Even in Antarctica, one of the least explored places on Earth, you’ll find evidence of centuries of human activity. The Antarctic cold preserves everything: abandoned whaling stations, scientific outposts and explorers’ camps appear exactly as they were left.
An exciting aspect of adventure travel is the chance to experience what adventurers from days gone by experienced – to walk in their shoes, so to speak. Today, we can visit and explore the 7th continent in relative comfort and safety, considering what it historically took to accomplish a trip to Antarctica.
Amongst the many landings you can make during an Antarctic expedition, you’ll want to be prepared for these 5 historic sites.
1. Point Wild, Elephant Island
Quark Expeditions Sea Spirit approaching Point Wild, Antarctica
Remote and barren Elephant Island is where Sir Ernest Shackleton and his crew found refuge after their vessel, Endurance, was crushed by ice in the Weddell Sea. After camping two nights at Cape Valentine, the crew relocated to a place that provided protection from falling rock and the raging sea. Realizing that there was no hope of a rescue, Shackleton and five men sailed an open lifeboat 800 miles (1,287 km) to South Georgia.
Frank Wild was left in charge of the camp, and although the crew called the area Cape Wild, it was later renamed Point Wild. For four long months, the men struggled to survive before Shackleton returned to rescue them. Incredibly, no hands were lost in this amazing story of honor and endurance. Adventure travelers on the Antarctica East and West: Peninsula in Depth trip can see exactly what early explorers were up against when they visit Point Wild on their Antarctic expedition.
2. Grytviken, South Georgia
Grytviken, South Georiga from above. Photo Credit; Dr Sam Crimmin
South Georgia was a stopping point for many Antarctic expeditions during the Heroic Age of Exploration (from the end of the 19th century to 1917). Often referred to as the Galapagos of the Poles, the island is teeming with wildlife, including king penguins, elephant and whale seals, and many bird species. Quark Expeditions’ Falklands, South Georgia, and Antarctica itinerary gives travelers a chance to explore South Georgia to view the wildlife and explore impressive historic sites.
Once a significant whaling outpost, South Georgia honors this heritage by maintaining the Whaler’s Church in Grytviken. While visiting the church, you can pay your respects at Shackleton’s grave. He fell in love with the island, and after he died of a heart attack here in 1921, his wife requested that he be buried in the place he was happiest.
3. Whalers Bay, Deception Island
In the South Shetland Islands archipelago, horseshoe-shaped Deception Island is the caldera of an active volcano. Reputed to have one of the safest harbors in Antarctica, the island was a perfect location for fur sealing and whaling in years past. Today, it’s a popular expedition stopping point. The island has also been home to many temporary scientific and research sites since the last permanent one was destroyed by volcanic activity in 1969.
Some believe the island to be haunted. Abandoned scientific research stations, airplane hangars, whaling operations and military bases scattered around the island fuel that speculation. The only permanent residents of Deception Island are in the cemetery, which was buried in the same volcanic eruption that destroyed the science station.
4. Saunders Island
View from top of colony at Saunders Island. Photo: Neil Spalding
Discovered by Captain James Cook in 1775, Saunders Island was decimated after he reported back to Britain on its abundant wildlife. Fur seals almost completely disappeared, and both elephant seal and whale populations drastically declined.
The island is also the site of an active stratovolcano (a conical volcano built by many layers of lava and ash) called Mount Michael, which stands 3,248 feet (990 meters). It last erupted in 2012, and the crater at its summit is thought to contain a lava lake, one of only a few in the world.
5. Brown Station, Paradise Bay
Paradise Bay (also known as Paradise Harbour) is a large sea inlet protected by three islands. A popular stopping-off point on Quark’s Antarctic Express: Crossing the Circle expedition, the area is home to Base Brown (Brown Station), one of 13 Antarctic research stations operated by Argentina. Walk up Punta Proa, the rocky promontory, for a spectacular view of the bay, which is ringed by mountains and often filled with pack ice.
On shore, a colony of gentoo penguins goes about its business, oblivious to the tourists who’ve come so far to see it. For a truly spectacular look at Paradise Bay and Brown Station, view our 360° VR video and use your mouse or swipe your finger to explore the entire landscape.
To learn about Antarctic history in person and to find out more about Antarctic expeditions available to adventurous travelers, contact an experienced Polar Travel Advisers today.