Sea Birding Pelagic Trips South Africa, Cape Town Pelagics


  Destination - SubAntarctic Islands: Tristan Archipelago and Gough


These British islands are home to six endemic landbirds, including the world's smallest flightless bird, and 22 species of breeding seabirds. Four seabird species breed nowhere else. Inaccessible Rail, Gough Moorhen, Tristan Thrush, Gough Bunting, Tristan Bunting and Wilkins' Bunting are endemic to the islands.

Tristan Albatross, Atlantic Yellow-nosed Albatross, Atlantic Petrel and Spectacled Petrel only breed at these islands, but range more widely through the South Atlantic Ocean. This is the easiest place in the region to see Northern Rockhopper Penguin and White-faced and White-bellied Storm Petrels.

Tristan Archipelago and Gough
Tristan Archipelago and Gough
Tristan Archipelago and Gough

Nightingale is the smallest island in the Tristan archipelago, and has remained remarkably untouched by humans. It offers a remarkable wildlife experience, with huge numbers of very tame seabirds and landbirds. There are two landing sites, both on the more sheltered north-east side of the island. Both are rocky, and require extreme caution and relatively flat seas. The main landing site is used by a large colony of Northern Rockhopper Penguins, which breed in the dense tussock grass above the landing site. Almost immediately on stepping ashore you will be inspected by Tristan Thrushes, which are abundant. Tristan Buntings are common above the landing site and throughout the island. The cave above the landing site also supports breeding Common Noddies and Antarctic Terns. The island also supports large numbers of other birds, including an estimated 2 million pairs of Great Shearwaters and Sooty Albatrosses breed on the cliffs.

Tristan Archipelago and Gough
Tristan Archipelago and Gough
Tristan Archipelago and Gough

Inaccessible Island is most famous for being home to the Inaccessible Rail, the smallest flightless bird. Like Nightingale, Inaccessible is free of introduced mammals, which explains why this diminutive (30 g) rail has managed to persist when so many other flightless island rails have gone extinct. It is extremely abundant throughout the island, but can be hard to see, especially if you're frantically looking for it! Inaccessible also is the sole breeding site for Spectacled Petrels, which dig their large burrows on the island plateau.

Gough Island is a spectacular volcanic island that lies 240 km south-south-east of Tristan on the edge of the roaring forties. It is a Nature Reserve and World Heritage Site, and at present no tourist visits are allowed. However, weather permitting, we'll visit the island's waters close inshore. This is the only chance of seeing the two endemic land birds: Gough Moorhen and Gough Bunting. Both feed along the beaches of the east coast, although the moorhen tends to remain in amongst vegetation. The island also supports vast numbers of breeding seabirds, including virtually the entire population of Tristan Albatrosses and Atlantic Petrels, and is the single most important site for Sooty Albatrosses. Most of the 20 breeding seabirds are easily observed at sea off the island.


Day 1 - Leave Cape Town and begin experiencing the seabird spectacle of the Southern Oceans!

Days 2 to 4 - Steam west, through the sometimes tempestuous, sometimes placid South Atlantic.

Day 5 - Arrive off Tristan da Cunha. Proximity to the islands betrayed first by a marked increase in bird numbers, and then, if the day is clear, the 2000 m peak of Tristan will appear on the horizon.

Day 6 - Day ashore on Tristan (weather permitting). Walk to the potato patches or, for the more adventurous, a stiff 800 m climb to the Base to see the introduced population of Gough Moorhens. Overnight at anchor in the lee of the island.

Day 7 - Nightingale Island. Weather permitting, we'll land on this, the oldest of the Tristan islands, to see most of the diurnal seabirds and landbirds. Highlights are the large colony of Northern Rockhoppers that share their landing beach with us and mercifully small numbers of Subantarctic Fur Seals, Atlantic Yellow-nosed Albatross on the nest as well as large numbers of Tristan Buntings and Tristan Thrushes. This will also be the best chance of seeing the localised Wilkins' or Grosbeak Bunting, which we should be able to locate among the copses of Island Trees. Most people should be able to walk to the Ponds (about 1.5 km each way but with a steep climb towards the end) where there are large numbers of Yellow-nosed Albatrosses and the best stands of Island Trees. Depending on the time available and weather forecast, we may also head over to Inaccessible Island for a brief landing on the island's sheltered east coast at either the Waterfall or Salt Beach to lure out the enigmatic Inaccessible Island Rail, famous for being the smallest flightless bird in the world.

Day 8 - Visit Inaccessible Island, weather permitting, or return to Tristan. If the weather is bad, or we've cleaned up, may head southwest to Gough Island.

Day 9 - Arrive Gough Island, the jewel of the South Atlantic. Weather permitting, we'll launch small boats for a close cruise along the sheltered east coast where, with luck, we should see Gough Buntings foraging along the shoreline and in the tussock along the coastal cliffs. We may also see Gough Moorhens skulking among the vegetation at the edge of the boulder beaches. Night anchored off the island will be a spectacle to remember, as more than 10 million burrowing petrels visit the island.

Day 10 - Circumnavigate Gough Island to see its many spectacular stacks and waterfalls; small boat cruise if postponed from previous day. Then we'll start the long trip back to Cape Town.

Days 11 to15 - At sea, steaming east with the wind and waves hopefully from the stern. An extra day has been added in here to allow for weather delays.

Day 16 - Arrive Cape Town.

  About the SA Agulhas

The 6000 tonne SA Agulhas is South Africa's Antarctic supply and research vessel. It is a research ship, not a luxury cruise vessel, although is quite comfortable with ensuite bathroom facilities and good catering.

She is designed to withstand the rigours of the 'roaring forties' and 'furious fifties' and is ice-strengthened and can pass through pack-ice up to 1 m thick. She heads south to Antarctica twice each summer, usually fighting her way through the pack to reach the continent for the first time in December each year.


The ship carries up to 90 passengers in addition to 10 officers and more than 30 crew. There will be a doctor on board in case of emergencies. Passengers are housed in cabins on either the main deck or upper, heli-deck levels (well above the water-line). All cabins have en suite bathrooms, with a toilet, basin and shower. There is a newly refurbished lounge/bar area with an upper deck lounge for smokers, and a small library. The very large helicopter hanger is where meetings and lectures will be held. Ample sheltered deck space for sea watching is available, with the monkey island and main bridge also accessible for observation.

A team of enthusiastic seabirders will be aboard to help you get to grips with the often tricky business of identifying pelagic seabirds. All the guides have lots of experience of the ship, the Prince Edward Islands and the birds and mammals we will encounter. Guides will be scattered around the ship, and will endeavour to ensure that everyone sees the most important birds.

  Cruise Track
Map created by Peter Ryan