why south georgia?

St. Andrew's Bay is home to as many as 200,000 breeding pairs of King Penguins.

St. Andrew's Bay is home to as many as 200,000 breeding pairs of King Penguins.

 
 

If you haven't already been to the Antarctic Peninsula or Falkland Islands, it is entirely possible you've never heard of South Georgia Island.  If however you've been south you are likely already under the spell of this remarkable island...

South Georgia is the jewel of the South Atlantic Ocean.  These remote and wild islands, together with the Falkland Islands, are home to an abundance of wildlife. The Falklands have a rich and storied history, while South Georgia has rightly been called "the most staggering wildlife show on earth."  After this in-depth exploration we are certain you will agree!  Each of us at Galapagos Travel holds many special memories dear from our own voyages here.

Southern Elephant Seal bulls sparring

Southern Elephant Seal bulls sparring

The magic of South Georgia is due to its location - far enough north to escape the sea ice (providing year-round ocean access to the breeding sea birds and fur seals) and yet south of the Antarctic Convergence. This is where the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian Oceans mix with cold waters from the south, merging into the nutrient-rich Southern Ocean, teeming with Antarctic krill - the lifeblood of the immense food chain. Here on pristine South Georgia the views are framed by towering glacier-covered mountains (snow is possible year-round) and enlivened by huge colonies of penguins, albatross and seals. 

See four species of penguins, including huge colonies of King Penguins and the crested Macaroni Penguins (with 5 million breeding pairs). There are also 4 species of albatrosses, including the Wandering Albatross, with its 13 ft wingspan.

In addition to the seabirds, half of the world's population of Southern Elephant Seals breed on South Georgia. Like the Elephant Seal, the Antarctic Fur Seal is restricted largely to the sub-Antarctic islands, with ninety-five percent of its world population breeding here.  

Much of this wildlife is as approachable as the wildlife of Galapagos too! 

Wandering Albatross (with a 13' wingspan) adult and chick; Prion Island

Wandering Albatross (with a 13' wingspan) adult and chick; Prion Island

Traditional visits to South Georgia last only three or four days and are part of a longer itinerary that includes time spent in Antarctica as well.  But, after many years of careful preparation and planning by local experts, we can now offer visitors the unique opportunity of 8 or 9 days of exploration - more than double the time traditionally spent - on South Georgia.

These extraordinary in-depth voyages are typically offered early in the season, when the arrival of spring releases South Georgia from the grip of a long winter.  Spring marks the beginning of the wildlife migration and commencement of the breeding cycle for many species. Scenes of male elephant seals battling for control of beaches, and harems, and the intimate and beautiful courtship rituals of the different albatross, and the antics of the young King Penguin chicks who have just overwintered, will have you believing you are "on the set" of your very own wildlife documentary.  For lovers of remote, small-ship expedition cruising, this voyage ticks every box you could possibly imagine!

South Georgia Pintails

South Georgia Pintails

Each season there are slight variations in the itineraries and expedition logistics.  Following is our favorite voyage for the coming season: 15 days abroad the vessel in the Southern Ocean experiencing one of the world's greatest wildlife spectacles!

nesting Giant Petrel

nesting Giant Petrel

Day 1: Punta Arenas, Chile

Our journey commences this morning in Punta Arenas (Chile). Here we board our scheduled flight to Stanley in the Falkland Islands. After a short 90-minute journey we are met on arrival and transferred to the pier. Stanley is home to just over 2,000 residents and is reminiscent of a rural town in coastal Britain. It is charming with brightly colored houses, pretty flower-filled gardens, a quaint cathedral and several local pubs. There is time to explore the town before embarkation. Excitement is in the air as we cast off, bound for Antarctica and the adventure of a lifetime.

Days 2 - 3: Southern Ocean

We chart a course bound for South Georgia. This stretch of the South Atlantic is rich in its bio-diversity and showcases an abundance of astonishing wildlife. We will be joined by hundreds of seabirds including the wandering albatross. Giant petrels and smaller Cape petrels are also constant companions as we make our way south. Throughout the day our onboard experts educate us with a series of presentations about the environment, wildlife and history and the locations we hope to visit in the coming days.

