*Day 10* – an early start with a 5 am alarm call for a pre-breakfast landing at Fortuna Bay, a wet and windy landing with our first sighting of the reindeer that were introduced by the Norwegian whalers which have adapted to the reverse season of their native Arctic. They have decided to irradiate them due to the damage they are doing to native flora so this may soon be a very rare sight.
We got a great view of a sooty mantled albatross nesting on a bluff which gave great views out over the bay. There were a number of elephant seal harems with a few hopeful males lurking in the surf only to be seen off by the incumbent beach-master with little more than a snort and bellow. Many of the pups have already been weaned while others looked only days old, they put on so much weight in such a short space of time.
Back on board we are now eagerly awaiting breakfast while we relocate to Stromness the end of Shackleton’s great journey.
The sun shone in Stromness and we got to see South Georgia in stunning blue skies, the old whaling station is off-limits due to the asbestos contamination but the beach is littered with remnants and whale bones along with the usual mixture of elephant and fur seals. Walking back up into the flat valley we saw a large herd of reindeer and also encountered an amazing bog with stunning green and red moss mounds. We could see the final mountain pass Shackleton and his men crossed before dropping down beside the waterfall on the plain and walking the final few hundred meters to the manager’s house.
Our final landing of the day was at Grytviken where we all paid tribute to Earnest Shackleton with a toast of Irish whisky, a quick swig for ourselves and a tot for the Boss along with Frank Wild who’s ashes were buried next to him last year. The graves of the many young men were a stark reminder of how tough life was here, many barely into their 20’s.
We were taken on a guided tour by the South Georgia Heritage staff through the various areas of the whaling station which has been kept as intact as possible. The tour ended at the fascinating museum which houses a replica of the James Caird. I am hoping the postcards I sent from here will take less than the 13 months the ones I sent from Antarctica took.
Final requirement for the night is the BBQ on the back deck.
*Day 11* – awesome and gobsmacked are not words I want to use in my blog but do actually seem right for today. We started with a landing at Gothul where the weather was a little inclement but the opportunity to get a little height and look down on the bay was too good an opportunity. In the tussocks there were plenty of fur seals and on the exposed moss and gentoo penguins were nesting. There is still plenty of snow on the ground and hoof prints in the edge of the lake gave away the reindeer. In the cliffs, ‘ight mantled sooty albatross were nesting and also southern giant petrel.
After an early lunch, we arrived into St Andrews Bay home to the largest King Penguin colony in South Georgia. The wind had picked up but now the sun shone on this magnificent bay surrounded by castellated peaks. The surf was big as we arrived on the beach making for a stern landing; the beach was strewn with Elephant seals, from new born pups and weeners to plenty of huge males. The beachmaster was being challenged and a ferocious battle ensued with both the victor and loser covered in blood by the end. The loser loped off into a nearby pool to lick his wounds and all was quiet – well as quiet as an elephant seal colony is with its constant belching and farting noises.
Leaving the fracas I headed up into the hills skirting by numerous groups of moulting penguins and the odd sleeping seals. The view down onto the colony was staggering, a patchwork of brown black and white. Groups of fluffy chicks huddled together, squawking and flapping when the ever present skuas swooped down looking for a meal, a wave of anxious chicks beaks waving would wobble like a Mexican wave. Amongst the chicks were groups of moulting birds along with a few adults that had returned to feed their chick. How they find their own chick in the confusion is incredible. All this with a backdrop of the glacier and mountains in blue sky, I simply sat mesmerised for a few hours watching the dramas play out.
We returned to the ship at 5.30 for an early meal hoping to get a landing in at Royal Bay but were thwarted by high winds, no matter the expedition leader as announced a 0415 first zodiac to Gold Harbour to watch the sunrise on our final day in South Georgia so an early night it is.