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Published: April 1st 2020
This is a tale of Penguins capturing our hearts.
From the Falkland Islands we headed southeast across several hundred miles of open sea, the Scotia Sea to be exact. Our captain was steaming toward the South Georgia Islands as our anticipation grew. In one of our lectures they educated us on the Antarctic Convergence which we won’t provide you with many details. If you have interest, you can do more research, but the short version is that this is an area of warm and cold waters. The result is that this area of currents circling Antarctica can create fog and rough seas but is also quite rich in nutrients, so sea birds abound. Krill is the food of choice for many sea creatures and some birds.
Remember as we travel along at sea we are having lectures on photography, sea birds, penguins, whales, whaling history and much more. We learn the life cycle of these great creatures mating habits, survival skills, about the glands that desalinate water, whether they live on ice, live in the water or travel thousands of miles of sky. We've learned about plastics in our oceans and over fishing our seas and how that poses
Penguins huddle together
Thousands of King Penguins.
problems for all of these animals.
We’d grown comfortable with our ship and knew our way around. Quark encourages all guest to visit the bridge and so we did. Quietly and respectfully they have a section roped off where we can get the captains view of where we are headed. Binoculars are available, bird books, whale books, a computer with basic navigational information so we know where we are headed – all guest are welcome. Crew members could be found at all hours of the day at the bridge in search of wildlife to announce to all of us, with whales being of particular interest. We’ve taken whale-watching trips before, but this trip was a whale-watching extravaganza!
Expedition ships are comfortable, and we were making many friends, attending amazing lectures but we had promised ourselves to go outside every day of this trip. On landing days that was easy as you are out for several hours wandering, exploring. On sea days it is tempting to snuggle in your bunk and relax but we had pristine waters all around. We wanted to grasp all this trip had to offer, embrace the winds blowing and gusting, we wanted to listen
Hanging with my buds
to the sounds of open seas, smell that salty air. We are pleased to say that we went outside on all sea days at least an hour, usually more and one day we were out for nearly six hours… on and off. When on the aft deck you could be sheltered from the wind until you reached the back railing and then the bitter winds could penetrate. We were surrounded by windows and could see outside even when we were inside. If we were cruising past something interesting, we would run outside to take photos without our coats and run back in. In all honesty, remember it is summer and often the temperatures were in the 30s but with the winds… oh it felt colder…..much colder. Once in a while you thought you could sneak out for a couple of quick photos, only to realize that you’d made yet another bad decision and were quite cold in a matter of moments. Best to bundle up almost every time you head on deck. Only once during the entire trip were we able to spend a lot of time without the full garb on. Shag Rocks
We’d been at sea
Out of the fog
The Shag Rocks
for a couple of days, nothing but ocean surrounding us. Oh did we forget to mention all the Fin whales?….we did see them here but more about whales in future blogs. We would retreat to the ships deck all bundled up to the peaceful solitude. We are Floridian-style wimps and would often enjoy the concealment of the Starboard deck instead of bracing the full -on winds of the bow. We found the bow was generally more crowded and we wanted some alone time to breathe in all this miraculous beauty. On the daily schedule they gave warning what time we would see the Shag Rocks. We couldn’t understand all the hype except that we hadn’t seen anything resembling land for a good while. When we saw them, we understood.
Sadly, our photos of the rocks were not as good as we expected. They are much larger, much grander than these photos show.
We approached Shag Rocks on a windy day, fog coming and going. We suppose we don’t need to keep telling you about the wind, but we probably will. The rocks seem to come out of the sea from nowhere. They are striking in their beauty. Gripping
our cameras we took photo after photo hoping to hold the camera still enough from the wind gusts that the photo wasn’t blurry. These jagged rocks are nesting areas for cormorants. We watched the birds circle. Good golly, are we becoming birders? We’ve asked this question on our past two or three trips. We quickly became Shag Rocks fans. We stood peacefully watching them pass us by. As we left them the fog began to surround the rocks and an eerie setting was created as we watched them fade away. Bravo to the Shag Rocks. Thanks for a great show!
The schedule had us spending four days in and around the South Georgia Islands. We were told they want to ensure we get landings and have time to explore these magnificent islands. Someone told us that generally the weather and the seas allow going to shore two days- fact or fiction…. we are unsure. Our weather was very good, remember it is summer, which doesn’t preclude storms or rough seas, but we had nice weather. We ended up spending three days at these islands and made six, yes six landings. Even the crew seemed impressed by the weather. South Georgia Island Elsehul
: 54 degrees 00’S/ 037 degrees 58’W
By now we are becoming fairly proficient at loading and unloading from the zodiacs….this is a good thing as we have plenty of opportunities ahead. Elsehul is a protected bay and our first stop on the islands. It proved to be a great stop, but in reality was a harbinger of things to come. It was a great experience with the fur seals, and they were beyond cute. We spotted one that was white. We are told this happens about one in a thousand. They were equally curious and swam around us in fairly large numbers splashing and twirling in the waters. Albatross flew overhead and we got to see some Gentoo and King Penguins, some moulting. Not large numbers of them, but nonetheless quite nice Salisbury Plain
: 54 degrees 03’S/ 037 degress 19’W
When it was announced we would go to Salisbury Plain several in the group clapped with excitement. The afternoon jaunt took us to this landing, where we had our first encounter with large numbers of King penguins. Large you say? How about in excess of 200,000 of these marvelously colored penguins. We
An amazing world
Get out and see it.
