SOUTH GEORGIA ISLAND

In early March 2008 I visited South Georgia Island as part of the "Shackleton Odyssey" trip run by Aurora Expeditions. This island contains spectacular scenery, wild weather, historic whaling stations and some of the greatest wildlife experiences on the planet, and we saw all of this on the five days we spent at the island. We also visited many sights associated with Ernest Shackleton's 1916 crossing of South Georgia. A selection of photographs from this trip is contained below. Click on the thumbnails to see larger images:

to go to my Shackleton Odyssey photographs page.



King Haakon Bay
King Haakon Bay. Our first point of call on South Georgia was in King Haakon Bay, a large inlet on the exposed southern coast. This was where Ernest Shackleton and his five companions completed the sea voyage in the James Caird and commenced the crossing of the island seeking rescue. The weather was very windy and the sea was too rough for our zodiacs to be launched, but we were able to get good views of the surrounding mountains and glaciers, including Peggotty Bluff and the Shackleton Glacier. After about an hour anchored in the bay our ship then departed for the more sheltered northeast coast of the island.


Cave Cove
Cave Cove. As we sailed out of King Haakon Bay we were able to see Cave Cove, the small inlet at Cape Rosa where the James Caird first landed on South Georgia on 10 May 1916 after 17 days at sea. It would have been great to go ashore there however the weather was not in our favour.


South Georgia coastline
After a short stop for a zodiac cruise at Elsehul Bay at the north-western tip of the island we continued down the north-east coast. The wind was gale force and the ocean was whipped up into a frenzy, providing a very dramatic scene.


Wandering Albatross
We saw many wandering albatross and petrels circling the ship in the wind, plus porpoising fur seals and penguins in the water. The wandering albatross has the largest wingspan of any bird at up to 3.5 metres, and can weigh up to 10kg, and they travel enormous distances at sea on foraging trips.


Right Whale Bay
Late on the first day we stopped at Right Whale Bay, and in spite of the 40 knot winds, we were able to get ashore for our first landing on South Georgia. There were a large number of young fur seals scattered along the beach, and a large king penguin colony nearby. In the evening the ship continued towards the south-eastern end of the island.


Cooper Bay
Cooper Bay. The following morning we arrived at Cooper Bay at the far south-eastern tip of the island. The weather was sunny and we spent a few hours doing a zodiac cruise around the bay and going ashore to see a small macaroni penguin colony.


Macaroni Penguins
Macaroni Penguins. These are the most numerous penguins on the island with over 5.5 million breeding pairs, and the orange tassels on their head are distinctive. These penguins were located amongst the tussock grass at the top of a hill 50m above the beach and to reach them we had to climb up a steep gully then walk through dense tussock while trying to avoid fur seals along the way.


Gold Harbour
Gold Harbour. After leaving Cooper Bay we then visited Gold Harbour where we spent a fantastic afternoon ashore amid spectacular scenery and a dense concentration of wildlife. The scenery consisted of a beautiful beach backed by jagged peaks, vertical cliffs, hanging glaciers and a large waterfall, while the wildlife included elephant seals, fur seals, king penguins, gentoo penguins, sheathbills and skuas. This was the highlight of my trip to South Georgia.


Elephant Seals
At the northern end of the beach at Gold Harbour were a group of moulting elephant seals huddled together. These are the largest of the seals, with males reaching up to four tonnes and five metres in length.


King Penguin colony
King Penguin colony at Gold Harbour. Further along the beach was a massive colony of king penguins. Most of the penguins in the colony were spaced at pecking distance apart, some with eggs, tiny chicks or larger fluffy chicks, and there was a continual stream of birds going to and from the water. There were also a few outnumbered gentoo penguins on the beach trying to avoid the fur seals and king penguins.


King Penguins
The king penguins are the second largest penguin and have very beautiful markings. These penguins were quite inquisitive and would often walk up to us to check us out.


Konig Glacier
Konig Glacier. The next day we were at Fortuna Bay where many of us went ashore to walk the final leg of Shackleton's route across the island from Fortuna Bay to Stromness, about 5.5km in length. The weather was heavily overcast and by the time we went ashore the cloud had descended further and rain began to fall. This bad weather continued all day.


On the Shackleton Walk
About 40 people decided to do the Shackleton Walk. The lower section of the walk was through tussock grass and festuca grassland, while the higher section of the walk was over scree and rock. We climbed up a long scree slope to a 300m high pass before descending to the Shackleton Valley. The walk was through cloud and rain most of the way, and we had a faint view of Lake Crean in the mist below us.


On the Shackleton Walk
From the top of the pass there is a good view of Stromness Whaling Station in the distance, but all we saw on this day was thick fog. From here we descended the steep and slippery scree slope towards the Shackleton Waterfall.


