Thursday, 11 November 2010

A day to remember

Early this morning we approached the north coast of South Georgia, abruptly turned right, and entered Fortuna Bay. This was to be the site of our first landing on this spectacular island of South Georgia. It was also to be the jumping off point of our Shackleton Walk.

We landed on the east side of the bay, near a large King Penguin rookery. There on the beach to greet us were Antarctic Fur Seals, Elephant Seals, and of course King Penguins. A lonely Light-mantled Sooty Albatross, nesting in the Tussoc Grass above the landing site circled over us. After a 30 minutes walk over gravels produced by the nearby glacier, we arrived at the King Penguin colony. The chicks from last spring were gathered in several large creches waiting for their parents to return. These balls of fat covered in a thick coating of brown down (which many people think it is hair) have been fasting for a few months, living on their fat reserves. They clearly think that we are funny looking penguins with a blue coat, because if you sit still, they will approach you as if they were expecting to be fed.

In the middle of the morning a group of some 60 fortunate ones were ferried across to the west side of the bay for the start of the Shackleton Walk. This walk-hike traces partially the steps of Shackleton, Crean and Worsely as they made their way from their landing site on the south coast to Strømness whaling station on the north coast. This 6km hike took the passengers 300m above sea level over rocky terrain and some snow and ice and provided fantastic views of the surrounding area.

As the hikers were crossing between Fortuna Bay and Strømness, the Fram repositioned to Strømness Bay for our second landing of the day. There we found breeding Antarctic Fur Seals and Elephant Seals, a few King Penguins and some Gentoo Penguins. The strange smell of garlic from the male Fur Seals filled the air. We were lucky to have close views of one of the only two species of water birds that lives in South Georgia - the South Georgia Pintail. These tame ducks seem strangely out of place, just like the introduced reindeer (although the former does belong there!)