Stromness Harbour: Key information
- Historic whaling station that marks the end point of Shackleton's epic hike across South Georgia
- Beaches dense with fur seals amid bleached whalebones and the rusting propellors of old ships
- Scenic walks to Shackleton's Waterfall or Leith Harbour
- Latitude 54°09'S, Longitude 36°02'W
About Stromness Harbour
The whaling station at Stromness Harbour began operations in 1907, just three years after the start of whaling in South Georgia. Initially, a permanently moored factory ship processed the catch: the many whale bones still littering the beaches are testament to the wastefulness of the industry.
In 1919 along Stromness process 529 blue whales and fin whales, humpbacks having been driven to commercial extinction by then. When whale oil prices crashed in 1931/32, whaling ceased and Stromness became a ship repair station for neighbouring the whalers at neighbouring Leith Harbour. It closed permanently in 1961. Safety concerns mean that the station is no longer accessible to visitors, but zodiac cruises here are a tremendous scenic option.
Stromness played a key role in polar history as the end point of Ernest Shackleton's epic South Georgia crossing to rescue the crew of the Endurance. On 20 May 1916 he, Frank Worsley and Tom Crean ('a terrible trio of scarecrows' in Worsley's account) knocked in exhaustion on the door of the Manager's Villa here to rejoin the world after 17 months of their Antarctic purgatory.
At the end of 2022, a team from the South Georgia Heritage Trust visited Stromness to investigate the removal of hazardous material from the station and examine the feasibility of stabilising or restoring certain key historic buildings, including the Manager’s Villa.
Walks around Stromness
Those looking to walk around Stromness typically do so as part of the Shackleton Walk from Fortuna Bay. It is quite possible to do this walk in reverse, but the landing site here presents several other options.
Those pressed for time can take the walk to Shackleton's Waterfall on the far edge of the valley. This is the waterfall than Shackleton, Crean and Worsley precariously climbed down on their walk when it was iced up, unaware in their extreme fatigue that an easier path was available. The walk is 2km in each direction along the braided streams of the valley.
A rewarding alternative is to walk along the north shore of the bay, cutting up and over the headland to Leith Harbour: once the busiest whaling station in South Georgia. The walk ends just short of the station, below the gun emplacement installed to protect the harbour during the Second World War.
Wildlife at Stromness Harbour
Fur seals are by far the dominant species at Stromness Harbour. When approaching by zoadic they can be seen colonising the decayed buildings of the whaling station. In November and December, the sheer density of adult males claiming their breeding territories can make it impossible to land here. By the new year, they have been replaced by a multitude of pups, turning the sea into 'fur seal soup' and lolloping across the tussock.
The beach is also popular with elephant seals. Further inland, there is a small gentoo penguin colony, along with nesting brown skuas and Antarctic terns.
Visitor guidelines for Stromness Harbour
All walks around Stromness Harbour must be made in accordance with the site visitor management plan produced by the Government of South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands.
It is forbidden to approach within 200m of the ruined whaling station at Stromness, including from the sea. This is due to the risk of flying debris and possible exposure to airborne asbestos. Zodiac landings are made on northern end of the beach near the massive rusting ship's propellors that mark the 200m perimeter from the station buildings.
When walking up from the beach, watch out for muddy elephant seal wallows, and do not stray too close to the gentoo penguin colony.
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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