The South Orkney Islands

Utterly remote, rarely visited. A tiny archipelago 500 miles south of the Polar Front.

The windy South Orkneys Islands are situated alone in the middle of one of the roughest oceans in the world, comprise a land area of 622 square kilometres and rise up to 1265 m / 4150 feet at Mount Nivea (named after snow petrel, Pagodroma nivea) on Coronation Island, which was first scaled in 1955-56. Being some 800 km / 500 miles south of the Polar Front (the Antarctic Convergence), Antarctica cruises sailing to these remote and rarely visited shores come upon a "true" polar landscape.

Approximately 85 per cent of these mountainous islands are glaciated, and polar sea ice completely insulates the tiny archipelago from the outside world between May and December. Even in the Antarctic summer, between mid-December and mid-March, the remains of pack ice drifting from the Weddell Sea can obstruct the coastline and inhibit zodiac landings. Large, magnificent icebergs can be encountered off the shores of South Orkney, some of them originating locally as glaciers discharge their loads of glacier ice into the sea, others blown here by winds and sea currents. The climate is cold and wet; cloud cover is over 80 per cent in summer. On average, the sun shines less than two hours per day.

Laurie Island is home to Orcadas station, an Argentinean base and the site of the first post office built in the Antarctic in 1904. There are wonderful views of the surrounding glaciers to enjoy.

Whaling in the South Orkneys began in January 1912. The captain who took the first whale, Petter Sørlle, surveyed the South Orkneys in 1912-13 and named Signy Island after his wife.

Floating factory ships visited the archipelago until 1914-15, and then again from 1920-30. Tioga, the first ship to undertake open-ocean whaling in Antarctica, was wrecked at Signy in 1913. A Norwegian shore station opened on Signy in 1920-21.

Start planning your trip to Antarctica

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