Dream trips: remembering Ernest Shackleton on South Georgia

The magnificent South Atlantic island appears ‘like a mountain range floating’ in the sea

South Georgia island and King Haakon Bay
South Georgia island and King Haakon Bay
(Image credit: Don Grall/Jaynes Gallery/DanitaDelimont.com/Alamy)

First described by Captain Cook in 1775, the magnificent South Atlantic island of South Georgia is only about the size of Wiltshire, but it bristles with “vertiginous” peaks that rise to almost 3,000 metres, says Jamie Lafferty in The Sunday Times. Approached on a cruise ship, it appears “like a mountain range floating” in the sea – a profile “with all the subtlety of a headbutt”. Close up, though, the island is as beautiful as it is forbidding, and is home to spectacular wildlife, including four species of penguin and the South Georgia pipit, the world’s southernmost songbird.

South Georgia is inextricably associated with the Antarctic explorer Ernest Shackleton. It was here that he died, 100 years ago last January, but he made his most famous visit to the island in 1916, after his ship, the Endurance, was lost to the “pitiless” ice of the Weddell Sea. Having camped for months on the ice, he and his crew eventually set out on an arduous journey that culminated in Shackleton and five men sailing 800 miles across treacherous seas to South Georgia in the small boat the James Caird. The wreck of the Endurance was located in March – 100 years to the day after Shackleton was laid to rest beside Grytviken Harbour on South Georgia. Most cruise ship itineraries here include a visit to his grave, where guests and crew toast him with whisky.

Coming ashore in Zodiac dinghies in King Haakon Bay – where Shackleton landed in 1916 – you are greeted by fur seals, king penguins and, “most joyously of all”, tuneful pipits, brought back from the brink of extinction thanks to a rat-eradication programme. Chances are you will spot humpback whales while at sea, and at landing points, you might see gentoo, chinstrap and macaroni penguins, leopard seals and a “fantastically flatulent” colony of elephant seals.

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A 19-day voyage to South Georgia and Antarctica with Aurora Expeditions costs from £14,525pp; auroraexpeditions.co.uk

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