Many people don’t realize that a trip to Antarctica on an expedition ship will end up being one of the most important and extraordinary experiences of their lives. Right up there with getting married and having your first child, the first time you catch a glimpse of towering cliffs and sparkling blue glaciers is a moment that burns itself into your brain. You, of all the people in the world, you are about to set foot on the Antarctica Peninsula. It will be a thrilling moment.
Still more mysteries surround a trip to Antarctica. For example, even more people don’t realize that when you include a small, subantarctic island due east from Argentina with your Antarctica trip, it will quadruple your polar pleasure. South Georgia is a land of tussock grass, rocky shorelines, heroic tales, and a hillside covered with over 400,000 3-foot-tall king penguins. You’ve got to see this place!
I went to Antarctica in 2004 and during my travel career I’ve sent over 1000 people there. When I first start working with a polar traveler, I ask them right away, “How long can you be away?” and I quickly try to discover if they have both the time and the resources to include South Georgia. I assure them in as many words as it takes that they don’t want to miss this outrageous opportunity. South Georgia, wildlife haven beyond compare, simply must be a part of their Antarctica adventure.
What makes South Georgia so special? It’s the wildlife. When you’re standing there on Salisbury Plain staring down 400,000 giant penguins all calling out to each other, all waddling around their neighbors looking for their husbands and wives, the best way to describe the feeling you’ll have is: gobsmacked. This experience boggles the mind!
Then there are the harems of elephant seals: huge, 13-foot-long, 4,000 pound alpha males and their 40-50 massive, lumbering females. The yowling, wallowing females, and young scrappy males challenging the old alphas offer up drama you can’t even find on Netflix these days (unless you're watching a documentary about elephant seals on South Georgia.)
Next there are the fur seals. And they’re fierce! The largest population of these scampering, vocalizing seals lives right here on South Georgia, 95% of them, or 4.5 and 6.2 million fur seals! The population was nearly decimated in the 19th Century by seal hunters. When seal hunting stopped in the early 20th Century, the population rebounded to its current numbers. Now there are too many seals fighting for resources. Your guides will share the fascinating story of this species when you see them. Hiking around South Georgia among the fur seals means some of them might start following you. And look out! They can be fast!
I also have to mention the albatrosses. The Wandering Albatross has the largest wingspan of any living bird, 8 to 11 feet (!), and visiting South Georgia means you’ll get to see their nesting grounds. When trying to describe just how big these birds are, I used to liken them to one of those old giant computer monitors you can barely get your arms around. Now when I say this, fewer and fewer people know what I mean, so let’s just say these birds are huge! The Wandering Albatross also flies farther than most birds, flying over 120,000 km or 75,000 miles in one year! The albatrosses are huge and beautiful yet I’ve only just scratched the surface in trying to describe how much unbelievable wildlife is waiting for you on South Georgia.
History buffs will also be delighted as South Georgia figures prominently in the Earnest Shackleton story, and indeed he is buried there at the tiny settlement, former whaling station of Grytviken. After stranding his ship in ice en route to Antarctica, Shackleton left his crew behind and sailed off in a dinghy with five companions looking for help. They ended up on South Georgia, but on the wrong side! They had to climb the South Georgia mountains by hammering nails into their shoes in order to reach Grytviken. Happy ending: Shackleton was able to save all his stranded crew members.
Don’t you want to head to South Georgia to see these amazing animals and hear these exciting tales of heroism? Many of my clients have told me that South Georgia was actually even more exciting than Antarctica itself! That’s a matter up for debate, yet our enthusiasm for this place will hopefully inspire you to add South Georgia to your Antarctica trip.
At Wild Nectar, we have many fantastic voyages that include South Georgia. If you're looking to travel on a stunning ship like a floating 5-star hotel and also have some of the world’s most renowned experts onboard, I’d recommend Le Lyrial’s December or January expeditions. Antarctica, South Georgia and the Falklands in January 2023 or 2024 will have a famous Nikon Ambassador photographer, Michelle Valberg onboard.
If you;re looking for National Geographic Guiding, twin purpose-built expedition ships, the Resolution and the Endurance offer fantastic experiences in South Georgia. And if you’re looking for value, the classic expedition vessel, the Expedition and her Spirit of Shackleton voyage offer a high-energy experience of South Georgia at a great rate.
I hope you’ll contact us so we can help you locate the South Georgia expedition that’s just right for you. There’s nowhere on earth like this tiny island teeming with wildlife and you’ll be delighted and amazed when you see it for yourself.