Tao 20: South Georgia Islands (2)

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Our ship sailed overnight into Stromness Bay.  Daisy, our ship’s resident photographer, offered to give everyone who’s interested to take photos in the morning light a wake up call.  Needless to say, I signed up for it.

Our telephone in the cabin was the old plastic handset-with-a-heavy-base type.  It also had no ringer volume control.  The call came in at 2:30 AM, and it was loud enough to wake half the ship. The Russians certainly made sure their phone’s functional.  How Tracy managed to continue sleeping was beyond me.

When I finally got out onto the deck it was close to 3AM.  Sun’s already out and the best light already gone.  This was to be the only time I tried to capture sunrise on this trip.

Glacier bathed in morning light.

Our ship sailed into Grytviken, sort of a capital of the South Georgia Islands.  It was built around a decrepit whaling station.  Whaling and sealing was a booming industry in the heydays of the 20th century.  Stations like these were built on many sub-antarctic islands around the region.  The area’s whale and seal population was decimated during the boom.  Even after almost a century, many species did not yet recover from the disaster.

Zodiacs getting ready to ferry us across

Tracy practicing on a punchbag. This was probably used by Russian sailors to vent their frustration.

Rusted machinery at Grytviken harbor

Chains that were used to haul whales

We joined a small group to hike to the hills overlooking the harbor.  It’s a moderate climb but offers spectacular views of the station.  Even here on this remote island there were traces of war.  We found some rusted shell casings and what looked to be pieces of ammunition belt.  No idea if this belonged to the Argentinian or the British army.

Remnants of war

A group of us taking in the view from the top of the hill.

The British government constructed some new buildings on the other side of the harbor.

A Zodiac ferrying passengers from our ship.

Academik Ioffe. The block of white objects at the base of the mountain is the local cemetery.

A cairn erected on the top of the hill.

What's left of the whaling station. A church, post office and museum were the only functional buildings.

The church in town was well maintained.  It also held occasional weddings.  As there were no resident priest, the bride and groom would have to bring their own.

Newly painted church in Grytviken.

After spending a few hours on the ship for lunch.  We joined the Kayak program for the afternoon.

Tracy and I paddling (taken by Kim/Mario)

Kim and Mario

There were lots of seals in the water.  Some of them were huge Elephant Seal bulls.  The bulls were not aggressive as long as we keep our distance.  The smaller fur seals just wanted to play.

After paddling for a couple of hours, we landed on the beach in front of the Grytviken Museum.  There were no time to change, so we just walked around in our dry suits.  These suits has water-tight rubber gaskets around your wrists and neck and is completely waterproof.  It also kept us from freezing, but we were nowhere close to being warm. You can’t fit too many layers inside the dry suit.

Tracy in front of the abandoned whale station oil tanks.

Rusty machinery

Jumbo sized chains

Whaling ship "Petrel". On the bow of the ship is a whale gun.

One of the special events of this trip is the funeral of Frank Wild.  Frank was a member of Ernest Shackleton’s ill-fated Antarctic expedition.  If you wish to read about Shackleton’s miraculous escape, here is a link to the Wikipedia page about Shackleton’s expedition.  Ceremony was performed in the little church shown earlier on this page.  Frank Wild’s ashes will be reburied in Grytviken cemetery next to his old comrade.

Shackleton's tombstone

Tracy running away from the elephant seals

A huge elephant seal bull lying in front of a rusted boat, which may had been used to capture seals years ago.

A whale bone

Drainage pipe with bleached whale bones littered around it

Abandoned factory with brightly colored machinery

Whale saw in front of the museum

By the time we were done with the museum and cemetery, we were both freezing.  After mailing a few postcards, The two of us went head over heels back to the ship for a hot meal.

Grytviken museum

On our 3rd day in South Georgia, the ship anchored at the southeast corner of the island.  This place is called Gold Harbour.  The day was overcast.  Luckily it was not very windy.  We welcomed a mild day after the cold wind at Grytviken almost froze our butt off.

