December 25, 2012 – St. Andrews Bay, Grytviken
Posted on December 26th, 2012
Temperature: 40° F
Wind speed: 10 knots
Cloud cover: 50%
Under calm conditions with some blue sky peaking through the clouds, we arrived at yet another spectacular South Georgia site know as St. Andrews Bay. The stunning scenery of towering mountain peaks with calls of king penguins echoing across the bay only served to heighten our anticipation for the adventure ahead.
It was truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience to be in the presence of 100,000 pairs of king penguins, the largest colony on South Georgia. Once past groups of loafing elephant seals and a rather exciting stream crossing, we hiked along the beach past fur seals who were exhibiting the entire spectrum of possible moods.
Further along, we climbed to an overlook where we took in a truly massive and impressive penguin colony. It was impossible not to notice how incredibly loud it was, as well as how strong the smell was. Chicks let out high pitch whistles as begging calls to their parents, while adults trumpeted in courtship displays with potential mates.
It was hard to pull ourselves away from this magnificent wildlife spectacle, but we were rewarded back onboard ‘Le Boreal’ with a surprise visit from Santa Claus himself. Santa arrived by Zodiac and made several passes around the ship, all the while waving at the excited onlookers lining the railings. Within minutes, Santa materialized on the pool deck to the sound of Christmas music and the clicking of cameras. How wonderful that Santa had made such a long journey from the North Pole just to see us!
Following lunch and a bit of a nap, we came out on deck to watch the approach into the calm waters of Cumberland Bay, with South Georgia’s highest peaks looming above us in the distance. Grytviken — a place soaked in history from the age of Antarctic exploration and exploitation — could be seen just ahead of the ship, tucked away in a quiet cove with a stunningly beautiful natural harbor.
We landed on a beach just below the Grytviken cemetery where Sir Ernest Shackleton’s grave is located, along with those of many whalers who lost their lives in the pursuit of whale oil. Historian Bob Burton led us in a graveside toast to “The Boss.” Interestingly, the ashes of Shackleton’s right-hand man, Frank Wild, were interred in this cemetery just last year; now Frank Wild’s grave lies just to the right of that of Ernest Shackleton.
Some of us hiked up the hill behind the cemetery to get a view across the scenic bay. Others wandered past snoring fur seals and fearless penguins en route to the remains of the whaling station. Rusty storage tanks, dilapidated whale catcher boats and old industrial machinery lay in disarray everywhere. Many of us gathered in the Whaler’s Church, which was built in 1913, for a special Christmas service!
The Grytviken Museum was a must-see and we made our way through the various rooms, each with fantastic natural history displays and the whaling station’s remarkable records of life. The museum shop was also a mandatory stop, offering many South Georgia souvenirs to take home.
The daylight was fading as the last Zodiac was lifted back onboard ‘Le Boreal.’ It was an incredible day and we headed off to bed early so we would be prepared for more of South Georgia tomorrow.
– Rich Pagen, Naturalist