Category Archives: South Georgia Island

Traces of Shackleton

After several days in South Georgia loosing ourselves amidst the vibrant wildlife that has to be seen to be believed we have had a couple of days at sea dodging heavy ice that has successfully fended off our attempts to land on the South Orkney Islands and kept us on a merry chase through rafts of ice until we finally manoeuvred our way to the bleak rocky shores of Elephant Island.

While on South Georgia we visited the grave of Earnest Shackleton and his right hand man Frank Wild who was interred next to the boss just days before we arrived at Grytviken. Strangely enough old Frank ended up falling off the face of the planet after being a central figure in the exploration of the Southern continent. In fact he ended up as a local barfly in South Africa and his ashes were recently discovered in an undistinguished grave …. When they were finally recognised whey were sent all the way to South Georgia so that Shackleton’s right hand man could finally rest beside the man who he always revered and who he had helped to make such a distinguished figure in the history of exploration.

Today we launched the zodiacs in heavy swell off the coast of Point Wild and visited the site where Shackleton’s crew spent over four months waiting for the “boss” to return and save them from their bleak predicament. Frank Wild was in charge of this desperate crew surviving on the few penguins that hadn’t fled in the wake of the advancing ice. To see this barren shore really places one in the midst of these poor beleaguered sailors.

For us it was merely a quick visit – to these men it was a small spit of land that stood between them and a cold hungry death. These men had a huge faith in their leader who had left them to sail on a seemingly impossible journey on a small wooden boat through the most dangerous seas in the world to seek securer for his stranded men. One can only imagine the anguish of these men went through but we know that their long months of hardship were rewarded by the site of the “boss” rowing back to them to relieve them from their drastic predicament.

In our case we head further south towards the Antarctic Sound after leaving Point Wild. The ease with which we move around the Antarctic region would have seemed incredible to these early explorers, but we cannot travel far without acknowledging these brave men who drew the first maps of this lost icy continent.

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Today we had another cracker of a day in South Georgia with a landing at Ocean Harbour with a long walk over rolling green fields with reindeers streaming past. It’s lovely to watch the reindeer floating over the rough-hewn landscape of the island but also a bit of a startling reminder that humans have changed the face of this jewel forever – the reindeers along with rats and mice and other invasive species are creating havoc with the natural order of things here and really should be removed. Certainly they add a touch of wonder to the island but at the end of the day they really don’t belong.

After Ocean Harbour we sailed around to St Andrews Bay which is home to the largest King Penguin colony on the planet… over 600 000 penguins are in residence here and they create a clamour and a smell and a visual feast that really has to be seen to understand. The landing is an assault on all senses and I always leave the bay with a sense of wonder at the vibrancy of life down here in the Southern latitudes. This time I had an extra sense of wonder instilled by the violent winds rolling off the glacier above the colony – we landed in 35knts of wind which is a bit hard under any conditions, but as the afternoon wore on the wind steadily rose until the maximum gusts of 94 knts started pushing the zodiacs around little toys. I drove into blinding wind-blown spume for two hours, landed on beaches I couldn’t see due to the sand blowing into my eyes and ended up with one small dry patch located somewhere behind my left knee … until yet another wave crashed over and ensured that I was utterly soaked from head to foot.

I limped back to the ship at the end of the day feeling cold, exhausted and physically sore …  but with a huge grin on my face none the less …

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Spent the day in South Georgia between Fortuna Bay, Stromness and Grytviken. Walked the last part of Shakleton’s momentous hike over the island, lost myself amidst hordes of fur seals on the beaches and spent hours watching baby elephant seals lounge on the beach and play amongst themselves. Was actually a long day with the weather showing it’s teeth with gale force winds and droving snow, but at the end of it all I am left with a huge grin and keep replaying moments of sheer joy as the throngs of wildlife native to this spectacular island played out their life within arm’s reach as I sat mesmerized on the beach. A few close encounters with angry fur seals showed me natures teeth (nothing like the charge of 200kg of angry seal to remind you that nature should be treated with respect), but all up I am left with a feeling of awe and a sorrow that the day has drawn to a close …then again, we have two more days in this paradise

