South Georgia is so much more than a stopover on the way to Antarctica. It’s one of the most bio-diverse places on the planet. Think Galápagos Islands but colder. If you like penguins, this is the perfect place to visit as there are literally millions of them on the island including unbelievable King Penguin colonies.
After Emperor Penguins, King Penguins are the second largest in the world and they can weigh up to 2.5 stone. They only have one mate per year, so once they’ve found a penguin they quite like the look of, they’re pretty much set for the season.
There are several colonies of up to 200,000 King Penguins dotted around the bays of South Georgia. With each pair producing a chick every two out of three years, it’s safe to say that in any one season there are quite a few baby penguins here. If you’ve ever tried to keep an eye on your own child in a crowded playground, you’ll be very impressed with these guys: they instinctively know which offspring is theirs.
The chicks are herded into groups to huddle together and keep warm, with the bolder and stronger adult penguins taking the brunt of the harsh winds coming in from the sea.
Once their chicks are safe in the crèche, the official term for a huddle of baby penguins, the adults head into the sea to dive for food. The King Penguin dives to depths of 340 meters, spending around five minutes submerged at a time, returning every two or three days to feed their chicks.
Waddling back to the colony, stomachs laden with small fish and squid, the penguins miraculously manage to quickly find their chicks. In a creche of thousands of identical birds, this is no small feat. Scientists are still studying them to discover exactly how they do this in a colony so large.
An expedition won’t just take you to South Georgia. When you’re this far south it would make sense to visit Antarctica. But with South Georgia and The Falklands often included in the same tour, it’s a true wildlife paradise in an unexpected environment and it’s one that you won’t want to miss.
Usually tours will including walking on the shore, and you’ll probably be following in the footsteps of great British explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton who was buried on South Georgia in 1921.
There’s no doubting that any trip to Antarctica will be spectacular, but the star attraction is definitely a little island with a population of just 30 people and 900,000 King Penguins, some 2,000 miles away from the bottom of the planet.
South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands, a British Overseas Territory in the South Atlantic.
Late October – early November
What you need to know:
Make sure you wear layers rather than a couple of huge jumpers, you’ll stay much warmer that way, without overheating. This tour is to observe not interact with nature so please don’t try to p-p-p-pick up a penguin.