Gold Harbour: Key information

  • Observe a colony of 25,000 pairs of king penguins and large numbers of elephant seals
  • Gaze in awe at the Bertrab Glacier and snowy peaks of Salvesen Mountains 
  • Hike to Gold Head to look down on soaring light-mantled albatross
  • Latitude 54°37'S, Longitude 35°56'W

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About Gold Harbour

A wide view of Gold Harbour in South Georgia. A wide bay with a beach dotted with king penguins and fur seals, and a huge glacier covering the mountains

The hike to Gold Head viewpoint above Gold Harbour

Gold Harbour is a small bay enclosed by the foothills of the Salvesen Mountains and is one of the loveliest landing sites in all of South Georgia. The extraordinary Bertrab Glacier hanging from its sheer cliffs and backed by the massed ranks of snowy peaks is an unforgettable sight.

Those able to visit on a dawn landing might surmise that the harbour takes its name from the glacier's golden appearance in the soft morning light. It's a poetic notion, but the truth is more prosaic: the German Antarctic Expedition found iron pyrites ('fool's gold') in the rocks here in 1911. A geological survey was carried out the following year in the hope of finding minerals to exploit.

While Bertrab Glacier awes visitors with its beauty, it also tells of South Georgia's fragility in the face of climate change. As late as the 1986 the snout of the glacier reached the sea. Its dramatic retreat to the cliffs has left an outwash plain with a series of lagoons around which the current king penguin residents congregate.

Wildlife at Gold Harbour

Male beachmaster elephant seal roars on the beach at Gold Harbour on South Georgia

A beachmaster elephant seal at Gold Harbour

Gold Harbour has an abundance of wildlife. Its noisiest residents are the 26,000 pairs of king penguins and their chicks, who form a noisy mass on the grassy plain stretching from the beach up to the hills.

The beach itself is thick with elephant seals and their pups throughout the season. Fur seals haul out at Gold Harbour but don't typically mate here in such numbers as elsewhere, although as South Georgia's fur seal population continues to grow this may change.

A few hundred pairs of Gentoo penguins nest in the tussac grass here, along with brown skuas, white-chinned petrels and (on the steeper slopes) light-mantled albatross. More exposed rocky area are haunts for blue-eyed shags and kelp gulls. Antarctic terns and South Georgia pintails also breed here.

Swoop Says background image

Loli says

The king penguins at St Andrews Bay & Salisbury Plain are incredible, but seeing them at Gold Harbour at sunrise is the absolute favourite South Georgia experience for me.

Loli Figueroa Polar Specialist

Visitor guidelines for Gold Harbour

All visits to Gold Harbour must be made in accordance with the site visitor management plan for the site produced by the Government of South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands.

If possible, the best time to visit Gold Harbour is at dawn, to make the most of the extraordinary light on the glaciers. Landings are made at the northern end of the bay, from where it is possible to walk along the beach to the king penguin colony. At the height of summer, the density of animals on the beach may make this impossible: if this is the case guides will mark a safe route through the tussock to a ridge to observe the colony. It is forbidden to approach within 10m of the edge of the colony. The tern colony behind the ridge must not be approached.

The hill walk to Gold Head is very rewarding. As well as giving wonderful scenic views, you can also look down on the light-mantled albatrosses nesting here and watch them come and go. Whenever walking through the tussock at Gold Harbour, keep strictly to the path marked out by your guides, which will have been carefully chosen to avoid the burrows of white-chinned petrels who nest here.

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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A wandering albatross sits on its nest amid the tussac grass on Prion Island, South Georgia

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