Elephant Island, Antarctica
Perfectly named, Elephant Island is a hulking mass of land and ice that juts out of the ocean to form the distinct shape of an elephant’s head. Fittingly, the location is also a popular habitat for Elephant seals, which was observed and noted by early Antarctic explorers.
Ernest Shackleton made Elephant Island famous during his 1915–1917 Antarctic expedition. Shackleton and his crew had to abandon their ship after it became stuck then crushed by pack ice in 1915. After five months adrift on ice floes, the crew finally came upon Elephant Island, where they were able to make safe refuge. Shackleton then led a small team aboard a lifeboat to South Georgia where they might find help. He returned to Elephant Island four months later with a ship, rescuing everyone. A bronze bust was erected on the island dedicated to this heroic example of Antarctic exploration.
Wildlife such as seals and Gentoo penguins can be found on Elephant Island, but on the whole, the island is relatively lacking in flora and fauna. While in a prime position to support scientific activities, a lack of safe anchorage points on the island means no permanent human settlement has been established as yet.
Landings are relatively uncommon for tourists due to the nature of the island and its surrounds. This shouldn’t be seen as a loss though, as Elephant Island is best enjoyed from the comfort of your ship so you can take in the full extent of the landmass’ raw beauty.
Located on the outskirts of the South Shetland Island group, Elephant Island is approximately 245 kilometres north-northeast of the Antarctic Peninsula tip. The waters surrounding the island can be tough to navigate, and it is often not possible to get too close to the island.
There are no port facilities here as it is very difficult to get ashore. All amenities, fresh water and food will be found on-board your ship.
There are two Brazilian refuges on the island that are used by researchers during the summer months.
How to Get Around
All transport to the island is via ship, usually from Ushuaia, Argentina, which is the main starting port when travelling to Antarctica. If lucky enough to get ashore, on foot is the only way to get around. This must always be done with a guide. Movement on the island is also very limited though, as vast ice sheets constitute a high-level slip hazard on the steep surfaces.
- Currency – No currency is exchanged on Elephant Island, as is the case for most of Antarctica. All goods and services can be purchased on board your cruise ship. Currency exchanged on board is dependent on the nationality of the carrier you’re travelling with.
- Time Zone – Elephant Island is four hours behind Coordinated Universal Time (UTC); however, as there are multiple time zones across Antarctica, your cruise ship will determine which time zone you should adhere to while cruising through the region.
- Weather – Snow and fog tend to dominate this small island, as do icy winds. The island is inaccessible during winter as the seas are often blocked by ice. Average temperatures during summer are still only about 1 degree Celsius.
- Point Wild – A spit located on the north coast of Elephant Island, Point Wild is home to the bronze statue of Captain Luis Pardo Villalon, whose ship rescued the stranded party of the Endurance.
- Native Fauna – On Elephant Island you will find a busy Chinstrap penguin colony that is estimated to have around 50,000 pairs. Pintado petrels, a type of seabird, often nest in the cliffs and during summer, this island often becomes a resting spot for Fur and Elephant seals. If you are a keen photographer, here you will have the chance to zoom in and capture the majestic beauty of these wonderful creatures, set against the dramatic landscapes of the icebergs and rocks.
- Drake Passage – Often the journey is just as significant as the destination, and this is certainly the case with Drake Passage. With an average depth of about 3,400 metres, this waterway is a sight to behold. Situated 160 kilometres north of the Antarctic Peninsula, this 1,000 kilometre wide passageway will give every cruise goer the feeling of isolation, fear and excitement, just as the early explorers would have felt.
- Wreck Bay – This cove on the south-west coast of Elephant Island is a particular highlight, as you will find the remains of a large wooden sailing vessel wrecked along the foreshore.