Travelling to the Antarctic and the Subantarctic region of South Georgia, is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Jayne, our Polar Regional Specialist, recently sailed to the Falklands and South Georgia, where her experiences sailing through the Antarctic hinterlands, left a lasting impression. Here are her top 5 reasons why everyone should head to this part of the world and re-trace the footsteps of the early Antarctic explorers.
1. Penguins in the Antarctic regions
The first stop in the Falklands was Saunders Island. This pristine sweep of sandy beach, scattered with King Penguins, was overlooked by rolling farmland, bird-covered cliffs and a sky filled with feathers from the Rockhopper and Gentoo penguins’ seasonal moult. While Gentoos populate much of the Antarctic peninsula further South, Southern Rockhoppers are indigenous only to the Falkland Islands, Argentina and Chile.
South Georgia’s highlight was the vast King Penguin colonies. Fortunately, conditions were favourable enough for us to visit St Andrews Bay, Gold Harbour and Salisbury Plain. The sight of so many penguins and their chicks left me speechless, and I made sure I put the camera down to take in the incredible landscape and enjoy the cacophony of penguins.
2. Other wildlife in the Antarctic regions
Alongside the wealth of penguins in the Falklands, South Georgia and Antarctica, there is some fantastic wildlife to spot in this polar wilderness.
Travelling to the Falklands, you get the chance to spot whales. Standing on the deck looking out for sprays from Sei whales, was a fantastic experience. Earlier in the season, you can also see Humpbacks and Orcas. When you reach the Falklands, you can spot Commerson’s Dolphins. These beautiful black and white dolphins happily jump in and out of the water.
Our first landing in South Georgia was at Elsehul, and it provided the perfect introduction to what we would experience over the coming days. Fur seal pups played together in the water and pipit birds flew overhead. We cruised in zodiacs through coves to beaches teeming with wildlife.
3. Unforgettable landscapes and wilderness
The Sub-Antarctic region has beautiful, dramatic landscapes and it truly feels like you’re in the wilderness as you travel between the islands.
In South Georgia, we immersed ourselves in the spectacular mountains; walking over mountain passes, past snow-capped peaks scarred by glaciers and looking out over crystal-clear lakes.
South Georgia is a special place unlike anywhere I have ever visited before. It is remote, wild and at times unforgiving with its weather, but it is this that made it so unique. Every single day offered another unforgettable experience and, like many of my shipmates, I know it is only matter of time until I need to go back to experience its beauty again.
4. Retracing Shackleton’s voyage
The scenery in South Georgia asks to be explored, and the island has a rich history of exploration; though no stories capture the imagination quite like those of Ernest Shackleton and his expedition team.
Ernest Shackleton was a pioneer in the exploration of Antarctica and his story is fascinating, particularly the tale of his ship the ‘Endurance’ stuck in the ice.
He set off to find help and travelled 800 miles in a small boat to South Georgia, where we had the chance to walk in his footsteps at Peggotty Bluff and Stromness. The experience was special to me, looking at the spot the great man and his crew sheltered beneath their upturned boat, it was hard to comprehend the hardships they had experienced.
We were blessed with blue skies and a handful of elephant seals basking in the sunshine, a complete contrast to the hurricane force winds that met Shackleton and his crew. We honoured his achievements by gathering at his grave in Grytviken and toasting him with a whisky.
Grytviken itself is a fascinating settlement. The rusted remains of the whaling industry lure you into to discover this former outpost. It is also home to the South Georgia Post Office, and I made sure to send a postcard home, complete with one of their unique stamps so popular with collectors.
5. Protecting the habitat in South Georgia
After our first penguin sightings, we started the 900-mile journey to reach South Georgia. The privilege of visiting this unique destination comes with responsibilities. Protecting the islands from foreign species is a constant battle and one that all visitors must commit to before their first landing. While at sea we all went through strict bio-security procedures with all our clothing and footwear checked for seeds and other foreign matter, and we continued this work on land with a beach clean when we had finished our exploring.
This dedication has already paid off. One of the great success stories was declaring that the island is officially rodent free following a ten-year eradication programme. The announcement, made a few weeks after my return, was a massive achievement for everyone involved in the project.
If you’d like to find out more about our Antarctic voyages aboard the M/V Polar Pioneer or on our newer vessel the M/V Greg Mortimer - view our trips here