The telephoto lens makes the King Penguins appear closer than they actually are, it is important stay clear of the wildlife.
The wildlife on South Georgia is more diverse than Antarctica, you wont see Emperor Penguins, but you would be unlikely to see them even if you went to Antarctica. Here but not further south you will find Albatross nesting sites, many of them on the endangered species list, plus the South Georgia Pipit you won’t see anywhere else.
Vegetation but no trees, abandoned whale processing stations, the scale of the slaughter is scary, inland walks, the wonderful South Georgia Museum and Shackleton’s Grave at Gritviken. Observing King Penguin colonies with up to 250,000 penguins is one of the most astonishing spectacles of my life.
voyages to South Georgia
So yes, South Georgia, in my opinion, is more interesting than Antarctica.Adam Purser – visitor to South Georgia on two occasions.
Freedom of movement with Respect
Wherever you go on South Georgia you always have to respect the rights of the wildlife. You must not approach too close to seals, penguins and birds. Sometimes you may rest up and the wildlife approaches you, or you have to pass between seals to get to or from a dinghy, in all cases take care and be respectful.
Going ashore in South Georgia requires preparation and good weather. To prepare all your clothing and footwear you plan to use when exploring ashore yopui have to have it vacuumed to make sure you are not taking is seeds with you and your footwear disinfected to stop the spread of disease.
No quays, pontoons or jetties are accessible to you and so all landings are from rubber dinghies, and so the waves have to be modest. The ships captain and crew have a lot of experience of where to go and how to get you ashore and back on board safely. Radio communication is kept up all the time between ship and shore crew.
Improvements to South Georgia Conservation
The first time I went there in I think 2012 they had just finished culling the reindeer that where introduced to the islands by the Norwegian Whalers and were clearly not native to the island.
The second time, 2015, they were completing the extermination of the rat population which again was not native to the island. The rats were in danger of making the South Georgia Pipit extinct. In the rat-free areas the population of the Pipits very quickly recovered.
South Georgia Pipit Video
The demise of the reindeer has helped restore the normal mix of grass and tundra plants. Unfortunately dandy lions were also introduced to the whaling stations and I don’t think anyone has come up with a way of halting the their spread.
There are two ways our ships visit South Georgia and they are at opposite ends of the short Antarctica Summer.
In Antarctica Spring the ships are likely to head to South Georgia from the Falklands at the start of the Southern season.
At this time of year the ships will be coming from Antarctica and later heading across the South Atlantic via Tristan da Cunah to Cape Town as it is time to depart Antarctica.
The first sighting of South Georgia is the North West islands around Willis, Trinity and Bird Islands and you may make your first landfall in Elsehul Sound. Now this is dependent on the goodwill of the South Georgia administration as officially you are supposed to go to Grytviken first to pay for your right to go ashore.
The first shore trip will be interesting for your eyes and ears and an awakening for your nostrils!
Friendly looking Elephant Seals and unfriendly, growling Fur Seals welcome you. Keep a safe distance, the Fur Seals can be aggressive. Just above the shore you will find an abandoned hut of the British Antarctic Survey, which is now occupied by a rookery of Gentoo Penguins.
Tens of thousands of King Penguins live in the Bay of Isles, in the Spring there is a lot of courting couples abut by the Autumn there are huge numbers of fluffy brown adolescent penguins ready to get into the wonderful adult plumage in time to take the ocean without becoming waterlogged.
Hopefully you can make a landing on this island as it is a very important breeding ground for the Wandering Albatross. Albatrosses lay their eggs in the middle of the summer; their chicks stay from December, until the next spring on their nests. These birds need an open area of 30 square metres around the nest for taking off and landing.
Prion Island has a boarded walkway you must keep to. Because it is so seldom used you will find Wandering Albatross nesting right beside the walkway, just be very very quiet, calm and unhurried, no crowding or stopping to close on the path. Your reward could be to see the head of a chick peeking out from below its parent.
I was amazed to discover that Albatross are not a monotone white but are very delicately patterned, think of a peacock’s pattern in a whiter shade of pale.
At Fortuna Bay the crew will shuttle you onto the beach landing between King Penguins and fur seals. While the ship sails out, you will begin our steady walk to Stromness, the last part of Shackleton’s epic hike across South Georgia. It might be pretty cold at the top with chilly gusts of wind. However you could be lucky and do it in shorts as I have on both occasions that I have enjoyed the walk.
At the highest point of the trek you have a marvellous view over Crean Lake, the bay, and the Shackleton Glacier. Then descending into Stromness Bay along the famous Shackleton waterfall. The once busy whaling station is now overtaken by fur seals and it is unsafe to explore inside the buildings due to rusting roofs and structures, let alone overgrown vats and pits.
Our ships usually anchor for rest a day in the King Edward Cove, a branch of Cumberland East Bay. This is the headquarters of the South Georgia administration that monitors all vessels coming and going plus overseeing the offshore fishing fleets.
Once ashore it’s just a short stroll to the deserted Norwegian Grytviken whaling station. This whaling station is of great historical value and the scale of the operation is frightening, the size of the equipment gives testament to the huge numbers of whales that were slaughtered here.
In 1991 parts of the station were cleared and the South Georgia Museum was opened, where relics and memorabilia from the Antarctic whaling industry are preserved. I thoroughly recommend a visit. I liked being able to touch the fur of a preserved penguin wing, it’s not as fluffy as you might think!
Stand under the outstretched wings of a Wandering Albatross and get a friend to photograph you looking small in comparison.
It’s well worth visiting the romantic timbered whaling church dating from 1913 and I might have been known to ring the bell!
On the east of the bay lies a small cemetery where the grave of the polar explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton is found, peacefully guarded by a colony of sea elephants. It is traditional to take a bottle of Whisky with you to Shackleton’s Grave and all partake of wee toast to the great man.
Wherever you walk by the shore you will meet many seabirds, penguins, fur seals, and elephant seals.
One of the most beautiful shipwrecks, ‘Bayard, is in Ocean Harbour. This is a fully rigged ship and was one of the first to be built in steel. She was constructed in 1864 in Liverpool and in her we see how the part of the transition from wood to steel built ships came about.
Blue eyed shags gratefully use this industrial monument as a place to build their nest. Ashore between the wallowing elephant seals we find an old locomotive which was used by the whalers to transport oil and other cargo back and forth between the station and the dock.
Cobblers Cove is a tiny circular natural harbour with a very small entrance. If you can get in it is steep sided with a very rewarding climb up and and then down to a colony of Macaroni Penguins. Watch how they come and go into the sea from a steep sloping rock platform. On the walk keep an eye out for Sooty Albatross, one of my favourites, that breed nearby.
In this bay at the south-eastern point of South Georgia we are going to try to get close to rookeries of Macaroni Penguins. They nest at the bottom of steep cliffs and can be watched and photographed quite easily. We will probably also come across various small colonies of Chinstrap Penguins, one of the few colonies of its kind in South Georgia.
This is one of the longest Fjords in South Georgia surrounded by high mountains with six glaciers descending into the sea.
A very beautiful spot and often the last place you visit in South Georgia before the ship heads south in the spring for Antarctica or east in the autumn for Tristan da Cunah and Cape Town