Travel

Dispatches from Antarctica: South Georgia Island

  • Feb 18, 2014
  • 399 words
  • 2 minutes
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This month, photographer Rob Stimpson is travelling with One Ocean Expeditions on two trips to Antarctica. This is the third in a series of blogs on his travels through the southern part of the world en route to Antarctica.

The smell penetrates my nostrils first. Then there’s sound. Finally, the visual as I realize I’m looking at almost a quarter of a million king penguins all in one place.

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Overlooking Salisbury Plain and 200,000 king penguins. (Photo: Rob Stimpson)

Salisbury Plain on South Georgia Island is an expanse of beaches, streams, glaciers and tussock grass surrounded by snowcapped mountains. You look out from the beach and see nothing but ocean. It’s not big — merely a dot on a map — but it’s home to millions of penguins, as well as fur seals, albatross and elephant seals.

From there, we cross the Antarctic convergence to enter the Southern Ocean. This is where the Earth’s largest oceans — the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans — meet the coldest, densest ocean water. It’s a biological cornucopia of marine life.

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Wandering albatross at Prion Island. (Photo: Rob Stimpson)

After lunch, we head to Prion Island, in the same bay as Salisbury. It is the nesting ground of the world’s largest bird, the wandering albatross. Fur seals and king penguins meet us as we land.

South Georgia is also the place where Shackleton finished his epic journey in 1914 after being caught in the ice on the Weddell Sea a year earlier. I have the opportunity to hike the last six kilometres of Shackleton’s 30-kilometre trek from Fortuna Bay to Stromness Bay. Coming down next to the waterfall, with Stromness Bay in the distance, I am humbled and awed by how Shackleton and his men managed to walk, climb, slide and drag themselves over snow-covered 2,500-metre peaks in the winter.

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The Shackleton hike looking back at Fortuna Bay. (Photo: Rob Stimpson)

We head to Grytviken, where Shackleton is buried. We toast the “Boss,” as he was known, at his gravesite, then hike to nesting areas of smooth mantled albatross.

We then head to Gold Harbour, and another 100,000 king penguins await us, along with chunks of glacier ice floating around our landing site, creating havoc for the zodiacs. Tussock grass, beach and a hanging glacier form a dramatic backdrop for our last day on South Georgia.

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