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South Shetland Islands

The South Shetlands are a small chain of some 20 volcanic islands that runs parallel to the Antarctic Peninsula. Sheltered from the worst of the Antarctic weather, the islands provide the first taste of land after the heavy swells of the Drake Passage and are haven to countless sea-birds and marine mammals. Colonies of chinstrap and Adelie penguins nest alongside southern giant petrels, skuas and fur seals while whales patrol the channels against a backdrop of jagged mountains. The islands have long worked themselves into Antarctic lore and are a perfect introduction to the Antarctic Peninsula. Elephant Island needs little introduction, immortalised by the feats of Shackelton in his doomed “Endurance” expedition. Deception Island is arguably the most dramatic, a huge flooded caldera that harbours the remains of whaling camps destroyed by a series of volcanic eruptions. King George Island, largest of the South Shetlands, hosts a number of research stations as well as a small airstrip used in Antarctic fly-cruise voyages.