Antarctica is a magical place and is often referred to as the last true wilderness on earth. Each region of Antarctica offers voyages that vary in itinerary sights and stop offs, length and activities. This month we’re taking a closer look at the sub-Antarctic Islands; read on to discover where they are, what they offer and the kind of journeys you can expect.
The sub-Antarctic Islands are located roughly 1300km north of the Antarctic Circle. The main islands travelled to are South Georgia and the Falkland Islands.
South Georgia is 167.4km long and 1.4 – 37km wide and is probably the most visited sub-Antarctic island. The British claimed South Georgia when Captain James Cook landed there in 1775. Since then, the history of South Georgia is rather miserable. The sealer industry took the island over in 1786, killing millions of seals up until 1916. In 1904 whaling stations were established in South Georgia and were in operation until they were abandoned in 1965. At present, only a few scientists at a research station inhabit South Georgia.
The Falkland Islands are approximately 483 km from mainland South America in the South Atlantic Ocean. There are approximately 2,563 people living in the Falkland Islands with approx. 2,115 of them living in the capital Stanley.
Visited by famous explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton, South Georgia was the island he journeyed to and found help for him and his crew after their ship the Endurance sunk during their Trans-Antarctic Expedition. This was the first attempt to cross the Antarctic continent from coast to coast via the South Pole. Half of Sir Ernest Shackleton’s crew was stranded on Elephant Island. Remarkably, he was able to get help and each one of his 18 crew members survived. If you venture to South Georgia, you can actually go on an expedition that re traces the steps of the famed explorer on his quest for help.
In terms of wildlife, South Georgia is buzzing. Since the mass massacres of both whales and fur seals that almost sent them into extinction, the populations have managed to rapidly increase over the years. Fortunately neither are close to extinction anymore. 95% of the world’s fur seal population arrive to the island in summer and half the world’s southern elephant seal population come here to breed. You can also find masses of Macaroni, King and Gentoo penguins, as well as a small few of Adelie, Chinstrap and Rockhopper penguins.
A birders’ paradise, the Falkland Islands are home to a wide range off birdlife including five penguin species including the Magellanic penguin, 80% of the world’s population of black-browed albatross, as well as numerous species of waterfowl including the endemic Falkland steamerduck. The waters of the Falklands feature various species o whale and dolphin. In addition, breeding populations of fur seals, sea lion, as well as elephant seals regularly visit the island.
When visiting the Falkland Islands, because there are people permanently living there, you can expect to visit the main town and explore how the nation survives and is largely self-sufficient.
On voyages to South Georgia and the Falkland you can expect to enjoy your days with expert guides, including naturalists and marine biologists, exploring the shores filled with crowds of penguins and seals. Like other Antarctic cruises, expect to take trips on inflatable Zodiac boats across the seas. Furthermore, if you’re a thrill seeker you can also engage vigorous hikes or sea-kayak excursions.
Due to the strong human history within both these islands, you can also expect to visit various cultural and/or historic sites where you can learn about the history of these incredible islands.
The sub-Antarctic islands have so much to offer and in addition to everything else, what really makes them great is the fact that you don’t have to cross the Drake Passage to get to either of them.