South Georgia was a popular stop for many historic Antarctic expeditions and was once a haven for hunting whales and elephant and fur seals. Today, wildlife populations have rebounded, but you’ll still find remnants of old whaling stations and other abandoned outposts scattered across the island.
Although South Georgia’s storied history is an important attraction, it is the abundant wildlife that is sure to captivate. Landing sites on the island are varied, largely determined by the weather conditions of your voyage. Whichever landing sites we visit, they’ll provide you with wildlife encounters that cannot be enjoyed anywhere else on earth. South Georgia is one of the most fertile breeding grounds in the world for sub-Antarctic wildlife, with beaches blanketed with penguins—king and macaroni penguins, in particular. The island is also a paradise for bird lovers, who will marvel at the plentiful petrels, albatross and burrowing seabirds. With each landing you make on South Georgia—often referred to as the Galapagos of the Poles—you’ll discover a new wonder.
One day you may see hundreds of thousands of pairs of king penguins waddling on a beach, and the next day you may visit another beach scattered with thousands of fur or elephant seals. The island’s beaches, grasses and mountains all play an important role in the breeding and survival of different species. This fragile, symbiotic relationship is something your Expedition Team will explain while you’re here.
A couple of shore landings that best represent what you can expect in South Georgia are Gold Harbor and Cooper Bay. Perhaps the most picturesque site in all of South Georgia, Gold Harbor provides a dizzying amount of wildlife, all in one location. Here, you’ll be enchanted by the view of the overhanging Bertrab Glacier to the east, a massive king penguin colony in the distance, an abundance of southern elephant seals and fur seals, and nesting albatross high above in the tussock grass.
Cooper Bay will bring you close to macaroni, gentoo or king penguins, and perhaps even Weddell seals, before you set sail for a scenic cruise through the dramatic Drygalski Fjord, where jagged, sharp peaks rise straight out of the sea.
We also hope to visit truly uncharted waters at King Hakkon Bay, a long, narrow inlet in an area that hasn’t yet been fully mapped. This is where the great explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton made landfall in his lifeboat in 1916, searching for rescue for his Endurance crew, who were marooned on Elephant Island. A favorite location of ours is the beach at Salisbury Plain, where assertive fur seals and thousands of curious king penguins are likely to greet us on shore, practically begging you to take their picture. Flanked by glaciers, it makes for a breathtaking backdrop, and photographers will want to capture the surreal spectacle. Not to be outdone, the beaches at Elsehul, Royal Bay, Right Whale Bay and St. Andrew’s Bay are also sure to delight, teeming with playful king penguins and fur and elephant seals.
One of the most historic sites you will visit on the island is Shackleton’s resting place. You can visit his grave at the settlement of Grytviken, which is also home to one of the first whaling stations established in sub-Antarctic waters. You’ll have time to visit the museum, gift shop, church and small research station before sailing to Godthul (Norwegian for “good hollow”).
Linking past and present, one landing we’ll attempt during the voyage is on the eastern shore of Fortuna Bay. Landing here, surrounded by soaring mountains, you’ll head out on the “Shackleton hike,” a trek that has you hiking along the final miles of Shackleton’s traverse of South Georgia into the Stromness whaling station, where the explorer finally found rescue for his crew. To reach the abandoned station, you’ll stroll along a pebbled beach littered with hundreds of fur seals and king and gentoo penguins.