When many people think of penguins and icebergs they think of Antarctica. But much of what we see in nature documentaries is not in Antarctica at all. It's in the sub-Antarctic islands surrounding the frozen continent. In fact, many of the species of penguins and other marine life are to be found only on these islands. Often there are unique species only found on one sub-Antarctic Island. Basically, all of these islands are protected as nature reserves.

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The Subantarctic Zone

  • Extent: Approx. Between 46° and 60° latitude south of the Equator (Definitions Vary)
  • Countries With Sub-Antarctic Islands: New Zealand, United Kingdom, Australia, France, South Africa, And Norway (Yes Norway!)

We will discuss only some of the more notable islands.

South Georgia Island

The largest Sub-Antarctic Island is the South Georgia Island. This island is one of the favorites of Sir David Attenborough (famous for his BBC nature documentaries). This is a British Overseas Territory and is home to an abundance of wildlife. This island has seen intensive conservation efforts that have seen its reindeer culled and its invasive rodent population exterminated. The island is dominated by imposing rugged mountains with massive glaciers flowing into the sea. It is home to the King Penguin, the fur seal, and the elephant seal, and many, many more sea birds.

Falkland Islands

The Falklands was the scene of the Anglo-Agrentine Falkland Island War that Agrentina lost. If one considers these islands to be sub-antarctic, then they are perhaps the only sub-antarctic islands with a permanent population. Consequently, they are also the only islands you can fly to with regular commercial flights and stay on the islands in a hotel or guesthouse.

  • Population: 3,400
  • Wildlife: 63 Species Of Birds Breed Here (Including Penguins), Elephant Seals And Fur Seals
  • Main Settlement: Stanley

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Bouvet Island (In Norwegian Bouvetøya)

This is a truly dramatic island and it is 93% glaciated! It is surrounded by truly harsh seas and has no protected harbor or cove on which to land. Consequently, landing here is truly difficult. It is a volcanic island consisting of the top of the volcano jutting out of the sea. Three species of penguin are to be found on this island, the macaroni penguin and, to a lesser extent, chinstrap and Adélie penguins. In addition, there are scores of other sea birds visiting and breeding on the island.

Bouvet Island: The Facts

  • Annexed By Norway: 1928
  • World Record: The World's Most Remote Island
  • Size: 19 Sq. Miles
  • Macaroni Penguin: Most Abundant Penguin Approx. 18 Million

How To Visit The Sub-Antarctic Islands

Basically, the only way to visit these remote, protected, and unique islands is by cruise ship. These cruises are not cheap but they are totally worth it for those with the money, a passion for nature, and tolerance of the cold. Remember that most of these islands are protected and are UNESCO World Heritage Listed. There are typically limits on how many people can go ashore (and indeed if they can go ashore), where people can go and how close they can get to the animals.

Tours By Heritage Expeditions

Heritage Expeditions offer tours of New Zealand's sub-antarctic islands including trips around some of New Zealand's non-sub-antarctic islands. This company sticks close to New Zealand.

  • Expedition Duration: 7-17 Days
  • Islands Visited: The Chatham Islands, Snares Islands, Cambell Islands, Auckland Islands
  • Animals Seen: Penguins, Seals, Whales, Albatrosses, Many Sea Birds

Tours By Quark Expeditions

This company offers a number of tours leaving from Ushuaia, Argentina and offers cruises to the Falkland Islands (they are home to many penguins), the South Georiga Islands, and the Antarctic Peninsula. This is one of the main tour companies and they also offer expeditions to many other locations in the Arctic including the Canadian and Russian High Arctic, Greenland, and Svalbard (also part of Norway).

  • Expedition Duration: 20 Days (Depending On The Expedition)
  • Cost: Starting At Around $15,000
  • Wildlife Seen: Penguins, Whales, Seals, And Many Sea Birds

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Tours By Aurora Expeditions

Like Quark Expeditions, Aurora Expeditions offers a variety of tours around the Sub Antarctic islands including the Falkland Islands, South Georgia Islands, and the Antarctic Peninsula. These are some of the truly epic tours of the sub-Antarctic Islands.

  • Expedition Duration: 17-25 Days
  • Costs: Ranging From $15,500 To $25,500

Tours By Polar Cruises

One of the few sub-Antarctic cruises to visit Bouvet Island is Polar Cruises. They offer cruises to a range of islands. Departing from Argentia, the itinerary stops off at the South Shetland Islands, the South Sandwich Islands, Bouvet Island, Gough Island, the Tristan da Cunha archipelago (also populated but outside of the Sub-Antarctic zone), St. Helena (where Napoleon was exiled to and died) and finally Ascension Island. Polar Cruises also offers a range of scenic flights over Antarctica and an expedition to the South Pole.

  • Duration Of Expedition: 30 Days
  • Cost Of Expedition To The South Pole: Up To $100,000

In short, exploring the sub-Antarctic is one of the experiences few in this world get to enjoy and experience. It's a chance to see some of the remotest and most inhospitable parts of the world untouched by the hand of man and teeming with life.

Next: 12 Things We Won't See Again On Cruises By The Year 2030