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Stop, sit down and look around

Posted: 2015-09-30 23:22:00, Categories: Travel, Antarctica, Sailing, South Georgia, 707 words (permalink)

Sandra relaxing at Ocean Harbour.
Sandra relaxing at Ocean Harbour.
With limited number of days in an exciting region, it's easy to end up in a continuous rush of walking, changing lenses, taking more photos and trying not to miss anything worth seeing. Wisely, our guide Eduardo reminded us also to stop, put the camera down, look around and appreciate being in such a unique place.

A fur seal bathing in a sweetwater pool.
A fur seal bathing in a sweetwater pool.
An excellent chance to do that was at Ocean's Harbor, a sheltered bay with an old ship wreck slowly rusting near the shore. There were animals around but no large busy colonies of penguins or seals. We didn't have any walk led by the guides, just the usual transfer to the shore by zodiacs and a time to be picked up at the same spot. As expected, people spread in different directions in small groups or alone.

Cormorants nesting in a ship wreck.
Cormorants nesting in a ship wreck.
It was a warm, sunny day, almost no wind. We walked first along the beach and then climbed a little bit up the hillside. There we sat down on the grass and observed the bay from above. Next to us was a small creek with tiny pools where the water stopped on its way down to the sea. A solitary fur seal was swimming in one of the pools, rolling around and clearly enjoying the bath. Cormorants were nesting in the ship wreck which already had grass growing on the deck. In the background, the sun was setting behind the mountains, whose shadow covered more and more of the bay as the evening approached. On the way back to the pick up point, we saw a couple of South Georgia pintails, the only duck species living on the island.

A macaroni penguin jumping from a rock.
A macaroni penguin jumping from a rock.
Another new species for us were the macaroni penguins, which we could see during two landings. The funniest place to observe them was at a rocky shore near Cobbler's Cove, where they were coming out from the sea and climbing towards their colony. Wingless as penguins are, they couldn't simply fly over the cliffs like other birds. Jumping from rock to rock and zigzagging to find a passable route, they made their way across the tricky terrain.

View at St. Andrew's Bay. Photo by Sandra Teräs.
View at St. Andrew's Bay. Photo by Sandra Teräs.
Our last big penguin colony was at St. Andrew's Bay, a postcard view of high snow-capped mountains, glaciers and a river flowing to the sea between green grass fields and tens of thousands of king penguins. Nearby at Gold Harbour the same afternoon we were still surrounded by lots of action and sounds, including a large and smelly bunch of elephant seals spreading sand over each other and plenty of snowy sheathbills, one of the smaller bird species, bathing in the freshwater pools. Then we headed to the south-east corner of the island, where we anchored in a small bay inside the Drygalski fjord.

Helen and Sandra wading through tussock grass.
Helen and Sandra wading through tussock grass.
Around midnight we woke up to a loud bang. During the night, a strong katabatic wind had developed and just blown us off the anchor against underwater rocks. The ship wasn't damaged, but some tricky maneuvering was needed. The captain turned on the engines and navigated us out of the fjord in the darkness, between icebergs. Still in the morning, a strong wind was blowing and prevented us of doing the planned cruise inside the fjord. Instead, we went to see our last macaroni penguins in Cooper Bay, wading between some of the tallest patches of tussock grass we had seen.

Bark Europa with icebergs in the background.
Bark Europa with icebergs in the background.
Day by day on both Antarctica and South Georgia we got more used to all the animals around us, but never became bored to observe them. It was simply wonderful to be able to see all of them so close in their natural environment, unlike in any other place we had earlier been to. Penguins remained our favourites, they were simply so cute and funny that it was hard to resist not to give one of them a hug. When the days were up and we started sailing east on March 25th, it was a slightly melancholic moment to say good bye to this very special corner of our planet.

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Copyright Arto Teräs <ajt@iki.fi>, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License.
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