Shackleton Waterfall
We stopped at the Shackleton Waterfall, which Shackleton, Crean and Worsley had to abseil down near the end of their journey. From here we had an easy 2km walk across a grassy plain to Stromness Whaling Station.


Manager's Villa at Stromness
The Manager's Villa at Stromness. This was the building where Shackleton, Crean and Worsley arrived at after their crossing of the island and where they made their first contact with the outside world in over 17 months . There is a 200m exclusion zone around the whaling station buildings due to asbestos and unsafe structures, but we were able to get a good view of the buildings from the zodiac.


Stromness Whaling Station
Elephant seals and fur seals seem to enjoy the derelict buildings and are taking over the ruins at Stromness.


Whalers Cemetery at Stromness
Whalers cemetery at Stromness. Later on we walked to the small cemetery located behind the whaling station. The cemetery contained a few resident fur seals, and we also saw a large herd of reindeers nearby.


Ship propellers at Stromness
Stromness was used as a ship repair yard from the 1930's and there are many old ship propellers scattered on the beach.


Fur Seals
Stromness has a dense fur seal breeding beach and there were a huge number of baby fur seals on the beach while we were there. Fur seals were almost wiped out on South Georgia but they have made a spectacular recovery and are taking over many of the beaches. Earlier in the season the beaches are full of territorial male fur seals which make landings ashore more difficult or impossible.


Grytviken Whaling Station
Grytviken. The following morning was spent at Grytviken Whaling Station, which has been the centre of human activity on the island for over a century. The whaling station has been cleaned up in recent times and people can now wander amongst the old buildings, with interpretive signs describing the operation of the station and the processing of the whales. The former Manager's villa is now a museum and contains good displays on whaling, exploration and the natural history of the island. There is also the church, cemetery and sealing and whaling vessels to visit. Nearby King Edward Point is home to most of the island's small resident population, and contains the South Georgia Government's administrative centre and fisheries research facility.


Overlooking Grytviken cemetery
The whalers cemetery at Grytviken contains the graves of Norwegian whalers and some 19th century sealers, and also includes the grave of Ernest Shackleton, who died in Grytviken in 1922 on another journey south.


Shackleton's Grave
Shackleton's grave in the whalers cemetery at Grytviken.


The Petrel
The 'Petrel', an old whaling and sealing vessel built in 1928 and now beached at Grytviken.


Grytviken Church
The whalers church at Grytviken dates from 1913 and has been restored and is still used today. The church contains a good library of books from the old whaling stations and was used for the funeral service of Ernest Shackleton.


Iceberg off South Georgia
Our ship then left Grytviken and Cumberland East Bay and sailed down the coast to Godthul Bay, passing an impressive iceberg along the way.


Godthul
We went ashore at Godthul, which was the site of a former whaling shore depot. On the shore were rusting barrels, old wooden boats and many whalebones. We climbed up a tussock grass slope, dodging fur seals along the way, to a small plateau containing a large lake. There were many reindeer in this area and a group of gentoo penguins nesting high up the hillside. Shortly afterwards the weather changed, and icy rain and strong winds forced us back to the ship.


Godthul
The 'Polar Pioneer' anchored in Godthul, a sheltered inlet on the north coast of the island.


Nesting albatross
Wandering albatross on nest. The following morning was spent on Prion Island, a small rat free island located in the Bay of Isles towards the western end of South Georgia. Prion Island is an important breeding site for the wandering albatross, and we were lucky to see many of these birds during our visit here. Fur seals also rest in the tussock grass and are gradually encroaching on the albatrosses nesting territory.


Prion Island
Panorama taken from Prion Island, looking towards the South Georgia coast. We spent a perfect morning here in sunshine, and the blues of the ocean and greenery of the island made a very picturesque scene. It was still very windy however, which was ideal for the albatrosses trying to take-off and land.


Wandering Albatross
We got great views of the albatrosses in a courtship display. There are about 60 breeding pairs of wandering albatross on the island.


On Prion Island
On the beach at Prion Island. A boardwalk was currently being installed from the beach to the top of the island, to prevent damage to the vegetation and to reduce visitor impact on the island.


Beach at Salisbury Plain
Our last trip ashore on South Georgia was at Salisbury Plain, where the beach was alive with baby fur seals and king penguins. This is the largest area of level ground on the island and it has the second largest king penguin colony on the island, approx 60000 breeding pairs.


King Penguin Colony
We walked from the beach up to a tussock-covered knoll overlooking the main colony - and were confronted with penguins as far as the eye could see.


King Penguin chick
Moulting king penguin with a great hairstyle.



Contact "alanlevy at pcug dot org dot au" for more information.

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Page last modified on Monday 6 January 2014