South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands
South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands are located in the South Atlantic and belong to the United Kingdom. This island territory, in addition to South Georgia and the Sandwich Islands, includes Black Rock as well as the Clerk and Shag cliffs.
These not-so-hospitable cold lands, serve exclusively for scientific purposes and scientific research groups come here every summer to do work on this part of the Antarctic region. With the exception of the village of Grütikven, there are no permanent residential buildings here, except for specially equipped camps used as temporary shelters for research expedition participants. The mountain slopes here are always covered with an impressive layer of snow, and the role of local residents is invariably played by numerous flocks of king penguins.
As such, there is no tourist infrastructure on the islands, so there are no stores, restaurants and other tourist attributes here, except for a couple of shops selling souvenirs for the few tourists and basic necessities, which are in demand among the scientific research companies. Moreover, there are no medical centers of first aid in general use on the territory of islands, so travelling across the wilderness of British Antarctic territories, you should be especially careful and have everything you need with you.
The area of South Georgia and the Sandwich Islands in total covers just over 4000 square kilometers. The population is roughly 20-50, depending on the time of year. The spoken language is English. The local currency is British pound and euro. Time zone is UTC-2. Local time is 5 hours behind Moscow time. South Georgia’s official website is www.sgisland.gs.
A brief excursus of history
According to historical data, South Georgia was the first Antarctic territory discovered by people on their way to the mainland. The English merchant and navigator Anthony de la Roche discovered these lands in the spring of 1675 when he strayed off course while heading for the Brazilian coast. Subsequently, Spanish and Portuguese explorers visited it, and the legendary warsman and discoverer James Cook was the first to chart the island and give it a name after the British monarch – George III. He also explored the South Sandwich Islands, after which they were named after the First Lord of the British Admiralty.
The island territory of the South Atlantic enjoys a sub-Antarctic climate with a large number of overcast days and average temperatures ranging from -1 to +5 degrees. Strong westerly winds blow throughout the year, accompanied by heavy snowfall. The coldest time is from July to August, when temperatures are consistently below freezing.
Visa and Customs Regulations
To enter South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands it is necessary to have a visa, which is executed at the British Embassy. Visa requirements and regulations are in compliance with British Law, as well as customs regulations.
How to get to
In recent years, Britain’s Antarctic possessions have become much closer and more accessible to tourists. Grütviken Harbor is home to a seaport that annually hosts large ships, including tourist liners, departing for the snowy shores of the South Atlantic from October to March. In general, however, such tours have not yet gained in popularity, and information about them should be sought from travel agencies or shipping companies.
There is no public transport directly on the islands.
The South Sandwich Islands are a Sub-Antarctic archipelago located 570 km south-east of South Georgia and formed of several volcanic islands and many small islets and rocks surrounding it. The largest island of the archipelago is Montague, which is dominated by Mount Belinda, 1372 meters high. The South Sandwich Islands abound in uplands and glaciers, being a majestic kingdom of ice and snow. Mosses and lichens are common among the plants. Seals and numerous colonies of birds, including penguins, have long been local residents. There are no permanent homes on the islands and only in the summer season do scientific research groups camp here.
South Georgia, together with the Annenkov, Cooper and Byrd Islands, occupies 96% of the entire British possession. It is covered by tundra, ocean meadows and eternal glaciers. Here is the capital of South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands, Grytikwen, which is the southernmost settlement in the world to have metropolitan status. Located on the east coast of Thatcher Peninsula, off King Edward Bay, the township serves not only as a port, but also as the country’s only administrative center. For a long time it served as a whaling base, but then was abandoned. Now the British Antarctic Survey is located in Grytikwen, and there are several residential buildings, restored by the local government for tourism and other purposes. In addition, in the village is beautiful old Norwegian church, built in 1913 and the building of the Museum of South Georgia. Particular attention should be paid to the beautiful landscapes surrounding the capital of the British possessions. Today, Grütikwen is considered the only site in Antarctica capable of claiming the title of the continent’s tourist center. In addition to it, the region’s population centers include: King Edward Point, Houswick and Baird Island, but they have no permanent population. Among the most picturesque places stand out Strømness Cove and Drygalski Fjord.
South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands are great places to admire the ethereal beauty of the rugged Antarctic region. These lands have unusual landforms and amazing landscapes that make even seasoned travelers admire them.
