Days 4-5: KING HAAKON BAY AND THE NORTHWEST COAST OF SOUTH GEORGIA
Majestic snow-covered mountains greet us on arrival in South Georgia. Weather permitting, we begin our exploration on the southern coastline. We hope to navigate the ship into the very historic location of King Haakon Bay. It was here that Shackleton and his men made landfall in their small lifeboat – the 'James Caird', after completing the perilous ocean crossing from Elephant Island, a century ago. This is a very dramatic place, visited by just a handful of ships each season. From here, we make our way around to the more protected waters of the north-eastern coast.
We can now indulge in an in-depth exploration, navigating into the bays and harbours the entire length of the island. Elsehul Bay allows for great Zodiac cruising and will be a possible location we will launch the kayakers for a paddle. One of the most anticipated sites in South Georgia is Salisbury Plain. The black sand beaches and tussock covered dunes are home to a staggering abundance of king penguin adults and their young. The rookery is estimated to have a population of up to 100,000 adult and juvenile penguins. This is just one of several such king penguin rookeries on South Georgia. At the height of breeding season, the rookeries are believed to have more wildlife per square foot than any other place on the planet. The majestic ‘Kings’ are not the only wildlife on display as we explore the rugged coastline. Fur seals can be seen poking their heads above the water, the elephant seals enjoy lazing about the beach, while the skuas and giant petrels fill the skies above. Meanwhile, the albatross – our constant companion on this journey – is never far away.
Days 6-7: FORTUNA BAY, STROMNESS, GRYTVIKEN AND CENTRAL NORTH COAST
Fortuna Bay is a majestic three-mile long fjord. It was named after the ship 'Fortuna' – one of the original vessels of the Norwegian–Argentine whaling expedition which established the first permanent whaling station at Grytviken - further along the coast. History comes into sharp focus as we continue west to Stromness and onto Grytviken. From 1912 until the 1930’s, Stromness (and nearby Leith and Husvik), operated as whaling stations and the rusted and ghostly remnants of these old stations seem out of place in such a pristine environment. This area is key to the Shackleton story and it was here in 1916, that Shackleton and his companions, Frank Worsley and Tom Crean arrived after their epic mountain crossing from King Haakon Bay on the south coast. This is after having completed their 800-mile journey by small boat from Elephant Island in Antarctica.
If the weather co-operates, we hope to hike in Shackleton's footsteps, the last few miles across the saddle separating Fortuna Bay from neighbouring Stromness. Eventually we enter the broad expanse of Cumberland Bay, anchoring off Grytviken – the largest of the old whaling stations on South Georgia. A highlight of our landing here is a visit to the grave site of Sir Ernest Shackleton and his loyal right hand man, Frank Wild.