patagonian Ice Field, with South America’s largest glacier, the Pio XI or Ana María Glacier.

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Magellan Strait

At the end of the 15th century, the Portuguese discovered and monopolized the Cape of Good Hope. They thus opened up the first sea route to Asia and Oceania, a source of riches for European trade.

The Portuguese Ferdinand Magellan could not convince the king of his country to outfit a fleet to look for a passage to the Orient via America. Finally, it was the Spanish King Charles V who accepted Magellan’s proposal in 1518. This was the beginning of the most extraordinary of the European explorations to discover the world. 

On September 20, 1519, the “Moluccas Fleet” set sail from the port of Seville under Magellan’s command. On board was a young Italian Antonio Pigafetta, who left us an account of this expedition that departed from Spain with five ships and 265 men and returned three years later at the breaking point with only one ship and 18 men, having completed the first circumnavigation of the globe. 

After reaching Brazil and thoroughly exploring the La Plata River, the flotilla headed south and, on November 1, 1520, finally entered a strait that Magellan christened the “Strait of All Saints” and that was later renamed the “Strait of Magellan”. The lands to the north of the Strait were named “Land of the Patagones” (Patagonia) and those to the south “Land of Smoke” (Tierra del Fuego). 

Five weeks later, the three remaining ships came out into a vast and new ocean with calm waters, for which it was given the name “Pacific Ocean”. Magellan later died in a battle with natives on the Moluccas, and it was his pilot, Sebastián del Cano, who led the remainder of the expedition back to Spain after uncountable hardships and difficulties. The western sea route was open for Spain. 

Later, between the years 1557 and 1559, Juan Ladrilleros sailed from Valdivia (Chile) and made a notable contribution to the knowledge of the Strait of Magellan, but the enemies of the Spanish Crown, the English, also used the Strait. The privateer Francis Drake passed through it (1557-1578) to sow the seeds of desolation in the Spanish colonies of the west coast of South America and, on the way, was the first to mention the fact that Tierra del Fuego was an island and not a great continent that stretched to the South Pole. He also completed the second circumnavigation of the globe. 

The Spanish, alarmed by the unpunished passage of the English through the Strait of Magellan, decided to establish two cities in the area. Sarmiento de Gamboa, at the helm of this military and colonizing expedition, set sail from Seville in September 1581 with 23 ships and 3,000 people. A year and a half later, after extensive damage, he finally arrived at the Strait with just five ships and 500 people. The city of Nombre de Jesús was founded near Dungeness Point (the east entrance of the Strait), while the city of Rey Felipe was founded some 60 km (37 miles) south of the current city of Punta Arenas. 

This attempt at colonization turned into a true disaster: the two cities’ colonists and soldiers died of hunger. Such was the extent that in 1587 the English privateer Thomas Cavendish managed to rescue a Spaniard, one of the few survivors of the tragedy. The rest were abandoned to their fortunes, and Spain forever renounced the colonization of the Strait of Magellan. The site on which the city of Rey Felipe was built was then named “Port Famine”, a name that has lasted to modern times as “Puerto de Hambre”. 
 

During the first few years of the 17th century, the Dutch passed through the Strait on various occasions, until they discovered the Cape Horn route in 1616. From then on, and for almost two centuries, sailing ships of all nationalities generally preferred the Cape Horn inter-oceanic route to the Strait of Magellan. Some famous scientific expeditions, such as that of Commodore Byron or Bougainville, passed through the Strait. Thanks to the English hydrographic exploration campaigns of Parker King and Fitz Roy (between the years 1826 and 1834), an extremely precise knowledge of the Strait’s coasts and the Patagonian and Fuegian archipelagoes was acquired. 

In 1843, the Chilean governor sent Commander John Williams on board the schooner Ancud to take possession of the Strait of Magellan and found the colony of Fuerte Bulnes on Santa Ana Point close to the famous Puerto de Hambre. In 1848, the new governor of the incipient colony, José de los Santos Mardones, abandoned Fuerte Bulnes due to the lack of fresh water and the poor soils. The governor then founded the colony of Punta Arenas (December 18, 1848) some 60 km (37miles) further north, on the site known up to that time as Sandy Point. 

