« back

3 Antarctic Archipelagos

As you set sail on your Antarctic cruise from Punta Arenas or Ushuaia, the ultimate goal will of course be the peninsula itself. However, along the way there are many different places which can offer amazing experiences which both compare and contrast with the conditions you’ll find on the Great White Continent.

Many of these islands can be found on the itineraries of our Antarctic expeditions and so you will have a chance to explore and discover them for yourselves. Here are three fascinating Antarctic archipelagos which are just as exciting as the main event.

South Georgia and The South Sandwich Islands

South Georgia

South Georgia and The South Sandwich Islands are combined as one British overseas territory, located to the north east of Antarctica and to the east of Ushuaia. There are 11 Sandwich Islands in total, named by James Cook after the Earl of Sandwich with the addition of the word ‘south’ to determine them from the islands of Hawaii, which were also called the Sandwich Islands at the time. South Georgia, which was again discovered by James Cook, was named in honour of King George III and originally part of the Falklands.

The landscape in both of these places is very wild and volcanic, and therefore provides great scenery to capture with your lens. However, the main draw of this archipelago is the large number of penguins that come here to breed. With king penguins swarming the beaches of South Georgia and over a million chinstraps lining the shores of Zavodovski Island in the South Sandwich Islands, nature lovers will be awestruck. South Georgia (Grytviken to be more specific) is also where you can visit the grave of Sir Ernest Shackleton, one of history’s greatest ever explorers.

The South Orkney Islands

South Orkney Islands

Four main land masses (Coronation Island, Powell Island, Laurie Island, and Signy Island), along with various smaller ones, make up the South Orkneys. The first was named due to the fact that it was discovered in the year King George V was crowned; the second was named after one of the archipelago’s discoverers, George Powell; the third was named after Richard Holmes Laurie who was the first person to map it; and the final island mentioned carries a name which honours the wife of a Norwegian Whaler.

Whilst Great Britain and Argentina have had disputes in the past over the sovereignty of the South Orkney Islands, their current protection by the Antarctic Treaty means that they can be ‘owned’ by no one. Many old whaling stations litter the coast lines of this archipelago, but their biggest draw these days is the large number of seabirds can be found living on the glaciated rock that forms the landscape. Various species of petrel (including the rare snow petrel), shag, tern and skua can be seen breeding across the islands, especially on Signy Island which has been designated as an Important Bird Area. As well as these, there are plenty of penguins on the rocky beaches, along with seals and whales thriving in the surrounding waters.

The South Shetland Islands

South Shetland Islands

Just before you arrive on the Antarctic Peninsula, you will reach a group of islands known as the South Shetland Islands. Just like the South Orkneys, this archipelago is named after one of the same name situated off the coast of Scotland. It is thought that this was done because both island groups lie at a similar latitude in the south as their Scottish counterparts do in the north. Over twenty islands make up the group, with names such as Elephant Island, Deception Island, and Penguin Island. The largest of all of them though is King George Island, again named after King George III.

Whilst the land is largely volcanic and there have been many eruptions over the years, there is plenty of wildlife to be found. Gentoo, Chinstrap, Adelie and Macaroni penguins are likely to be feeding in the surrounding ocean, whilst seals also spend their time hunting around the coastline.

If you would like to visit any of these three archipelagos on your way to the Peninsula, we have plenty of itineraries available. There are even trips which take in all three on their way to Antarctica. Call us today for more details or fill out an online enquiry form.