On February 5th, our adventure in South Georgia Island begins with the sighting of nearby Shag Rocks, an outcropping of small islands covered with birds.  After a circumnavigation of these islets we proceed to the Salisbury Plains on the southern shore of the Isles, 50km off the west end of South Georgia Island.  Here resides the 2nd largest colony of king penguins, 60,000 breeding pairs which swells to 250,000 individuals during the moult. 

In the afternoon we head towards Stromness Harbour and on our way there happen upon a whale.  Stromness was a whaling station from 1907-1932 and famous for being the Shakleton party’s final destination on their epic journey in search of help from being stranded at Point Wild on Elephant Island, Antarctica. 

On the morning of February 6th we visit St Andrews Bay, home of the islands largest penguin colony with 100,000 breeding pairs.  Here we hike among the colony and up to the receding Cook Glacier.  Thirty years ago the glacier was at the high tide mark, 35m high and 500m wide. 

In the afternoon we transit to Grytviken in King Edward Cove.  Originally a sealing station filled with trypots, Grytviken means ‘pot cove’ in Norwegian and Swedish.  Grytviken was the hub of the South Atlantic whaling industry for 60 years.  Established in 1904, in it’s heyday it housed over 300 men and processed more than 54,000 whales in total.  Ernest Shackleton is buried here, on his headstone “I hold that a man should strive to the uttermost for his life’s set prize” – Robert Browning.  Today it is home to a British Antarctic Survey research station, museum, gift shop, post office and is the center of government administration of the island.  I bought myself a nice winter hat…made in Nepal.  In my photos I captured an image from sea of the “Gates of Hell” where whales were processed leading directly up to the church.  I very much enjoyed photographing the rust here.

On the morning of February 7th we toured Gold Harbour.  At the head of the bay is the stunning Bertrab Glacier which hangs over vertical cliffs.  Gold Harbour is home to 25,000 breeding pairs of king penguins.  Small Gentoo penguin colonies can also be found.  I concentrated my time on the Elephant Seals fighting.

In the afternoon we head to Drygalski Fjord and on the way come across a pod of whales and an iceberg field.  The whales are far off when they fluke, I am not prepared for the shot but am presenting a poor one here anyway.  Never fear, there will be more.  We cruise up the fjord with winds blasting down the glacier head.  At the terminus we turn….sort of….we only get 90 degrees and then are blown down the Fjord sideways.  When we get back to the ocean, just at dinner time, the winds are so strong that our ship lists about 20 degrees, the wind meter is broken and a hand held one reaches it’s maximum reading.  This continues for 2 hours then blasts the other side for 1 hour. 

On February 8th we head to Royal Bay for a zodiac ride.  Royal Bay is 4 miles wide and 5 miles deep, discovered and named by a British Expedition under Cook in 1775.  Home to Elephant seals, Southern Giant Petrels, blue eyed shags, light mantled sooty albatross, South Georgia pintails, Gentoo Penguins, Macaroni Penguins and 30,000 pairs of King Penguins.  It is always a challenge to photograph from zodiac where the boat and subject are both moving.

In the afternoon a zodiac ride in Cooper Bay finds more Macaroni Penguins and the largest Chinstrap Penguin colony on the island.  Finally we depart, totally amazed at our luck of weather and seas and fortunate to land every site scheduled.  But it just isn’t enough and we are treated to Macaroni and Fur Seals porpoising, a pod of whales fluking and a few more ice burgs before the sun sets on South Georgia Island as we sail on to Antarctica.

Photography Gear:

Someone asked me to provide a photo gear list that I took on this trip.  First I took a LowePro Flipside 500AW, it can carry all the gear below.  It is backpack and can be flipped around to use as a table to change lenses.  This is important because the ground is often muddy or covered with penguin poo.  I brought a 90L SeaToSummit waterproof backpack that the LowePro can slip into (tight fit) in case of mishap and a 35L SeaToSummit waterproof backpack for Zodiac shooting where I will not be taking my 500mm lens.  I used packing material in the 35L to separate gear and keep it protected. 

I brought Canon 1DX and 5DIII cameras with battery chargers, 500mm f/4 IS II (my favorite), 70-200 f/2.8 IS II, 100mm f/2.8 Macro IS, 16-35mm f/2.8 II, 1.4x III extender, and 2.0x III extender.  I bought a slick new Feisol monopod with Really Right Stuff head that was perfect for taking the weight and balance both on shore and on deck.  I brought polarizers for the 70-200 and 16-35 which were used a few times and could have been used many more.  I brought 2 backup batteries for the 1DX and 1 for the 5DIII.  I took 320GB of memory cards and took almost 300GB of photos in RAW.  I also brought lens and sensor cleaning supplies.

When it comes to lenses many people told me the 500 was unnecessary, but shooting distant whales and animal portraits I found myself using the 500 a lot, often with 1.4x extender.  If you are shooting a crop sensor camera like the 7DII, then the 100-400 4.5-5.6 will work just fine, but if you are shooting full frame bring the biggest that you can.

I also brought a GoPro Black and extender pole for underwater video but only used it for the polar plunge and a Canon Powershot S110 as backup but it was only used for a few shots for comparison.  I had extra memory cards for these.

I did not bring a laptop and had no time to edit photos as I was always doing something.  I wish I had brought a memory stick to copy the polar plunge photos in full resolution, the ones on the Quark website are down sampled quite a bit.

South Georgia Island

February 5, 2015

The value of our life is not solely measured by its length, but also by the depth of our hearts.

And breadth of our experiences.  And indeed the heights that we achieve.