Where to see King Penguins in the wild

By Expeditions / 03 June 2016

Where to see King Penguins in the wild

Penguin watching is immense fun! Found only in the southern hemisphere, penguins are flightless birds that are full of character – and colourful too, especially for species such as the King penguin.

Penguin watching is immense fun! Found only in the southern hemisphere, penguins are flightless birds that are full of character – and colourful too, especially for species such as the King penguin. Kings are the second largest of the 17 species of penguins – and many consider them the most beautiful! They have a striking orange yellow patch on their beaks and both sides of the head, stretching down to their chests. Sleek and with a silvery grey back, Kings are the epitomy of elegance and truly befit their regal name. Along with Emperor Penguins, King Penguins are the ones most commonly portrayed by the media, often appearing in movies.

King penguins are sometimes confused with their larger cousin the Emperor, but they live in very different locations. Emperors are found to the far South and breed on the frigid fast ice surrounding the Antarctic continent, whereas Kings are found further north, exclusively in the sub-Antarctic islands – and they actually hate ice!


They are big! King penguins stand about 90 cm high, weighing in over 13 kg. Their chicks can grow even heavier than the parents with a downy brown plumage. Early explorers thought that king chicks were actually a separate species - the ‘woolly’ penguin! One quite unusual thing about King penguins is their unique breeding cycle, raising chicks twice in a three-year period, with the young taking a year to fledge. This means that king colonies are active year-round and no matter when you visit, there are checks present, young and old.

There are lots of them! King penguins can be found in very large colonies on sub-Antarctic islands such as Crozet, Prince Edward, Kerguelen, South Georgia and Macquarie Island. The total breeding population is estimated to be over 1,000,000 pairs.  Some colonies number in the hundreds of thousands. All of them completely unafraid of people. A wildlife holiday where King Penguins live will literally make you feel like you are on the set of your very own wildlife documentary!

To see Kings in the wild you need to hop on a cruise that includes some sub-Antarctic islands (on the regular Antarctic Peninsula cruises you will not encounter king penguins). Normally the best choice is a Falklands, South Georgia and Antarctica itinerary – alternatively a Ross Sea voyage with Macquarie Island. Such a penguin-watching holiday offers the bonus of taking you to some of the most spectacular places in the Southern Ocean – places that feature breathtaking scenery, mountains and glaciers and which are redolent with explorer history. It is 100 years this year since Shackleton’s legendary arrival and survival on South Georgia island.

When to go? It is the early period of summer, the onset of the breeding season, that is absolutely brilliant to visit South Georgia and when you can see overwhelming numbers of King penguins as well as other sub-Antarctic wildlife species.  South Georgia is also known as the ‘Serengeti of the South’. One of the world’s greatest wildlife sanctuaries, South Georgia should be on the ‘must list’ of every expedition traveller.  

Here are just a few suggestions for some great cruise expeditions where you can see beautiful king penguins: 

South Georgia Spring:

This expedition includes an unprecedented ten days exploring the majestic wilderness of South Georgia Island. See King Haakon Bay, where legendary explorer Shackleton and his team made landfall 100 years ago, Salisbury Plain, with its black sand beaches and staggering numbers of king penguins, the Specially Protected Area of Prion Island, where wandering albatross come to breed, and the impressive three-mile long fjord at Fortuna Bay are all among the highlights of this voyage.  Departing 15 October, prices for this 17 day adventure start at US$8995 per person.

Falklands, South Georgia & Antarctica Spring:

A photographic symposium features on this itinerary for all you budding wildlife photographers out there!  Several photographic experts will be on board to offer guidance and answer questions. Departing 31 October, prices for this 20 day adventure start at US$11,795.

Falkland Islands, South Georgia & Antarctica:

The inclusion of a flight to Port Stanley in this itinerary saves passengers almost two days at sea, allowing a shorter voyage without losing any of the classic locations.  You’ll be able to see albatross, rockhopper and Magellanic penguins and impressive colonies of up to 100,000 King Penguins before reaching the Antarctic Peninsula, with it’s stunning icebergs, humpback, minke and orca whales.  Departing 19 November, this 18 day adventure starts from US$11,795.

Classic South Georgia:

This small-ship expedition cruise to the Falkland Islands, South Georgia and Antarctica is perfectly timed to take best advantage of the spectacular snowy scenery and wildlife breeding activity during the early part of the Antarctic season. Visit St Andrews Bay, home to a massive breeding colony of the King Penguins, set against a dramatic glacier backdrop. Departing 24 October, this 20 day cruise from Ushuaia starts from US$9,380 twin share.

Falklands, South Georgia, Antarctica ex Puerto Madryn:

Meet at least six penguin species and combine the major Antarctic highlights in one voyage. Visit the wildlife-rich Falkland islands with their populations of rockhopper penguins and black-browed albatross along with majestic South Georgia, famed for its elephant seals, king penguins and wandering albatross. The expedition will also aim for a landing on the continent of Antarctica. Departing 30 October, this 20 day cruise from Ushuaia starts from US$9700.

South Georgia & Antarctica: Penguin Safari:

A little later in the season, this new 16 day expedition focusses on the jewels of the Antarctic: South Georgia and the Peninsula. Start conveniently from Buenos Aires. See incredible wildlife, including 30 breeding bird species and four penguin species. Follow in the footsteps of Shackleton on South Georgia and pause for a moment at his graveside. Save between 10% and 20% before 31 July. Departing 9 February 2017, this 20 day cruise from Ushuaia starts from US$14,125 twin share after discount.

For other trips, check out this South Georgia and Antarctica page.

Watching King Penguins is one of the most beautiful wildlife encounters you can imagine. And along the way, you’ll get to experience some truly remote and beautiful parts of the world. For more information on expedition cruises to some of the most wonderful travel destinations on the planet, visit the Expeditions Online website. 


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