South Georgia is remote and isolated. Wildlife has taken over the island and inhabits the streets and buildings of long-abandoned villages. King penguins live in colonies hundreds of thousands strong, protectively herding their young from predatory dangers, while fur and elephant seals commandeer the beaches, and huge flocks of sea and land birds keep watch for a tasty fish treat in the cold and wild seas surrounding the island. South Georgia is 167 km long and only a little more than a kilometre wide at its narrowest point; wildlife is concentrated in key spots and a visit to the island is perfect for budding nature photographers. South Georgia is featured in our longer Antarctic expeditions, and one of our trips spends two weeks exploring its wildlife-rich shorelines.
South Georgia is one of the main breeding colonies for king penguins, with approximately 400,000 breeding pairs at sites around the island. One of the most amazing behaviours of the second largest penguin species in the world is the parenting ritual. Each year, a king penguin couple mates, and then take it in turns to incubate the egg and protect the chick while the other looks for food. Antarctica is an exceptionally inhospitable environment, with winter temperatures reaching -30ᵒC in coastal areas, and it’s vital that the young king penguins are kept warm. After birth, the babies only have a thin pelt until they develop their distinctive brown fur; sitting on mum or dad’s feet, covered by a pouch, is the only way to keep warm. When they’re old enough, the juveniles are left with other youngsters while the parents spend months looking for food. King penguins have a long period of nurture, with breeding beginning from September to November. It’s not until up to 16 months later that they are ready to go sea, usually in spring.
Live wildlife theatre
In addition to king penguins, South Georgia is home to a stunning array of wildlife, including macaroni, gentoo and chinstrap penguins, plus sperm, pilot and killer (orca) whales swimming alongside hourglass dolphins. Elephant and fur seals inhabit beaches and old villages. South Georgia is also famous for wandering albatrosses, the world’s largest seabird, where you can witness breeding efforts and enjoy watching their displays.
In Ernest Shackleton’s footsteps
South Georgia also has a rich history, entwined with Shackleton’s Antarctic endeavours. He landed on South Georgia when his expedition was ship-wrecked, and his grave is at the abandoned whalers’ village of Grytviken.
Grytviken was established as a whaling station in 1904 by Norwegian captain, C A Larsen, and became very successful. So successful that evidence of the industry, which ended in the 1960s, can still be seen around the town’s shores. On most of our trips to South Georgia, you can visit the museum and old site of whaling operations.
Shackleton and five other crew members reached the southern coast of South Georgia in 1915 after their ship, the Endurance, was wrecked. From their make-shift campsite at Pegotty Bluff, the explorer and remaining members of his crew set-off for a marathon trek across the island to the northern port of Stromness. It was from Grytviken that Shackleton ordered his rescue mission. His widow chose South Georgia as his final resting place.
South Georgia Webcam
This webcam sends up-dated images every few minutes so you can see what the weather is like in South Georgia right now! The camera usually looks across the Cove towards Grytviken, but can swing around to look down KEP beach towards Hope Point. Our thanks to the South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands website for permission to feature their webcam.