Despite their ungainly waddle on land, Gentoos hold the speed record underwater!
What you need to know about the Gentoo Penguin
Our Expert Says… "One of the most obvious penguins that we see - I call it the "beach penguin" as it doesn't tend to go so far from shore as others. By the end of the season, the gentoo chicks are very curious and will actively approach visitors to see what they are! This makes them a really popular species with Antarctic travelers."
The Gentoo Penguin is another iconic Antarctic species, related to the other two brushtail penguins, the Adelie and Chinstrap penguins, the gentoo was first described by naturalists in 1781 when visiting the Falkland Islands. Incidentally, the Falklands gentoos are a little larger than gentoos found elsewhere, although they are not a subspecies - rather a “locality type” of the species.
No one can be sure where the name “gentoo” came from. One theory we like is that another name for this penguin is the “Johnny Penguin.” In Spanish, Johnny is said Juanito, which could have been misheard over the years by non-Spanish speaking sealers, whalers, and fishermen and transformed into the similar-sounding “gentoo”!
Gentoos are easy to identify thanks to the white bonnet-like stripe on its head and its bright red-orange bill. It also has the longest and most prominent tail of any of the penguin species. In fact, as the penguins waddle along on land, this long tail swishes from side to side, exaggerating their already comic waddling!
They are the third largest of the world’s penguin species, with adult males reaching 90cm (35”) in height and 8.5kg (19lb) in weight. Although ungainly on land, gentoo penguins are the ultimate underwater athletes. In fact, they are the fastest swimming of all the penguins and can reach the astonishing speed of 22mph underwater!
Their diet is typical of many penguin species in that they prefer the abundant Antarctic krill and other crustaceans over fish, although the Falkland Islands gentoos are known to be more opportunistic and take equal amounts of squid, fish, and squat lobsters as krill.
Gentoos breed on many of the sub-Antarctic islands, with substantial colonies on the Falklands and South Georgia islands, but breeding colonies are also found on ice-free parts of the Antarctic Peninsula. They like to make their nest colonies by shallow coastal waters and have a preference for grassy areas if available, which means some colonies are found up to 2km from the shore (notably on South Georgia). They lay 2 eggs in nests made from circles of stone. Female gentoos have been seen fighting over particularly prized stones - very round ones seemingly having a high “value” to the gentoos!
Gentoo chicks are under high risk of attack from Brown or Antarctic skuas, kelp gulls, and petrels. At sea, the adults can be preyed on by leopard seals, orcas, and sea lions.
Gentoo Penguin: Pictures from our travelers
Spots where the Gentoo Penguin can be observed
A gateway to the ultimate adventure that only a few will be lucky enough to experience.
Located at the northerly tip of the Antarctic Peninsula, the Sound is a remarkable onslaught for the senses as you come face-to-face with monstrous slabs of ice, now floating free as enormous tabular icebergs. These have broke away from ice shelves in the Weddell Sea and drifted into the Sound.
Treacherous to early explorers, the first vessel to successfully navigate the Sound was The Antarctic, the vessel of the Swedish Nordenskjold expedition of 1903. Unfortunately, she was trapped in the Weddell Sea by ice the following year and crushed - one of several vessels to have that fate over the decade.
Fortunately, modern polar cruising vessels have no such worries with their strengthened hulls and modern navigation technology. As you enter the monochromatic beauty of white ice and grey sea you will know that that you are soon going to experience some of the remarkable sights and encounter the wonderful wildlife that makes its home in these islands of snow, ice, and rock.
Barrientos Island is one of the Aitcho group of islands, a sub-set of the South Shetlands chain. It’s an ice-free island that was used as far back as the early 19th century by sealers and whalers, despite only a mile long, and less than a third of a mile wide. It was given its name in 1949 by a Chilean Antarctic expedition.
The northern coast of Barrientos is formed by steep cliffs about 230ft above the sea level. The east and west coasts are made up of black sand and pebble beaches. To the west, you can see impressive columns of basalt rock left over from the tectonic forces involved in the island’s formation.
Barrientos is very popular with penguins - and because it is so small sometimes it can feel pretty crowded! Gentoo and chinstrap penguins breed here, and in peak season one colony can end up right next door to the other, making for a seamless vista of penguin nests!
Other species that are commonly seen include fur seals (later in the year), as well as nesting colonies of southern giant petrels. Your expert Antarctic guides will ensure you get close enough for some amazing photos while staying far enough away that you don’t disturb the breeding creatures.
Bleaker Island (known as Isla Maria in Spanish) has had at least 3 changes of the name since the Falkland Islands were first discovered and colonized.
It was first named Long Island - a rather unimaginative title because that’s what it is, long and thin. Its name was changed to Breaker Island and it appeared like this on maps and charts until 1859, when a new chart was published with the name changed to Bleaker. What was probably a printing error has stuck ever since!
There was evidence that sealers had been using Bleaker Island as a base, but there was no permanent settlement attempted until 1880 when a house was built and a sheep farm set up. The island has been used for rearing ship ever since, and now has some cattle as well. It’s run as an organic farm and tourist destination, with stewardship of the land to allow both commercial farming and wildlife preservation at its heart.
A formally-designated Important Bird Area (or IBA), Bleaker Island is home to a large breeding colony of Imperial Cormorants more than 16,000 strong. Other species to be found here include Gentoo penguins who nest on the appropriately-named Penguin Hill above Sandy Bay. There are also Southern Rockhopper penguins to be found near Long Gulch and Magellanic penguin burrows are widespread.
There are also many smaller bird species here, including Falklands grass wrens and pipits, black-chinned siskins, and dark-faced ground-tyrants. There are also some birds of prey including southern caracaras.
Brown Bluff is a great example of a “tuya” - a volcano that has been flattened by erupting through a glacier! These are the rarest of all volcano types and only found in areas that have seen large-scale glaciation in the past.
Brown Bluff with its distinctive “tabletop” look, lies on the Tabarin Peninsula, in the northernmost part of the Antarctic Peninsula, and on landings when there is little snow, with the rock formations it is easy to think you are in Colorado rather than Antarctica!
The landing beach here is made of pebbles and volcanic ash, rising quickly towards steep reddish-brown cliffs. The cliffs are embedded with “volcanic bombs” - large pieces of lava that were thrown out during an eruption, cooling in the air to land as solid spherical or oval shapes.
