A string of islands lying northwest of the Antarctic Peninsula, the South Shetlands are one of Antarctica’s wildlife playgrounds, where birds and mammals mate and feed amidst rugged and spectacular scenery. It truly feels a privilege to be here, and a journey through the islands is an unforgettable adventure through some of the world’s most remote, starkly beautiful corners.
Once three separate small islands now joined by pebble beaches, Beautiful Half Moon Island is one of the best places around here to spot whales, with humpbacks most common, but minke are also sighted in the iceberg-studded waters. Onshore, amidst the raw, volcanic scenery, many chinstrap penguins call Half Moon home, but keep an eye open also for fur seals – sometimes difficult to pick out, as their grey coat blends seamlessly into the island’s rocky landscape.
Towering ice cliffs and teeth-like rocks spearing the air form part of LivingstonIsland’s imposing face, a wild, ragged island, whipped by the elements and home to some of the richest wildlife in the area. Look out for Weddell and Elephant seals, as well as abundant birdlife: skuas, petrels and terns can be seen here, and Livingstonis also home to three types of penguin: the chinstrap, gentoo and macaroni.
Where else could you sail directly into the heart of a restless volcano? Home to Antarctica’s only geothermal lagoon, DeceptionIslandis like a giant doughnut, a circle of barren slopes frosted with glaciers that form a ring around a hollow centre – a giant caldera created by an enormous eruption and since flooded by sea water. Visiting here is one of the highlights of any Antarctic expedition – for the stunning natural scenery, the chance to step ashore and catch a glimpse of its inhabitants, chinstrap penguins – approximately 100,000 pairs mate here.
At the archipelago’s north stands barren ElephantIsland, site of Shackleton’s landing after his ship Endurancefell victim to Antarctica’s seas of ice. After being aboard the ship then camping out on ice floes, Elephant was the first time Shackleton had been on land for some 16 months. The adventure wasn’t over however – days later he launched the James Caird, one of his party’s small boats, and made the legendary crossing to South Georgia, over 1,000 kilometres distant. The scale of this achievement is brought home to all those who have just ventured across seas to the South Shetlands.