You don’t need a crystal ball to know that if you’ve been dreaming of waddling penguins, breaching whales, and towering
Svalbard is a Norwegian archipelago in the High Arctic between mainland Norway and the North Pole, also know as Spitsbergen. A destination of a lifetime, our expeditions to Svalbard connect you to the majesty of this Arctic wilderness, where dramatic fjords, rugged mountain ranges and a fossil-rich polar desert await.
Overhead, puffins, guillemots and other native Svalbard avian circle, commanding your attention, while the scree slopes house the island’s largest little auk colony. Witness sea walruses puncturing the ice, beluga whales breaching or a fluffy Arctic fox. Svalbard is the kingdom of the polar bear – witness one of these majestic, elusive creatures if you’re lucky. All leave a lasting impression.
The polar summer spans from May to September, where the Midnight Sun’s beautiful colours and contrasts adds an extra dimension to Svalbard’s glaciers, majestic mountains and Arctic tundra. This is the best time to enjoy outside exploration and take in this frozen land.
Svalbard is large and diverse, showcasing nature’s surprisingly rich and extremely varied landscapes. Life in Longyearbyen, Svalbard’s capital city, may be perceived as harsh, but for those fortunate to live here, it’s hard to imagine living anywhere else. Its inhabitants strive to live as one with nature, working in harmony to uphold their unique way of life throughout the enormous seasonal variations in temperature, light and darkness.
To visit the small and remote archipelago of the South Georgia Islands is to get a front row seat at the greatest wildlife show on the planet, with thousands of king penguins, seals and sea birds that defy belief performing in unison on stage. And what a stage – picture white sandy beaches and rugged coves against a backdrop of glaciers, fjords and formidable snow-capped mountains. It’s no wonder South Georgia is often called the “Galapagos of the South”.
On a South Georgia expedition, Zodiac-cruise past towering glaciers and jaw-dropping icebergs to sandy beaches dotted with relics from South Georgia’s dark whaling past. Stretch your legs on sandy beaches crowded with king penguins, battling bull elephant seals and fur seals playing in the surf. Retrace Shackleton’s footsteps as his incredible tale of survival is brought to life by expert guides. Most South Georgia cruises form part of a longer expedition to the Antarctic Peninsula or the historic Falkland Islands.
Why Join a South Georgia Island Expedition Cruise?
The fascinating history, unparalleled abundance of wildlife and dramatic scenery make South Georgia Island a popular stop for travellers on their way to Antarctica, or travellers visiting the nearby Falkland Islands.
With only a scattering of temporary inhabitants, this incredible island of riches is virtually unspoilt by man. South Georgia cruises are the best way to experience the picture-perfect bays, glaciers and rugged peaks, and take in one of the world’s greatest wildlife areas. Not only do our cruises provide unparalleled access to the island’s natural beauty, they also focus on enrichment and education, ensuring passengers gain a deeper understanding of the environment and its importance to the global ecosystem.
In addition to its incredible wildlife, South Georgia Island holds an important place in polar history. Launched in 1914, the Endurance Expedition led by Sir Ernest Shackleton became one of the most famous survival stories in history after the Endurance wasstuck in sea ice and eventually crushed, leaving the crew stranded on an unforgiving island. To rescue his men, Shackleton sailed 1,500km to South Georgia Island, where he then hiked across its spine to a whaling station to raise the alarm. He returned to Argentina to find a suitable ship for the rescue mission. Incredibly, all of the crew survived to tell the famous tale. Today, visitors to the island can retrace Shackleton’s footsteps on a challenging trek of up to three days across South Georgia, visiting historic sites to connect with this remarkable chapter of human history.
Furthermore, by joining our South Georgia Cruises, you’ll have the opportunity to engage in a variety of exciting activities such as kayaking, photography workshops, and guided hikes led by experienced naturalists. These immersive experiences allow you to encounter the island’s wildlife up close, including the world’s largest king penguin colonies, seals, and an array of seabirds such as albatrosses and petrels.
Embark on a South Georgia Cruise and Expedition for an unforgettable journey into the heart of one of the world’s last truly wild places. Discover the wonders of this remote paradise, connect with its storied past, and immerse yourself in an adventure you’ll treasure for a lifetime.
South Georgia Island Wildlife Encounters
Known as the “Galapagos of the South”, South Georgia boasts unparalleled wildlife. In fact, it has been estimated there is more wildlife per square metre in South Georgia at the peak of the breeding season than anywhere else on earth.
In addition to being home to the largest king penguin colonies on the planet, wildlife-rich South Georgia hosts millions of Antarctic fur seals and elephant seals, which congregate on its beaches. Located southeast of the Falkland Islands and northeast of the Antarctic Peninsula, these islands are a popular destination for bird watchers and wildlife enthusiasts alike. A South Georgia voyage offers a unique opportunity to observe over 30 million breeding pairs of seabirds, including albatrosses and petrels, flock to the island.
Feel profoundly outnumbered by hundreds of thousands of dignified king penguins taking over every last inch of real estate on sandy beaches. Be warned, the noise can be deafening! Keep your eyes peeled for macaroni, chinstrap and gentoo penguins – if you’re lucky you will spot all four species on your South Georgia trip.
In the early 19th century, Antarctic fur seals were hunted to the brink of extinction. Today, they are thriving and the vast majority of the world’s population can be found on South Georgia Island. Admire their resiliency and playful nature as they show off in the water. In November and December, the beaches are packed with males fighting over breeding territory.
Half of the world’s elephant seals can be found in or around this unique archipelago. If you embark on one of our October South Georgia trips at the start of the season, you can witness the spectacle of bull elephant seals coming to shore to fight over harems of females. They court as many as they can manage, continuously being challenged by other males. The resulting pups start appearing in November.
