Fortuna Bay: Key information

  • Home to a 20,000 strong king penguin colony on a beautiful grassy glacial plain
  • The chance to follow the historic Shackleton Walk to Stromness Harbour
  • A busy elephant seal breeding location with a historic sealer's cave
  • Latitude 54°07'S, Longitude 36°48'W

Follow the Shackleton Walk from Fortuna Bay with Swoop

About Fortuna Bay

Fortuna Bay

Viewpoint over Fortuna Bay's king penguin colony

Fortuna Bay sits at the end of a 6km fjord on South Georgia's northeast coast. Its human history is intimately tied to the exploitation of the island's wildlife; the bay takes its name from the Fortuna, the first whaling ship to operate from Grytviken in the early years of the 20th century. Before then, it was a regular haunt for sealers looking for elephant seal oil. A 2019 archaeological dig in a cave near the landing point for zodiacs revealed evidence of long occupation, including clay pipes, burnt bones and charcoal behind a rough stone wall built for shelter.

The bay is surrounded by alpine peaks and glaciers, with a plain of tussock, fellfield and grassland that is home to another one of the incredible king penguin colonies that South Georgia excels in.

The Shackleton Walk

Fortuna Bay

View of Crean Lake on the Shackleton Walk

The western side of Fortuna Bay is marked by the crags of Breakout Ridge: it was from here on 20 May 1916 that Ernest Shackleton, Tom Crean and Frank Worsley heard the steam whistle of Stromness whaling station and knew that their dramatic rescue journey to save the stranded crew of the Endurance was almost at an end. 'Never had any one of us heard sweeter music,' Shackleton wrote of its sound.

Today, recreating the final leg of the hike from Fortuna to Stromness is a popular activity for visitors. The 6km walk takes 3–4 hours and is a great way to connect with this famous part of polar history – albeit under rather better circumstances than experienced by its original participants.

Fortuna Bay

Descending to Stromness on the final stage of the Shackleton Walk

The walk starts at Worsley Beach on the eastern edge of Fortuna Bay and climbs quickly through a tussocky landscape to a wide ridge of gravel and shale. From here there are wonderful views to Crean Lake. This lake was frozen in 1916 and only 'discovered' when Tom Crean put his foot through the ice. Walkers skirt the shore to climb gently towards two tarns. This is the highest point of the walk and is frequently snow-covered at the start of the season.

From here, follow the scree down to a knoll to where Shackleton, Crean and Worsley were rewarded with their first glimpse of Stromness. It is a shallow descent from here to the grassy valley: thankfully it's not necessary to precariously climb down the waterfall as the exhausted men did, not realising there was an easier option. On the valley floor, braided streams lead over the gravel past a gentoo penguin colony to Stromness beach.

For safety reasons, it is not possible to visit the ruined whaling station itself, so zodiacs wait on the beach to take walkers back to their ship. 

Wildlife at Fortuna Bay

Fortuna Bay

King penguins at Fortuna Bay

Fortuna Bay is home to around 7,000 breeding pairs of king penguins – including chicks this adds up to around 20,000 birds during the visitor's season. Some visitors find the colony here a more engaging experience than the overwhelming sensations of larger colonies like St Andrews Bay. 

There is a small gentoo penguin rookery near the zodiac landing site, while light-mantled albatross nest in the cliffs above. Pintail ducks are a common site on the glacial outwash streams on the plain. 

The beach is a popular haul-out for elephant seals. Fur seals were previously unknown here, but have started to arrive in large numbers over the last 20 years: a sign of the massive population growth the species is experiencing on South Georgia.   

Visitor guidelines for Fortuna Bay

All visits to Fortuna Bay and the Shackleton Walk must be made in accordance with the site visitor management plan produced by the Government of South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands. 

Zodiacs land on the western shore of the bay, known as Whistler's Cove. From here it is 1.5km walk to the king penguin colony. It is forbidden to approach within 10m of the edge of the colony. Take care not to disturb moulting penguins on their enforced four-week fast, or nesting terns on the glacial outwash plain. Be aware of seals hidden in the tussock, It is forbidden to take objects from the sealer's cave and care must be taken to avoid damaging the rock wall.

NOTE: Ship itineraries and visits to specific landing sites in South Georgia can never be guaranteed. Plans can change as fast as the polar weather: decisions on which locations to visit are always made on the day by the ship's captain and expedition leader.

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