South Georgia Island

Whalecatcher Petrel, Grytviken
South Georgia is on the southern edge of the Atlantic Ocean, and really is one of the most remote places I’ve had the chance to visit.

There isn't an airstrip on South Georgia – the only air traffic you might see are helicopters attached to visiting ships, or perhaps involved with the habitat restoration projects.  If you want to get to South Georgia you are going to need to travel by boat, the only real decision is how long a sea journey you want.

South Georgia makes it onto the adventure tourism map via cruises from either Ushuaia in southern Argentina or from Stanley in the Falkland Islands – both of these have reasonable air connections. And either will involve a significant amount of sea time.

It’s typically the best part of three days sailing to get from the Falklands to South Georgia, roughly 800 miles, and they might well be rough miles too.  From Ushuaia, you need to add in another couple of days, although you might get off the boat to stretch your legs on a Falkland beach as you are passing.  The waters between the Falklands and South Georgia – the Scotia Sea – lie to the east of the Drake Passage and are amongst the wildest seas around.  The Scotia Ridge runs around the north, east and south of the Scotia Sea, and the points where that ridge emerges above sea level are South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands.

When you get to South Georgia, your first port of call is likely to be the former whaling station at Grytviken which is the administrative headquarters for the island - although if you are on a known/trusted ship, the authorities may opt to let your boat register at the most convenient stage of your journey. In addition to having a lovely little museum, Grytviken is the only place to buy souvenirs on the island or to send postcards.

There are numerous landing points along the northern side of the island. Some of these landing places are on the sites of the old whaling stations, which thrived in the early part of the 20th Century, other on beaches covered with wildlife.  Only the Grytviken whaling station is open for visitors to wander round, the other stations have either been removed completely leaving only foundations or have been declared unsafe for visitors (mostly due to the risk of sheets of rusty metal blowing around).

Stromness Whaling Station, South Georgia
All the landings on South Georgia will be what the tour crew would describe as ‘wet’.  You’ll get from your ship down a gangway into an inflatable boat, which will be driven onto a beach at the landing site. The trick in getting onto the shore (which you will be taught) is about sliding up the side of the boat to the front before swinging your feet over into (hopefully) shallow water through which you scramble up onto the beach.  The ship will almost certainly provide you with a loan set of rubber boots to wear for landings.

St Andrews Bay, South Georgia
The beaches on South Georgia can be busy places. You probably won’t see another ship on your visit, but you will see lots of wildlife.  The beaches will be covered with penguins, fur seals and elephant seals.  At certain times of year your expedition leaders just won’t attempt to land on some of the smaller beaches – the territorial competition between the residents is quite fierce enough without shuffling tourists into the mix.

South Georgia is one of the most remarkable places I've got to visit.  The combination of remoteness and the sheer volume of wildlife ensures that it's on my must-go-back list.

For more about my visit to South Georgia, have a look at the blog post I wrote just after the trip

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