South Georgia and the Sandwich Islands (British Overseas Territory)
Windswept and largely unknown, the utterly isolated isle of South Georgia stands days away from any civilized shore, a white crest of carved ice rising from the cold subantarctic waters that surround the South Atlantic mountains nearly 1,300 miles east of Tierra del Fuego and 800 miles southeast of the Falkland Islands. Deemed unliveable by Caption James Cook, the first explorer to land on the island, in 1775, and still virtually uninhabited, the 100-mile-long island nevertheless delights intrepid visitors with impossibly high sea cliffs, dazzling fjords, and snowy alpine peaks sloping down to wave-whipped beaches of fine-grained salt-and-pepper sand.
These seemingly desolate shorelines harbor one of the world’s largest and most important penguin colonies: More than a half million breeding pairs of king penguins, the second largest penguins in the world, serve as the island’s biggest draw. Arriving at the glacial valley of the Salisbury Plain, you instantly find yourself surrounded by at least 100,000 of them, all braying in chorus and waddling to and from the sea.
Bird-watchers find heaven in the 81 other rare and wonderful species too, including the million-plus macaroni penguins, with their distinctive yellow crest, and petrels of all kinds. Albatross Island and Prion Island provide a close-up view of the regal wandering albatross, whose 12-foot wingspan is the length of the narrow, steep-walled Drygalski fjords, then follow the island’s calmer northern coast, where protected bays allow for smooth Zodiac landings and easy access to the wildlife. In summer, some 3 million fur seals breed on the shores of South Georgia, giving birth to playful pups. Enormous elephant seals loll in muddy pools, whale dominated the surrounding ocean, and up in the hills you can glimpse members of the world’s southernmost reindeer herd, introduced by 19th-century Norwegian whalers who longed for a taste of home.
Vestiges of the area’s whaling days remain at the “capital” of Grytviken, home to a cozy museum and fewer than 20 souls, mostly research scientist and the British government officers who manage this crown colony. A prim wooden church built in 1913 is open so that visitors can climb the belfry and ring the dolorous iron bell. Nearby lies the grave of legendary explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton, who perished here on his final voyage to Antarctica. His wife back in England insisted the hero’s body remain in South Georgia. Today, hikers can follow in his footsteps by crossing the high pass between Fortuna Bay to Stromness – the final leg of his daring rescue from the doomed Endurance.
WHERE: Expedition ships typically depart from Ushuaia, Argentina.
BEST TIME: Nov – Mar (austral summer) when temperatures hover around 40 degree F; late Nov for penguins nesting with eggs; Dec for hatching baby penguins; Jan – Mar for baby fur seals and fledging penguins.
EXPERIENCE: this through Experiential Travel Journeys. Please Call us or Email us.