Falkland Islands

Beyond the Falklands

South Georgia

South Georgia, in latitude 54.5° south and longitude 36-38° west, has an area of 3,755 sq km, but no permanent residents. There are two British Antarctic Survey stations, King Edward Point and Bird Island, and a marine officer at the former is the government's representative and has responsibility for local administration. His duties include those of Harbour Master, Customs and Immigration Officer, Fisheries Officer and Postmaster. Visitors normally arrive by cruise ship from Ushuaia, Punta Arenas or Stanley. Some also come by chartered yachts. Intending visitors, who are not part of tour groups, must submit a request through the
Commissioner
.

South Georgia is a largely chain of high (almost 3000 m), snow-covered glaciated mountains. At King Edward Point, near sea level, snow falls on an average of nearly 200 days annually, but the coastal area is free from snow and partially covered by vegetation in summer. This is the port of entry and is 1 km from Grytviken. Wildlife consists of most of the same species found in the Falkland Islands/Islas Malvinas, but in much larger numbers, especially penguins, albatross, and seals. Reindeer, introduced by Norwegian whalers in 1909, have flourished. Other points of
interest are the abandoned whaling stations (although asbestos and other hazard restrict access), the little white whalers' church, and several shipwrecks. The explorer, Sir Ernest Shackleton, lies
in the whalers' cemetery at Grytviken. A South Georgia Museum has been established there, where the whaling station is now rearranged as a display featuring amazing steam industrial archaeology. Inside is a display of artifacts, photographs and other items about the old Antarctic whaling and sealing industry with descriptions the history of the island, including events of 1982, and its wildlife. The island issues distinctive stamps, which are sold by the Post Office and museum. There is a
South Georgia website
: www.sgisland.org, and a South Georgia Association. The
South Sandwich Islands
, some 500 km southeast of South Georgia, are uninhabited but administered by the same government as South Georgia. Although very rarely visited they are a spectacular chain of 11 volcanoes, several of which are active.

The Antarctic

Antarctica, the fifth largest continent, is 99.8% covered with perpetual ice. Although inaccessible, the number of tourists now exceeds the number of people on government research programmes. It is known for its extraordinary scenery, wildlife, scientific stations, and historic sites. The weather can be spectacularly severe, thus visits are confined to the brief summer. Presently 25 countries operate 60 scientific stations (45 remain open during winter). A winter population of about 1,200 lives in a continent larger than Europe. The Antarctic Heritage Trust which has headquarters in New Zealand and Britain, and some other organizations maintain several historic huts where organized groups are admitted. Many current research stations allow visitors a stay of a couple of hours on an organized tour. Of the historic huts, the one at
Port Lockroy
, established in 1944 and now a museum, has become the most-visited site. The historic huts used by Scott, Shackleton, Mawson, and Borchgrevink during the 'heroic age' of exploration are on the Australian and New Zealand side of Antarctica thus very distant from South America.

Information

there are many of specialist and general books about Antarctica, but the current best single source of information remains
Antarctica: great stories from the frozen continent
by Reader's Digest (first published Sydney 1985, with several later editions). General information including links to other sites can be found at
Scott Polar Research Institute
site, www.spri.cam.ac.uk. Also useful is the website of
International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators
,
IAATO
. Most national operators also have sites dedicated to their work but often with much more information. The
Committee of Managers of National Antarctic Programmes
, in Hobart, is the best source for these details: www.comnap.aq.

Governance of Antarctica is principally through the Antarctic Treaty (1959) signed by all countries operating there (47 countries were parties to the Treaty in 2009, these represent over 80% of the Earth's population). Most visitors will be affected by several provisions of the Treaty, in particular those of the Environmental Protocol of 1991. These provisions are aimed at the
protection of wildlife (do not remove or harmfully interfere with animals or plants), respecting protected areas and scientific research, alerting visitors to the need to be safe and prepared for severe changeable weather and keeping the environment pristine. Full details from www.iaato.org/docs/visitor_guidelines.pdf. Seven countries have claims over parts of Antarctica and three of
these overlap (Antártida Argentina, British Antarctic Territory, and Territorio Chileno Antártico); the Treaty has neutralized these with provision of free access to citizens of contracting states. Some display of sovereignty is legitimate and many stations operate a Post Office where philatelic items and various souvenirs are sold.

The region south of South America is the most accessible part of the Antarctic, therefore over half the scientific stations are there or on adjacent islands. Coincidentally it is one of the most spectacular areas with many mountains, glaciers and fjords closely approachable by sea. Three ports are used: Stanley, Punta Arenas and Ushuaia, the last is the major base for yachts. The South Shetland Islands and Antarctic Peninsula are most frequently visited, but ships also reach the South Orkney Islands and many call at South Georgia at the beginning or end of a voyage. Most vessels are booked well in advance by luxury class passengers sometimes late opportunistic
vacancies may be secured by local agencies. Ships carrying 45-280 tourists land passengers at several sites during about a fortnight's voyage. Some much larger vessels also visit; these generally do not land passengers but merely cruise around the coasts. During the 2008-2009 austral summer about
32,000 visitors arrived in Antarctica, of whom 24,000 landed on the continent.

Voyages from South America and the Falkland Islands/Islas Malvinas involve at least two days each way, crossing the Drake Passage where sea conditions may be very uncomfortable. No guarantee of landings, views or wildlife is possible and delays due to storms are not exceptional. Conversely, on a brilliant day, some of the most spectacular sights and wildlife anywhere can be seen. Visitors should be prepared for adverse conditions with warm clothing, windproofs and waterproofs, and boots for wet landings. Weather and state of the sea can change quickly without warning.

The
International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators
, www.iaato.org, represents the majority of companies and can provide details of most offering Antarctic voyages. Many vessels have a principal contractor and a number of other companies bring smaller groups, thus it is advantageous to contact the principal.
Antarctic Logistics and Expeditions
(ALE), provides flights to Antarctica from Punta Arenas where there is a
local office
. Wheeled aircraft fly as far as a summer camp at Patriot Hills (80° 19S, 81° 20W), the only land-based tourist facility, whence ski-aircraft proceed to the South Pole, vicinity of Vinson Massif (4,892 m, Antarctica's highest peak), and elsewhere. Some flights also go from Punta Arenas and Cape Town. 'Flightseeing' is made by Qantas from Australia aboard aircraft which do not land but spend about 4 hours over the continent (and about the same getting there and back).

Some private yachts carry passengers; enquire at Ushuaia, or the other ports listed. Travelling with the Argentine, Chilean, French or Russian supply ships may sometimes be arranged at departure ports. These are much cheaper than cruise ships but have limited itineraries as their principal object is to supply stations.

This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
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