abandoned whaling station; settlement on the island of South Georgia–South Sandwich Islands

Grytviken is a former whaling station on South Georgia Island. It was founded in 1904 as it had the best harbour on this storm-wracked island, with flat ice-free terrain and a fresh water supply. It became South Georgia's principal station and settlement, and a port-of-call for ships heading to Antarctica. The name is Swedish for "Pot Bay" as the settlers found big pots in which earlier parties had boiled up seal fat to extract the oil. 20th-century whaling destroyed the whale populations, and Grytviken was abandoned in 1966. It now has no resident population, but a few staff stay here in summer to manage visitors.

Get in edit

1 King Edward Point is the landing stage and the capital of South Georgia and the Sandwich Islands, 1 km east of Grytviken along a dirt track. All vessels must have prior permission to visit, and there's a charge for each visitor, see SGSSI for details. Vessels visiting SGSSI for the first time must check in here for a physical inspection. King Edward Point Research Station and the post office are next to the landing stage.

Get around edit

You can easily walk around the settlement, although portions of the derelict whaling station and the base on King Edward Point are off-limits to visitors. The hills around the station are also worth exploring for more intrepid visitors, but the terrain can be rough.

See edit

Old whaling boats in Grytviken Harbour
  • 1 Grytviken Church. Oct-Feb. This was built from prefab sections and completed in 1913 as the Norwegian Lutheran Church, whose pastor regretted that “religious life does not wax strong amongst the whalers and left much to be desired”. It was variously a library, cinema, food store, and concert hall, but cleared for Shackleton's coffin to lie in state. It was renovated 1996-98 and in 2013 became Anglican (Church of England). It remains active and occasionally holds services, for example at Christmas.    
  • 2 South Georgia Museum. Oct-Feb. This is in the former whaling station manager's house. It has exhibits about the exploration, whaling and natural history of the island. There's an extensive online collection. Free.    
  • 3 The whaling station was abandoned in 1966, to moulder in jaunty hues of rust-orange. Use the museum's map (available online) to see which large structure was for which step in dismembering the whales.
  • 4 Grytviken Cemetery predates the church, opening in 1902 for perished whalers, but previous burials are from 1846. The most famous grave is of Ernest Shackleton (1874-1922) who navigated a small boat from Elephant Island to bring help to his marooned men, but on a later expedition he died at South Georgia. Also interred are the ashes of Frank Wild (1873-1939), his deputy who remained in charge of the marooned men, and who was also on that last expedition. A shoe-string affair, it tried to continue south after the loss of Shackleton but was forced back by thick ice, lack of key equipment and muddled objectives. Wild's ashes lay forgotten in a vault in Johannesburg until traced and re-interred here in 2011. A further grave is of Félix Artuso, an Argentine submarine Petty Officer shot dead in the 1982 British recapture of South Georgia. He already had been taken prisoner, but a trigger-twitchy Briton thought he was trying to sabotage his submarine.
  • King Edward Point Research Station (by KEP landing stage). This is the island's principal British Antarctic Survey base, the other is on Bird Island. With a population of 44 in summer and 12 in winter, it also houses the SGSSI Government Officer and Post Office. The station's main interests are fishery and habitat protection. It was refurbished in 2001 when most older buildings were lost, but they preserved Discovery House of 1925 and the Gaol of 1912.    
  • 5 Hope Point is the end of the track east of King Edward Point. There's a memorial cairn to Sir Ernest Shackleton, erected by his crew in 1922. Watch out for fur seals, which may be aggressive, and elephant seals - over 100 are born hereabouts in Oct/Nov.

