Kingdom of seabirds and seals, South Georgia is one of the wildest and most remote places in the world...
South Georgia is a remote island in the South Atlantic, famous for its remarkably diverse wildlife and for being the resting site of the explorer, Ernest Shackleton. With almost double the amount of breeding birds than Antarctica, South Georgia has many draws for bird watchers and wildlife enthusiasts alike.
Located around 900 miles southeast of the Falklands, South Georgia is surrounded by cold Antarctic waters. Despite lying south of the Antarctic Convergence, the sea waters around South Georgia never freeze, meaning wildlife can live here all year round without needing to migrate for winter. As a result, its northern beaches, are literally packed with majestic king penguins, quick fur-seals and blubbery elephant seals, while it’s grassy slopes are home to nesting albatrosses and petrels. Particularly special are the endemic South Georgia pintail duck and the pipit songbird; the only songbird in Antarctica.
In comparison to the islands’ non-existent human population, the numbers of penguins, which inhabit the islands, are huge! There are around 450 000 pairs of king penguins, 1.1 million pairs of yellow-crested macaroni penguins and thousands of long-tailed Gentoo and black-banded chinstrap penguins which cover the islands’ hillsides, like at Hercules and Fortuna Bay. Probably most unforgettable are the sights sounds and smells of the world’s largest and second-largest king penguin colonies at St Andrews Bay and Salisbury Plain. Believe it or not, at the height of the breeding season, the area between Elsehul Bay and Salisbury Plain is believed to have more wildlife per square foot than any other place on the planet!
Popular sights for landing are Cooper Bay, to see the islands’ most accessible macaroni penguin colony and Prion Island, a breeding sight for the Wandering Albatross. Recognised as having the largest wingspan of any living bird, ranging from 2.5-2.5 metres - the Wandering Albatross spends most of its life at sea, only coming to land to feed and breed. Boats will also stop at Right Whale Bay to see the large colony of elephant seals, which inhabit the area between September and November, and fur seals which take over the bay until February. Boats circling around the islands will pass through the Drugalski Fjord, known for its glaciers and spectacular scenery. If the sea is calm enough here you will be able to hear the glacier calving chunks of ice into the water.
Although today the islands are a haven for sea mammals, from the late 1700s to the mid-1900s, the island was a base for commercial sealers and whalers, who plundered the seas around South Georgia of their marine mammals, leaving seal and whale populations severely diminished. Only government officials reside on South Georgia at certain times of the year, and all that remains of the island’s old industries are the abandoned whaling stations.
South Georgia is also where the body of Ernest Shackleton is laid to rest. Shackleton died here in 1922, but his most famous encounter with the island took place in 1916 when his expedition’s ship Endurance became crushed by ice in the Southern Antarctic. While half of his team waited on Elephant Island, Shackleton and five other members of the expedition set sail to South Georgia to get help. It took them 15 days to travel across the treacherous waters to the island and when they got there they found themselves on the uninhabited southwest coast. Their destination was the whaling station at Stromness on the northern side of the island. Left with no option but to hike across South Georgia’s steep, icey mountain range without proper hiking equipment and with dwindling supplies, the group set out on an amazing story of adventure and survival which has inspired many to retrace their footsteps on this incredible journey. Many visits to South Georgia will include a visit to Shackleton’s grave in the Whaler’s Cemetery at Grytviken.