To the End of the World Part 2: South Georgia
This was an excursion that made me feel very reflective, and cradled a somber atmosphere close to it. Many, many years ago, this area was teeming with whales. There have been accounts recorded from people who worked there of seeing hundreds of whales within this natural harbor’s walls.
Now? There are none, as Grytviken is a settlement that held a whaling station that was prosperous and in continuous use for 58 years. It was established in November 1904, at a time when whale oil was in extremely high demand.
Our first visit to this settlement was to the cemetery, which had a big impact on us. We walked around the tombs, paying respect to the fallen. Many of the tombstones were for young men, all dying in the same year – possibly a typhoid epidemic or another disease that decimated the not-so-large population in this settlement.
One tombstone stood tall and imposing above the others.
It belonged to one of the world’s most revered and debated about adventurers and explorers: Sir Ernest Shackleton. Frank Wild’s, Shackleton’s right-hand man, tombstone was also found in this secluded and simple cemetery. It was surreal to see, and it affected each one of us to be able to have this experience as a part of our journey.
Abandoned and rusty, Grytviken is a cemetery of another time and another world. Rusted machinery litters the shoreline, along with long-left whaling ships and an assortment of decaying buildings. It is hauntingly beautiful in the most devastating way, due to the effects of its raison d’etre.
Its statement is poignant and true: that even in the most distant corners of the world, man’s impact is felt, seen, and abundant. The history behind this forgotten whaling station is profuse and absolutely interesting.
Jason Harbor, South Georgia
The land of giants, I felt it should be named. We landed on the pebbly coast on a beautifully overcast day. The colors were intensely green and blue, and so saturated.
There were also Elephant Seals everywhere along the pebbly shoreline.
And they know how to use their vocal cords!
It is always so amazing to see when wildlife does not care about your presence or seem affected by it! We kept a respectful distance from the seals, but we were still able to really explore so many options with them.
And those beachmasters… they are truly gigantic creatures in their own right; and in comparison to the females… well, they are monstrous. The mating season must be a true test of endurance for the females! The males were absolutely fascinating to watch, and there was never a moment of silence from anyone who had a camera in hand. Shutters were going off everywhere as we all reveled in the awesome diversity of nature. Mature and established males were constantly on the lookout for the younger males who sought to challenge them for their harem, which can be up to a whopping 150 females! And the scars and blood found on these beasts show that they truly fight, and fight hard, to keep their females and chase the weaker males away.
What I loved about this place, apart from the Elephant Seals, is that once you move inland, past these giant slug-like and very vocal forms, there was nothing but more saturated short green grass/moss, a river inlet with birds flying here and there, and hills rising up high in the gray-blue sky as they reach for the clouds. It was just such an untouched scene, no evidence of humankind apart from what was left by the shoreline. I ached to go wandering and explore what I felt begged to be known. Alas, it will forever remain a beautiful mystery to me.
Salisbury Plain, South Georgia
This was our first close encounter with the beautifully colored and poised King Penguins, and we really worked to get there!
The sea was rough, with waves breaking hard on the pebble shoreline; and the weather was pretty miserable, with unrelenting drizzle to heavier raindrops coming down.
Landing on the beach in our zodiacs was quite a chore, and an activity we had to do fast before the waves tipped us over!
It was all so worth it. There were massive, fluffy, brown baby King Penguins everywhere, mixed within the sleek-looking adults. I decided right then and there to leave my camera gear with the staff on the beach so that I could ensure my guests had 100% of my attention whilst shooting under these pretty grim and difficult weather conditions. It was absolutely marvelous!
King Penguins, much like the Elephant Seals, did not seem too bothered by us being there – as again, we kept an awareness to where we were in position to them, and made sure that we were never in their way, as some would walk together down paths to the crashing waves behind us. The chicks, however, are very curious, and would often come up and look at us, arms splayed open from their sides whilst peering out with one eye.
Once back onboard the ship, we gathered in the lounge area after hot showers and proceeded to spend some quality time with our images, reflecting on our excursions thus far.
Gold Harbor, South Georgia
This place was brimming with Elephant Seals and King Penguins, with a stunning black outcrop of mountains as a barrier between the beach and the interior of the land, as well as a gorgeous ice-blue glacier. We were all in such good spirits and so enthusiastic about the splendor before our eyes!
We had to walk around some sleeping beachmasters – and again I have to comment on how enormous they are – which was quite intimidating! While walking along the beach, stopping here and there to photograph, we would come upon dead baby Elephant Seals that would most likely have died from being squashed by a moving beachmaster as they scare off younger males. For such huge and cumbersome creatures, the move very fast when chasing one another or coming together to fight! They don’t care what is in the path between them and the competing male. They just storm on ahead, and you had better make sure you are not in their path of potential destruction.
The sun had just about set as we had to get back onto our zodiacs and to the ship. We were chatting away animatedly when we got off the zodiac, and were so pleasantly surprised to round the corner to find that the bar staff had set up a mini bar on deck with hot toddys of some variety and had some music playing. This further heightened the already ecstatic mood the whole ship was feeling as we danced and sipped our drinks together.
And we were off again, to a magical place, far-far away. To islands of ice and snow. Islands of overwhelming beauty.
After a long 5 days at sea, due to storms forcing the Expedition Leader and Captain to change plans and routing, we finally entered a world unto its own.