As well as the fascinating geology, the other star of the show is the birdlife. Brown Bluff is home to over 20,000 breeding pairs of Adelie penguins, as well as a small colony of gentoo penguins. And long lines of penguins walk along the beach to the preferred location to get into the water - away from areas where Leopard Seals may be hiding in hidden gullies offshore. Other breeding residents for what is landing on the main peninsula, include storm petrels, Cape petrels, Snow Petrels and Kelp gulls.
Weddell seals often haul out on the beach here, and it’s also common to see Leopard seals hunting in the waters close to the shore.
Bull Point is the most southerly point of either of the two main Falkland Islands. Sitting in the far south of East Falkland island, the point forms part of the western shore of the Bay of Harbours.
Most of Bull Point is used by North Ant Farm and actively grazed but its important flora and fauna led to it being declared an Important Bird Area (IBA). The tip of the point has been fenced off completely to allow a natural habitat to recover.
Surveys have revealed over 100 different plant species at the Point, more than half of which are considered to be rare. A particularly important species is Dusen’s Moonwort - only known to occur in two other places in the Falklands apart from Bull Point and nowhere else.
The rocky shore here protects kelp beds, and the sandy beaches are often visited by southern elephant seals and southern sea lions. There are also nesting sites for Gentoo and Magellanic penguins, as well as breeding colonies of ruddy-headed geese and Falkland steamer ducks.
Despite the name, Carcass Island off West Falkland is not a burial site, nor a place where whales were hauled ashore for processing. It is, in fact, a beautiful and unspoiled island some 6 miles long that was named after the ship that first mapped it, HMS Carcass in 1766.
Carcass Island lies in the northwest of the Falklands and has been a sheep farm for more than a century. Despite this commercialization, Carcass Island has been carefully and sympathetically managed for wildlife. Coupled with the fact that no rats or cats have ever been introduced here, it makes Carcass a haven for birdlife, including a number of species elusive on the larger islands, such as Cobb's Wren and the Blackish Cincloides or Tussacbird, and it is an important area for conservation and protection of species.
For a small island, it boasts several habitat types. From cliffs and rocky slopes in its northeast to sheltered sandy bays in the northwest, from 700ft uplands to tussac-rich coastal paddocks. Carcass Island is also home to one of the few areas of mature trees in the whole islands, winter storms tending to make large-scale tree growth difficult. These hardy plants aren’t native species, however, with some interesting varieties from places as far-flung as New Zealand and California.
The birdlife is the star of the show on Carcass. With no land predators, several freshwater ponds, and excellent habitat management, this designated Important Bird Area (IBA) is home to many species significant to conservation. These include black-crowned night herons, Falkland steamer ducks, ruddy-headed geese, black-browed albatrosses, and striated caracaras.
There is a healthy penguin population on Carcass, including gentoos, Magellanics, and southern rockhoppers. Seals are also a common sight in the waters around the island and hauled up on the sandy beaches, including fur and elephant seals. Dolphins and sea lions are also spotted here.
Cooper Bay is a small inlet containing Cooper Island at the very southeast end of South Georgia island. It was first mapped and named by Captain Cook’s 1775 expedition. From this small bay, you will get a commanding view of Cooper Island itself whose 1,300ft summit is always above the snowline, giving some stunning polar vistas even in the height of Antarctic summer.
Cooper Island is heavily protected for wildlife and it is a haven for bird species that love to nest in the tussac grass that covers the island, from the South Georgia Pintail and Pipit, to the Light-mantled Sooty Albatross and the South Georgia Shag. It is also home to four species of penguin, attracting Leopard Seals, and Cooper Island has the largest Chinstrap colony on South Georgia and is one of the more accessible places to see the Macaroni Penguin.
Fur seals and elephant seals also breed and also watch out for black-browed albatross, as well as Antarctic prions and snow petrels hunting for food offshore.
This small, steep-sided island is only 1.5 by 1.25 miles and two-thirds of it sits under a permanent ice-cap. On its northern shore is a pebble and boulder beach backed by steep cliffs where you will arrive by zodiac from your Antarctic cruise vessel and come ashore.
At both ends of this beach are the impressive Gentoo penguin colonies that Cuverville is famed for. You will be able to clearly see the trails they use to make their way to and from the water. There are other colonies and nesting sites on the higher ground behind the beach, and throughout the island.
You can also see the evidence of the whaling activity that went on here in the early 1900s, including discarded whale bones and the remains of the equipment used to hall them ashore for processing. If you are lucky, you might see Humpback Whales and Antarctic Minke Whales offshore.
This small island is carefully protected - only one ship at a time may land passengers here and there are other restrictions to ensure the wildlife is not unnecessarily disturbed. Some areas of the island are closed to visitors, but the rest allows you to roam freely, and your expert guides will show you the resident flora and fauna, as well as explaining the island’s whaling history.
Damoy Point is a rocky headland on the west coast of Wiencke Island, near the northern entrance to the natural harbor at Port Lockroy. It was discovered and mapped by the French Antarctic expedition of 1903 led by Charcot.
The point is rather unassuming and at first glance doesn’t warrant a visit. However, it has a couple of hidden gems - two very well-preserved expedition huts.
The first, known as Damoy Hut, was built in 1973 and was used by the British Antarctic Survey as a summer air facility and a personnel transfer station, but hasn’t been used since 1993.
The interior is in excellent condition and almost looks as if it could be put back into use straight away. There are even tin cups hanging on the kitchen wall as if ready to give travel-weary scientists a restoring cup of tea!
Just outside Damoy Hut is a refuge built by Argentina in the 1950s. This is not open to visitors and is still in use as an emergency refuge should the need ever arise.
Apart from these historic buildings, visitors will see a small colony of Gentoo penguins who breed here, as well as plenty of seals and sea birds.
Danco Island, Errera Channel
Danco is a small island in the middle of the Errera Channel, a body of water that runs between Rongé Island and the coast of Graham Land.
Only 1 mile long, Danco’s wide, flat beach rises to a permanently ice-covered hill which gives stunning views over the channel. Visitors often report being able to see Humpback and Minke whales from here as they travel between the islands The view from the top with icebergs in the channel and crevassed glaciers in the surrounding mountains is stunning.
