A few years ago I was fortunate enough to partake in an expedition cruise to South Georgia, a remote island in the South Atlantic. It was a trip of a lifetime and as it was fall here, it was spring in the southern hemisphere, the perfect time to go.
Late October and November are mating season in South Georgia. Elephant seal bulls fight over their harems and are fiercely protective of their domain. It is very common to see two of these enormous lumbering beasts to go at it in a tremendous fight. And while most of these fights end up with the looser skulking away, sometimes blood does flow and the weaker male gets killed. It is nature as you rarely see even in documentaries.
Meanwhile there are plenty of seal pups to be seen too and they are adorable.
I remember one day coming back from a hike and on the beach, where we were to meet our zodiac ride back to the ship was one of my fellow travellers. She had been sitting on the beach taking it all in when a seal put crawled up to her and put her flipper in her hand. The young woman had tears rolling down her cheeks as this was such a wonderful experience.
Another reason to visit South Georgia is the story of Sir Ernest Shackleton. A veteran Antarctic explorer his ship had become stuck and sunk in the Weddell Sea, after which he and his crew lived on the ice for months before launching their lifeboats and reaching Elephant Island, off the Antarctic Peninsula. With no help in sight, Shackleton with a small number of men rowed 1330 kms across the stormy ocean to reach South Georgia. Even then they were not safe as their boat floundered on the south shore while help was to be found on the north shore. A 36 hour hair-raising trek across glaciated mountains followed before they finally staggered into the whaling station at Stromness, where they found help.
We had previously landed at King Haakon Bay, where Shackleton had first come ashore. And with a week of blissfully sunny weather we were able to walk in the footsteps of the explorer along the final stretch of his epic journey.
But the most important reason adventurous travellers journey to South Georgia is the penguins. Picture a hundred and twenty thousands King penguins all huddled together in locations such as the Salisbury Plain. It is a sight (and a smell) to believed.
And it is the oakum boys, the penguin chicks, that steal the show. The name oakum boy comes from the resemblance of the colour of their brown down to that of the ropes used to caulk sailing ships of old. The young go about their own way, performing their antics, harassing their parents for food and doing all that youngsters do. Don't be surprised if they come up to you to take a good look at you!
The spectacular scenery, the wildlife, the birds, the spirit of adventure and the camaraderie it fostered, all made for a fantastic journey. You can travel to South Georgia as a destination by itself, or combine it with a trip to the Antarctic Peninsula.
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The massive mountains of Drygalski Fjord on the south coast of South Georgia. Can you spot the ship?