Go to South Georgia - stick it on the 'Must Do' list.
Having made the journey across the Scotia Sea from Elephant Island to South Georgia, we were looking at green, not just snow and ice. There were still plenty of icebergs, snow-capped mountains and glaciers galore, but it was good to see grass. This large sub-antarctic island is teeming with wildlife, 50 million birds, 4 million Fur seals, a mind boggling number of penguins, heaps of Elephant seals and not forgetting whales a'blowing.
From the late 19th century South Georgia was home to some whaling stations, an industry that introduced the non-native reindeer for food and rats, who like hitching rides on ships. The rats had a devastating effect on the bird population and reindeer changed the landscape. A few years ago a rat eradication project started, coupled with a reindeer cull. Ambitious for the sheer scale of the problem, but they succeeded. Reindeer were corralled and culled, with a lucky few sent off for breeding on The Falklands. The last lonely fellow was spotted and dispatched a year ago. Most made it to the dinner plate. Rats on the other hand were subjected to an irresistible poisonous meal. Total success on both fronts is showing quick recovery of bird populations and the native flora.
Unlike Shackleton and his men aboard the James Caird, we arrived in comfort. They arrived in brutal conditions and landed a long way from anyone. Off in the Zodiacs for a landing at Cooper Bay. There were plenty of Fur seals with the pups at Swim Club in the creche on the water's edge. We climbed the hill through the tussocked grasses avoiding the seals to reach a small Macaroni penguin colony. Skuas and Giant Petrels above our heads.
Next up, Drygalski Fjord and glacier. We cruised and admired the scenery. The wind had increased making Zodiac rides impossible.
The next day, we visited Godtul, the site of an old whaling station. Amongst the tussocks, old oil drums and abandoned wooden boats. On the beach, whale bones, Elephant seals, Fur seals and Gentoo and King penguins, and as always, the Chinstrap penguin amongst the crowd.
Gold Bay was teeming with life. First up, whales diving off the coast. Heading in to land at the beach we could see wildlife everywhere. Thousands of King Penguins, hundreds of Elephant Seals, the menacing Skuas and Giant Petrels and of course Fur Seals. We hiked along the beach and up through the tussocks to view the bay from above - wildlife everywhere - simply amazing.
When we visited Fortuna Bay, we took a walk to Stromness whaling station. This was the final six kilometres of the route taken by Shackleton, Worsley and Crean before they reached civilisation at the whaling station. At Stromness, we found hundreds of Fur seals, two of which were white-morphs. The buildings of the old station were fairly impressive.
Back aboard the boat, we headed to anchor off Grytviken. Back around 1900, when this whaling station was established, whales were so abundant that it was 2 years before the hunters left this bay to go further a field for their catch. We landed and went immediately to the cemetery to visit the grave of Shackleton and drink a toast to him and Worsley, whose ashes are buried a few feet from his boss. The tour of Grytviken started with the impressive booming voice of Sarah Lurcock. Bit of a reunion here - Rachel and Sarah, known back then as Berwick, attended the same school a few years back. Grytviken was amazing and we could happily have spent a few days exploring instead of the few hours available.
That evening there was a fancy dress bbq at the stern of Polar Pioneer. A lot of fun and a few too many beers.
On the following morning we were off Prion Island. They had to limit the number of people on land at any one time, so starboard side of the ship (lucky for us) were sent first. Boarding the Zodiacs was a little lively, as was the landing. We headed up to see the nesting Albatross and were having a great time, when the weather suddenly changed and we were ordered back to the boat. We were on the first Zodiac - the sea was super lively and the transfer to the ship fairly hair raising - brilliant. The Zodiac behind attempted a transfer, but the wind and sea made it too dangerous. The three remaining Zodiacs were sent away whilst Polar Pioneer found a position for a safe transfer. It took a while and finally all were safely aboard. Unfortunately, half of the passengers didn't get to visit the Albatross.
The weather remained lively and we anticipated any further landings would be abandoned. Should have known better - we had a determined Russian crew and an adventurous expedition staff. Our final landing was Salisbury Plain. The weather was foul, but we spent several hours on the beach, wandering about this enormous King Penguin colony - the odd Chinstrap, as always, making an appearance.
South Georgia was a gem. The weather wasn't always kind, but it didn't matter - the place is a jaw dropper.
The final bit of the cruise - three days and nights to Stanley, The Falklands. And guess what ... yes, through quite a storm....