The island hosts around 1500 breeding pairs of gentoo penguins. They like to nest away from the beach up the slopes, and so you can always see them making their journeys to and from the sea, and Danco Island can have some of the best penguin highways in the snow where the Gentoo Penguins climb up and down to the colonies on the higher part of the island.
Seals are also frequent visitors to the island, as are a variety of Antarctic bird species including skuas, terns, and kelp gulls.
Danco was also the site of Base “O”, built by the British Antarctic Survey in 1954 as a base for geological research and exploration. The base was abandoned in 1959 when the expedition ended, and the huts were removed in 2004. On the beach, you can find a plaque with an inscription giving the story of the base.
D’Hainaut & Trinity Island
D’Hainaut Island is a tiny rock island in Mikkelsen Harbour. It’s less than half a square mile in size, and it’s approached through a small bay that’s lined with dramatic cliffs of ice. It was first mapped by a French expedition in 1910.
The island often remains snow-covered until very late in the season, and the captain of your Antarctic cruise vessel will expertly navigate through the shallow reefs that are in the bay.
This island was used extensively for whaling, and there are artifacts and bones dotted around the island. D’Hainaut is one of the few Antarctic visitor sites where you can roam freely around the whole island, taking care not to disturb any of the artifacts and watching your step on the rocks, of course.
There is a small historic refuge here that was built originally by the Argentine Navy in the 1950s, then again in the 1970s, and most recently in 2017. However, the refuge can’t be entered except in emergencies.
There is also plenty of evidence of the whaling industry on the island. You can find the wrecks of several boats as well as many whale bones. There is a lively Gentoo penguin colony here, and you can often find Fur Seals basking in the sun.
Elephant Island is one of the outermost of the South Shetland Islands. The roots of its name are argued to be one of two reasons. Either the fact that Elephant seals were seen hauled out here in large numbers by the first person to discover and map the island, Captain George Powell in 1821, or that the island’s shape is uncannily like that of a baby elephant’s head with trunk extended!
The island remained unexplored for many years thanks in part to its lack of resources (just small numbers of seals and penguins and no native plants) and partly because of its steep volcanic rocks, presenting few landing points.
However, in 1916 Elephant Island became immortalized as the scene of the beyond-all-odds survival story that was Ernest Shackleton’s ill-fated Antarctic expedition.
After their ship Endurance was lost to the treacherous ice in the Weddell Sea, the 28 crew were forced to make a perilous escape attempt. After months in open boats and stuck on drifting ice sheets, the team arrived at Elephant Island. Here they set up a base to stay at Point Wild while Shackleton and five members of his crew set sail in an open lifeboat for South Georgia - a journey of over 800 miles - to seek a rescue ship.
This stunning tale of endurance, determination, and the human spirit is brought home to visitors to Elephant Island by the Endurance Memorial at Point Wild. You can also see breathtaking views of the Endurance Glacier - named after Shackleton’s lost ship - as well as the stunning rocky terrain and its Chinstrap Penguins and seals.
Elsehul Bay at the northwest extremity of South Georgia Island is known for two things - its remarkable numbers of seals, and its remarkable number of names!
At various times, and on various maps, it has been known as Elsehul, Else Cove, Elsie Bay, Elsa Bay, Else’s Hole, and (somewhat bucking the trend) Paddock’s Cove! It’s a small bay on the northern coast of South Georgia and is only half a mile wide.
Despite its small size, it is home to an abundance of wildlife including a large colony of Antarctic fur seals. As you arrive in the bay your ears will be ringing with the barks and cries of huge numbers of juvenile and adult seals.
Adding to the barrage are the cries from the seabirds that call Elsehul home, especially the King Penguins. Others that breed include Gentoo Penguins and Macaroni Penguins, Black-browed albatross, grey-headed and sooty albatrosses, and quite a few other seabirds, such as the South Georgia Shag and White-chinned Petrel. And since they eradicated the rat on South Georgia, it is a good spot for South Georgia Pintail and South Georgia Pipit.
The shore here is a patchwork of tussac grass and mud - so many seals moving around makes for some tricky conditions! Depending on the time of year you visit, the aggressive males may still be in the bay, or, if the mating season is ended, they may have left, leaving the pups and females in peace.
Georges Point, Rongé Island
Rongé Island is high and rocky. Some 5 miles long, it’s the largest of the islands that form the west side of the Errera Channel, off Graham Land.
Georges Point was first mapped in 1897 by the Belgian Antarctic Expedition and named after one of its members.
You land on a rocky beach that looks across to Cuverville Island. There is a penguin colony at one end that your expert Antarctic guides will guide you around, with lots of Gentoo Penguins and Chinstrap Penguins higher up. They will also take you on a carefully marked trail up to the higher ground behind the beach giving you a great view down over the concentrations of penguins along the shore, and the view over the bay towards Cuverville Island and the peninsula.
Later in the season there are also often Antarctic Fur Seals to be found at Georges Point on Rongé Island as well as plenty of sea birds. The rocky cliffs and height of the island make for some magnificent backdrops and great opportunities to capture the essence of the Antarctic in your photographs.
On the southeastern coastline of South Georgia Island, Gold Harbour is a small bay that leads up to the Bertrab Glacier, with a spectacular backdrop. Known as Puerto de Oro in Spanish, the Harbour was never named officially until the 20th century, but the name seems to have been in use by whalers and sealers and has become formally adopted.
The main theory behind the name Gold Harbour is that the cliffs around the bay shine yellow in the hour after sunrise and again before sunset. There’s no “gold in them thar hills”, but an alternative theory is that that whalers and sealers did financially very well out of the early years of exploitation.
Nevertheless, Gold Harbour is arguable one of the most beautiful places in the whole of South Georgia. As well as its stunning geology and spectacular illumination at sunrise and sunset, it’s also home to a huge amount of wildlife.
The beach here rings with the cries of king penguins, gentoo penguins, and elephant seals, all of whom like to breed in the sheltered bay. They aren’t the only ones, though. Wheeling across the skies in front of the hanging ice cliffs of the Bertrab Glacier are hundreds of pairs of sooty albatross, who come here every year to mate and raise their chicks.
Goudier Island is a small, low-lying island of bare, polished rock just 100 yards from Jougla Point in Port Lockroy Harbour. It’s part of the larger Wiencke Island. Often surrounded by sea ice, any snow cover on the island usually melts away by the end of the summer.
Goudier is home to “Base A” - established by the British in wartime in 1944 - which was used as a scientific research station until the early 1960s.
