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Day 10 - Stromness & Leith Whaling Stations, South Georgia

February 25, 2015  •  Leave a Comment

The alarm went off at the usual non-holiday hour and I groggily dragged myself up the bar for a coffee, a biscuit (or three) and some water. I as staring out the window at the pre-dawn gloaming outside, the sun not quite being above the horizon just yet. As I opened the door to the Deck 4 Aft, a cold and icy snow-laden wind quickly raised my chin and slapped me across the face. I was definitely awake now! Our port of call for the morning was Stromness. The harbour was a former whaling station but now holds it as a rusting, rotting monument to the former whaling activities that used to take place on the northern coast of South Georgia Island in the South Atlantic. It was also the destination of Ernest Shackleton's rescue journey in 1916. 

DSCF1175 StromnessDSCF1175 Stromness

Stromness Harbour and whaling station taken through the falling snow (taken using the FujiFilm X100, set to Velvia film simulation)

MC__9693 Stromness snowMC__9693 Stromness snow Stromness Harbour and whaling station taken through the falling snow (taken using a Canon DSLR and 24-105mm lens). The famous Villa is still standing and visible in this image. It has been boarded up to try and prevent any more damage to it. An attempt to restore it is being considered. 

MC__9687 Stromness SnowMC__9687 Stromness Snow

Stromness Harbour - the river flows into the bay here on the right along the plain. 

In 1916, Ernest Shackleton and a small crew landed on the unpopulated southern coast of South Georgia at King Haakon Bay after an arduous sea voyage from Elephant Island in the 22-foot lifeboat James Caird. Shackleton along with (the great) Tom Crean and Frank Worsley then trekked across South Georgia's mountainous and glaciated interior in an effort to reach help on the populated northern shore of the island. After 36 hours of crossing the interior they arrived at the Stromness administration centre which also was the home of the Norwegian whaling station's manager. This building has been dubbed the "Villa at Stromness" because it represents relative luxury compared to its surroundings. All men were rescued from Elephant Island. Stromness Harbour conjures up the romanticism and incredible feat of strength and endurance shown by these men. It is very difficult to believe how they did it using the equipment and provisions they had. Quite remarkable. 

MC__9710 Stromness Waterfall GentooMC__9710 Stromness Waterfall Gentoo

The plain along which Shackelton, Crean and Worsley walked along, making their way to the bay, the whaling station and the Manager's hut. My fellow passengers are the yellow dots at the base of the waterfall, which the three men slid down having traversed the island's mountainous terrain. A Gentoo Penguin colony is visible at the bottom right edge of the image. 

MC__9718 Stromness WaterfallMC__9718 Stromness Waterfall  

The waterfall at Stromness with my fellow passengers (yellow penguins). Hopefully this will be able to give you a perspective on the size of the landscape. MC__9728 StromnessMC__9728 Stromness

Looking back towards the harbour from the plain, with the Sea Spirit viewable on the right. My fellow yellow penguins are making their way back. I was retracing Crean's steps but also searching for South Georgian Pintail along the streams :)

This landing was more about the history and people than the wildlife. However, it was not possible to ignore them either! There were Antarctic Fur Seals, "Weaner" Southern Elephant Seals, Gentoo and King Penguins, and South Georgia Pintail to be seen. The Gentoos were nesting here, a long walk/waddle inland for them, but the Kings seemed to be just loafing about, moulting. It was just lovely to spend time here, taking it all in. The falling snow made for a surreal scene and added even more to the magical and serene beauty of what would have once been a blood-soaked land being lapped by blood-red waters, and the air heavy with the stench of rotting whale, seal and pengiun carcasses. 

MC009083 Stromness GentooMC009083 Stromness Gentoo

A Gentoo Penguin stands guard at the edge of the colony

MC009101 Stromness GentooMC009101 Stromness Gentoo

A Gentoo Penguin calls loudly across the valley

MC009156 Gentoo StromnessMC009156 Gentoo Stromness

A Gentoo Penguin sits on its nest of grass and mud in the colony.