In the beginning, the new colony of Punta Arenas was no more than a military post where inmates condemned to prison sentences were sent. Some colonists slowly began to settle there, until a mutiny of the military garrison brutally reduced the population from 436 to 86 inhabitants. However, with the dynamism of its inhabitants, the exploitation of coal deposits, the hunting of sea lions and the extraction of timber, the city was reborn and the slow but steady migration of people from Chiloe, Switzerland, Spain, France and other countries contributed to the development of a small and thriving city (150 inhabitants in 1853, 805 in 1870, 1,095 in 1878 and 7,000 in 1898). 

From the end of the 19th century until the opening of the Panama Canal (1914), the Strait of Magellan regained its importance as the main sailing route between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. Punta Arenas was transformed into a cosmopolitan port and the site of all types of exchange, business and trade. With the opening of the Panama Canal, the Strait of Magellan became significantly less important as an international sailing route, and this situation has lasted to some extent until today. 

Starting in 1877 with the introduction of sheep rearing on both shores of the Strait, an intense regional shipping industry developed and numerous livestock ranches or estates were established, generally along the coast. 

The discovery of oil, first in Tierra del Fuego (1945) and then in the waters of the Strait of Magellan itself, gave rise to an important industry that rallied in the 1980s with the exploitation of gas deposits and their transformation into methanol. To some extent, these activities brought new life to navigation through the Strait of Magellan. Currently, close to 1,500 ships per year pass through the Strait and about 50 Magellan tour cruise ships come in each summer in the city of Punta Arenas.

Tierra del Fuego

Tierra del Fuego is located at the southern tip of South America, beginning at approximately the 52nd parallel south. It is bordered by the Strait of Magellan to the north, the Beagle Channel to the south, the Atlantic Ocean to the east and the Pacific Ocean to the west. This giant island is shared by Chile and Argentina, to whom the western and eastern parts correspond, respectively 

The name of this great island comes from the sight that the first sailors saw when they were exploring its coasts. From their ships they could make out surprising, continuous fires, which were the hearths used by the native peoples to protect themselves from the southern cold. The indigenous Onas and Yámanas hardly wore any clothing despite the harsh climate. Only the fires and their special metabolic adaptation (a body temperature one degree higher than ours) kept them warm. They even took lit hearths with them in their lenga-bark canoes, which they used to fish and hunt marine mammals. 

MIGRATIONS
There are several theories that speak of the arrival of humans in America, the most recognized one being that of the Czech paleontologist Aleš Hrdlička (1869 1943). According to this theory, the humans who came to America originated in Mongolia, from which they entered America by way of an ice bridge over the Bering Strait during the last glacial period approximately 13,000 years ago. These people moved south using a land corridor between the Cordilleran Ice Sheet that began in the Aleutian Islands and ended in central Canada and the Laurentide Ice Sheet, which began in the Atlantic Ocean in northern North America, covered as far as the Newfoundland area, and then extended to the Great Lakes region of central Canada. Proof of this are remains found in Alaska, dated at approximately 13,000 years old. One of the most solid pieces of evidence is the Clovis culture, remains of which were found in New Mexico in the United States. Today, most American archeologists are fervent defenders of a late entry to the continent by the Clovis and Folsom Indians, who correspond to the oldest cultures to first set foot on American soil. These archeologists believe that occupation occurred only some 11,500 years ago, based on dozens of Clovis points found throughout North America. 

INDIGENOUS SETTLEMENT

The Yaghan (or Yámanas) 
Historically speaking, the Yaghan have been known since 1624, but archeology has established that their ancestors began to live in the Beagle Channel region at least 6,500 years before the present. Their origins are still a mystery. In the 19th century, their estimated population was some 3,500 people, dispersed between the Beagle Channel and Cape Horn. 

The Selk’nam (or Ona) 
The Selk’nam were descendents of continental tribes and began to populate Tierra del Fuego Island 8,000 years ago. They were “discovered” by Magellan in 1515. They have been shown to have had a sporadic presence on the north shore of the Beagle Channel for at least the past 6,500 years. 

