South Georgia In Depth – Photography Symposium
South Georgia has rightly been called ‘the most staggering wildlife show on earth’. After our in depth exploration, we are certain you will agree. This seldom-visited corner of the planet is a place we know intimately and look forward to visiting every season. Even our experienced expedition staff, some with more than 100 journeys south, cherish every visit to South Georgia. Traditionally, our visits to South Georgia last only three or four days and are part of a much longer itinerary that includes time spent in Falkland Islands and Antarctica, but, after many years of careful preparation and planning, we can now offer our guests the unique opportunity of ten full days of exploration – more than double the time traditionally spent in South Georgia.This particular departure is timed to coincide with the arrival of spring as South Georgia emerges from the long and frigid winter. It is an exceptional time to visit. Late October marks the beginning of the wildlife migration and commencement of the breeding cycle for many species. Scenes of male elephant seals battling for control of the beaches (and the female harems), and the intimate and beautiful courtship rituals of the albatross and antics of the young penguin chicks, will have you believing you are ‘on the set’ of your very own wildlife documentary. For lovers of remote, small-ship expedition cruising, this voyage ticks every box you could possibly imagine.
Onboard Photographic Symposium
An additional highlight of this departure will be the shipboard photography symposium open to all guests. This program runs alongside our regular series of presentations on history, ornithology, geology and the natural world. The members of the photographic team each have a special area of expertise including wildlife photography, landscape and composition, along with technical elements including gear and equipment and computer based processing, file management and storage. We make regular use of our ship-board multi-media studio for breakout sessions and to review and critique our images throughout the voyage. Our photographic goals on this departure will be formed and led by the light available both onshore and on the water. With a varied and diverse itinerary and flexible plans, we aim to make the most out of the beautiful light, even if outside conventional shore landing times. For the photography buffs, this trip is not to be missed!
Day 1: Punta Arenas, Chile to Port Stanley, Falkland Islands – Our journey commences this morning in the southern Chilean city of Punta Arenas. We meet at a central location and transfer to the airport for our scheduled service to Stanley in the Falkland Islands (this flight is included in the price of your voyage). After a short 90-minute flight we arrive in Stanley and are met on arrival and transferred to the pier. Stanley is currently home to just over 2,000 residents and is reminiscent of a rural town in coastal England or Scotland. It is charming with brightly colored houses, pretty flower-filled gardens, a quaint cathedral and several local pubs. The waterfront memorial, built to commemorate the lives of the servicemen lost during the Falklands War in the early 1980’s, is a sobering reminder of recent history. There is time to explore the town, before we make our way to the ship for embarkation. After settling in to our cabins and exploring the ship, we meet our expedition team and fellow passengers. Excitement is in the air as we enjoy a welcome cocktail, dinner and cast off, bound for South Georgia – and the adventure of a lifetime.
Days 2 – 3: At sea towards South Georgia – This stretch of the South Atlantic is rich in its bio-diversity and showcases an abundance of astonishing wildlife. We will be joined by hundreds of seabirds including the wandering albatross. Giant petrels and smaller Cape petrels are also constant companions as make our way to South Georgia. Photographing these magnificent birds from the deck of the ship takes patience and skill and our photography expert will be on hand to show you the best techniques. Join the ship’s Captain on the bridge and learn about the operations of our modern research vessel. Throughout the day our onboard experts educate us with a series of presentations about the environment, wildlife and history and the locations we hope to visit in the coming days. History is a key theme of this voyage and the epic story of Shackleton is central to our journey.
Days 4 – 5: King Haakon Bay and the Northwest Coast – These next ten days will be unlike anything you have ever imagined. Majestic snow-covered mountains greet us on arrival in South Georgia. 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, 100 years ago. From here, they set off to cross the mountainous spine of South Georgia – a feat never before attempted. This is a very dramatic place, visited by just a handful of ships each season.
From here, we make our way around to the protected waters of the north-eastern coast. We can now indulge in an in-depth exploration, navigating the ships into the bays and harbors 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 staggering abundance of king penguin adults and their young. The rookery is believed 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. You have to experience it to believe it.
The majestic ‘Kings’ are not the only wildlife on display as we cruise the rugged coastline. Fur seals can be seen poking their heads above the water, the elephant seals will 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: St Andrews Bay, Gold Harbour and Eastern Coast – Our adventure takes us next to Fortuna Bay, a majestic three-mile long and one-mile wide 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 down the coast. In Fortuna Bay we can expect to see king penguins and elephant seals.
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, Worsley and Crean arrived after their epic crossing from King Haakon Bay on the south coast. This is after having completed their 800-mile journey by small boat from Elephant Island. If the weather co-operates, we hope to be able to hike the last few miles across the saddle separating Fortuna Bay from neighboring Stromness, in the footsteps of Shackleton and his men.