Days 4 - 7: South Georgia

Majestic snow-covered mountains greet us on arrival in South Georgia. We hope to navigate the ship into the historic location of King Haakon Bay. It was here that, 100 years ago, Shackleton and his men made landfall in their small lifeboat, the James Caird, after completing the perilous ocean crossing from Elephant Island. This dramatic location is visited by just a handful of ships each season. One of the most anticipated sites in South Georgia is Salisbury Plain. The black sand beaches and tussock covered dunes are home to a staggering 100,000 ing penguin adults and their young. This is just one of several such king penguin rookeries on South Georgia. Fur seals can also be seen poking their heads above the water; the elephant seals will enjoy lazing about the beach, while the skuas and giant petrels fill the skies above. Meanwhile, the albatross - our constant companion on this journey - is never far away. History comes into sharp focus as we visit Stromness and Grytviken. From 1912 until the 1930’s, these locations acted as whaling stations. Today, the rusted and ghostly remnants seem out of place in such a pristine environment. If the weather co-operates, we hope to be able to hike the last few miles across the saddle separating Fortuna Bay from neighboring Stromness, following the footsteps of Shackleton, Crean and Worsley. As we journey further to the southeast we enter the broad expanse of Cumberland Bay. At the head of the bay lies Grytviken – the largest of the old whaling stations on South Georgia. A highlight of our landing here is a visit to the gravesite of Sir Ernest Shackleton and his loyal right hand man, Frank Wild.

Days 8 - 10: South Georgia

Our next few days will take us to St Andrew’s Bay and Gold Harbor - places that are teeming with wildlife including fur seals, elephant seals and massive colonies of the colorful king penguins. We will explore as much as you desire on foot. Gold Harbor is so called because the sun's rays make the cliffs yellow with their light in the morning and evening. It’s an exhilarating location. Drygalski Fjord at the far eastern extremity of the island is another spectacular site in South Georgia.

Days 11 - 13: Southern Ocean

Our final days are spent catching up on journal entries, or perhaps downloading and reviewing photos in the multi-media room with our photography expert. A highlight of our return journey will be frequent sightings of the majestic albatross, petrels and other seabirds as they soar above the ship on the winds of the Southern Ocean.

Day 14: Falkland Islands

Approaching Sea Lion Island close to the Falkland Islands, we launch the Zodiacs and go ashore to view the incredible diversity of wildlife found at this location. Three species of penguin including gentoo, magellanic and rockhopper, as well as southern elephant seals and South American sea lions are known to inhabit the area. King cormorants and striated caracaras are just some of the bird species we expect to see.

Day 15: Stanley, Falkland Islands and Punta Arenas, Chile

In the early morning, we navigate into the harbour of Port Stanley. A transfer will take us to the airport for our return flight to Punta Arenas in southern Chile (this flight is included in the price of your voyage).

King Penguin

King Penguin

Anticipated South Georgia wildlife highlights might include:

(these are the species you might anticipate close encounters with... far more species - 40 or more in total -  are quite likely to be seen during the voyage).  

  • King Penguin
  • Chinstrap Penguin
  • Gentoo Penguin
  • Macaroni Penguin
     
  • Grey-headed Albatross
  • Light-mantled Albatross
  • Wandering Albatross
     
  • Brown Skua
  • Giant Petrel
  • Snowy Sheathbill
  • Antarctica Tern
  • Kelp Gull
  • South Georgia Pintail
  • South Georgia Pipit
     
  • Southern Elephant Seal
  • Southern/Antarctic Fur Seal

In addition with a day in the Falkland Islands you might add close-up experiences with:

  • Magellanic Penguin
  • Rockhopper Penguin
  • Black-browed Albatross
  • King Cormorant
sunrise at 4:30am (in October - the days are still longer mid-season)

sunrise at 4:30am (in October - the days are still longer mid-season)

2017/2018 season departures:

Three 14-night departures are planned for the coming season. Rates start at $11,495 per person in a twin cabin (including flights between Punta Arenas and the Falkland Islands).

October 21-November 4, 2017
November 4-18, 2017
November 18-December 4, 2017 - sold out

Snowy Sheathbill (the only land bird native to Antarctica)

Snowy Sheathbill (the only land bird native to Antarctica)

The 2017/2018 expeditions will all be aboard the Akademik Sergey Vavilov - our favorite Polar expeditions ship.

Grytviken whaling station ruins

Grytviken whaling station ruins

Please call or e-mail if you would like detailed itinerary information, cabin availability, or to join South Georgia In-depth!

King Penguins searching for a way through the sea of sleeping Elephant Seals

King Penguins searching for a way through the sea of sleeping Elephant Seals

All photos by Mark Grantham, shot on South Georgia In-Depth: October 2015.