THE PRECURSORS

Although the Beagle Channel was first named, described and mapped by English expeditions in 1826 and 1832 (see below), we have solid reasons to believe that at least a part of the channel was known earlier. For example, its outline was sketched on several maps from the 1590s. The famous James Cook, while looking for the continent of Antarctica, explored the southern part of the Tierra del Fuego archipelago on two occasions (1769 and 1774), but we are not certain that he saw the Beagle Channel in its entirety. Various place names remain from his voyage (Cook Bay, Christmas Sound, etc.). Furthermore, it is highly probable that the sea lion hunters that crossed these waters between the 18th and 19th centuries were familiar with the Beagle Channel, but they did not leave any documents in reference to it. 

Parker King and Fitz Roy
Between 1826 and 1830, the British Admiralty organized a hydrographic survey expedition in Patagonia. Under Commander Philip Parker King and Captains Robert Fitz Roy and Pringle Stokes, on board the Adventure and the Beagle, the enormous task of defining thousands of kilometers of coastline from Brazil to Valparaiso, including the Strait of Magellan, Cape Horn and the Beagle Channel, was carried out for the time with surprising precision. This is how the latter became known to modern geography and how the Murray Channel (which separated Navarino Island from Hoste Island) was discovered, thus giving “birth” to Navarino Island in geographical terms. It was at the end of this trip that Fitz Roy took four Fuegian natives back to England: Fuegia Basket, York Minster, Boat Memory (who died during the journey) and Jemmy Button. Fitz Roy’s aim was to attempt to “civilize” the natives, but this would have unsuspected consequences years later in the slaughter at Wulaia. 

At the end of 1831, the Beagle set sail once more, this time alone, for the second survey campaign in Patagonia. Fitz Roy, accompanied by the young naturalist Charles Darwin, returned to Tierra del Fuego to refine the details of coastline, as well as to return the three Fuegian natives to their homeland after more than a year of “education” in England. After finishing its work in Tierra del Fuego, the Beagle continued northward, crossed the Pacific Ocean and returned to England in 1836, circumnavigating the globe in the space of five years. This long voyage allowed Darwin to gather an enormous amount of information that he used to publish his famous work, The Origin of Species, 23 years later in 1859. 

The Romanche
In the context of an international program whose goal was to observe the passage of Venus from various points around the globe, the French government organized an important scientific expedition to Tierra del Fuego. Under Commander Luis Martial, and aboard the steamship Romanche, a land mission was established for one year (September 1882 – September 1883) in Orange Bay (Hoste Island, Hardy Peninsula, just a few kilometers north of False Cape Horn). Prefabricated houses and laboratories were set up to allow a part of the scientists and crew to live on shore while the Romanche carried out hydrographic explorations in the Tierra del Fuego archipelago, the Strait of Magellan and the Falkland Islands. Thanks to this expedition, it was possible to map the parts of the Fuegian coastline that Fitz Roy had not been able to in detail, particularly the area between the Beagle Channel and Cape Horn. Many names were given to places along the channel (Martial Mountains, Les Eclaireurs Island ...), Hoste Island (Dumas, Pasteur and Cloue Peninsulas...), and Wollaston Island, among many others. 
 

The observations of the Yaghan natives are to this day one of the best sources of information about this people. The over 400 photographs taken constitute the first photographic record of Tierra del Fuego’s landscapes and inhabitants. With respect to the expedition report published between 1885 and 1891 in nine thick volumes, its table of contents demonstrates the breadth of the work carried out: History of the voyage, Meteorology, Terrestrial magnetism, Geology, Botany, Zoology (three volumes) and Anthropology. In addition, several expedition members later published numerous articles in their respective specialties. 

MODERN SETTLEMENT

The Missionaries
The first attempt at evangelizing the Yaghan was made by Fitz Roy when he disembarked in Wulaia, Navarino Island, together with the young missionary Richard Matthews (January 1833). Fitz Roy’s idea was to take advantage of the return of the three Fuegian natives “educated” in England to try to establish a bridge between the Yaghan and English civilizations. In the face of the Yaghan’s aggressiveness, the experience failed after 10 days and Fitz Roy took Matthews back aboard. 

In 1841, a retired official of the British Navy, Allen Gardiner, founded the Patagonian Missionary Society in London. After a failed attempt in the Strait of Magellan, Gardiner disembarked on Picton Island with six volunteers in December 1850. Since the first contact with the Yaghan was not entirely peaceful, they took refuge in Aguirre Bay (on the south coast of Tierra del Fuego Island) where, one by one, they finally died of hunger. 

