South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands
The Antarctic region is undeniably breathtaking in all its natural beauty, and South Georgia is one of this area’s most stunning locations. This heavenly polar island lies in the Atlantic Ocean, about 1,400 kilometres southeast of the Falkland Islands.
A collection of small islands named the South Sandwich Islands are considered part of the same territory and these can be found approximately 520 kilometres to the southeast from South Georgia. There are 11 South Sandwich Islands, which are generally either volcanically active or barren.
Expeditions sometimes include a visit to Zavodovski Island, home to one of the largest colonies of chinstrap penguins in the world. For the most part, though, cruises either skip the South Sandwich Islands or simply sail past them, preferring to give guests more time to enjoy South Georgia.
Captain James Cook was the first to land on South Georgia and he also gave it its name. The island’s history features periods of being a sealers’ base, a whalers’ base, and a war zone briefly in 1982 as the UK and Argentina fought over the territory’s ownership. While both still claim sovereignty of South Georgia, the 18-or-so inhabitants are all British and the chain of islands is widely considered a British overseas territory.
South Georgia’s additional historical importance comes from being a significant site for famous explorer Ernest Shackleton’s Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition, as well as his final resting place.
While its history is interesting, South Georgia’s main appeal to visitors is its fascinating and astonishingly abundant wildlife, combined with its jaw-dropping scenery. This is what ensures the territory remains an essential stop on many Antarctic cruises, including those offered by Quark Expeditions and Peregrine Adventures.
There are no docking facilities on the island, so cruise guests are tendered aboard via Zodiacs (inflatable rubber boats). There are a number of spots where visitors can be brought ashore, but you will most likely land close to King Edward Point (home to the British Antarctic Survey) or Grytviken, the only inhabited spots on the island.
Depending on where you disembark on the island, there may be basic facilities available. Make sure to take advantage of the facilities offered on board your cruise ship before and after your day trip to the island.
How To Get Around
A Zodiac (rubber boat) will take you between your cruise ship and South Georgia. Once on land, walking with rubber boots on should be fine as long as you stay close to the shore. Going further inland will likely require snowshoes. You may also discover more of the island via Zodiac.
Travel times will vary depending on where you come ashore.
Travel times from King Edward Point:
It is a 1 minute journey to the Discovery House
It is a 5 minute journey to Hope Point
It is a 15 minute journey to South Georgia Museum
It is a 17 minute journey to Grytviken Church
It is a 23 minute journey to Ernest Shackleton’s grave.
Currency – A small gift shop in Grytviken accepts British or Falkland pounds, euros, or US dollars. Aside from this, there is no need to have any money on hand in South Georgia. All necessities should be available on or provided by your cruise ship.
Time Zone – South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands run on South Georgia Time (GST), which is 2 hours behind Coordinated Universal Time (UTC).
Weather – The weather in South Georgia can change rapidly and extremely, varying from calm and sunny to severe storms without much notice. However, the temperatures here are generally more enjoyable than those in Antarctica proper, with average summer temperatures of around 8 degrees Celsius. This average drops to about 0 degrees Celsius in winter. You can expect either rain or snow any time of year.
Wildlife – Despite a history rife with seal hunting and whaling, South Georgia is today a virtual wildlife sanctuary. Massive numbers of seals – both southern fur seals and elephant seals – can be found here in summer, along with majestic albatrosses and a variety of other birds, including some species only found on the island. But, of course, the most noticeable creature you’ll find in South Georgia is the penguin; there are millions of them. Macaronis, kings, and gentoos are the most common breeds, but visitors may also discover some Adélie, chinstraps, and rockhoppers too. Don’t be surprised if you see entire hills completely covered in these adorable flightless birds.
History – From the burial site of Ernest Shackleton to the intriguing South Georgia Museum, Grytviken (formerly one of the island’s several whaling stations) provides great insight into this region’s history.
Views – Any way you look while travelling to, around, or away from South Georgia provides you with endless breathtaking views of unspoiled polar nature. Glaciers and icebergs abound and the dramatic landscape provides guests with endless fantastic photo opportunities.