Of all of the places I’ve ever traveled to, South Georgia is easily one of my favorites. Like Antarctica (and a handful of places I’ve been to in Africa), superlatives don’t sufficiently describe it. It is unspoiled. It is Jurassic—Pleistocene, actually—it’s as if father time chose not to tick upon South Georgia.
South Georgia is inhospitable to humans for different reasons than is Antarctica – not that the weather and environment is not also completely extreme. The island, a British overseas territory, is intentionally not equipped to inhabit humans so it can survive its natural earthly state. It’s hard to get to so it feels as though you’re somewhere truly surreal, and its natural beauty is so amazing that it’s almost indescribable.
Captain James Cook was the first to circumnavigate and make a landing on the island in 1775. Then came other sailors, then sealers, and then whalers in the early part of the 20th century who established a whaling station at Grytviken. The station was so productive that it nearly wiped out the entire Blue and Beluga whale population* in the Southern Ocean. As those amazing whales were being removed from the oceans, other animals were being introduced to the land – namely Scandinavian reindeer that came with the Norwegian and Swedes, as well as brown rats that rode in on nearly every sea vessel that came ashore. Today, all of the reindeer have been eradicated except for just a couple (less than five), and an ambitious effort to eradicate the rat population is underway. In the present day, the introduction of species’ is occurring in a different way — travelers unknowingly carrying organisms, plants, seeds, etc. on their person and which then get transferred to the land. As such, South Georgia has strict rules of entry, contamination procedures are strictly followed and enforced, and as a result you get this incredible island – the land that time forgot.
There are no native people on South Georgia, and the only people who live there are the British Government Officer, staff from the British Antarctic Survey who maintain scientific bases at Bird Island, museum staff at Grytviken, and a few others dedicated to research.
Now that you have some South Georgia basics, look for stories about some of my awesome adventures in Saint Andrews Bay, Elsehul, Fortuna Bay, Stromness, Golden Harbour, and at Grytviken and Shackleton’s grave — coming tomorrow. Epic! Hands down of my favorite places on Earth…
*Since whaling in the area ceased, the population increase of whales in the area has inclined at a steady rate. While we were cruising he region, a pod of six Blue whales surfaced near the island. We had whale experts on the ship documenting whale sightings. They said that neither they, nor their colleagues had ever seen this many at one time in this area.