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South Sandwich Islands


The remo­te South Sand­wich Islands are only very rare­ly visi­ted. We were more than lucky and even mana­ged a lan­ding on Saun­ders Island. As far as we know, it was the seventh only in the histo­ry of the island.

I mana­ged to get several 360 degree pan­or­amic images on Saun­ders Island and as far as I know, they are the first ones ever taken on the South Sand­wich Islands. You can find the pan­ora­mas at the end of the page. More pan­ora­mas on this web­site in the collec­tion of Ant­arc­tic Pan­ora­mas.

The South Sand­wich Islands are an activ vol­ca­nic arc of islands. They are part­ly south of 60° and then accord­in­gly in Ant­arc­tic Trea­ty area, others are north of that par­al­lel and are gover­ned tog­e­ther with South Geor­gia as a Bri­tish over­seas ter­ri­to­ry. Mount Micha­el on Saun­ders Island is one of several acti­ve vol­ca­noes the­re, it is likely to have a lava lake in its cen­tral cra­ter, one of few on the world. But the­re was of cour­se no chan­ce for us to see it. But what we did see was lar­ge parts of the slo­pes stea­ming at times. The slo­pes were fasci­na­ting in several ways, not only the steam, but also the dark, vol­ca­nic colour and the regu­lar ero­si­ve gul­lies cut in by meltwa­ter streams pro­vi­ded some stun­ning views.

Pen­gu­ins, main­ly Chin­straps, in lar­ge num­bers near the shore and fur­ther up the slo­pe. A bit fur­ther north, a lar­ge colo­ny in an amphi­theat­re-shaped val­ley could be seen from the ship. To our sur­pri­se, we also found a slight­ly lon­ly Mac­ca­ro­ni pen­gu­in and a leu­cistic Gen­too.

When we arri­ved in the very ear­ly morning, Saun­ders Island was initi­al­ly hid­den by low clouds and strong winds made any poten­ti­al lan­ding very unli­kely. But the cloud lifted, and the wind sta­bi­li­zed below 30 knots, so we gave it a try. The lar­ge drift ice fiel­ds in the area cer­tain­ly made it a bit easier by cal­ming the swell down, with is other­wi­se a per­ma­nent obsta­cle on tho­se expo­sed coasts. We found a sui­ta­ble chan­nel in the ice belt near the shore. So that was our chan­ce, and we took it. The chan­nel clo­sed once the last boats were on their way out – we had real­ly used our win­dow of oppor­tu­ni­ty, and it may be long until the next one comes!

We found lar­ge fiel­ds of den­se drift ice immedia­te­ly south of Saun­ders Island, and the visi­bi­li­ty went down again soon, so we set cour­se west, slight­ly to the north, to get out of the ice. We had cer­tain­ly had our share of luck in the South Sand­wich Islands, and pres­sing for more would most likely have been rather foo­lish, so rather than was­ting time, we hea­ded towards the South Ork­ney Islands and the Ant­arc­tic Pen­in­su­la. Due to the ice, we should not reach the for­mer, so it was Ele­phant Island that we reached after four days of sea after lea­ving the South Sand­wich Islands.

Pan­ora­men Saun­ders Island


last modification: 2014-05-14 · copyright: Rolf Stange