Salisbury Plain

A faraway land in the South Atlantic


Salisbury Plain, South Georgia Island, Antarctica

GPS: -54.064887689458, -37.305908715831

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Facing one of the harshest climates on earth, Salisbury Plain is an isolated region south of the Atlantic Ocean. It is located not far from the Antarctic Peninsula, the southernmost continent in the world (it is also nicknamed the White Continent). Salisbury Plain is more precisely located on the north coast of the island of South Georgia, a British Overseas Territory 1,500 kilometres east of the Falkland Islands and over 2,000 kilometres from the “Tierra del Fuego” of Ushuaia (Argentina). With its almost inhuman living conditions, this polar transition area is one of the most isolated places on the planet and protects one of the richest environments in terms of biodiversity.

The archipelago of South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands was discovered by the English merchant Anthony de la Roché and the British navigator James Cook in the 17th and 18th centuries. At the beginning of the 20th century, whaling stations were set up and created an industry for hunting whales, seals and sperm whales to produce oil (used in particular for public lighting in the cities of the first industrialized country). Cetacean populations are dangerously declining and this commercial practice is finally banned in 1965. As for the hunting of sub-Antarctic fur seals, it was abolished in 1912, otherwise the species would certainly no longer exist today. Since 1833, Argentina has claimed possession of these southern lands occupied by the Spanish and then the British. At the head of the Argentinean country, a military junta led by Leopoldo Galtieri decided to invade the Falkland Islands in 1982. The leader causes a rupture in diplomatic relations with the United Kingdom which turns to the Falklands War. This quickly ended with the reconquest of the Falkland Islands by Great Britain, then governed by Margaret Thatcher, precipitating the fall of the Argentine dictatorship a few months later. Despite everything, tensions still remain around the sovereignty of the Falkland Islands between these two countries.

Every year about 2,000 people go on expeditions to Salisbury Plain, a remarkable natural site made up of two enormous glaciers (Grace and Lucas). This coastal plain, with its constant flow of animals, is the permanent residence of several tens of thousands of king penguins (the second largest penguin species in the world after the emperor penguin). Long preserved from human activity, this southern region is also a breeding and nesting ground for many varieties of birds and marine mammals.

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  • The extraordinary natural landscapes of the archipelago (glaciers, icebergs, fjords, rocky beaches and coastal plains); a pristine and prolific wildlife ecosystem
  • Animal viewing sites: Elsehul Bay (sea lions); Right Whale Bay (black sand beach and former whaling site); Hercules Bay (penguins); Royal Bay (King Penguins and Ross Glacier); Gold Harbour (gentoo penguins and albatrosses)
  • The rocky bays of Cooper Bay and King Haakon Bay (King Haakon Bay is named after King Haakon VII of Norway)
  • The countless colonies of Royal penguins on Salisbury Plain
  • Populations of marine mammals (whales, elephant seals, seals, sub-Antarctic fur seals…) and endemic bird species (including albatrosses)
  • Pebble beaches, grassy hills and rock formations; Kelp forests (underwater tower forests composed of a kind of algae)
  • Albatross Island and Prion Island; the former whaling stations of Grytviken and Strømnes
  • South Georgia Museum, the Norwegian Lutheran Churc and the Grytviken cemetery (burial place of Sir Ernest Shackleton, a former British explorer)
  • Crossing the icy waters of the Scotia Sea; stargazing in the absence of light pollution
  • South Georgia has 11 mountains over 2,000 metres above sea level and a total of 160 glaciers. Some of them are retreating at the rate of one metre per day due to global warming.
  • Contrary to appearances, glaciers are home to as much biodiversity as regions with temperate climates (including microbes, bacteria and micro-organisms).
  • The British explorer Ernest Shackleton led several expeditions to Antarctica at the beginning of the 20th century (his grave lies in the former whaling station of Grytviken). During one of his voyages, which were supposed to take him across this white continent by sea on an epic journey of almost 3,000 kilometres, his ship Endurance became stuck in the ice in January 1915. It sank in September after the ice damaged and punctured the hull. Forced to abandon the ship, Shackleton and his crew managed the feat of surviving 22 months of wandering in appalling conditions before being rescued. Only three people died during this epic that marks forever the Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration (1895-1922).
  • The king penguin can reach almost a metre in height and weigh around 20 kilograms. It moults before the breeding season to regenerate its plumage. The plumage plays a fundamental role, as much to ensure its nuptial parade as to withstand the polar cold, snowstorms or icy water. Each female lays only one egg which she incubates in turn with the male between their legs to keep it warm. While one incubates the egg, the other adult is responsible for searching for food at sea during several days.
  • With global warming, the population of king penguins is facing several threats to its natural habitat. Its food, consisting of fish, squid and krill (small crustaceans that whales and penguins love) is becoming increasingly scarce near the coasts of South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands. Royal penguins therefore have no choice but to swim ever greater distances (several hundred kilometres) to reach the Antarctic Convergence, an area rich in food and a meeting place between cold and warm waters. According to specialists, this endangered species could see 70% of its population disappear by the end of the 21st century.
  • Rats escaping from the ships of the first seal hunters at the end of the 18th century colonized part of the archipelago. Constituting a growing threat to the colonies of nesting birds, they are the subject of an eradication plan by the Governor of the Falkland Islands.
  • Only accessible by sea, South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands requires several days of boat crossing, in the form of organized expeditions (it is nevertheless possible to reach the Falkland Islands by plane from South America to reduce sailing time). The weather conditions in this polar region are likely to increase your time at sea.
  • It is strongly recommended that you travel through a company approved by the International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators (IAATO). The aim of this organisation is to ensure that visitors do not impact on the fragile Antarctic environment. It is committed to limiting the number of people per landing to 100 and ensures the treatment of waste generated locally by the tourism activity.
  • The southern summer is the best time to visit this remote land, between November and February.
  • It is more than advisable to take warm and waterproof clothing that can protect you from the wind. Wearing boots, sunglasses and sunscreen will also be very useful on site.
  • As on the Galápagos Islands, wild animals are very curious and not very fearful of humans. They like to approach visitors passing through their icy land to greet them. Be sure to keep a distance of 5 metres to avoid contact with them (they are particularly vulnerable to germs and diseases carried by humans).

Where to eat

  • Victory Bar
    (English retro pub)
  • The Waterfront Kitchen Café
    (friendly atmosphere)
  • Malvina House
    (popular restaurant)

Where to go

  • Falkland Islands Museum and...
    (national historical museum)
  • Gypsy Cove
    (wildlife viewing area)
  • Volunteer Point
    (off the beaten track)

Where to stay

  • Lafone House
    (pleasant guest room)
  • Bennett House
    (cosy hostel)
  • Malvina House Hotel
    (modern place to stay)