South Georgia has been described by many visiting explorers over the years as the island of ice. It is clear to see why when you look at a map and see just how much of the island is made up of glaciers.
In the last few weeks I have been out on the boats a few times, not only to resupply the glacial ice on base to make the perfect G&T, but also for boat training and in order to get readings of how far the glaciers have receded.
When you hear figures of how quickly these majestic landmarks are receding, it’s easy to breeze over the figures and not fully comprehend the scale of withdrawal. Well to give you an idea, since I arrived in South Georgia nine months ago, the spectacular Neumayer glacier has receded by over a mile. It wasn’t until I looked at the navigation screen (still hundreds of metres from the face) and saw that I was apparently navigating several miles inland that the severity of this change struck me.
All along the face, it was clear to see more fragilities and cracks appearing and the moraine was full of titanic slabs of glacial debris that dwarfed both the boats.
It has been joked by geologists that this withdrawal of a glacier that runs the entire width of the island could result in the formation of North and South South Georgia islands. Realistically, there is most probably land lying beneath the glacier but it’s not inconceivable that these glaciers could be gone in the not too distant future.
A day later and we were back out on the boats, this time in Cumberland East to drop the boss off on his holidays. This gave us a great excuse to check out the Nordenskjold glacier, named after the expedition that identified Grytviken as a suitable location for South Georgia’s first whaling station in 1902.
There must be good quantities of small prey items in this area of the bay as large numbers of fur seals were lingering in the bay, not to mention South Georgia Shags and Antarctic Terns (see below).
It would be nice to think that all this will be preserved for future generations.
What a few weeks! As per usual they have been hectic, but amazing. We were incredibly lucky to be visited by members of the Royal Marines and Navy, who were part of the Antarctic Endurance Expedition team retracing Sir Ernest Shackleton’s footsteps through South Georgia and the Antarctic in 1914-17.
By the time the team reached us, they were on the final leg of their journey, having just completed the four day hike across South Georgia, which Shackleton had crossed 100 years previously to get help for his crew, who were stranded. They had travelled over 3000 miles across some of the most dangerous seas in the world.
The team immediately clocked our football pitch on arrival and challenged us to a game at the world famous South Georgia National Football Stadium, an incredibly brave move, considering that we have never lost a match here (we’ve only played one!)
Having been soaked through to the skin by a well-timed South Georgian shower during the national anthems, the game eventually kicked off with the away team kicking down into the bog. With the tempo and quality of play reaching levels never seen before on this famous footballing island, the bog provided players with much appreciated rests.
The spectators, all two of them, were so taken away with what they were seeing, they had to remove themselves from the stadium before they got too carried away! I would like to say that when a game of such beauty and skill as this takes place, the score doesn’t matter, only football is the winner and lots of other clichés, but it’s not every day you get to smash Her Majesty’s finest 6-0 on your your home ground!
Although maybe not footballers, our opponents comprised a group of incredible people and it’s no wonder their mission had been so successful.
With the breeding season winding down now, my time has freed up fractionally, meaning I have had a few hours around work to spend time with and appreciate the amazing wildlife and landscape on our front door.
With the king penguins around base now having completed their moult, they are beginning to look quite spectacular. On a rare, bright, still evening, I got myself out with my camera onto the beach and spent a bit of time observing a small group. Every now and then it really hits me how ridiculously privileged I am to be here!
The group had two pairs amongst them who were posturing and calling to each other – I could have watched these majestic animals for hours. However, just because the sun was out, it doesn’t mean it was warm and it wasn’t long before my hands had turned blue and the kettle was calling.
With scientific work easing slightly, I have also had more time to crew and cox our RIBs and jet boats. Having spent a lot of time on board powerboats before the RIB training, they weren’t too much of a challenge but getting my head around jet boats is another completely different challenge. A challenge which I am loving, I have to say, since it means I get to see more of the island and spend time at sea.
And when you’re on board either sort of boat, you’re never too far from beautiful scenery…
Incidentally, we do have a small breeding colony of King Penguins accessible to us by foot near King Edward Point at the aptly named Penguin River. Due to the small size of the colony, breeding isn’t often successful, unfortunately. However, on a visit this week, I was happy to find eight new chicks ready to give it a go.
All the chicks and their parents seemed healthy and were in full voice throughout my visit despite the poor conditions and I was incredibly happy to see the adults regularly feeding their demanding chicks.
This is a decision generally based on time and price. Boats are constantly working on heavily regulated 15day cycles designed to ensure that the quotas for visitors per islands are not exceeded. Vessels pass Santa Cruz and Saint Cristobel (both of which you can fly to) on various points during this cycle and it is possible to jump on and off at these points. For most people 8 days is a good compromise of time and money.
Your two basic 8 day trips, starting and ending in Santa Cruz are as follows.
A week covering the east, north and south islands. My recommendation.
Of the 4 most unique and recommended islands this should cover Floreanna, Espanola, and Genovesa. Both Espanola and Genovesa are inaccessible by day trips and offer incredible biological splendour and diversity on the land. They are also the breeding grounds for waved albatross and red footed boobies respectively. Whilst the snorkelling with the sea lions of Floreanna is magnificent. You also visit Saint Cristobel and Kicker Rock, which, with good visibility, offers the best snorkelling the Galapagos has to offer.
A week around Isabella and Fernandina
Isabella is a huge island with an active volcano, it offers some great snorkelling and a days good hiking, which if the weather stays clear can give you some great views. The cruise will take you west of this island to Fernadinha, also inaccessible by day trip. Here is your only opportunity to see the endemic, flightless cormorant. On top of this, this area around Isabella and Fernadinha is where 80% of the Galapagos penguins can be found and therefore offers you the best chance of sightings.. However there are small populations around Bartolome and Floreana and Pinzon.
As touched upon earlier, it is possible to join at slightly different points of the cruise for different periods of time. My recommendation would be to pick the itinerary that allows you to visit the most of the following: Genovesa, Floreanna, Fernandinha, Espanola and Kicker Rock.