South Georgia Island

South Georgia Island 616 Each of us probably has that special place that stands out as the most amazing place they’ve ever been. South Georgia Island may be that place for me. Situated about four hundred miles north of Antarctica, and well southeast of South America, South Georgia Island is the home of no people, and millions and millions of penguins, ocean birds, and seals. And the geology of South Georgia Island is truly stunning.

South Georgia Island 845 First, a few words on South Georgia Island. Glaciers cover 60% of the island (much less than even ten years ago, sadly), and with peaks of close to 3,000 meters, South Georgia is a spectacular, mountainous island in the Sub Antarctic. The island is 170 km long and up to 40 km wide. In 1775, the ubiquitous Captain James Cook was the first person to land on the island, claiming it for Great Britain.

South Georgia Island 469 In 1904, the first of six whaling stations was established on South Georgia at Grytviken, by a Norwegian company. Whaling continued from the island through 1965, and a total of 17,000 whales were slaughtered on the island. They have a little museum in Grytviken, with all sorts of background on the history of whaling

South Georgia Island 459 The island played a special role in history. When Shackleton (known down here as “The Boss,” long before Bruce Springsteen) pulled off a miraculous rescue of his crew from Elephant Island in Antarctica, he sailed 800 miles in a tiny lifeboat and landed on the wrong side of South Georgia Island. He and two others then made it across the mountainous island by foot, eventually finding their way to a whaling station, where reinforcements could help rescue his men on the Endurance.

South Georgia Island 319 After two days at sea from the Falklands Island, we made our first landing a Right Whale Bay, South Georgia. We landed on a beach to a welcoming committee of thousands and thousands of King Penguins (including some of the fuzzy brown one year olds, in photo on left), along with many Antarctic Fur Seals and a few baby Elephant Seals. Much like seeing wildlife in the Galapagos, the animals here are not hunted by man, so they are quite comfortable coming right up to you.

South Georgia Island 448 On our second day, we made a morning landing at Grytviken, which means “Pot Cove” in Norwegian (I guess some fur sealers’ pots were discovered there). Sir Ernest Shackleton is buried there, and there are the remains of an old whaling station, part of which was open for touring. We also went for a hike into the hills behind the station. We saw some very large elephant seals here, as well as more penguins.

South Georgia Island 655 That afternoon, we went to St. Andrews Bay, where the Heaney and Cook Glaciers tumble down into the bay. On this and most other landings, the passengers on the ship are divided into two groups, and each gets a couple hours explore time at the location. Our group, quite fortunately, was the early group, where the weather was fabulous, including aSouth Georgia Island 750 spectacular rainbow that lasted for a half hour. Toward the end of our visit, it began to rain heavily, and the second group had to contend with a downpour for its shortened time on the beach. We felt fortunate to explore the Bay under great conditions, since it’s the home of over 100,000 breeding pairs of King Penguins, a sight (and smell) we’ll never forget!

South Georgia Island - Gibson 317 The next morning we went for a sunrise landing at Gold Harbour, our last stop at South Georgia Island. Our time on the beach was fairly short, since we had a long haul that day to work our way down to the Antarctic Peninsula. But it was a stunning place, with the Bertrab Glacier at its head. We saw a variety of penguins, including King, Gentoo, and Chinstrap (left), as well as Antarctic and Elephant Seals. It was so beautiful and peaceful there as the sun came up that I was tempted to hide somewhere and stay there for a few weeks. I suppose one overnight there, even in the Antarctic summer, would have changed my thinking in a hurry!

South Georgia Island 777 The saddest aspect to our visit to South Georgia, really driven home by Gold Harbour, is the impact of global warming on this very special place. People on the crew who have been long time visitors here noted that in just fifty years, the entire harbour has been created, and was nothing but glacier not all that long ago. As the glaciers continue receding, the impact on the wildlife and geology here will be enormous, and not to the good.

South Georgia Island - Gibson 176 We also had fun one morning as the kids tracked down wayward Diving Petrels who had stumbled onto the ship overnight, and needed help “lifting off.” They found both a Common Diving Petrel and a South Georgia Diving Petrel, and gave each a new lease on life.

As we cruised through the Southern Ocean, we also got some great views of spectacular icebergs. They came in all kinds of shapes and sizes, but all had the most electric blue color. It made our time on the sea that much more interesting.

South Georgia Island 525

South Georgia Island 527

I struggle to put into words the beauty of South Georgia Island. The word “unique” is usually butchered, but this is a unique place on this planet, and one we loved visiting.

Check out our South Georgia Island photos.

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