After falling into disrepair, the station was restored in the 1990s and is now looked after by a Heritage Trust. The base is permanently occupied, and its inhabitants still conduct important survey work on the penguin colony for the British Antarctic Survey.
You will usually be briefed by the Base Leader before you land ashore, and only 35 visitors are allowed inside the Base at any time. This is to ensure the artifacts and the fabric of the base are preserved.
This “time capsule” gives a fascinating insight into the work and lives of early Antarctic research pioneers and how they lived on Goudier Island. Access to the rest of the island is usually restricted to marked paths, both to protect wildlife and because the surface is uneven and slippery. However, you will be able to observe the resident penguin colony, and can also spot other birds and seals on the shores and in the sea.
Hannah Point is a dramatic peninsula on the south coast of Livingston Island in the South Shetlands. Its ridge forms the sides of two bays - Walker Bay and South Bay. The rocks climb steadily upwards to sheer cliffs and knife-edged ridges more than 160ft above the sea level. There are frequent rock falls, and your guides will point out the vein of jasper - a red mineral - that cuts through the cliffs here.
The area was used for hunting by 19th-century sealers, and the British Antarctic Survey has a base camp here known as Station P for the winter of 1957.
The Hannah Point area is rich with antarctic wildlife. Elephant seals haul out and travel to a clifftop wallow pool where they can oversee their domain. Antarctic fur seals are also frequent visitors. Gentoo and Chinstrap Penguins breed here (and a few Macaroni Penguins) and Kelp gulls are almost always wheeling overhead.
Other bird species you will encounter are snowy sheathbills, blue-eyed shags, giant petrels, and skuas. There is sometimes such an abundance of wildlife here that you may have to wait for a suitable gap to open on the beach before you can land!
There s also an elephant seal haul out close to one of the paths and it is important to listen to the guides about the approach and not to disturb the resting seals.
Found at the western end of Wiencke Island in Port Lockroy, Jougla Point is a very rocky peninsula with many small coves. It was first mapped in 1903 by a French Antarctic expedition and forms the entrance to Alice Creek.
The approach to the point is nothing short of dramatic! You will have stunning views of glaciers, snow cornices, and steep, crevassed snowfields as you enter the harbor.
Your landing here will be against rocks on the northeastern end of the point. Like many bays and coves in the area, Jougla Point has artifacts and remains from the whaling industry. You will see whale bones at the sites where the carcasses were dragged ashore for processing.
There are also the remains of the anchoring points for the radio mast that was put up the British in WWII, when stationed at Port Lockroy as part of Operation Tabarin.
Your expert Antarctic guides will take you along Jougla Point to observe the Gentoo penguin colony as well as the Antarctic hag nesting areas. Other wildlife you can observe are kelp gulls and skuas, with seals also a frequent sight.
You will be able to roam freely around the beach area to observe and photograph, with your guides on hand to answer any questions you may have and to ensure visitors keep away from any closed breeding areas.
King George Island
King George Island is widely known as the “Gateway to the Antarctic”. More than 10 different nations have permanent scientific bases here, and that’s reflected in the different names the island is known as: “Isla 25 de Mayo” in Argentina, “Isla Rey Jorge” in Chile, and “Ватерло́о Vaterloo” in Russia.
King George has the only airport in the South Shetland Islands. Its strategic location, next to the Chilean base Eduardo Frei (with flights from Chile), and just 75 miles from the Antarctic Peninsula, makes it the most important staging and connection hub in the region.
By maintaining a base, a nation is granted membership of the Antarctic Treaty, and hence there is a cosmopolitan population of scientists in residence most of the time on King George Island. This might explain why there’s a Russian Orthodox church here (one of the very few permanent buildings in the whole of Antarctica) with a priest always in residence!
All this is even more impressive when you realize that more than 90% of the 59 miles long by 16 miles wide island is permanently covered with ice and snow. This suits the native wildlife just fine, and King George Island is home to many different species including Weddell, leopard, and elephant seals, gentoo, chinstrap, and Adelie penguins, and many seabirds such as skuas and southern giant petrels.
Neko Harbour is an inlet deep in Andvord Bay off the coast of Graham Land in the Antarctic Peninsula. It was discovered by a Belgian expedition in the early 1900s. This sheltered inlet was named after The Neko, a Scottish whaling vessel that worked these waters between 1910 and 1925.
Neko Harbor has a beach and a rocky outcrop that is surrounded by glaciers and towering cliffs. This is a popular site with spectacular views as the glaciers that surround this bay regularly carve during the season, leading to some stunning photo and video opportunities if you are lucky!
There used to be a refuge hut here that was built by Argentina in 1949, and was in irregular use all the way until 2009 when it was destroyed in a severe storm. It has since been cleared from the site, with just a few remains now to be seen.
The gentoo penguins that live here and used to surround the refuge hut don’t seem to mind that it has gone! Their noisy cries will greet you as you land on the beach. You can often also see Weddell seals here in the sea or hauled out on the beach at Neko Harbour. There are also skuas and kelp gulls seen regularly here.
New Island - also known as Isla de Goicoechea in Spanish - is one of the Falkland Islands. A long, thin island with both steep cliffs and sandy bays, it’s 150 west of the Falkland’s capital, Stanley.
Despite its position on the westerly edge of the islands, New Island was one of the first to be visited and colonized. There is some evidence that whalers from America may have landed here as early as 1770. In 1813 a ship from Nantucket was wrecked here and the crew survived for two years before being rescued. They built a simple stone shelter which now forms part of the oldest building in the Falklands.
With stints as a base for guano miners and whaling companies, New Island proved to be uneconomical to exploit in these ways and was left for the wildlife to thrive. Now a wildlife reserve and registered Important Bird Area (IBA), New Island is a beautiful sanctuary for many Falklands and Antarctic species to breed and live.
Penguins, in particular, take advantage of the shallow beaches and rolling shores on the eastern coast. Five species can be seen here, including large breeding colonies of gentoo and southern rockhopper penguins. King penguins are also found here, as well as petrels, shags, dolphin gulls, Falklands skuas, and many more, with around 41 species breeding.
Sea lions and elephant seals can also be found hauled up on the beaches or swimming idly in the sheltered bays.