In 1855, Gardiner’s work was taken up again under the name of the South American Missionary Society, with the establishment of a mission in the Falklands (Malvinas) archipelago (Keppel Island). The missionaries sailed the waters of Tierra del Fuego in a schooner baptized Allen Gardiner, establishing contact with the Yaghan. This is how they were able to find Jemmy Button, the same man who had been in England with Fitz Roy years earlier. The missionaries’ strategy consisted of convincing Yaghan families to go for stays in the Falklands (Malvinas) to become acquainted with the virtues of English civilization and the Anglican religion before returning them to their homelands, thus establishing a sort of bridgehead in Yaghan territory. 

This system worked well until 1859, when the Yaghan brutally murdered eight members of the mission in Wulaia. The only person able to escape was the cook, who later gave his account of the event after being rescued by a ship sent from the Falkands (Malvinas) in search of news. This slaughter (November 9, 1859), for which the true reasons were never known, marked a certain freezing of the Society’s activities in Tierra del Fuego. It was in this place that Thomas Bridges, the son of a missionary, continued to become familiar with Yaghan customs and language

ith Yaghan customs and language. It was not until 1869 that the new leader of the mission, Pastor Waite Stirling, bravely attempted to establish himself alone amidst the Yaghan for eight months on the peninsula where the Ushuaia airport is now located. In light of his success, the decision was made to set up a permanent mission in Ushuaia under the direction of Thomas Bridges, who became the first white man to permanently settle in Tierra del Fuego (1870). He directed the mission until 1886, when he retired and independently founded the Harberton ranch, also on the Beagle Channel. 

It was this extraordinary man who left us a YaghanEnglish dictionary (first published in 1933) containing close to 32,000 words; and it is one of his sons, Lucas, to whom we owe an autobiography published under the title of “The Uttermost Part of the Earth“ (translated in Spanish as “El último confín de la Tierra”). This book is a fundamental element of the historic literature about Tierra del Fuego. 

Gold rush 
At Cape Virgenes (the entrance to the Strait of Magellan from the Atlantic) in 1884, gold that had been deposited by the sea under the beach sands for thousands of years was discovered by chance. This event unleashed a gold fever over the majority of the beaches in Tierra del Fuego exposed to the undertow of the Atlantic Ocean, until the famous Romanian Julius Popper set up gold panning sites and attempted to impose a strange sort of dictatorship in Tierra del Fuego. His story inspired several novels. This gold rush mainly attracted Croatians, thousands of whom arrived at Tierra del Fuego Island, Lennox, Nueva and Hoste Islands and Cape Horn between 1888 and 1895. Some of these gold seekers later settled in Ushuaia, Punta Arenas or Navarino Island. 

The colonization The English missionaries living on the Ushuaia peninsula were the only white inhabitants of Tierra del Fuego until the Argentine government established a military post on the other side of Ushuaia Bay, considered to be the founding of the city of Ushuaia (1884) and the beginning of the colonization of the Beagle Channel. Starting at the end of the 19th century, several Ushuaia settlers and some Chileans set up livestock ranches on the coast of Navarino Island; the meat produced supplied Ushuaia and the wool was sold in Punta Arenas. In 1928, the Chilean authorities attempted to build a town across from Ushuaia by the name of Puerto Navarino, but did not have lasting success. It was not until 1953, when Ushuaia already had a population of 2,500 inhabitants, that the Chilean naval base in Puerto Williams (originally called Puerto Luisa) was founded on the north coast of Navarino Island. 

CURRENT SETTLEMENT
Ushuaia (in Argentina) is today the most important city in the Tierra del Fuego region, with 65,000 inhabitants. Its main economic activity is tourism, and the city receives over 160,000 visitors annually. The city of Porvenir is the capital of the Chilean province of Tierra del Fuego and the district by the same name. It is the most populated city on the Chilean portion of Tierra del Fuego Island, with 5,500 inhabitants. 

