Saturday, 13 April 2013

Day 28: South Georgia and a day to remember

Hello All

On our 28th day we arrived at South Georgia. We had heard about and seen pictures of this mountainous sub-antarctic island, but little could prepare us.  We arrived at King Edward Point at dawn to a spectacular sight. As the glow broke through the clouds it lit up towering peaks, cascading glaciers and golden hills. Although it rains 300 days a year down here, this day was sunny and still. An incredible treat.

Photo: Towering South Georgia before sunrise.

Stepping off was disorientating. One grows accustomed to constantly correcting the sway of the ship. The shore was lined with young fur seals. Irresistibly cute even if they think they are scary when they growl - although a bite is almost certainly infectious. Most people spent the day out and about, climbing nearby peaks, spotting king penguins and elephant seals and enjoying the glorious sunshine. By all accounts every choice was equally spectacular and I can certainly vouch for the view from Mount Hodges to the interior peaks and out to the crimson blue glacial bays. More reports are likely to come...

Photo: Gwynn met some king penguins at penguin river...of all places.

n addition to it's natural beauty, South Georgia is mostly known for two things: Whaling and Shackleton. Despite being discovered by Captain Cook over 200 years ago (there were no previous inhabitants), South Georgia wasn't settled until the early 1900s when Norwegian Whalers established a station here. Massive steel drums and countless engines that could pull steam trains rust into a dull reds and oranges. These are evidence of the industrial scale whaling had reached by its end here in the 1960s.

Photo: Mount Hodges, the old whaling station and some cute-until-they-bite-you seals

In 1914, when whaling was in its infancy in South Georgia, Ernest Shackleton set off to Antarctica with the aim of being the first to cross Antarctica. Their wooden ship, Endurance, came up against unexpectedly thick ice (a bit like that which stopped us getting our moorings). Endurance became trapped in the ice. Shackleton's team had to spend the winter on the ship as the ice pushed them slowly northward. By the end of the winter the ice had consumed the ship. They then set out for Elephant Island (the only other land we have spotted since departing) where 22 stayed and Shackleton led 6 others across 800 miles of ocean to South Georgia. Incredibly, they arrived safely, but on the South-Eastern side. The legendary status of the journey was confirmed when the 6 men made perhaps the first crossing of South Georgia over 36 straight hours. Shackleton and all the men involved survived the ordeal and he is now buried in a cemetery here in KEP - his the only gravestone with the head pointing South.

Photo: Pierre scrambles up a scree. The terrain in the background is more like Shackleton's weary team would have tackled.

In the evening the 8 British Antarctic Survey staff still on the island invited us, the 2 government officers and an assortment of temporary staff there to help with eradication of introduced species, for a sunset dinner. Rarely do you get to eat something as delicious as reindeer and find you are helping solve an environmental problem...mind you there were plenty of takers.

Photo: Not a bad Sunset.

Stay tuned for a late night post from the Tracer-Red-Eye-Crew.


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