Northeast beach Ardley Island
Ardley Island is a small, rocky island about a mile long. It’s in Maxwell Bay, just off the coast of King George Island. It was first charted in 1935 by a British expedition but was mistaken for a headland. It was not until aerial surveys many years later that it was reclassified as an island.
Ardley Island is an active summer research station, and you will often see scientists and researchers at work here. The huts that you can see from the beach are part of the research station and not able to be visited.
The landing on the beach is just below the lighthouse, a distinctive feature that you will have spotted from out to sea. This gently sloping cobble beach is the only place that visitors can arrive on Ardley.
Visitor numbers are restricted due to the importance of the island as a breeding site for antarctic bird species.
During your excursion on the island, you will see a large gentoo penguin colony, as well as lesser numbers of Adelie and chinstrap penguins. You can also see southern giant petrels, Wilson's petrels, black-bellied storm petrels, Cape petrels, skuas, and Antarctic terns. The northeast beach of Ardley Island is a “must-visit” site for bird watchers!
The Orne Islands are a cluster of small, low-lying rocky islands at the entrance to the Errera Channel and Orne Harbour. They lie just off the northern coast of Ronge Island off Graham Land.
The largest Orne island has moderate slopes leading to a rocky central ridge that has permanent snowbanks. There are also three other small islets that make up the group.
Your landing will be via a low rock platform on the northwest side of the main island. Once ashore, you can roam freely around the island under the supervision of your expert guides. The Orne Islands are home to Skuas, which nest in the rocky outcrops here, as well as other Antarctic seabirds and penguins.
In winter, impressive snow cliffs can form near the landing site. To avoid disturbing the wildlife, the number of visitors on the island is restricted, and during nesting seasons your guides may limit the areas in which you can roam to protect nests.
Pendulum Cove is a small bay on the northern side of the natural harbor formed by the flooded cone of the live volcano that is Deception Island. One of the South Shetland Islands, Deception offers several visitor points, of which Pendulum Cove is definitely worth a visit.
The cove came by its unusual name as it was named by the British expedition of Henry Foster in 1829. The site here was used by the explorers to take magnetic measurements as well as studying the movement of pendulums this close to the south pole. It was one of these experiments that gave the cove its name.
If setting foot on the other sites on Deception Island doesn’t feel like you are standing on an active volcano, Pendulum Cove will remind you! In places here, water heated by geothermal activity can reach 160F. Your expert Antarctic guide will show you safe areas where hot water mixes with the cold Antarctic seawater to provide a most unusual polar “spa” experience. It’s warm while you are in the water, but you might regret it when it’s time to get out and get dry!
There are Gentoo and chinstrap penguins on the beach, and they don’t seem to mind sharing their warm water with human visitors - just remember that in Antarctica, wildlife has the right of way!
This part of the volcanic crater was hit hardest by the last eruption in 1969. There is a historic site here, the remains of Chilean research station Base Aguirre Cerda that was overwhelmed. The twisted, rusting fragments of the remains can be viewed from a safe distance. A somber reminder of the forces still at work under your feet.
You may well see scientists at work and come across instruments. These are part of the real-time monitoring of seismic activity on Deception Island and Pendulum Cove in particular.
Petermann Island marks the extremes for two Antarctic species - not bad for a small rock less than a mile long!
This rocky outcrop that rises 500ft above the sea has a permanent covering of ice. The island is just south of Booth Island in the Lemaire Channel. Petermann Island is volcanic in origin, and it has a permanent icecap covering more than half of its surface. It’s home to the northernmost colony of Adelie penguins, but also the southernmost colony of Gentoo penguins. The latter are taking over (and pushing further souht) and soon there may be no breeding Adelie Penguins on Petermann Island.
First mapped by a French expedition in 1909, Petermann Island is also home to breeding colonies of skuas and Wilson’s storm petrels. There’s also a good chance to observe Weddell, crabeater, and fur seals.
Visitors can hike up to the highest point of the island, where a cross and cairn remembers three members of the British Antarctic Survey who died in 1982 attempting to cross the sea ice from Petermann Island to Vernadsky station. There is also a refuge hut built by an Argentinian expedition in 1955 - its red metal walls make a fantastic contrast against the snow and ice.
The area can be superb for Zodiac cruises, especially around the larger icebergs grounded on the far side of the island, and Humpback Whales often appear in the main channel.
Pleneau Island is one of the less-visited Antarctic visitor sites but is well worth it. First mapped in 1903 by the French Charcot expedition, it’s a beautiful location that overlooks what’s known as an “iceberg graveyard”, with a Zodiac cruise often favoured over a landing (see fascinating facts). Whether viewed from the island itself or from a Zodiac, there are always stunning ‘bergs to photograph here.
The island itself is less than a mile long and lies just off Hovgaard Island in the Wilhelm Archipelago. Pleneau is home to terns, and your expert Antarctic guides will make sure that you avoid disturbing them in the breeding season.
The permanent ice cap at the top of the island looks stunning, but it’s riddled with crevasses and not safe to walk on.
The northern end of the island hosts a breeding colony of Antarctic Shags, and you will almost certainly see penguins and seals among the stunning icebergs.
Point Wild is an unassuming, narrow sand and rock point, with steep tidewater glaciers and cliffs on its edges. It lies on the north coast of Elephant Island (part of the South Shetland Islands) 7 miles west of Cape Valentine.
Despite its lack of grandeur, this small bit of land has a starring role in history - it was named after Frank Wild, the leader of the survivors of Sir Ernest Shackleton's shipwrecked expedition. 15 men camped here and managed to survive for four months of Antarctic winter before they were rescued by a Chilean naval ship in August 1916.
There is a memorial commemorating the captain of the rescuing vessel with an impressive bronze bust to be found here, as well as several inscriptions. You will often find members of a colony of chinstrap penguins “guarding” the monolith!
The waters around Point Wild are famous for “snagging” icebergs on their hidden underwater rocks, and there is always a chance to witness the nearby glacier carving into the waters. Due to the sea conditions, landing is not always possible here, but Zodiac cruise or a close passage by the ship will let you marvel at the isolation and inhospitable conditions that Shackleton’s team endured. You can also admire the amazing glaciers and stunning geology of the area around the point.
It is also the site of a Chinstrap Penguin colony and the surrounding waters can be great for whales and seabirds like the Black-browed Albatross.