Porvenir arose from a police detachment established in 1883 during the gold rush, and was founded in 1894 under the government of Jorge Montt Álvarez to serve the new livestock ranches. It was initially inhabited by residents from Chiloé and Croatia, who were motivated by the discovery of gold deposits. The city faces Punta Arenas across the Strait of Magellan in Porvenir Bay, also known as Karkamke (shallow waters) by the Selk’nam.

Darwin in Patagonia

There is no doubt that chance can sometimes play a central role in the development of defining events in the history of humanity. Such was the case with Charles Darwin’s opportunity to travel on the Beagle; it was without a doubt the most important experience of his life and was a key element in the development of his ideas about evolution and the origin of species. 

Charles Darwin was born on February 12, 1809 in Shrewsbury, England. He was the fifth of six siblings and was practically raised by his sisters after the death of his mother at age six. 

In 1825 he began to study medicine at the University of Edinburgh, but postponed these studies to pursue theology in 1828 at Christ’s College in Cambridge, encouraged by his father, Robert Darwin, a renowned doctor and businessman in England. 

During his time at university, he met the Reverend John Stevens Henslow, a botany professor to whom Charles Darwin owes a great part of his love of natural history as well as his introduction to Captain Fitz Roy. It was J. Henslow who proposed that Darwin take a position as an unpaid naturalist with Captain Fitz Roy, since the latter needed a companion and gentleman of his own social class with whom he could get on reasonably and share the trip, and who was not a formal part of the crew. 

This expedition, entrusted by the British Admiralty, was preparing its second voyage to Finish the cartographic work started during the first voyage between 1826 and 1830 under the command of Robert Fitz Roy. Fitz Roy took on the role of captain during the Beagle’s first voyage after its first captain, Pringle Stokes, committed suicide in Tierra del Fuego. 

The Beagle’s voyage lasted almost five years, sailing from Plymouth Bay, England on December 27, 1831 and arriving in Falmouth on October 2, 1836. 

Its first landfall in South America was in 1832 in Bahia or San Salvador, Brazil, where Charles Darwin spent his time exploring the area, admiring the exuberance of the vegetation and the great number of new species that presented themselves before his eyes. 

Continuing his exploration southward, it is important to mention his stay in Bahia Blanca, more specifically in Punta Alta. Darwin found this to be a place of great geological appeal that lent itself to the field application of the new knowledge acquired through the recent publication of the first volume on geological principles by the geologist Charles Lyell. It was here where he found enormous fossils of immense, extinct quadrupeds, and this discovery sparked his first doubts with respect to his religious beliefs. 

The next destination was Cape Horn. It was on this leg of the voyage that the Beagle found itself in the most serious danger of shipwreck due to the high seas and constant storms, but it came through unscathed thanks to Fitz Roy’s great skill as a pilot. 

The Beagle then sailed to Navarino Island in order to carry out another of the voyage’s main objectives: to return three natives to their homeland after they were taken to England some years before by Fitz Roy, who intended to carry out a very peculiar human experiment. The Anglican Church Mission Society chose the young and inexperienced clergyman Richard Matthews as a missionary to ensure that the seed of civilization and Christianity planted by Fitz Roy in Tierra del Fuego germinated and bore fruit.

 

Charles Darwin’s encounter with the natives of Tierra del Fuego generated a series of comments and prejudices that negatively affected these ethnicities, especially in their later contact with the white man. They did, however, help Darwin understand the process of education and civilization, which were learned concepts that differentiated these savage men. 

Once the natives Jemmy Button, Jork Minster and Fuegia Basket were left in Wulaia Bay together with Reverend Matthews, the Beagle continued its cartographic work, exploring a portion of the Beagle Channel now known as Avenue of the Glaciers. This is where Darwin came to be considered Patagonia’s first glaciologist, since he managed to quite accurately describe the geological formations based on the preexisting glaciers. A few days later, they returned to Wulaia Bay to rescue Reverend Matthews, demonstrating the failure of this attempt at evangelization. 

In accordance with its cartographic objectives, the Beagle set sail once again for Montevideo, but Darwin stayed to carry out scientific expeditions in the area, and then made a long trip by horseback through Argentine Patagonia. On this trip he made numerous observations, for example, about the gauchos he met and the rhea and its similarities to the African ostrich. 

One year later, the Beagle returned to Tierra del Fuego, where the crew found Jemmy Button in his savage state. Button expressed his intention to continue to live the way he was raised, thus dashing Fitz Roy’s plans for evangelization. 