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South Georgia

Today we awoke at anchor off the northwest coast of South Georgia with the waves beating off the jagged black rocks and white snow caped mountains stretching for the heavens. The wind was whipping foam off the waves but we dropped the zodiacs anyway and ran for cover into the sheltered bay named Elsehul. Once in the bay we were greeted by King Penguins, macaroni penguins and Gentoo penguins …. And of course the clamour of thousands of male fur seals vying for space on the beaches and the honour of taking a harem of female seals for the seasons mating.

Following a fun cruise in the zodiacs in the surge of southern ocean swell driving into the bay we upped anchor and sailed to Salisbury Plains where we spent the remainder of the evening with the second largest colony of king penguins on the island. Apart from the overwhelming aroma of digested fish, the second landing offered a kaleidoscope of colour as the kings paraded in their sunset orange plumage over the green grass, and many surges of adrenalin as we dodged the angry fur seals thronging on the beach.

Now we are again at anchor off Fortuna bay where we will embark upon the last leg of Shackleton’s walk tomorrow. So early to bed tonight to prepare for another big day!

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Beyond shag rocks

The past few days we have had a whirlwind of exploration with fantastic sailing along the north coast of the Falkland Islands accompanied by countless Commerson dolphins and a myriad of sea birds. We visited immense colonies of black browed albatross at west point island, watched the rockhoppers hop over the rocky cliffs and trekked through the rolling hills of the islands watching the diverse birdlife flutter though the tussock grass.

It’s always easy to forget how amazing the Falkland Islands is when en route to South Georgia (probably the most amazing place on earth), but when you arrive on the sandy beaches populated by throngs of Gentoo and magelanic penguins it is easy to spend hours in awe of this far flung land.

Now the Falkland’s lie in our wake, we have past the isolated rocky outcrop of shag rocks with its resident shags and seals, and the jagged snow-clad cliffs of South Georgia will greet me tomorrow when I wake. This thought provides excitement enough to fuel my dreams tonight … and the good news … then I awake the dream of spectacular wildlife and picture book scenery will be a reality!

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South Georgia

It’s been a fantastic visit to South Georgia. In a part of the world renowned for savage weather we have had day after day of calm waters and uninterrupted opportunities to visit probably the most spectacular place on the planet. As I write the heavens are lit up in a brilliant sunset of pink and orange hanging above jagged mountains and glaciers and the sound of fur seals calling and mewing can be heard resounding over the still waters. Yesterday the highlight of the day was standing up to my waist in a still pool while a tussling playful group of over thirty seal pups played and twisted in the clear water. And after I’d been there a while they decided to include me in their game with one particularly brave fellow showing off to his mates by swimming between my legs again and again. At this age they are just like puppies… unfortunately in a couple of years they will be staking out a patch on the beach and tearing apart anyone silly enough to enter their zone. For now however its all fun and games.

And today … the highlight was St Andrews bay which is the largest king penguin colony on the island. Standing on a moraine ridge you have tens of thousands of birds filling the valley so that the landscape is literally formed my a seething mass of colourful birds. As a setting they make it one of the most remarkable sights in the world. As individuals, the penguins show a grace and curiosity that is humbling. Laying on the beach while a dozen penguins gather around and gently probe this strange alien apparition with their bills instils you with a new sense of oneness with this fantastic place.