Port Charcot, Booth Island
Port Charcot is a small bay at the north end of Booth Island. Booth Island is a rocky and rugged Y-shaped island off the Kiev Peninsula in Graham Land. It was first mapped in 1904 when the French Antarctic expedition led by Jean-Baptise Charcot over-wintered here.
After building a few rudimentary shelters and the cairn that can still be seen at the top of the hill, the expedition used Port Charcot as its base for exploring the area, that is close to the Lemaire Channel and the division between the NW and the SW peninsula . There is the remains of a stone hut used for astronomical observations and a wooden pillar with a plaque here where you can still make out the names of the first expedition members who wrote them almost 120 years ago.
In the bay where the Français was anchored (but difficult to reach with the ice) the letter 'F' was carved onto the rocks and can still be seen.
The walk to the cairn is delightful, although you’ll be carefully led by guides as wandering off the path can be treacherous, with loose rocks and crevasses. Visitors can also walk to the east where there is a noisy Gentoo penguin colony. Chinstraps and Adelies can also be seen on the beaches here. If you are lucky, you might get all three together!
From the top the views are stunning, especially the view to the SW, towards Pléneau Island Island, overlooking 'the iceberg graveyard'. This iceberg graveyard can be explored on a spectacular Zodiac cruise, either from ships anchored off Port Charcot to the 'NW' of the Lemaire Channel, or from ships anchored off Pléneau Island and Booth Island that had sailed through through the Lemaire Channel. For full details of this Zodiac cruise refer to the details under Pléneau Island.
Prion Island, like many places in the Antarctic, was named after what was first seen there. In this case, during an expedition of 1912, the island was named because the naturalist Robert Cushman Murphy noted the large numbers of prions he found here.
The prion is a small petrel also sometimes known as a whalebird, and they get their unusual name because of their saw-tooth bill - the word prion in greek means “saw”.
Prion Island sits in the 9-mile-wide Bay of Isles off the northern coast of South Georgia. It is only 1.5 miles in length but it has been designated a Specially Protected Area in its entirety. Because it has always been rat-free, birds can raise their young here without fear of their nests being raided by non-native scavengers. Because of the need to protect the wildlife, there are strict restrictions on visitor numbers, and only 50 people per day are allowed ashore during the season when Prion Island is open to visitors, so guests are often split between going ashore, doing a really good Zodiac cruise, and sometimes with being onboard ship. You’ll also find that your naturalist guides will ensure that no one is carrying anything on to the island that could harbor an invasive species.
To protect the native flora and to avoid damage to petrel and prion burrows, the South Georgia authorities have built a boardwalk, and you will be required to stay on it at all times during your visit. Don’t worry, though, as the animals seem to have decided that they enjoy using it too and nest and feed right up to its edge, so you’ll have plenty of close encounters!
Another important species that breeds here is the wandering albatross. Indeed, Prion Island is such an important breeding center for them that the whole island is closed to visitors between 20th November and 7th January each year to allow them to pair off without disturbance. This time also coincides with the breeding season for Antarctic fur seals who also benefit from the seclusion.
Other species you can find on Prion Island include South Georgia Pipits and South Georgia Pintails, snowy sheathbills, skuas, Antarctic terns, and gentoo penguins.
Salisbury Plain (known as Llanura de Salisbury in Spanish) is a large coastal flat plain leading to the Bay of Isles, off the northern coast of South Georgia.
Although this area of the coast of South Georgia was discovered by Captain James Cook in the 1770s, there were no detailed maps made of the region until a British Admiralty survey of the 1930s. A chart produced in 1931 is the first time this area was named, and it’s likely to be named after the “original” Salisbury Plain, a grassy, chalk plateau in southern England used for military training and home to Stonehenge.
The Salisbury Plain in South Georgia was formed by the glacial runoff from the nearby Grace Glacier. This glacier was named by American ornithologist Robert Cushman Murphy for his wife during his expedition of 1912.
Salisbury Plain is world-famous for its remarkable king penguin breeding colony. In 1912, Cushman estimated there were 350 pairs here. Now one of the world’s largest gathering of king penguins, official estimates are as high as 100,000 breeding pairs nesting here in peak season. Seeing the Plain filled with these regal birds is one of the highlights of any trip to South Georgia and to the sub-Antarctic.
Not to be outdone by the king penguins, southern elephant seals and Antarctic fur seals also use Salisbury Plain to raise their young and can also be seen in good numbers.
Saunders Island (known in Spanish as Isla Trinidad) is in the northwest of the Falkland Islands group and is the 4th largest individual island with 50 square miles of land.
Saunders Island is geographically stunning, as well as rich with remarkable wildlife. The island is made up of three peninsulas that are joined by narrow necks of land. The three uplands towner over the necks, with the tallest, Mount Richards, being 1,500ft above the waves below. The views from the headlands are astonishing.
Saunders Island has been designated an Important Bird Area (or IBA) thanks to the large numbers of breeding species that make their homes here. The beaches and cliffs are home to four species of penguin with thousands of Gentoo, Rockhopper, Magellanic, King penguins - you can’t avoid hearing their raucous cries from all over the island! There also tend to be a few Macaroni Penguins and if you are lucky to see then you will have had a five penguin species day!
Other significant species to be found on Saunders include Falkland Steamer Duck, King Shag, Black-browed Albatross, the Striated Caracara (can be very inquisitive), Turkey Vulture, and a range of shorebirds, like the Magellanic Oystercatcher, to terrestrial birds from land birds from Dark-faced Ground Tyrants to the white-bridled finch. There are rats on the island so you do not tend to see the Blackish Cincloides or Tussacbird.
In the waters off the sandy shoreline, you can see the delightful Commerson’s dolphins - their black and white markings making them seem like miniature orcas - and even South American Sea Lions. Visiting Elephant Point will bring you face-to-face with the small colony of elephant seals that live here and gave their name to the beach. At the right time of year, if you are lucky, you might find southern right whales in the sheltered bays here feeding and resting before moving on.
South Georgia and Scotia Sea
South Georgia Island (known as Isla San Pedro in Spanish) is often described, quite rightly, as a highlight of many peoples’ Antarctic cruise experience.
The remote, rocky main island is 850 miles from the Falkland Islands and the same distance from the Antarctic Peninsula. It’s quite mountainous, with a central high ridge and plenty of bays and fjords on its coast, making for some stunning views and remarkable photographs.
There are 8 smaller islands (the South Sandwich Islands) located 400 miles to the southeast which are rarely visited.