Do edit

Touring the whaling station ruins
  • 1 Gull Lake is reached by a short hike up the track south of the settlement; it's now a reservoir driving a hydroelectric power plant. Nice views, though the terns can get stroppy and dive-bomb you.
  • Hike to Maiviken, a small cove across the hills to the north. The path is straightforward but some sections are a game of hopscotch across the grass tussocks above the mud - tiring out of proportion to the 3.5 km distance, allow 2-3 hours each way. You might want to turn around at the saddle of the hill, or have a Zodiac pick you up at Maiviken. There are three small landing coves here: please use Poa Cove to avoid disturbing the gentoo penguins in Tortula Cove, and at times the fur seals render all the beaches inaccessible. The walk is graded Green - there must be at least one staff member per 20 visitors, and no more than 100 visitors.
  • Clean yourself and kit before moving to another site on the island, to avoid cross-contamination of seeds or micro-organisms. Two foreign weeds particularly needing control are Bittercress (Cardamine flexuosa) and Pearlwort (Sagina procumbens) - you must stay out of areas where these persist to avoid spreading them.

Buy edit

The gift shop in the museum sells books of local interest, posters and other souvenirs. British pounds, Falklands pounds, euros and US dollars are accepted, as are Visa and Mastercard (but not Amex).

The post office is open upon request, 1 km away at King Edward Point, and has postcards, stamps, first day covers, South Georgia coins and a few SGSSI government publications for sale.

Eat edit

His last voyage

Shackleton: "What is it I ought to give up?" Dr Macklin: "Chiefly alcohol, Boss." A few moments later Shackleton suffered his final heart attack and died in the early hours of 5 Jan 1922, on his ship anchored at South Georgia.

Ernest Shackleton's grave

It had been 20 May 1916 when Shackleton, Worsley and Crean staggered into Stromness whaling station with a story to astound the world. Rescue parties saved his three men south side of the island, the bulk of his expedition marooned on Elephant Island, and a third group on Ross Island. They returned to Britain to join the First World War: Shackleton wasn't accepted into the army because of his heart, and rattled around the lecture circuit and on government overseas missions. Eventually he won private financial backing for another Antarctic expedition, which sailed in Sept 1921. In Rio de Janeiro he had a heart attack but refused examination and pressed on to South Georgia to die. His body was embalmed and sent home on another ship via Montevideo, where they learned his widow's wishes for him to be buried on South Georgia; and so Shackleton about-turned to lie here.

You must bring all your own food, but you may not bring fresh food ashore: chocolates and toffees are okay.

Don't eat the wildlife (any edible reindeer meat has already been scoffed), and don't feed it either. There's nothing here that wants to eat you.

Drink edit

  • The bar at King Edward Point is only for staff.
  • As in any cold, arduous climate, only take alcohol once you're safely back aboard your ship for the night.
  • However there is one honourable exception: it's become the custom to drink a toast at Shackleton's grave, but sparing a morsel to splash on it. It doesn't matter what you drink, both schnapps and sake have a tradition among whalers, but byob. "Mackinlay's Shackleton Blended Malt" is a modern Scotch blend by Whyte & Mackay replicating a whisky taken on Shackleton's 1907-09 Nimrod expedition. Many supplies were left behind at the base hut on Ross Island, but only in 2006 was their stash of whisky and brandy discovered there.

Sleep edit

Visitors sleep aboard their ship. Staying ashore overnight anywhere in SGSSI makes it an expedition, requiring expensive prior approval.

Connect edit

There is no mobile phone signal. You may be able to use your ship's satellite phone.

There is a postbox by the museum, and stamps and postcards can be bought in the gift shop. Mail will reach most destinations in two or three weeks. Mail can also be sent from the post office at King Edward Point.

Stay safe edit

Grytviken cinema has closed
  • Several areas are off limits because of unsafe old buildings or to avoid disturbing wildlife. Pay careful attention to the briefing before your group sets out: transgressors may be busted off future shore excursions.
  • Selfie-sticks are a remarkable example of convergent evolution. If a fur seal charges you for encroaching, use the stick to tickle its whiskers: they seem to interpret this as the whisker of a superior seal that should be deferred to. If a tern attacks, hold the stick above your head and it will savage this instead of your scalp, while you retreat away from its nest.

Go next edit

This city travel guide to Grytviken is a usable article. It has information on how to get there and on restaurants and hotels. An adventurous person could use this article, but please feel free to improve it by editing the page.