Unique South Georgia Island Experiences
History buffs will relish learning about Shackleton’s ill-fated expedition as they visit South Georgia and cruise the waters made famous by him. Adventurous spirits can even retrace the final leg of his journey across the spine of South Georgia, on a trek of up to three days that’s not for the faint-hearted – this add-on activity is recommended for expeditioners with alpine trekking or mountaineering experience.
When Shackleton died in 1922, his widow insisted that he be buried at the former whaling station at Grytviken on South Georgia. If conditions allow, visit his final resting place, as well as remnants of South Georgia’s thriving whaling stations.
On the Water
There are countless opportunities for Zodiac-cruising on your South Georgia cruise. Your experienced driver will navigate craggy coves and hug rocky coastlines in search of penguins, seal haul-outs and bird cliffs. Be transported to beaches where you can get a closer look at king penguin colonies, take a guided walk among fur seals and elephant seals, hike along cliff tops to observe albatrosses breeding, or explore South Georgia’s grassy glacial outwash plains.
In the Water
South Georgia’s kelp forests are mesmerising – explore these underwater ecosystems up close by snorkelling or scuba diving, or watch the fronds swaying back and forth on the water’s surface as you Zodiac cruise or kayak above them.
On the Ship
Back onboard the ship, cruise through fjords hemmed by towering cliffs, or into deep bays with dramatic glacier fronts. Head to the observation lounge to enjoy uninterrupted views of South Georgia’s majestic coast.
Most South Georgia cruises form part of a longer expedition to Antarctica or the Falkland Islands, with some including visits to other nearby island groups in the Southern Ocean such as the South Sandwich Islands, the South Orkney Islands, and Elephant Island. The South Sandwich Islands are a remote and uninhabited island chain located approximately 700 kilometres southeast of South Georgia Island, while the South Orkney Islands are situated around 600 kilometres northeast of the tip of the Antarctic Peninsula. Additionally, Elephant Island is located around 300 kilometres north of the Antarctic Peninsula. These islands offer unique opportunities for wildlife observation and scientific research and are known for their rugged beauty and fascinating ecosystems.
Svalbard Tours Regions
The Svalbard archipelago has nine main islands; some of these islands are connected by sea ice and expedition cruises are the only safe way to move between them. A lot of these islands are national parks, in fact, Svalbard has seven national parks in total. Find out more about the main islands below.
Svalbard’s largest island is 39,044 square kilometres. Its landscape is dominated by rugged mountains indented by post-card perfect fjords, and more than half of the island is covered in ice year-round. Six national parks protect its delicate environment and diverse fauna, which makes it a favourite for travellers visiting Svalbard. Spitsbergen is the only permanently inhabited part of Svalbard, with Longyearbyen the biggest settlement and administrative centre of Svalbard.
Nordaustlandet (North East Land)
The second largest island in the Svalbard archipelago is completely uninhabited. Situated entirely within the Nordaust-Svalbard Nature Reserve, it is made up of sizable ice caps and tundra.
Edgeøya (Edge Island)
Edgeøya is a Norwegian island situated in the southeast of the Svalbard archipelago. With an area of 5,073 square kilometres, it is the third-largest island in this archipelago. It forms part of the Søraust-Svalbard Nature Reserve and is home to polar bears and reindeer.
Barentsøya (Barents Island)
Named after the Dutch explorer Willem Barentsz, almost half of this island in the Søraust-Svalbard Nature Reserve is glaciated. While the island has no permanent human inhabitants, it is a favourite of polar bears and seabirds, especially kittiwakes.
Prins Karls Foreland (Prince Charles Foreland)
This long island on Svalbard’s west coast and its surrounding seas constitutes Forlandet National Park. It boasts jagged peaks and wild glaciers that remind one of the Antarctic peninsula, alongside vast green plains and polar deserts. The harbour seal is commonly found here.
Kvitøya (White Island)
When ice conditions allow, adventure seekers can discover Svalbard’s easternmost island, where polar bears roam and walrus swim. This island is the resting place of Andrée’s Arctic balloon expedition of 1897, which was one of the great mysteries of the Arctic for decades.
Kong Karls Land (King Charles Land)
This small island group is part of the Nordaust-Svalbard Nature Reserve and boasts the largest concentration of polar bears in Svalbard. Because of this, there is a ban on traffic to the island, with ships and aircraft not being able to come within 500 metres of the area.
Bjørnøya (Bear Island)
The southernmost island of Svalbard is rarely visited because it can be challenging to access, with no protected bays, rough weather, strong wind and thick fog. While its history revolves around hunting, it is now an important scientific research site and the whole island is a nature reserve with restricted access.
This small, remote island in the far southeast is part of the Southeast Svalbard Nature Reserve. Visiting can be a lucky dip because of heavy ice, fog, rough waters and unprotected beaches. The island has been identified as an Important Bird Area (IBA), supporting breeding colonies of thick-billed guillemots, black guillemots and black-legged kittiwakes.
Subantarctic Cruise Activities
Discover the Falkland~Malvinas Islands with Aurora Expeditions and witness the unique wildlife and history of this fascinating region. Our Expedition Team will take you on excursions to explore the natural wonders of the islands, fully included in the cost of your expedition. For those seeking additional adventure, we offer optional activities* such as hiking and zodiac cruising. Our Falkland~Malvinas Islands expeditions offer the perfect mix of comfort and adventure, allowing you to immerse yourself in the beauty and history of this unique destination.
Whale and mammal spotting
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*Optional add-on activities are available on select voyages. They are listed on each itinerary page and additional fees apply.