South Georgia has a human history mainly centered around the sealing and whaling industries, with relics such as try pots and sunken whaling ships to be discovered. Many people also pay a visit to the grave of Ernest Shackleton, one of the most famous Antarctic explorers, who died unexpectedly of a heart attack while in South Georgia.
Part of one of the world’s largest marine reserves, the variety of the wildlife to be found in South Georgia is what attracts most of its visitors. From the world’s largest king penguin colonies to beaches crammed with elephant and fur seals, to breeding colonies of the bird with the largest wingspan in the world, the wandering albatross, to innumerable species of seabirds, South Georgia is a destination that serves up “days of a lifetime” every day!
South Shetland Islands
The South Shetland Islands are a group of rocky islands only about 75 miles north of the Antarctic Peninsula.
Several countries have research stations on the islands, with most being found on the largest island, King George Island. It’s here, at the Chilean Base Presidente Eduardo Frei Montalva, that there is a 4000ft runway that sees over 200 flights a year bringing people and supplies to and from the Islands and wider Antarctica.
Most of the islands are covered in ice for much of the year, but they are still home to large populations of Elephant and fur seals, as well as huge numbers of penguins and Antarctic sea birds, being the most diverse area in the whole 'peninsula' region. Frequent encounters here include gentoo, chinstrap (often one of the key species for landings in the South Shetlands), a few Adélie penguins colonies, and the odd Macaroni penguin pair or lone bird. Also Weddell, crabeater, and leopard seals, as well as and orca, humpback, and minke whales, with fin whales, and even southern bottlenose Whales, see on the approach close to the drop off to deeper waters.
Black-browed Albatross do not breed but can be seen, usually offshore in the Southern ocean, but also in the Bransfield Strait.
The Falkland Islands
The Falkland Islands (known in Argentina as Islas Malvinas) is an archipelago in the South Atlantic Ocean. Most people may be familiar with them because of the conflict that was fought here by armed forces from Argentina and the UK in 1982, but there is so much more to the Falklands.
Inhabited since 1764, these remote islands have been colonized and claimed by many countries - France and Spain have claimed them (and Argentina since its formation and former Spanish colony) although it’s the British descendants who make up the majority of the islands’ 4,000 population. As a British Overseas Territory, the Falklands are self-governing, but the UK is responsible for defense and foreign affairs. Argentina still disputes the sovereignty of the islands they call the Malvinas.
Made up of two large islands (East and West Falkland) and over 700 smaller islands and islets, the Falklands are as beautiful as they are rugged and remote. Despite its history as a base for South Atlantic whalers and sealers, and more recently extensive sheep farming, the Falkland Islands have retained great biodiversity, and modern conservation has ensured many previously struggling wild species are now returning.
The Falklands is home to important populations of albatross, having some of the largest breeding sites in the world. They are also home to the rare striated caracara, 63 species of nesting land bird, and 5 penguin species. Seals, whales, dolphins, and other marine life are also abundant. Finally, the rugged landscape itself has a stark beauty, and the islanders, although hardy, offer everyone the warmest of welcomes, usually accompanied by a hearty Falklands Tea.
Fishing and farming account for the vast majority of the Falklands Islands income, although tourism is increasingly important. Many of the farms on the islands are now managed with wildlife conservation in mind, and the Falklands is a wildlife management success story.
Although most ships visit Stanley (usually for a day), the main focus on 'expedition' cruises are the outer islands with all the wildlife, and some of the special breeding birds like Black-browed Albatross and Southern Rockhopper Penguins and some Patagonia specialists like the Striated Caracara. Also bear in mind, with cruises that also go to South Georgia and the peninsula, only 2 or 3 days are normally spent in the Falklands, although some cruises spend longer here.
Torgersen Island is a very small, circular island only 450yds across. It’s part of the Palmer Archipelago and is at the entrance to Arthur Harbour on the southwest coast of Anvers Island.
It’s a popular site for breeding seabirds and Adelie penguins, but this small rock has a much larger, and more depressing, importance.
Although the current colony size of 3,000 breeding pairs seems large, since 1974 the Adelie population has reduced by over 60% due to the impact of climate change on the sea ice and snowfall patterns. An Adelie colony that was based on the neighboring Litchfield Island has disappeared completely in this time. Archeological surveys showed that penguins had been nesting there for over 600 years continuously, with up to 15,000 pairs in residence at a time. By 2007 they had all gone.
The island is very close to the American Palmer Station and it is divided into a Visitor Zone and a Restricted Zone. The Visitor Zone is for general access, whilst the Restricted Zone serves as a control site for scientific research related to human impacts. The Restricted Zone should not be entered, except in an emergency to access the emergency cache located on slopes opposite the landing site. Use the cache only in a genuine emergency and notify Palmer Station if anything is used.
Your expert Antarctic guides will show you the walking routes to take that will minimize any impact to the Adelie colony on Torgersen Island, as well as outlining the concerns that Antarctic scientists have about the continuing impact of climate change on the region’s wildlife.
This is a timely reminder of the necessity for change in the way humans live and use fossil fuels if we are to preserve the unique species and landscapes of the Antarctic. At Polartours we are playing our part in this story by carbon offsetting every polar cruise package we sell.
Weddell Island claims to be the largest privately owned island in the world, at over 102 square miles. It’s also the third largest of all the Falkland Islands, and the largest of the outer islands. It was named after British explorer James Weddell, after whom the Weddell Sea in Antarctica was also named.
Weddell Island was historically run as a farm, but farming activity declined in the 20th century. Recent owners have begun to return the island to sustainable farming as well as managing the habitats for wildlife and replanting native tussac grasses where birds in particular love to nest.
As well as a range of birds and marine mammals typical of the Falklands, and, one interesting creature to be seen here is the tiny Patagonian Grey Fox. Distinctly not a native species, these foxes were introduced to the island in the 1930s by an eccentric previous owner who also brought with him skunks, rheas, and parrots! Only the foxes remain, and although they do prey on very young lambs, their future on the island has still not been decided.
Weddell Island is a very important plant habitat for the Falklands. It contains more than 60% of all the native Falkland plant species, including some very rare species. The birdlife here is also prolific and plays host to most of the Falklands species as well as some occasional visitors from South America. Gentoo and Magellanic penguins are resident, and another 54 species have so far been recorded on Weddell.
