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Tag Archives: King Penguin
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 …
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!
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.
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!