Abandoned Antarctica: South Georgia Island

Grytviken

Abandoned whaling station at Grytviken (image by Hannes Grobe, Alfred Wegener Institute)

(Image licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Generic)

South Georgia Island emerges from the ocean just north of Antarctica, making it one of the most isolated and inhospitable places on Earth.  With no native population whatsoever, it’s little wonder the island’s abandoned settlements and ships remain as they were when the last whalers moved out – albeit rusting and slightly mysterious versions of their former selves.

South Georgia Island (image via Google Earth)

South Georgia Island (image via Google Earth)

Rusting hull of Petrel (image by 'christopher')

Rusting hull of Petrel (image by 'christopher')

South Georgia is a British overseas territory.  In 1775 explorer Captain James Cook circumnavigated the island, naming it “the Isle of Georgia” in honour of King George III.  To this day, the only inhabitants are the British Government Officer, Deputy Postmaster, scientists and support staff from the British Antarctic Survey – perhaps more of a punishment than a scientific outpost…

Image via 'christopher'

Image via 'christopher'

Image via 'christopher'

Image via 'christopher'

Near to the capital, King Edward Point, is the old Norwegian whaling station at Grytviken, operated under leases granted by the British Govenor of the Falkland Islands.  Founded in 1904 and operating until 1965, the station remains essentially unchanged today, with it’s original whale oil tanks and docked fishing vessels rusting away – an eerie and enigmatic sight beneath the Antarctic sun.

Abandoned oil tanks (image by wili hybrid)

Abandoned oil tanks (image by wili hybrid)

Image by Graham Racher

Image by Graham Racher

In April 1916, legendary explorer Ernest Shackleton‘s Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition became stranded on Elephant Island, 800 miles south west of South Georgia. Shackleton and five companions ventured out in a small boat in search of help, and on May 10, after an epic voyage, they landed at King Haakon Bay on South Georgia’s south coast.

Three remained at the coast while Shacketon and other two covered 22 miles overland to reach help at Stromness whaling station. The remaining 22 members of the expedition, who had stayed on Elephant Island, were all subsequently rescued. During a later expedition in January 1922, fate finally caught up with Shackleton who died onboard ship near South Georgia. His body was taken ashore, and his grave (below) can be found at Grytviken – a fitting end for a celebrated adventurer.

And if anyone fancies pulling on their Antarctic exploration boots, check out this opportunity to follow in the footsteps of the intrepid explorers and join the next South Georgia expedition.

Ernest Shackleton's grave (image by Lexaxis7)

Ernest Shackleton's grave (image by Lexaxis7)

(Image licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported)

 

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