Day 9 |
Dec 03, 2011

St Andrews Bay and Gold Harbour, South Georgia 

By Luciano Bernacchi, Naturalist, Birder, Glacier Guide

Co-ordinates: 54 36 11 S 37 43 10W
Weather: Partially cloudy, some sun, variable wind, strong gusts.
Air Temperature: 4ºC
Pressure: 1002 hPa

After a few great days in South Georgia, everyone agrees that that it is a unique place. Today we had big plans to do two of the most important landings: St Andrews Bay in the morning and Gold Harbour in the afternoon.

I started the day with a quick breakfast and soon after jumped in a Zodiac to shuttle our guests to shore. Some very severe gusts of wind delayed disembarkation, and showed us a little of typical South Georgia weather. With some patience, care, and some sea spray, half of our guests were on shore.

St Andrews has one of the largest breeding colonies of King Penguins, from the landing site a 20-minute walk across the beach, and across a few glacier streams leads to the ridge of a little moraine, an excellent viewpoint overlooking the endless numbers of penguins.

After driving, I had to lead a walk towards the colony. I asked our guests to walk slowly, and we made our way through the numerous elephant seals, fur seals, king penguins, Giant Petrels, Skuas, and more wildlife. From the moment you step ashore, in the distance the continuous calls and whistles of thousands of penguins can be heard, as you approach the main colony it becomes louder and louder, the sound of over 200,000 birds!!!

Big patches of dark brown showed the crèches formed by downy chicks; they assemble together waiting for one of their parents to return from sea and feed them. They rejoin each other by recognising their calls, which explains the constant calling of adults and whistling of chicks.

After sharing some time with the guests and some other colleagues from the Expedition Team, I returned to the landing site to drive a Zodiac again. The other half of our guests were starting to disembark and some were heading back to the Silver Explorer.

We continued with the morning activity. The scenery of the three glaciers high up the valleys, the king penguins and other wildlife made this landing one of the highlights of our days in South Georgia.

Just before lunchtime we hoisted the Zodiacs, and I found a spot to relax at The Restaurant while we repositioned further southeast towards St. Andrews. The weather was improving, blue sky and all, although the wind picked up bit.

The Captain dropped the anchor and we started disembarkation, the landing site had perfect conditions, sunshine, small swell, and no wind; however the Silver Explorer position was more exposed to the winds gusting down the glaciers, and we could see from land how the gusts travelled around the area were she was anchored.

We met some researchers that had been camping there for a couple of weeks. They were working on a program to get rid of the rodents, trapping and taking samples to gather information for the ambitious program they have begun that aims to get rat-free areas on the island.

I guided a group to a nearby ridge, where I set a path of flags on a steep gully. The views were simply breathtaking and well worth the effort. I had to stay some time there as individual guests made their way. Amazingly, there was no wind at all, and we enjoyed sunny condition, and the best views South Georgia can offer.

For many, St Andrews had been their favourite landing, and in these conditions, Gold Harbour became the top choice for many. There are fewer penguins but the setting made it and unforgettable afternoon. The hanging glacier, the cliffs, the beach and turquoise bay… what else could we ask for?

I was sitting on a grassy slope above the ridge together with some guests, and felt very privileged and fortunate to be able to visit places like this. After a while I returned to the landing site to swap places with another Expedition Team member and drive a Zodiac for a while.

It was difficult to get everyone back to the ship; it had been just a perfect day in South Georgia. Back on board the Silver Explorer, a quick break and then Recap & Briefing as we heaved anchor and set sail for Elephant Island.

The excitement was all around us, and all guests were happily commenting at dinner on the events of the day, our good luck with the weather, and the rich wildlife we had been able to enjoy.