South Georgia

Linda’s and my expectations were high as South Georgia came within sight.  South Georgia is purported to be the crown jewel of the polar seas for wild life and scenery.  At 103 by 22 miles at its widest points it is exceptionally mountainous, going from sea level to almost 10,000 feet in a few miles as well as being heavily glaciated. During the breeding season, December into January, there is more wildlife per square foot here than anywhere else on the planet. Estimates are up to 30 million breeding birds which include 7 million penguins and 250,000 albatross, over 2 ½ million seals and scores of whales including humpbacks, southern right whales, fin, siene and orcas to name a few. With no airfield it is exceptionally remote, the only way to access it is by a 5 day ship journey from South America.

We would spend 3 days exploring the island after a mandatory bio security check at South Georgia's only settlement Grytviken.  All visitors to the island must go through extensive decontamination of any outer clothing and gear to prevent any foreign or invasive species from being introduced to it's unique enviroment.  Grytviken was a prosperous whaling station for almost 60 years and processed almost 54,000 whales before shutting down in 1963.  Now very little of the town is left and only the skeleton of the oil works remain.

After being cleared for contaminates we were able to go ashore and tour what was left of the whale processing plant and visit Ernest Shackletons grave site. There were a few elephant and fur seals as well as some Gentoo penguins there, a brief introduction to the wildlife yet to come. From Grytviken we would go to Fortuna Bay in the afternoon. Our second stop was Fortuna Bay where after threading our way through hundreds of fur seals we would experience our first King Penguin colony. The numbers of King penguins at Fortuna Bay only gave us a glimpse of how large a penguin colony could be for the next morning we would visit on of the largest in the world at St. Andrews Bay.

On our second day at South Georgia we visited Ocean Harbor and St Andrews Bay. Ocean Harbor was an idyllic spot, the site of an old whaling station. For whatever reason, not a lot of wildlife was present. St. Andrews Bay is one of the largest breeding colonies of King Penguins in the world with an estimated 150,000 breeding pairs. Alongside the breeding pairs are 1,000’s of chicks and thousands more of non-breeding vagrant penguins. Here we would become well acquainted with Le Parfum Du Pingouin. The odor of thousands of penguins and their poo is something best….. but not easily forgotten. It is a pungent aroma that clings tenaciously to all that it comes in contact with. A large tot of cognac back on the ship would cleanse the palate and refresh the olfactory senses, but your outer layers of clothing stubbornly retained a cloying scent that would take days to disappear. Fortunately everyone else’s clothing had a lingering scent so in time you became accustomed to the odor until your next penguin encounter.

Christmas Day, our third day at South Georgia found us at Gold Harbor, South Georgia. A huge contingent of male elephant seals lined the beach hormones running amok and in full battle mode for control of the females. Not a place for outsiders so we opted for a zodiac cruise along the beach to observe the wildlife. Actually it was a nice change of pace from landing and watching each others’ backs as we assaulted the beach to make our way to a safe viewing area. It was a short 25 nautical mile journey from Ocean Harbor to Cooper Bay. Just enough time to download the mornings photos and do the luncheon wine and dine. Being Christmas day the kitchen had been in full production cooking up all the Christmas delicacies and sweet treats you could ever imagine. Silver Seas being a deluxe “luxury” cruise line always had a prime selection of vittels laid out and were working hard to outdo themselves for the holiday. After a nice lunch of delectable goodies and a few glasses of a New Zealand Malbec, Linda and I donned our excursion gear and headed for the zodiacs. The afternoon’s excursion around Coopers Bay on South Georgia was scheduled to be a zodiac cruise with an emphasis on spotting as many various species of wildlife possible. It was an agreeable choice for all for at that point, a penguins waddle was probably at most all we were capable of doing and we still had Christmas dinner to look forward to.

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