were convinced we had hit the motherload of penguins. You stand in amazement of acre upon acre of them, nearly holding your breath in awe, listening to the cacophony of their calls.—it is mind-blowing. Standing erect these penguins look proudly with attitude and perform a strut or shake. Huddled together the orange and yellow colors are striking against the sea of black and white. Words cannot describe what we have seen. It is incredible to think that they can find their way back to “their spot” with a colony this size. We also had the good fortune of being the first group to land and we wasted no time getting to a prime location to take all this in……just incredible. Stromness Bay:
54 degrees 09’S / 036 degrees 41’ W
The next morning, a hearty group of hikers set forth on a 6km journey that Shackelton had taken back in 1912 as the last leg of an amazing journey from their destroyed boat to rescue. We caught a few more winks as the hike was described as more rigorous than we felt we could handle. We landed at Stromness Bay and wandered among the penguins and fur seals,
Acres and Acres of Penguins
You must go to South Georgia Island
just taking our time and enjoying them as they toodled about. We were thinking this would never get old…..and it didn’t. Grytviken:
54 degrees 17’ S / 036 degrees 28’W
This was the sight of one of the largest whaling stations in this part of the world where a staggering number of whales were killed from the early part of the last century until it finally closed in the mid 1960’s. Whales provided oil, blubber and many other things that whalers exploited back in the day.
Grytviken is also where the famous explorer Ernest Shackelton is buried. He did not actually die there, but his wife wanted him buried there as the place was quite special to him. While there, we drank a toast to the “Boss.” Although the whaling station is long since closed, Grytviken still has a museum and a gift shop/post office. It was once a place where some of the hardiest men would work under harsh conditions to provide what whales had to offer. Gold Harbor:
54 degrees 37’S / 035 degrees 56’ W
This stop featured the amazing Bertaub glacier although we are told it is shrinking rapidly. Once again
We have things to do.
we followed the rules and stayed within the flags set out for our path. We continue to keep a safe distance from these amazing creatures. Ho hum… another day of elephant seals, fur seals, Gentoo penguins and those King penguins. Sorry for the sass but needed to lighten things up a bit. We never grew tired of these landings. You never want to get between the beach and the seals as they can have a nasty disposition. We had a great location to watch them come in and out of the sea. Some were lazy some were frolicking. St. Andrews Bay:
54degrees 26’S/ 036 degrees 10’W
As you can imagine when you arrive in the locations looking for a beach landing the crew doesn’t have control over where the animals are on any given day. On this day they had taken up residence on the best beach and with winds and ocean swell it meant we were not landing where originally intended. This new landing location was a bit of a walk which included us walking through a shallow river. The crew escorted us across individually or in pairs depending on our comfort.
One would think crossing
Fat and Fuzzy
Cute when moulting.
the river was the tricky part of this landing but navigating through a quarter mile or more of fur seals and elephant seals careful to not get too close was more exciting than you would think. They told us to head for the hill and pointed. We walked along a field of dirt, mud, tussocks grasses until we reach the peak of the hills. Several of us were chased by a quick moving seal. They taught us not to run but to make noise and they would back off. Most of the time we followed direction but once or twice the instinct to move a bit faster took over.
Once standing at the top we were speechless. This is the largest colony of King Penguins in the world. Much larger than the one at Salisbury Plains and we thought that was magnificent. Our mind could not wrap around what our eyes were seeing. Penguin and penguin in all directions. Click, click, click could be heard all around as everyone snap photo after photos. We saw another peak a couple hundred yards away and heading in that direction. OMG... hills and valleys full of King Penguins. Awestruck. Remembering to stand
Hard times for whales.
quietly, put the camera down and take in where we were. We are so very grateful to have had this opportunity to go to the South Georgia Islands. We've seen something we never could imagine.
These are amazing islands and not to be missed if you are taking a trip to Antarctica. We were told that people who take the other itineraries to Antarctica often take a repeat trip so they can see these islands. Simply put….incredible. Adjectives to describe what we have seen are becoming harder to come by. Our hope is that we don’t repeat too many of them….but there is so much beauty!!
Next blog you'll learn about Jean the Mistress of Birds, -Whales, Whales and More Whales.... oh and a BBQ on deck... lobster for everyone!
Our previous Antarctic Blogs: Antarctica with Quark Expeditions! Bountiful Birds, The Big Battle and a TravelBlog Reunion Antarctic Expedition Ships and Zodiac Etiquette
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