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The bird that makes the wind blow

R.C. Murphy once described the albatross as the `bird that makes the wind blow` which is pretty fitting since we visited Prion Island today to look at some nesting albatross while it blew 40 knots of wind. Despite the gale and the driving rain it is breath-taking to see these birds up close. A 3.5 metre wingspan is enormous but almost impossible to judge when the birds are on the wing with an endless horizon behind and a sweeping sea-scape below… but on the nest you start to appreciate how big these birds are, though admittedly the graceful flight at sea is replaced by a somewhat clumsy waddle as they pick their way through the tussock and crash to earth in a stumble.Watching the birds delicately preen each other in greeting andstretch their wings into the wind makes up for their awkwardness… and being the king of the skies there really is no need for them to perform on earth as well – they are creature of the southern winds and are only bound to land briefly to breed before once again taking to the air. Either way it is a privilege to observe these majestic animals up close, and a fitting farewell to South Georgia as we set sail towards the Antarctic Peninsula.

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Today was a quick morning stop in Gold Harbour where the elephant seals have claimed the beach in a writing mass of bodies piled atop of each other. Grunts and bellows resound and startle the droves of king penguins and fur seals picking their way through the thrown of large inert blubber wallowing in filth and mud. With the sun beating down the ellies were particularly pungent as they dug into the mud and fling it upon their bodies to protect them from the suns burn. Leaving all this behind I lead a hike up a steep slope into the tussock plateau where the spectacular coastline of South Georgia unwinds below the sheer cliffs where albatross nest and glide out to sea on the unseen wind currents. Really is gold.

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This is the life

Not much better than the life style here right now. It starts early with a run in the zodiacs onto a surging beach with strong wind making things interesting. Then we throw the anchor out, hop ashore and spend the first few hours of the day lounging on the beach with little fur seal pups nibbling on our ankles and king penguins wandering by. A quick wander over the coastal plateau to take in the green grass and wilderness then the first hike sets out to retrace the last stage of Shackletons walk over the jagged interior of South Georgia where the winds burn your skin and the views burns an image of beauty into your eyes that is hard to forget. But this in only the start! Next stop is Myviken where we land beside an old sealers cave for another long walk past lakes and over saddles and ridgesuntil we make our way to Grytviken – yet another relic station from the days of sealing and whaling that is now the administrative centre of this isolated island with a handful of dedicated staff putting up with one the most spectacular offices in the world! Now I’ve had time to wind down in a sauna and will shortly be cracking open a cold beer on the back deck as we celebrate another superb day with a BBQ overlooking a bay filled with playful seal. Just fantastic!

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South Georgia looms from the mist

This morning we were surrounded by the same thick fog that has clung to us for days except this morning the silence of the fog was pierced by a cacophony of seal cries echoing off the sheer cliffs that peeked through the white mist. We have arrived at South Georgia Island! This is an absolutely incredible place… like nothing on earth. We started the day with a zodiac ride in Elsehul harbour were we cruised past a swarming mass of fur seals all stridently crying out and barking. Above us albatross wheeled through the mist and grey headed, black-brow and light mantled sooties perched amongst the tussocks above us on their delicate nests. Macaroni penguins charged down the hills into the surging waters and king penguins stood proudly in the their neat colonies on the smooth shingle beaches. Meanwhile giant petrels feasted on the carcasses of fallen elephant seals only feet from their comrades still lounging on the thick rafts of kelp washed ashore. The entire busy beach is also bathed in the peculiar chummy odor of fur seal which brands this as South Georgia.

This introduction was followed by a visit to Salisbury Plains, home to the second largest king penguin colony in the world. Picture tens of thousands of stately penguins splashed with gorgeous colours of sunset orange spilling out from the beach into the green tussock. At the base of the colony juvenile kings in their scruffy coats of brown down wait patiently for a feed while occasionally engaging in a detailed investigation of a passing tourist. Stopping to gently mouth a proffered finger. Unfortunately to get to the colony you have to run the gauntlet of grumpy fur seals who have missed out on the seasons breeding and are looking to take it out on the soft looking bipeds wandering around in a daze. Only a couple of close calls for me but 200 kg of angry seal is something to treat with respect!

It’s good to be back after two years!

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