Fluctuations in Late Cretaceous climate were already influencing biotic change prior to the environmental upheaval at the Cretaceous – Paleogene (K–Pg) boundary, but their general nature, magnitude and timing remain controversial. A high-resolution dataset on terrestrially-derived palynomorphs is presented from the high southern palaeolatitudes that unlocks details of small-scale climate variability throughout this period of significant global change. Specifically, this is a quantitative spore and pollen analysis of an expanded uppermost Cretaceous to lowermost Paleogene (Maastrichtian – earliest Danian) shallow marine sedimentary succession from Seymour Island, off the northeastern tip of the Antarctic Peninsula, then (as now) located at ~ 65°S. Using nearest living relatives the first detailed vegetation, habitat and climate reconstruction is presented for the emergent volcanic arc at this time. On the coastal lowlands, a cool to warm temperate rainforest is envisaged growing in a riverine landscape, with both wet (river margin, pond) and relatively dry (interfluve, canopy gap) habitats. Diverse podocarps and southern beech trees grew alongside angiosperm herbs and shrubs in mean annual temperatures of ~ 10 – 15°C. Higher altitude araucarian forests gave way to open ericaceous heathland, beyond the tree line, in subalpine to alpine conditions with mean annual temperatures of a cold ~ 5 – 8°C. There is no exact modern botanical equivalent, but the closest modern flora is that of the Andes of southern Chile and Argentina. Maastrichtian climate is shown to have fluctuated from cool, humid conditions, through a rapid warming ~ 2 million years prior to the K–Pg transition, followed by cooling during the earliest Danian, a trend supported by previous work on this interval.