After a landfall in the Malvinas or Falkland Islands, the Beagle was repaired on the Santa Cruz River in southern Argentina, and then sailed through the Strait of Magellan. Here, Charles Darwin once more displayed his great analytical capacity for describing the geology of the area and the importance of undersea forests, among other things. 

Now began the voyage along the Chilean coast of the Pacific Ocean, and it was there that Darwin lived unthinkable experiences for a scientist in those times; for instance, the eruption of the Osorno volcano, the Concepción earthquake, and the discovery of marine fossils at more than 4000 meters above sea level. These experiences caused Darwin to reflect deeply on the contrast between the precepts learned in the Bible and the physical evidence found in the field. 

This important experience helped Charles Darwin develop his famous theory on the origin of man, which was not published until 23 years after his return to England. This theory sparked an important intellectual revolution among its champions and detractors that continues to this day. The theory states that all living beings have evolved over time from a common ancestor or a small group of common ancestors through the process of natural selection. Charles Darwin died in Dawne on April 19, 1882, and his remains now lie in Westminster Abbey together with the remains of Isaac Newton. Darwin’s great legacy in Patagonia is embodied in the southern mountain chain that bears his name (the Cordillera Darwin) and its highest peak (Mount Darwin, with an altitude of 2,488 meters or 8,162 ft). 

The passage of the Beagle and the young naturalist, Charles Darwin, through Patagonia left an indelible path that we now follow today, visiting the pristine landscapes that he himself explored in the past.

 

 

Patagonia Glaciers

During winter, snow piles up and compresses. Its hexagonal crystals start to deform due to compaction, releasing air, giving crystals a more granular shape. This brings us to the second stage of snow: névé. As new layers of snow accumulate, the weight of said layers compresses the snow into glacial ice. Learn more about glaciology on a Patagonia glacier tour with Australis.

 

WHAT IS ICE? 
Ice is the solid state of water (H20 molecule). In a glacier, ice is mixed with air bubbles, making it 0.9 times denser than water. For that simple reason, ice floats on water. 

GLACIER ICE FORMATION
During winter, snow piles up and compresses. Its hexagonal crystals start to deform due to compaction, releasing air, giving crystals a more granular shape. This brings us to the second stage of snow: névé. As new layers of snow accumulate, the weight of said layers compresses the snow into glacial ice. 

HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE TO FORM A GLACIER? 
It varies considerably from one glacier to the next. It can take just a dozen years for temperate glaciers like the Patagonian glaciers, or up to hundreds of years for cold glaciers like the ones in Antarctica. Contrary to popular belief, the warmer the glacier is, the quicker the ice forms, because the snow crystal needs moderate temperatures (above 0ºC, 32ºF) in order to fuse into glacial ice. In Antarctica, temperatures are so low that the snow compaction process takes much longer. 

MOVEMENTS
There are two phenomena that cause movement: sliding and internal deformation. 
- Sliding is produced by friction between the base of the glacier and the rocky substrate, which creates a thin film of water that allows movement. It can also be caused by water leaking from the upper layers down to the base of the glacier. 
- Internal deformation is produced by the pressure (approximately 650 tons per cubic meter) exerted by the weight of the ice. This tension leads to deformation, which causes the glacier to move. 

ANATOMY OF A GLACIER
The accumulation zone is the top of the glacier, where snow accumulates. 
The ablation zone is the bottom of the glacier, where there is a loss in glacial mass. 
The equilibrium line separates the accumulation zone from the ablation zone. 
A moraine is an accumulation of rock, sand or clay that is picked up and transported by glaciers as they advance. 

There are several kinds of moraines: 
Lateral Moraine: as its name states, it consists of sediment deposited on the sides of a glacier. Medial Moraine: is the junction of two glaciers merging their lateral moraine deposits. 
Terminal Moraine: this moraine marks the furthest advance of a glacier and the point where it starts to recede. 
Internal Moraine: is an accumulation of sediment which falls into crevasses and is trapped in the ice, giving the ice a “dirty” appearance.

 

Crevasses are mainly formed due to the differences in velocity between the center of a glacier and its lateral affluents. 

