*Day 12* – Gold Harbour bathed in golden light, those who got up at 4am were rewarded with a spectacular sunrise across the mountain and glaciers of this stunning harbour. The seas were calm and surf not too big which was good as most of us were still half asleep.
The beach was strewn with Elephant seals so densely packed it was hard to find a way through and there was a particularly high density of males, most of which were peacefully sleeping but a few reared up and bellowed or snorted at us but more half-hearted warnings than a serious threat. I picked my way to the back of the beach and walked along to the King Penguin colony, only a small one but fascinating as ever. The chicks were quick to come and look us over, hoping for food, all fluffed up with nowhere to go.
Sitting quietly watching the penguins a young elephant seal became quite curious shuffling ever closer with those big beseeching eyes looking up at me it stopped a few inches short of my boots and sniffed then seemed to settle down. A few minutes later curiosity got the better of it, I stood up gently so I could move away but before I could its flipper was on my boot. I stood as quietly as possible as it sniffed me straining it head up to smell my camera, it was quite a hefty little blighter. Satisfied I was friend not foe it began to nuzzle my knee, pushing harder it then started sucking my waterproof trousers, hoping for milk I assume, when it started to open it mouth wider and I could see the pink of his tongue as it wrapped its mouth very gently around my knee I decided I really should pull away. I managed to twist my foot down into the sand and pull my foot from under its flipper and backed away slowly, keeping an eye out for the other pups that were surrounding me. I have no photos from the encounter as it was too close but it will be etched on my mind forever.
A ships cruise up Drygalski Fjord was our final excursion for South Georgia and we saw her in raw beauty, the wind howled at 50 knots, snow racking our faces as we tried keep our feet, a bracing experience. At the end of the fjord is a large glacier, this gave us a little respite from the wind as we watched huge chucks of ice fall off the terminal face. The peaks of the mountains are shrouded in mist giving it an ethereal feel. We will sail out round cape disappointment this afternoon and head south towards the peninsula, we have already encountered a number of icebergs similar in size to the millennium stadium; we have seen satellite pictures of an iceberg north of South Georgia which is about half the size of the island itself so we are expecting great things. In true Shackleton style this year is the record for pack ice around the continent, the ice charts show just the tip of peninsula is free of fast ice, it will be interesting to see the difference from my previous visit in February.