After the frustration of being unable to do a Zodiac cruise the previous evening around Elsehul Bay (due to the 3+ metre swells), we awoke close to Grytviken to far smoother seas, excellent visibility and only broken cloud.
At 8am, we began to head ashore in the Zodiacs landing close to the Grytviken cemetery. On the beach, we were “greeted” by dozens of young Antarctic Fur Seal, as well as good numbers of Elephant Seals. A number of the latter were moulting (ie changing their coats) and were decidedly scruffy, however, the majority were sound asleep on the grass, although there were still plenty of groans, belches and other noises coming from them.
Amongst the Fur Seal pups was one blonde individual - these are comparatively rare with only one in every eight hundred or so being this colour. This one seemed to spend most of its time asleep whilst many of its companions were far more lively and curious and came very close to us. We made our way in small groups to the cemetery where Peter Damisch (Ship's Historian) proposed a toast (with those who wanted it being issued with a dram of Jameson's Irish Whiskey) to the great explorer, Ernest Shackleton, who is buried there. Peter's toast was followed by David Munro who said a few additional words, and noted that today would have been Shackleton's 135th birthday - our visit had been perfectly timed!!
We then walked round to the whaling complex, however, there was plenty of wildlife to see along the way including several small groups of King Penguins, a few Gentoo Penguins and at least two South Georgia Pintails. This fairly small duck is endemic to South Georgia (i.e. it is found nowhere else in the world) and we were able to get great looks at these before continuing on towards the whaling station. Here, a number of signs that had been put up by the South Georgia Heritage Trust (“SGHT”) explained what the various buildings and devices had been used for. These included the flensing platforms where the whales were cut up and cookers where the meat and bones were reduced to oil, bone meal, etc.
We were also able to visit the Station's Church (which dated from 1913) and the more recently opened Museum, which had a range of exhibits including an insight into the lives of the whalers. The SGHT gift shop was also open and there was a brisk trade in souvenirs. All too soon, it was time to return to the ship and there was the option of either lunch in The Restaurant or an outside barbecue as we headed towards our afternoon destination of Stromness, which was where Shackleton had gone to seek help after his epic journey from Elephant Island.
At 2:30pm, we started to disembark Prince Albert II, landing close to the whaling station at Stromness. The first to leave the ship were the fifty-one guests who wanted to do a longer walk to a waterfall that had been the final obstacle Shackleton and his men had had to overcome before reaching assistance. The walk was about 2 miles each way and when we arrived at the waterfall, Peter Damisch described the historical significance of the location and Chris Edwards (Ship's Geologist) spoke about the geology of the area.
Those who decided not to join the longer walk were able to join other staff for a shorter walk around the 200m perimeter of the whaling station and enjoyed prolonged views of both King and Gentoo Penguins, literally thousands of Antarctic Fur Seal pups and the introduced herd of Reindeer that live in the Stromness area.
As we returned to the landing site, many of us were able to join a scenic Zodiac cruise back to the ship, which included seeing the building where Shackleton and his men had finally ended their quest for assistance.