South Georgia Island is a sub-Antarctic island administered by the United Kingdom as part of South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands. It is located 1390 km southeast of the Falkland Islands and 2150 km from South America. It is the home of vast numbers of birds and marine life, but its remote location and lack of access makes it a rare destination for tourists.
There are no airstrips on the island, so aside from an occasional overflight from a military aircraft, which do not land, the only access to the island is by boat. Most tourists arrive on icebreakers and other large vessels as a part of a trip to the Antarctic Peninsula, although a handful of smaller boats also brave the rough passage to the island. Whether on a small or large boat, even the crustiest old seaman should expect to become seasick during the crossing and should bring appropriate medications.
Companies that can help to arrange travel to the islands include:
|The Reindeer Dilemma|
Reindeer were introduced to South Georgia by Norwegian whalers, and the animals have established several herds throughout the island. As an introduced species they have stressed the environment, browsing and trampling local vegetation and occasionally disrupting nesting birds, including penguins. Arguments have been made that the reindeer should be eradicated to help restore the island to a more pristine condition, but opponents have argued against a wholesale slaughter and pointed out that the species provides an interesting scientific test group since the animals have had to completely invert their natural breeding cycle to accommodate the reversed seasons of the southern hemisphere. Extermination of one herd has been added to the island's management plan, but the debate remains ongoing.
Located at the extreme northwest tip of the island, Willis Island is accessible only by a difficult and mildly dangerous landing onto a rocky cliff, followed by a steep ascent over rock and through tussocks. The island is home to massive numbers of black-browed, grey-headed and light-mantled sooty albatross, as well as macaroni penguins.
Bird Island is currently closed to all tourism and operates as a research area for the British Antarctic Survey. Birds on the island include wandering albatross, giant petrels, and numerous other species.
Elsehul is a small harbor which is nearly impossible to land in during December and January due to the vast numbers of grumpy fur seals that overrun the beaches. During other times of the year it is home to elephant seals, gentoo penguins, king penguins, sheathbills, and grey-headed albatross.
Right Whale Bay lies on the northwestern portion of the island and is often a first stop for cruise ships. Elephant seals and a small colony of king penguins monopolize the area from September through November, after which thousands of fur seals take over the beach through February.
Another enormous king penguin rookery, Salisbury Plain is also home to vast numbers of penguins and seals.
Albatross Island is home to limited numbers of wandering albatross, which is among the largest and most threatened birds in the world. As of 2005 the island has been closed to tourists.
Prion Island is another home to the wandering albatross. Half of the island remains open to tourism, although several restrictions have been put in place to protect the birds. A boardwalk is being built on the island to make access easier and also to protect the fragile vegetation on the island.
A former whaling station, Grytviken is now the center of what limited government exists on the island. Most ships are met by a government representative who explains any rules and collects a per-passenger fee. There is a museum that explains island history, and the British Antarctic Survery maintains across from the station at King Edward Point. Grytviken is also the burial place of Ernest Shackleton, the famous Antarctic explorer.
Some people believe that St. Andrew's Bay holds more density of wildlife than any other place on earth, and a first view of the massive king penguin colony and seal rookery makes this claim hard to doubt. St. Andrew's Bay is a sight that causes disbelief with hundreds of thousands of king penguins filling every available inch of space, and thousands of elephant seals and fur seals occupying the sands along the water. The sights, sounds, and smells of this bay will not soon be forgotten.
Visitors to Cooper Bay arrive to see one of the islands most accessible macaroni penguin colonies.
Drygalski is a steep-walled fjord that surprisingly contains a small rookery of Weddell seals, animals normally only found in Antarctica. Numerous glaciers and spectacular scenery make this a common destination for island visitors.
Unless permitted as an expedition, no food is allowed to be taken ashore due to strict biosecurity protocols. Fishing and hunting on the island is prohibited.
Any overnight stay on the island requires a permit costing £1000, so nearly all visitors to the island sleep on their boat.
Mail can be sent from Grytviken, and is picked up approximately every two weeks. The only other means of communicating with the outside world is via satellite phone, which most boats make available for between $2 and $5 per minute. There is no publicly available internet access.
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D. Guillaime, Haka Expeditions, Todd VerBeek, Ryan Holliday and imagea.org, Pashley, Dox, Sailing, Episteme, Huttite and PatLurcock
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