-Seracs are blocks of ice normally found at the front of glaciers, and are prone to crumbling apart. 
-Nunataks are exposed rocky elements not covered with ice or snow within an ice field or glacier. They are like islands of rock amidst the ice and sometimes contain plant life. 
-Icebergs are blocks of ice that have broken off from the ablation zone of a glacier towards a lake or ocean. The area of an iceberg underwater is approximately nine times larger than the portion one can see poking above the waterline. 

THE COLOR OF ICE
Glaciers’ peculiar color tone is due to the following optical effect: the white sunlight that strikes the ice is split into three main colors, red, green and blue. Ice tends to absorb red and green waves of color, causing the blue appearance of ice; conversely, it looks whiter when the amount of air bubbles in the ice increases. 

THE COLOR OF WATER
Meltwater from a glacier is commonly known as “glacial milk”. The unusual color of this water is due to the presence of mineral sediments (especially quartz particles) that remain in suspension or cannot be deposited at the bottom of the lake, sea or river. 

PRESENT-DAY GLACIERS
Worldwide, most glaciers are in a receding period or are in equilibrium, although there are exceptions of glaciers that are still advancing in Alaska, Greenland, the Himalayas and even here in Chile, represented by the Pío Xi glacier, near Puerto Edén. The most accurate theory on glacier recession believes that there has been a warming effect on Earth and temperatures have risen considerably. In order for a glacier to advance, there has to be a positive mass balance: this means that the amount of snow that falls during the winter must be greater than the amount of the snow that ablates or melts during the summer. 

In conclusion, we can safely say that, currently glaciers are merely relics of the vast glaciers from the past ice ages, yet they still play a key role on planet Earth. They represent 10% of submerged soil and 90% of Earth’s freshwater. In addition, as they create air and water currents, they contribute to balancing Earth’s climate; which would be asphyxiating without them.

 

 

 

 

Patagonia from ice to flower

The Holocene is the last and current geological period. It corresponds to the end of the last glacial period approximately 12,000 years ago, when the glaciers slowly retreated and caused the sea level to rise. At the same time, the rocky bed was exposed on the surface of Patagonia, which had previously been covered by great ice masses. This began the process of colonization by lichens and mosses, the ancestors of the southern flora, which in turn led to the arrival of animals and later migrations of humans to the southern zone.

 

The Holocene is the last and current geological period. It corresponds to the end of the last glacial period approximately 12,000 years ago, when the glaciers slowly retreated and caused the sea level to rise. At the same time, the rocky bed was exposed on the surface of Patagonia, which had previously been covered by great ice masses. This began the process of colonization by lichens and mosses, the ancestors of the southern flora, which in turn led to the arrival of animals and later migrations of humans to the southern zone. 

The majority of the flora that can be observed in the Magallanes Region is generally found between the Baker River and Cape Horn; in other words, between the 47th and 56th parallels south. While rainfall over this extensive territory ranges between 350 mm and 8,000 mm per year depending on the zone, the average annual precipitation in the area of the Beagle Channel is 1,000 mm. In this same region, vegetation generally grows up to altitudes of between 400 and 600 meters.

To experience the flora and fauna of Patagonia nature first-hand, book our three-night glacier cruise through the south side of Tierra del Fuego.

TREES AND SHRUBS

Trees in the Nothofagus genus are the most representative and common of the Magellan’s Region, including the Magellan’s beech (Nothofagus betuloides), the Lenga beech (Nothofagus pumilio) and the Antarctic beech (Nothofagus Antarctica). The Magellan’s beech is evergreen. To distinguish these species from each other, the leaves must be observed:

- the Magellan’s beech leaves are hard to the touch, dark green and have irregular, saw-toothed edges;

- the Lenga beech has two “teeth” between each vein;

- the Antarctic beech has several “teeth” between each vein.


The Winter’s bark (Drimys winteri) is a tree with persistent, large, lanceolate leaves. It grows in humid places and its bark contains vitamin C. It has white flowers. Despite its common name in Spanish (canelo, which is similar to the word for cinnamon) this tree is not related to cinnamon.

The Chilean fire bush (Embothrium coccineum) stands out for its splendid red flowers in the spring. It also flowers less intensely in the fall.