As we journey further to the southeast we enter the broad expanse of Cumberland Bay. At the head of the bay lies Grytviken – the largest of the old whaling stations on South Georgia. A highlight of our landing here is a visit to the gravesite of Sir Ernest Shackleton and his loyal right hand man, Frank Wild. Frank Wild’s lifelong wish was to be buried beside Shackleton. However his wish never materialized due to the outbreak of WWII, a week after Wild’s passing in South Africa. Our voyage falls exactly four years following the transport of Wild’s ashes to South Georgia aboard our ship, and some 95 years after his last voyage with Shackleton in 1921.
Days 8 – 9: St Andrews Bay, Gold Harbour and Southeast Coast – Our next few days will take us to St Andrew’s Bay and Gold Harbor – places that are teeming with wildlife including fur seals, elephant seals and massive colonies of the colorful king penguins. As with all of our landings we will exercise every opportunity possible to explore on foot with our experienced guides. Gold Harbor is so called because the sun’s rays make the cliffs yellow with their light in the morning and evening. It’s an exhilarating location.
Drygalski Fjord at the far eastern extremity of the island has been called one of the most spectacular sites in South Georgia and we think you will agree. If it is calm enough you can hear the glacier calving large chunks of ice, reminders of what early sealers, whalers and vessels needed to pay close attention to.
Days 10 – 11: Royal Bay, Godthul and Prion Island – Our exploration of South Georgia is far from over and we meander our way back along the northern coastline. There are few gems we have in mind – including the old whaling shore depot at Godthul. There is a terrific hike here up to a beautiful lake. Cooper Bay is home to a sizeable Macaroni penguin rookery nesting among the tussac grass behind the landing site. Nearing the end of our visit to South Georgia, we hope to enjoy a shore landing at Prion Island – yet another spectacular location and some would argue – the jewel in the crown. Situated in the breathtaking Bay of Isles, Prion Island has been designated as a ‘Specially Protected Area’ by the South Georgia Government, due to the breeding wandering albatross colonies at this location. Boasting the largest wingspan of any living bird, typically ranging from 2.5 to 3.5 m (8ft to 11ft), they spend most of their life in flight, landing only to breed and feed.
Distances traveled each year are hard to measure, but one bird was recorded traveling 6000 km in just twelve days. It is rare to experience them up close and personal and on land. We are exceptionally lucky to be able to attempt a landing here as the site is closed to visiting ships between November and mid January, due to the massive concentration of fur seals on the beaches. The boardwalks provide access to several observation platforms where we can view nesting Wandering albatross at close quarters. Our visit to this exceptional location is a fitting way to complete our exploration. Tonight, as we depart South Georgia, we pause to reflect on eight epic days and chart our return course towards the Falkland Islands.
Days 12 – 13: At Sea – towards Falkland Islands – Our final days are spent catching up on journal entries, or perhaps downloading and reviewing photos in the multi-media lab with our photography expert. For some, it’s a chance to catch some well-earned rest after a busy eight days of exploration. The wonderful lounge and bar on our ship provides fantastic panoramas and is a great place to sit with a book and a hot drink. The educational presentations continue and we enjoy an entertaining and memorable voyage recap by our Expedition Leader. A particular highlight of our return journey will be frequent sightings of the majestic albatross, petrels and other seabirds as they soar above the ship on the winds of the Southern Ocean. Take the time to enjoy a quiet moment on the outer deck and reflect on a truly remarkable journey to the farthest reaches of the planet.
Days 14: Sea Lion Island, Falkland Islands – We wake to the sight of landfall in the Falklands. Approaching Sea Lion Island, we first note the very barren and windswept landscape, exposed to the prevailing weather that originates in the Drake Passage. We launch the zodiacs and go ashore to view the incredible diversity of wildlife found at this location. Three species of penguin including gentoo, magellanic and rockhopper, as well as southern elephant seals and South American sea lions are known to inhabit the area. King cormorants and striated caracaras are just some of the bird species we expect to see. Weather permitting, we may have time to visit neighboring Bleaker Island – another settlement on the exposed south-eastern coast of the Falklands – equally rich in wildlife. As we cruise along the coast of the Falklands, bound for Stanley, we enjoy a special dinner attended by the ship’s Captain.
Days 15: Stanley, Falkland Islands, to Punta Arenas, Chile – In the early morning, we navigate through the narrows and into the harbour of Port Stanley. A transfer will take us to the airport for our return flight to Punta Arenas in southern Chile (this flight is included in the price of your voyage). It will be possible to connect to flights through to Santiago or other destinations in Chile. Otherwise enjoy a night in Punta Arenas, or venture further afield to explore the highlights of Patagonia.
Please note: Specific sites visited will depend on ice and weather conditions, the planned itinerary will be updated at the time of final preparations as well as throughout the voyage in order to take advantage of favourable conditions.