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Most Breathtaking Islands Near Antarctica

8 min read

Exploring remote Antarctic Islands

The list of remote and fascinating islands near Antarctica is lengthy—much longer than travelers sometimes imagine.

Quite often, polar enthusiasts think only of the Antarctic Peninsula when considering a polar destination, but there are abundant opportunities to visit interesting and unique Antarctic islands in the Southern Ocean. 

Some Antarctic islands ready to be explored include East Island, South Orkney Islands, Penguin Island, King George's Island, Ross Island, Folly Islands, Mission Island, Bouvet Island, Bailys Island, Hubley Island, Pig Island, MacQuarie Island, Campbell Island, Signy Island, Waterloo Island, Antwerp Island, Possession Island, Laurie Island, and Robertsons Islands.

Most islands in the southern hemisphere are typically only visited by polar voyages to the Antarctic. That’s why you'll see many sub-Antarctic islands, such as the the Falkland Islands, featured as Antarctic destinations with Quark Expeditions. When you travel with Quark Expeditions, you have the unique opportunity to visit many sub-Antarctic regions and islands, including Cape Horn and Diego Ramirez Islands in Chilean Patagonia and virtual reality offers explorers new ways to experience the surrounding islands of Antarctica that are harder to reach than others.

Read on to learn more about how each Antarctic island offers visitors the chance to experience the 7th continent of the world, sometimes perceived as entirely unique world of it's own.

Remote islands near Antarctica

We’ve chosen a number of Antarctic Islands to highlight, but this list is by no means exhaustive.

The good news: many of these hard-to-reach, sub Antarctic islands are accessible to travelers on voyages to the Antarctic with Quark Expeditions.

South Georgia

South Georgia Island is a sub-Antarctic island in the southern Atlantic Ocean and part of the British Overseas Territory of South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands.

Because of the rugged, almost inhospitable terrain, there is no runway or airstrip on this island, so visitors must come to what is one of the most wildlife-rich islands near Antarctica by polar vessel.

The staggering  number of wildlife species in South Georgia
The staggering  number of wildlife species in South Georgia have earned the remote polar destination the monikers of The Galapagos of the South Seas or the Serengeti of the South Ocean. Photo: Nicky Souness

South Georgia is often called The Galapagos of the South Seas or the Serengeti of the South Ocean because of its incredibly rich biodiversity. The island is known for its massive King penguin colony at Salisbury Plain, and other wildlife, including thousands of Fur and Elephant seals. 

South Georgia is also of particular interest to polar history buffs. British explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton first crossed South Georgia Island in 1916 in search of aid for his ill-fated trans-Antarctic expedition and his crew that he left behind on Elephant Island.

Years after Shackleton's famous rescue mission, when he passed away, Shackleton's widow insisted the late great explorer be buried at the former whaling station at Grytviken on South Georgia. Now, guests on polar expeditions to South Georgia often visit the small graveyard to honor the late great polar explorer.

Falkland Islands

In contrast to South Georgia which has no permanent population, there are approximately 2,900 permanent citizens living in the sub-Antarctic archipelago of the Falkland Islands, or Islas Malvinas, as it’s known to the Argentinians.

The Falkland Islands (300 miles northeast of the southern tip of South America in the South Atlantic Ocean) is known for its wildlife—penguins and bird species are plentiful—as well as its dramatic history including the Falklands War that has been well-documented.

Home to everything from Magellanic penguins to military history, the Falkland Islands piques the interest of many visitors. Port Stanley, the capital of the Falkland Islands, has been called the epitome of the English country village, with its pubs, churches, museums and colorful homes offers something for every explorer. 

Visitors to the Falkland Islands are often surprised to discover so many sandy beaches on this remote sub-Antarctic island
Visitors to the Falkland Islands are often surprised to discover so many sandy beaches on this remote sub-Antarctic island. Photo: Sam Edmonds

As expedition guide and photographer Acacia Johnson describes in her blog, Why I Love Traveling to the Falkland Islands as a Landscape and Wildlife Photographer, “the islands’ sprawling landscapes are home to blooming flora, sandy beaches, and a dose of British culture that will appeal to landscape, wildlife and portrait photographers alike.”

Visitors to the fascinating Falkland Islands might encounter a number of surprises during their visit:

  • Ornithologists report that approximately 70 percent of the world’s population of black-browed albatross are found at Steeple Jason Island, which lies northwest of West Falkland, making it the largest colony of this species on the planet.
  • And there are beaches! You can walk along the white sandy shorelines on Carcass Island (off the northwest corner of the archipelago) or visit Volunteer Beach, a two-mile (3.3-kilometre) stretch of sandy beach that’s home to a very large colony of King penguins.
History and wildlife are the drawing cards of the Falkland Islands.