The fashine (Chiliotrichium diffusum) is a tree that can reach up to 1.5 m in height and is found everywhere. In summer, it is covered with tiny white flowers similar to small daisies, and can be confused with a sheep from afar.


The prickly heath (Gaultheria mucronata) forms low bushes (from 20 to 50 cm in height). Its flowers are the shape of miniscule bells, and its fruits have the appearance of tiny white and pink apples. They are edible and have a peculiar, spongy texture inside, making them resistant to freezing during the winter.


The native wild currant (Ribes magellanicum) produces a cluster of little yellow and red flowers that later turn into exquisite berries. 


The Magellan barberry (Berberis microphylla) is a thorny and very abundant shrub. It has a lovely blooming period, with infinite little orangey-yellow flowers. The best time for this bush, however, is at the end of the summer, when its berries ripen and offer the gourmet their exquisite, sweet flavor. They can be turned into jam, sauces or tarts. A very popular legend has it that “he who eats the Magellan barberry will return to this land”.


The holly-leafed barberry (Berberis illicifolia) is in the same family as the Magellan barberry. Its sharp leaves are wider than those of the latter, but its flowers are relatively similar. Its fruits are bitter.

FLOWERS AND PLANTS

The waterfall plant (Ourisia ruelloides) is characterized by its small, red, bell-shaped flowers that seek out moisture, especially near waterfalls.

The coiron (Festuca gracillina) is Patagonia’s most common native grass and can grow up to 50 cm in height. It is a delicacy for sheep, even during the winter.


The Magellan orchid (Chloraea magellanica) is probably one of the only four orchids that exist in Tierra del Fuego and is the most difficult to find. Its white flowers set off by green stripes are extremely beautiful.


The cojines are various species of mosses that grow on groups of rocks and whose shape and texture resemble a cushion. They make up the largest component of the peat bogs or peat.


The basket rush (Marsippospermum grandiflorum) grows in saturated soils. For thousands of years, the native peoples of the Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego channels used this plant to weave baskets.


The sundew (Drosera uniflora) is the region’s only carnivorous flower. It measures between 3 mm and 5 mm and lives in moist environments such as peat bogs.

The stick-tight (Acaena magellanica) grows everywhere. The flower of this plant, which grows to some 20 cm in height, sticks to shoes and pants.


The false mistletoe (Misodendrum punctulatum) is a parasite that often grows on Nothofagus species, forming large and highly visible balls.


The woods lady’s slipper (Calceolaria biflora) is a beautiful and tiny flower that is not very easy to find in Tierra del Fuego, but that can be admired in Torres del Paine National Park, for example.


The devil’s strawberry (Gunnera magellanica) grows in moist, shady places. Its small red fruit has a bitter taste.
The Magellan strawberry (Rubus geoides) grows at ground level or else is hidden underneath the plant’s leaves. At the end of the summer it is red, and is a true delicacy when fully ripe.

FUNGI

The fungi are a kingdom of unicellular or pluricellular life forms that do not form tissues and whose cells group together to form a highly branched body of filaments.

The Darwin’s fungus (also known as pan de indio or llao-llao): Three species are given the same common name. They parasitize Nothofagus species, causing tumors known as “knots”. Darwin’s fungus is edible but has no flavor.

LICHENS

The lichens are fungi that live symbiotically with algae.

Lichens as bioindicators: Although lichens are tolerant to a wide range of ecological conditions, they are also very sensitive to air pollution. The delicate nutritional balance that exists between the microalgae and the fungus is easily altered by gaseous airborne contaminants, including SO2 and nitrogen oxides, among others. For this reason, they have been successfully used as environmental bioindicators in urban and suburban areas. Thanks to their slow growth, they have also been used to date the retreat of glaciers (lichenometry) as well as megalithic monuments such as the Moai in Easter Island.


(“It is a marvelous chapter of life, the fight that these little organisms wage against the formidable power of the high mountains, allowing us to find their colorful crusts even on the highest rocks. With bright colors, they paint the dead rock and rise up as the first and last sentries of life, awakening our passionate interest.”)

(C. Schroeter)

  Cruising Cape Horn with Australis gives you the opportunity to view stunning landscapes and wildlife from land and by sea. Contact us to book your Patagonia adventure cruise.

 

 

 

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