Other destinations > Islands > Islands of the Southern Ocean > South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands
|Capital||King Edward Point|
|Currency||pound sterling (GBP)|
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South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands are two groups of sub-Antarctic islands of the Southern Ocean east of the southern tip of South America, north of Antarctica. The islands are an overseas territory of the United Kingdom that are administered from the Falkland Islands, but are also claimed by Argentina.
- South Georgia Island - The only inhabited island.
- The South Sandwich Islands - Nine uninhabited islands.
- South Orkney Islands - A very cold, uninhabited island south of the South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands.
- Shag Rocks - Shag rocks consists of bare rocks that rise high above the oceans west of South Georgia and are home to vast numbers of seabirds.
- Black Rock
- Clerke Rocks
While whalers and seal hunters built settlements on these islands, the only permanent settlements today are at the various research bases. A "city" in these islands may consist of no more than five people during the winter months.
- King Edward Point - Seat of Government where the Government Officer resides. Is the port of entry and home of the Fishery Research base run for the Government of South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands (GSGSSI) by the British Antarctic Survey.
- Grytviken - One of several former whaling stations on South Georgia.
- Bird Island - An island located at the north-west tip of South Georgia on which long-term research by the British Antarctic Survey is ongoing.
South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands are rugged islands, rising out of the Southern Ocean. There are no indigenous residents, very few people live here and only those who really want to make the trip end up coming.
The islands have played a minor role in history, including a brief occupation by Argentina during the Falklands War in 1982, the Falkland Islands themselves being 1000 km (621 miles) to the west. One famous previous visitor is Antarctic explorer Ernest Shackleton, who used the islands as a staging post for his 1914 expedition. He is in fact buried in the small settlement of Grytviken.
As with the Falklands, Argentina still maintains a formal claim to the islands, however the British military presence on the islands came to an end in March 2001. Today, the King Edward Point station houses a permanent group of scientists from the British Antarctic Survey, which also maintains a biological station on Bird Island.
These islands are one of the most remote places in the world, with the only access being by sea. The Southern Ocean is one of the roughest in the world with storms that can make even the most hardened sailor feel ill.
Visitors are allowed to land at multiple points around the islands. Usually all the documentation will be taken care of by the cruise or expedition you are with. Independent travel by ship requires prior approval of your entire itinerary. The application forms are available online from the islands' government website. The main requirements for independent travellers are to have insurance and to ensure you are self-sufficient. A fee of £105 is also payable per passenger for visits up to 3 days.
Only competent mountaineers need try and travel overland, because of the glaciers. The best way to get around is by boat. If you have time come by yacht - specialist charterers operate out of Ushuaia and the Falklands. If time is tight come on a cruise ship. There are around 40 visits a year between November and March. In winter the snow is down to sea level and cross-country skis, or snowshoes, are the way to get about. In summer you can walk normally, at least down near the coast.
As a British territory with such a small population and being as remote as it is, English is spoken by everyone.
There is a small gift shop at Grytviken which will accept Falkland pounds, British pounds, American dollars and Euros. Water is sold by the tonne. Most large ships visiting the islands will sell basic supplies (razors, shampoo, hats, snacks), but otherwise it is unlikely you will have any use for whatever money you bring with you.
It is illegal to kill or damage native flora or fauna, so penguin egg omelettes and albatross chicks are off the menu.
- The introduced dandelions make a good salad, washed and then tossed in oil and vinegar with beetroot and walnuts. Shooting the reindeer is prohibited except under licence from the Commissioner, but he is not likely to grant one unless you have a good reason.
- You can fish with a rod and line and may catch a marbled rock cod, or possibly one of the other Antarctic fishes in the bays. Only catch enough to eat - they are protected, and while nobody minds you catching the odd one or two, you'll need to buy an expensive licence to catch commercial quantities. If you pass a commercial fishing vessel at sea, it is worth swinging by to see if they offer you any, but be very careful not to get in the way of their fishing gear.
While there is a small bar at King Edward Point, unless you're a researcher living at the station it's not a place that visitors have access to. As a result, all alcohol and other beverages should be brought with you.
Anyone wishing to sleep ashore overnight must have their proposal vetted by the Government's Expeditions Advisory Panel. This process will cost you £1000 per expedition. As a result, nearly all visitors to the islands sleep aboard ship at night.
Camping may be permitted in the Grytviken area without going through the expensive expedition application vetting process, but you will have to have transport and medical backup prearranged.
- Beware of the sun - particularly during the September to November ozone hole season. Protect yourself with high protection factor cream (30+), a floppy hat and long sleeves. If going onto glaciers or snow this is vital as are good sunglasses.
- Fur seal bites are capable of becoming very badly infected in a short period of time. If you get bitten, even just a scratch, you must clean the wound and get onto an appropriate course of antibiotics immediately (oxytetracycline is good for this application).
- Drink plenty of water and avoid dehydration, particularly if it is windy.
Respect wildlife. It lives here, we don't. Breeding animals in particular are prone to disturbance.
During the summer mail may be left in Grytviken, and it is picked up whenever either a supply ship or a fishery patrol ship arrives - usually around once a month. The only other option for contacting the outside world is with a satellite phone, which most boats will make available at a charge of between US$2 and US$5 per minute.
There is no public Internet, phone or email access available on shore.