Cape Horn and Diego Ramirez Islands

Patagonia is the sparsely-populated, wildlife-rich region in the southern part of South America, divided into Argentine Patagonia and Chilean Patagonia by the Andes Mountains.

Chilean Patagonia, popular for its glaciers, fjords, mountains, channels, waterfalls, lakes, verdant forests and abundant wildlife, is regularly included in polar voyages to the Antarctic. The 19,000-square-mile (49,000-square-kilometer) Cape Horn Biosphere Reserve is home to thousands of tiny plants, mosses and lichens that form “the miniature forests of Cape Horn.”

And then there are the Diego Ramirez Islands, about 100 kilometres southwest of Cape Horn in the iconic Drake Passage.  

Diego Ramirez Islands are the southernmost albatross breeding ground on Earth. Visitors to these islands can also look forward to sightings of dolphins, South American fur seals, and Rockhopper, Macaroni and Magellanic penguins.

Cape Horn and Diego Ramirez Islands are included in Quark Expeditions Essential Patagonia: Chilean Fjords and Torres del Paine itinerary.

South Shetland Islands

The South Shetland Islands (which cover approximately 3,687 square kilometres) are a cluster of Antarctic islands about 120 km roughly north of the Antarctic Peninsula. They include King George, Nelson Island, Robert, Greenwich, Livingston, Elephant Island, Clarence Island, Snow Island, Smith and Low Island, among others. The South Shetland Islands are some of the best areas to visit if you're looking to see whales on your Antarctic adventure.

Travelers also have the opportunity to visit Elephant Island, which is found 250 kilometers (150 miles) northeast of the tip of the Antarctic Peninsula, on Quark Expeditions’ Celebrating Shackleton: Journey from Antarctica to South Georgia.

Elephant Island, on the outer reaches of the South Shetland Islands, is part of the enduring legacy of Sir Ernest Shackleton as it’s the remote island in the Antarctic region where Shackleton and his crew (28 courageous sailors in all) took refuge in 1916 following the destruction of their ship Endurance in the ice-covered Weddell Sea.

Snow Hill Island

Also located in the ice-bound Weddell Sea is the legendary Snow Hill Island, famous for its incredibly large Emperor penguin colony of 10,000. That’s a huge number of penguins for a rugged island that’s only 7.5 miles (12 km) wide and 21 miles (33 km) long.

The Emperor penguin species, which is the primary reason for travelers to make the arduous journey to Snow Hill Island, breed on sea ice, not on shore. The female Emperor, after laying her egg, leaves the colony to hunt for food – but only after passing the egg to her male partner who carefully maneuvers it on his feet and covers it with a layer of feathery skin called his brood pouch.

Rare in the animal kingdom, the father shares egg-incubating duties – protecting the egg from the -60°C (-76°F) temperatures and 200 km/hour (124 mph) winds.

Check out this video to get an idea of what’s involved in reaching this fascinating Antarctic island. Witnessing all of this is what compels polar adventurers to join a voyage to Snow Hill Island.

Rugged, remote Destination Island is part of the Shetland Island chain known for its volcanic features.
Rugged, remote Destination Island is part of the Shetland Island chain known for its volcanic features. It was once the site of a large whaling station. Photo:  Quark Expeditions

Deception Island

In this blog written by a former expedition guide, we learn that Deception Island offers a history that’s not entirely about wildlife and polar landscapes.

Part of the Shetland Island chain, Deception Island drew the attention of explorers and scientists because of its large and safe natural harbour.

Not so appealing: the presence of an active volcano on Deception Island, which wrought havoc on the scientific stations in 1967 and 1969.

The island cemetery was totally buried in the volcanic eruption of 1969, fostering all manner of unsubstantiated stories and fables of ghosts and the paranormal. The island, which was previously a whaling station, became a tourist site after the volcanic episode and has since been the location for an episode of the the popular Sci-Fi show Destination Truth to search for evidence of paranormal activity .

King George Island

King George Island, one of the largest Antarctic islands, is a popular place to visit for guests who are short on time or simply prefer to avoid crossing the iconic Drake Passage by ship and book the Fly/Cruise itinerary Antarctic Express: Fly the Drake.  

On this voyage, guests travel by charter flight from Punta Arenas to Antarctica in only a few hours and get to view King George Island on their descent in the South Shetland Islands.

After landing at the runway on King George Island, guests are accompanied to their polar ship to set sail for the Antarctic Peninsula.

Half Moon Island

Half Moon Island, the crescent-shaped island between Livingston and Greenwich Islands, is a potential stop that’s popular with Quark Expeditions guests who have an interest in fur seals, as explained in this video.

In addition to penguins and seals, an incredibly diverse bird population call this Island home including Antarctic terns, skuas, gulls, petrels and blue-eyed shags.

These are some of the highlights of the abundant islands near Antarctica.

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