South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands
The unfriendly sub-Antarctic islands in the middle of the southwestern sector of the Atlantic Ocean are presumably an underwater extension of the South American Andes mountain system; the South Georgia, South Sandwich, South Shetland and South Orkney islands are the towering peaks of the South Antilles Ridge, which stretches 3500 km from Tierra del Fuego to Antarctica. Depth above the ridge up to 3000 m, parallel to the eastern slope there is a deep water depression. On a part of the South Sandwich Islands, there is volcanic activity (20th century, 2005 and 2006). The climate on the islands is harsh, subantarctic; they are located in the zone of the cold West Winds Current. The sea around South Georgia does not freeze (ice appears only in the bays sheltered from the wind, and icebergs are often observed), but around the colder South Sandwich Islands, the sea is frozen from mid-May to late November. It is almost always cloudy here, and snow or rain with snow can fall at any time of year. The island landscape is typical tundra: mosses and lichens, without trees and bushes; above 300 m above sea level the zone of permafrost begins. There are many seabirds on the islands, and colonies of king and other penguins. Before the arrival of Europeans, there were no mammals at all on the islands other than seals; then mice, brown Norway rats, and reindeer (disturbing the ecological balance of the island) took root. It is believed that the first European to see South Georgia Island was the London merchant Anthony de la Roche in 1675, so it is marked as Roche Island on old maps. The island was rediscovered, explored, and mapped by the famous navigator James Cook in 1775, although at first he considered it not worth discovering. But then he still named it after King George III and declared the island’s annexation to Great Britain. At that time, Captain Cook discovered eight islands and named the archipelago Sandwich Land in honor of the first Lord of the Admiralty, the fourth Earl of Sandwich. The word “southern” was added to avoid confusion with the other Sandwich Islands, now known to all as the Hawaiian Islands. The three northern islands of the archipelago were discovered later, in 1819, by the First Russian Antarctic Expedition of Thaddeus (Fabian) Bellingshausen and Mikhail Lazarev, undertaken to prove or disprove the assumption of the sixth continent, Antarctica. In the XIX century South Georgia was a base of seal hunters, in the first half of the XX century it became a major center of whaling (this fishing was finally ceased in 1965). The first whaling base and the first permanent settlement was founded in Grutviken in 1904 by Carl Anton Larsen, a Norwegian who received British citizenship. Grutviken was the headquarters of the Argentine Fishing Company, which belonged to Larsen. There were seven stations in all, and they were located in sheltered harbors on the north shore of the island. It was operated mainly by Norwegians. The leases were issued to the whalers by the British governor. Although Great Britain established King Edward Point as an administrative center next to the whaling base of Gratviken in 1909, the islands were governed by the Governor of the Falkland Islands (from 1908 to 1985 it was a single British Overseas Territory). South Georgia, together with the South Sandwich Islands, South Shetland Islands and South Orkney Islands and groups of rocks belong to the South Antilles range.
Jorge Luis Borges wrote a poem in memory of the British and Argentine soldiers and called the war “a quarrel between two bald men over a comb”… After the war a small military garrison remained at King Edward Point until 2001. The base has now been returned to the British Antarctic Survey.
Sub-Antarctic cold, volcanically active islands of the South Antilles Range, never indigenous.
Disputed territory of Great Britain, claimed by Argentina. Location : in the Scotia Sea (southwestern sector of the Atlantic Ocean), between Tierra del Fuego (Argentina) and Antarctica.
Administrative affiliation : British Overseas Territory of South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands – since 1985, before that the archipelago was administered jointly with the Falkland Islands. Other names : Roche Island (South Georgia).
Year of discovery : South Georgia (Roche Island) – 1675 by the London merchant Anthony de la Roche; 1775 – the eight southern islands of the Sandwich Islands archipelago discovered by John Cook; 1819 – the three northern islands were discovered by the First Antarctic Expedition of F. Bellingshausen and M. Lazarev. Great Britain claimed South Georgia in 1775 and the Sandwich Islands in 1908; Argentina claimed South Georgia in 1927 and the South Sandwich Islands in 1938. Settlements: Gratviken Township (since 1904), research base on Bird Island.
Nearby: Falkland Islands (British Overseas Territory) and Antarctic Coast (far away).
Ethnicity : no aboriginal population; British and other nationalities working.
Population : 23 people living permanently (2001 statistics), up to 50 people in summer on South Georgia. Population density : 0.007 people / km 2 .
Remoteness : 1390 km southeast of the Falkland Islands and 2150 km east of Tierra del Fuego.
Climate and weather
Maximum temperature : up to +20°C (when the fog is blowing). Average annual rainfall : up to 1500 mm
Due to the lack of an indigenous population, business activity in South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands is rather limited. Annual revenue of this Overseas Territory is 3.9 million pounds, 90% of the income comes from the issuance of fishing licenses (separately for the Chilean sea bass, cod whiting and krill), the rest – customs and port duties, souvenir sales, stamps and coins.
■ Natural : wildlife; South Georgia is home to a large number of seabirds – albatrosses, petrels, cormorants, gulls, terns. A colony of king and other penguins, rookeries of seals. Endemic of the island – the great horse (South Georgia Pipit) – the only singing bird in Antarctica. Cultural and historical: the village of Grutviken (the oldest settlement and the first whaling base of the Argentine fishing company Larsen) – museum. Grave of the outstanding polar explorer Ernest Shackleton (1874-1922); in 2011 the ashes of Shackleton’s permanent assistant were reburied on its right with the inscription: “Frank Wild 1873-1939, Shackleton’s right hand. King Edward Point is the weather station and scientific base of the British Antarctic Survey. ■ Seven former whaling bases (operated from 1904-1965, now restored as tourist attractions).
■ The archipelago was named after the first Lord of the Admiralty, the fourth Earl of Sandwich, who among other things was really the inventor of the Sandwich. ■ Volcanic activity in the Sandwich Islands has been observed since their discovery. The most recent occurrences are earthquakes in 2005, 2006, and two in 2008 (6.5 and 7.0 on the Richter scale).