Zodiac heading for Gold Harbour

The beach was littered with male elephant seals.  These guys can grow to over 6000 lbs each.  They also have little interest in people.  That’s good.

Elephant seal bulls

A King Penguin couple

Life is good

We caught this Gentoo walking purposely by

Female elephant seals have these huge watery eyes that make them look completely harmless, which they were, unless you were a fish.

That's us reflected in her eyes

Scratching an itch

Beautiful colors on a king penguin

The tiny little flipper on an elephant seal

King penguin scratching its head.

This young fur seal found a perfect pillow

Nathan, our Kayak guide

A king penguin looking sharp

Beautiful feathers

Marielle in her penguin hat

Elephant seals seem to favor sleeping upside down

Upside down is good


Thou dare anger the king?!

The chicks would often grow bigger than their parents

We spotted this little duck busy moving something between a pool of water and a spot under a patch of grass.  Like most of the other wild life here, it completely ignored us.

South Georgia Pintail

Simon led us inland a bit to a small Gentoo colony.  There’s no more than a few dozen pairs nesting here, but nonetheless a bustling community.  One of the favorite pass time of a Gentoo Penguin who was not hatching an egg or fishing is too collect (or steal) building material.  This little guy managed to grab a large mouthful of dry grass from near a neighbor’s nest, but getting it home is a whole different matter.

A nesting Gentoo warning an intruder

Trespass only if you are fleet of feet. THAT is gotta hurt.

Glacier ice seen from Gold Harbour

As this is our last day in South Georgia, we went back to the beach to spend more time with the King Penguins.  We will not see them in Antarctica.  We will be seeing a few new species of penguin there though.

Two kings out of the ocean

A Gentoo penguin calling.

Once on the beach, Tracy and I were stalked by a elephant seal pup.  By this time they were almost as big as their mom, so we didn’t realize that it was a baby.

This seal pup is really flexible

Yup it could bend to the other side just as well.

It chased us for a good 50 meters.  But since elephant seals are rather clumsy on land, the chase is done 5 meters at a time.

We realized later that it was just a baby because it tried to move penguin feathers and sea weeds by blowing air out of its nose.  It was hilarious.

Too bad we didn’t get a chance to let it catch us.  Its mom caught up to it finally.

Our stalker (right) and its mom

Rain started when the sun's down. It was getting cold now.

Three seals getting some beauty sleep.

Some brave the ocean ...

... while others run away from it.

Steam coming out of the open mouth of an elephant seal bull

Water fight

Tracy and a seal pup

Tracy and the same seal pup

The End

Afternoon excursion at Cooper Bay was canceled because of sea swells.  That’s too bad as that might be our only chance of seeing Macaroni Penguins.  Nothing we could do about that though.  Instead the ship sailed through Drygalski Fjord for a grand view of the glaciers and mountains around the southern tip of the island.

Sailing in Drygalski Fjord


Our ship cruising slowly alongside the island

Everyone came on deck to say goodbye to South Georgia Islands

We venture into the South Ocean again toward Antarctica.  The sea swell picked up.  It would be another two full days of journey.  I was also a little worried about crossing the infamous Drake Passage.  Both of us started to take seasickness medications.

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大头花 回复 悄悄话 Caitlin Wylde on September 3, 2012 at 7:53 pm said:
Hi I love your photos of the South Georgian Islands. I’m interested in doing a video of whale bones on beaches for an installation about whales and whaling. This place looks pretty intense! Where there lots of beaches with bones and as far as you know is it difficult to get there other than by boat?
Thanks so much!

Tao on September 3, 2012 at 8:57 pm said:
Hi Caitlin, glad you liked our photos. There are no airstrip on South Georgia Islands, so the only way in is by ship. Several adventure cruise lines operate cruise ships to these islands a few times a year. You can learn more about these islands and get a list of cruise companies on wikitravel:

I took the whale bone picture at Grytviken. It’s an abandoned whaling station. There are some whale bones scattered around, but not a lot. The place is filled with rusted machinery and old buildings, some are still in use by the local administration.

Hope this helps. Good luck in your search.