MC009191 King Penguin StromnessMC009191 King Penguin Stromness

King Penguin in the verdant surroundings and melting snow. A strange combination!

MC009198 Stromness Moulting KingsMC009198 Stromness Moulting Kings

Moulting King Penguins in a huddle.

MC__9731 Stromness anchorsMC__9731 Stromness anchors

The whaling station at Stromness is off-limits to tourists due to the quite large amount of asbestos that remains within and around the buildings. The instability of the buildings is also a threat to anyone walking around them. As well as being a graveyard for thousands of whale bones, there were rusting anchors littered all over. It didn't seem to bother the Fur seals too much though.

MC009232 Stromness FurMC009232 Stromness Fur

Lots of these impressive, smelly and hormone-laden beasts were around the station and landing site. Made for a few close calls with one particular individual, who constantly charged at myself and fellow passengers. As we were two days away from any serious medical facility, getting bitten by one of these bad boys was not an option!

MC__9741 Weaner close upMC__9741 Weaner close up

And then there is the other side to the danger...a gentle Southern Elephant Seal pup, aka a Weaner! Cute and cuddly balls of fat, that yelped, snorted and squealed at everything. 

MC009334MC009334

South Georgia Pintail. Despite my best efforts along the valley floor streams, I could only see a few distant birds in flight. Upon arrival at the meeting point to board the Zodiacs, there was this individual ignoring all persons, every seal and everything in its vicinity. Quite a beautiful duck, even for the only meat-eating duck known to science. 

MC__9772 Stromness no snowMC__9772 Stromness no snow

A few hours after landing, we now had different looking Stromness whaling station, minus the snow. The rusting hulks are really visible now. The "Villa" is the small white shed just right of the Large grey building on the left-hand side of the station. Incredible what a few hours in South Georgia's weather does to the scene. 

MC__9799 Stromness WaterfallMC__9799 Stromness Waterfall The valley floor where Shackleton, Crean and Worsley walked along to civilisation. The waterfall they slide down is visible here. The Fur seals can be seen dotted along the foreshore.

After our time in Stromness, we made our way back out of the harbour and nipped across to Leith Harbour, or Port Leith, in the next bay. Leith Harbour housed another decrepit and crumbling whaling station, which was once famously held by the Argentine army during the 1982 Falklands War. It is named after Leith, the harbour area in Edinburgh, Scotland. The founder of the whaling station was from there. The station there is now out of bounds to tourists since 2010 due to copious quantities of asbestos and crumbling buildings. The area is now occupied by Fur and Elephant seals, and the odd King Penguin. 

MC009560 StromnessMC009560 Stromness

The steep and unforgiving slopes are evident here. To try and put scale on this, there are Fur seals dotted along the edge where the slopes meet the sea.

MC__9849 Leith HarbourMC__9849 Leith Harbour

The abandoned buildings and oil drums of the whaling station at Leith Harbour. 

MC__9853 Leith HarbourMC__9853 Leith Harbour

The rusting eyesore that is Leith Harbour. 

MC__9869 Leith HarbourMC__9869 Leith Harbour

Very dramatic geology all over South Georgia. There are Fur seals dotted all along the water's edge...just to put some scale on the slopes. 

Following on from that quick detour to Leith, we made our way past dozens of White-chinned Petrels and Antarctic Terns flying through the snow, and then headed towards Edward's Point and the Boss's grave at Grytviken.

MC009420 White-chinned PetrelMC009420 White-chinned Petrel

Plenty of White-chinned Petrels flew about the ship and the in the snow showers.

MC009507 Antarctic TernMC009507 Antarctic Tern

Antarctic Tern driving through the falling show.

The views from the lunch buffet on Deck 5 were usually quite spectacular and this leg between landings was no different. Our first proper chucks of ice chunks in the sea after having been thrown out by the glaciers. This is, I think, the glacier in Cumberland East Bay, near Grytvikan. It was another reminder that we were heading towards Antarctica. 

MC009563 South Georgia glacierMC009563 South Georgia glacier

The first signs of sea ice being belched into the water by this MASSIVE glacier. I was very excited by this sight in Cumberland East Bay!

 


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