The whole island is open for exploration, and you are welcome to either stay close to the small settlement to enjoy the views or to hike across the island in the hope of spotting some of its rarer bird species.
A very popular destination, Whalers Bay is a small natural harbor on Deception Island, one of the South Shetland Islands. An active volcano, the crater forms a natural sheltered inlet that was historically used by sealers and then whalers from the 1820s. The geography makes it a perfect place for ships to shelter in rough weather, and Whaler’s Bay contains some of the most significant whaling artifacts and remains to be found in the whole of Antarctica.
As your ship sails through the narrow “break” in the volcanic caldera known as Neptune's Bellows, the wide, circular beach of Whaler’s Bay is found to the right. The beach runs uninterrupted for one and a quarter miles and was used as a runway in the 1950s and 1960s when the site was the main hub of British Antarctic air movements. The hangar that was built in 1960 can be visited at the northern end of the beach where you can also see a roller that was used to maintain the runway.
At the southern end of the beach are large, rusted oil tanks, and behind them are buildings from the period 1906 to 1931. There was a significant whaling industry here, with the sheltered and shallow beach making it an ideal place to land whale carcasses and process them.
While you explore all this remarkable human history, please remember that you are standing on an active volcano! The instruments you may see around the beach in the Whalers Bay area are seismic monitors, and the island is monitored for activity 24 hours a day. The last eruption was in 1969, and this was responsible for some of the mudflows and damage to the buildings and metal tanks that you see here. It creates a very eerie derelict industrial landscape, in Antarctica, even bleaker with the black volcanic cinder.
No penguins breed, but small numbers of Gentoo and Chinstrap Penguins turn up on the beach and they can be surprisingly inquisitive. Later in the season you might encounter fur seals who have hauled out to rest and watch the humans. Other birds to look out for include Cape Petrels, giant petrels, skuas, Antarctic terns, and Kelp Gulls, that take the chance to feed on the krill and other prey stunned in the hot waters.
Guests often take the polar plunge here with the warmer layer of water with the heat from the steaming volcanic sands. There is also the walk up to the viewpoint at Neptune's window.
Wordie House, Winter Island
Nestled onto the only flat part of Winter Island, Wordie House is a hut built in 1947. It was named by a British Antarctic expedition of the time after James Wordie, who was the chief scientist on Shackleton’s famous 1914 Antarctic exploration. Winter Island is less than 1,000 yards long and is one of the Argentine Islands off the coast of Graham Land.
Before it closed in 1954, the hut was used to take meteorological readings using instruments stored inside special screens, one of which still stands today. These readings were among the most important and longest set of weather data ever recorded about the Antarctic and helped scientists gain a greater understanding of the meteorology of the continent.
Wordie House was made a “Historic Site and Monument” in 1995 and has been looked after by the UK Antarctic Heritage Trust since 2009. There are almost 500 original artifacts still on the site, including original cans of coffee, records, pots and pans, plates, and many more £everyday” items. This makes Wordie House a true time capsule from the golden age of Antarctic exploration and scientific research. The hut is now fully weathertight, and work continues on preserving this unique station.
Close to Wordie House there used to be the British Faraday base, the place where researcher's discovered the expanding Ozone hole. When the base was going to close, rather than dismantling this important and historic base (and one of the best bars in Antarctica!), it was given to the Ukraine for one pound!
Visits to Winter Island and Wordie House are managed by the nearby Ukrainian station Vernadsky, and you may well be briefed by the Base Commander or other official before you board your boats for the landing. The visit to Wordie House is often in conjunction with a visit to the base, and the chance to have a vodka and the impressive wooden bar.
The short Zodiac cruise between the two locations passes through some interesting gullies and the chance to check out seals and penguins on small ice floes.
Uniquely for such a historic site, visitors are allowed to roam freely under the supervision of their expert Antarctic guides. They will answer all your questions about the history of the hut, as well as the artifacts that you can find here.
Visitors to Winter Island can also expect to see seabirds such as skuas and kelp gulls, as well as seals and penguins. Humpback Whales are often seen in the more open waters close to the anchorage.
The Yalour Islands (also sometimes called Jalour Islands) are a 1.5-mile long group of small islands and protruding rocks off Cape Tuxen in Graham Land. The islands were discovered and named in 1903 by the French Antarctic expedition led by Charcot.
Most of the Yalour Islands are steep-sided or unsuitable for landing due to sea conditions, but the largest island has some cobbled beaches where you can put ashore.
Visitors come here to make the short climb up from the beach to the Adelie penguin breeding colonies. There are thought to be around 8,000 breeding pairs of Adelies in the Yalour Islands, and they have nested on every bit of rock they can find that’s not snow-covered. It makes for an amazing sight as you come in to land on the beach!
Photographic opportunities here are excellent. The high mountains of the Antarctic Peninsula form a stunning backdrop to shots of the Adelie nest sites. Your expert guides will lead you around, showing you the best sites, and answering all your questions about the penguins and their lives.
As Adelie Penguins have decreased in numbers just to the north at locations like the Petermann Islands, the Yalour Islands have become a popular location to see this species. Even if it is a challenge to get ashore with the swell, or, the snow banks earlier in the season, the colonies are easily observed from a Zodiac. The area can be a good spot for seals, and for Humpback Whales offshore.
This wonderful natural harbor is surrounded by glaciers. It’s an almost perfect safe anchor for ships, which is why it was used by sealers for many years. You enter Yankee Harbour via Shopski Cove, which is between Spit Point and Glacier Bluff on Greenwich Island. You can also look across McFarlane Strait towards Half Moon Island and glaciers and the snow cap across the peaks of Livingstone Island, one the most spectacular islands in the South Shetlands.
Yankee Harbour was used by both American and British sealers from the 1820s onwards. The British called it Hospital Cove. There’s a commemorative plaque here that celebrates Captain Andrew MacFarlane who explored much of the Antarctic Peninsula in 1820.
The other great attraction here is the large Gentoo penguin colony, with over 4,000 breeding pairs making Yankee Harbor their home.
The landing beach here is terraced, and there is a melt-pool from the glacier on the eastern end. Depending on the conditions and breeding status of the penguins, some longer walks in the area are possible along the curved gravel spit.
As well as the penguins, skuas often nest here - their feathers camouflaging them against the rocky ground. Your guides will make sure you don’t step on any accidentally!