January Expeditions to Antarctica, Falklands, and South Georgia

Ashton Palmer

January Expeditions to Antarctica, Falklands, and South Georgia

Ashton Palmer

For most travelers, visiting the 'White Continent' is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. So, why not do it right the first time and include South Georgia—our travelers never regret it!

Top 5 Reasons to visit Antarctica, Falkland Islands, and South Georgia in January:

1. Best time of year: January is mid-summer in Antarctica, when weather, ice conditions, and wildlife viewing are most conducive to exploration. This is by far the BEST time of year to visit both South Georgia and Antarctica.

A January expedition that includes South Georgia is rare and quite special in our books! Generally speaking, there are very few Antarctica, Falklands, and South Georgia trips in January. Reason being, it is more profitable for shipping companies to schedule in multiple Antarctica Peninsula-only voyages during prime season (January) rather than one or two longer programs that include South Georgia. Voyages to South Georgia are therefore typically early or late in the season, when conditions are not at their most advantageous for several activities.

2. Penguin chicks on Antarctic Peninsula: Your heart will undoubtedly melt at the first sight of these precious baby animals! During January, the chicks are still with their mothers in the rookeries, so you will see hundreds of penguin chicks throughout your expedition. Comical and naturally photogenic, these sweet creatures are hands-down one of the most entertaining highlights on these voyages.

3. Sea ice level: You will see sea ice in Antarctica, but there should not be so much to hinder exploration plans by the captain and expedition leader. Less sea ice also means the start of whale season! The whales cannot feed if there is too much ice. Enjoy spectacular whale watching from the ship or at close proximity from your Zodiac--amazing!!

4. Time to relax and acclimate: It takes a few days to get into a trip and over the jetlag. By doing the longer trip (17/18 days) you will have more than adequate time to rest and acclimate yourself, allowing you to better enjoy the experiences of each destination.

5. Elephant Island: You may have an opportunity to visit Elephant Island where Shackleton and his men were stranded after their ship, The Endurance, was trapped by the ice. January is the best month to attempt a landing here, as conditions during other months are often too dangerous to visit the island. For many travelers, this is truly a wonderful highlight!

WHY VISIT SOUTH GEORGIA?

My friend Brent Houston, one of the leading seabird biologists in the world, once said that if he only had five days left to live he would spend two of them on South Georgia. Of course, people always ask him where he'd spend the other three. "Getting there!" he answers.

It's true that reaching South Georgia is no easy feat. However, the reward is undisputable. A spectacular wildlife hotspot, those who have visited South Georgia have described it as "an experience of a lifetime," and "beyond imagination..." and even "a different realm." You may ask why there are not more trips going there then? The reality is that most people find it too difficult to be away for 3+ weeks. The shorter trips to the Antarctic Peninsula, therefore, operate more frequently and appeal to more travelers. Plus, simply put, the shipping companies make more money by doing several Antarctica-only trips verses just a few Antarctica, Falklands, South Georgia trips.

So why is South Georgia so special? In my experience, there are only a handful of places on the planet that offer such an incredible wildlife experience, and South Georgia is one of those places. Imagine stepping onto a sandy beach and being welcomed by tens of thousands of king penguins as far as the eye can see....none of them the least bit bothered by your arrival. If anything, you are somewhat of a novelty. South Georgia offers the chance to see several wildlife species that you will not likely see in Antarctica: king penguins, macaroni penguins, thousands of fur and elephant seals, nesting wandering albatross, light mantled sooty albatross, and the list goes on.

Not only is the wildlife abundant, fearless and absolutely stunning, but it inhabits one of the most visually spectacular places on earth. Imagine the jagged peaks of the Swiss Alps, laced with the massive glaciers of Alaska's Glacier Bay, surrounded by Hawaii's verdant green valleys, and you might start to understand the visual topographic feast that is South Georgia. Sparkling sandy beaches and black rocky coastline, this island truly is a jewel of the Southern Ocean.

South Georgia has a rich history, and was home to whalers of the Southern Ocean. Today, there are still a few locations where the hulking whale processing factories and a few retired whaling ships now rest, abandoned. Famed explorer Ernest Shackleton is buried at the former whaling station of Grytviken, a popular landing stop for visitors.

Following are a few memories I have of my time visiting...

- Experiencing the thrill when standing in amongst 100,000 king penguins...The sound, sight, even smell takes your breath away. It's like starring in your own National Geographic documentary!

- Traveling by Zodiac around the rocky coastline to watch young fur seal pups playing in the seaweed. The sea lions are so numerous that at times it seems the water is boiling with these playful marine mammals!

- Hiking up to see the wandering albatross on their nests. These birds often spend years at sea and only occasionally return to the place they were born to nest. Seeing these birds on land gives you incredible perspective on their size. Their wing span measures about 12 feet—the largest of any bird in the world.

- Toasting Sir Ernest Shackleton who was laid to rest in the cemetery in Grytvicken Harbor. It's hard not to be impressed by the accomplishments of 'The Boss' as you retrace his footsteps and voyages throughout the region.

- Hulking elephant seals belching and wallowing, fighting and grunting. These massive marine mammals may seem awkward on land but exhibit some of the most impressive deep diving and swimming techniques of any animal on the planet. And, while the adults may not be described as the most attractive animals, their offspring are adorable little sausage packages with big curious eyes. Who could not be moved by the gaze of an elephant seal pup!

- The graceful courting flights of the light mantled sooty albatross gliding over the tussock grass. These birds mate for life and court by flying in unison. Truly one of the most beautiful things to see, their light brown and white plumage are like a watercolor artist's masterpiece.

- Experiencing nature at its most raw and primal state—huge glaciers gouging smooth valleys, jagged snowy peaks, clouds, sun, wind. Feel the elements, breath in the majestic scenery...get in touch with nature.

- Watching the king penguins for hours, whether the young courting pairs, the fuzzy chicks, or the strutting show-offs. The king penguins breeding cycle is a year and a half and it overlaps year-round. The result is visitors will always have opportunities to see chicks, courting, nesting, and fledging.

- A myriad of colors, South Georgia boasts a rainbow of green, red, and yellow that you will not find in Antarctica. These vibrant colors offer a dramatic contrast to the ice of the Antarctic Peninsula.

South Georgia is a pinch yourself, "am I really here?", life-changing experience. As one of our travelers put it: "Knowing what I do now, this was easily the best travel experience I have ever had. No matter where I travel, I probably will never surpass the experience."   – Louise Traige; Los Angeles, CA