Incredible Islands – South Georgia

Located in the South Atlantic Ocean, South Georgia is part of a remote and inhospitable collection of islands called South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands.
These islands are now administered by Great Britain, but have no permanent human occupation.

South Georgia, itself, is quite a large island being 167.4 kilometres (104 mi) long and 1.4 to 37 km (0.9 to 23.0 miles) wide. The island rises steeply from the sea, and is rugged and mountainous. At higher elevations the island is permanently covered with ice and snow.

It is long and narrow, shaped like a huge, curved, fractured and savaged whale bone with two mountain ranges, the Allardyce Mountains and the Salvesen Range provide its spine. The tallest mountain, which rises to 2,934 metres, is Mount Paget and there are eleven peaks which exceed 2,000 metres. The island forms the peak of an underwater mountain, and the waters plunge to a depth exceeding 4,000 metres off shore.

Although he was not the first person to see South Georgia, in 1775 Captain Cook was the first to circumnavigate the island, and it was he who named it in honour of King George III.

Given the fact that the island is remote and inhospitable it is surprising that anyone would want to settle on the island, but during the 19th century the island became a base for seal hunters, and then a successful whaling base. The only true settlement on the island, Grytviken, was established by a Swedish whaler Carl Anton Larsen.

The rich Antarctic waters proved to be ideal for whales, especially many of the large whales which depend on krill for their diet. As a result, the whaling station was very successful, and at one stage Grytviken was home to 2,000 people. The largest whale ever caught, a Blue Whale 33 metres (108 feet) in length and weighing 180 tonnes was landed at Grytviken.

Today, the British administrators use King Edward Point as its main winter station. During the Falklands War Argentina briefly captured the station, but it was soon re-captured by the British.

Today tourism is becoming more popular during the summer season. There are many cruise ships and sailing yachts which visit the island. There is no runway to provide to access by plane. The territory gains income from landing charges and the sale of souvenirs. Cruise ships often combine a Grytviken visit with a trip to the Antarctic Peninsula.
One of the reasons for visiting South Georgia is to view the amazing array of birdlife which either live on or visit the island, which includes the normally land-shy albatross, king penguins plus petrels, skuas, shags, gull and terns.

There is a museum on South Georgia and the ruins of the whaling station. Here you can also visit the grave of Antarctic explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton, who was involved in one of the most famous Antarctic rescue expeditions ever mounted, which left from South Georgia to find 22 survivors who had been stranded on remote Elephant Island for six years.

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