Landing Reports for Antarctica – Silver Explorer
All pictures taken by Ken Hutyra during our cruises to South Georgia and Antarctica
Depending on your cruise ship itinerary you may do zodiac landings in the Falkland's or simply go to Port Stanley.
A wonderful landing where you will see rockhopper penguins, brown-browed alabtross and their chicks, upland geese and king cormorants. Landing on sandy beach you talk a slow and gentle walk up the hill where the upland geese are in the grass. At the top of the hill you are greeted by noise and wildlife in every direction. The penguins hop from the sea up the steep cliffs and then when returning to the sea they may big jumps as the waves come into shore.
Landing on a sandy beach, you walk along the foreshore and we were greeted by gentoo, magellanic and King penguins. As you climb a little higher, you reach the colonies and can enjoy the antics of these delightful birds. On our landing, the wind was blowing and the drifting sand in between the penguins and the penguins riding the surf to get ashore was truly a stunning sight.For those who did not mind a uphill climb there was also brown-browed albatross colony and a stunning view of the harbor.
Port Stanley is the only "port of call" where we used the ship's tenders rather than the zodiacs. It is an interesting little town with pubs, tearooms, pretty gardens and shipwrecks everywhere.
It was nice to see the capital of the Falklands and, surprisingly, we purchased quite a few items in the little shops. It is very English and they had some nice things to buy as mementos of the Falklands. The Information Center will be right in front of you when you debark the tenders. It is worth going in here for various pieces of information. They do have Internet here but often it is in use.
They have a flyer that shows where the Internet services are located in the town and there are several different places. There is a bus that takes tourists to a Magellanic Penguin colony and this may be the only time you get to see this type of penguin. However, this experience will not be anything like the penguin encounters you will have in South Georgia or Antarctica. Some cruises offered some excursions that everyone really enjoyed. These trips took you to local farms where you could see penguin colonies. Some of the excursions where on 4-wheel drive vehicles. Since these are different penguins than you will see in South Georgia or Antarctica, it may be a wise thing to take these excursions. The town is small so there is not much else to do with your time in Port Stanley
Why go to South Georgia? It is a wonderland of scenery and wildlife. I do encourage anyone considering the shorter Antarctica trip to reconsider. The King Penguins are a really special breed and cannot be seen on an Antarctica only trip. Both areas offer incredible experiences that are so different that it seems a shame to venture all the way to Antarctica and not include the islands of South Georgia.
On our first trip, I was not sure if I would enjoy the experience so I opted for the shorter Antarctica only trip. This simply meant I had to return to also include South Georgia. In the end, it cost me more time and money than if I had done both in the first place. If your time and finances allow it, I sincerely suggest you consider a cruise that encompasses both areas. Many consider their experiences in South Georgia as the highlight of the entire trip
The diveristy of wildlife in South Georgia is amazing. From the HUGE colonies of king penguins with the furry little brown chicks to the fur seals with pups that are so adorable; the huge elephants seals challenging each on the beach at Gold Harbor; to the wandering albatross colony; you will be delighted. The albatross have up to a 12-foot wing span and they swoop right over your head at Pinion Island. It is a photographer's dream, with the stunning landscape of green grass, the wildlife, and glaciers all in one picture. You also have the fascinating history of Sir Ernest Shackelton who came to South Georgia for help for his standed men and is buried at Grytviken you can visit his grave.
This harbor is home to thousands of fur seals. The ship runs zodiac cruises around the edge of the bay, stopping at the areas of most activity to see the antics of the young fur seals and their parents. The little seals are learning to swim in the protection of the beds of kelp and further out the larger seals are porpoising around the zodiacs.
This was our first sighting of a "blondie" (a white fur seal) that is not an albino since they have some pigment. The birds were fascinating as they landed close to the zodiacs and flew over our heads. We were told we could not land on shore since an adult fur seal can be quite defensive of her young. It was not safe because there were so many seals. However, even without landing it was a fantastic afternoon and it exceeded my expectations.
FORTUNA BAY, SHACKELTON, GLACIERS AND WHALING STATIONS
A wonderful landing spot full of king penguins and gentoo penguins. Seals were abundant and there were some herds of reindeer as well. There is a glacier as a back-drop to the fairly green tussock grass and the nice wide beach. The baby seals were a key attraction here with a small pool where the young seals are learning to swim. Looked like a seal day care facility, and was just delightful to watch. With a stream that ran across one area of the landing, the kings penguins standing in the stream, the beautiful bay as a back-drop, and our ship, the Silver Explorer, anchored in the harbor it made for a picture-perfect setting. South Georgia has an interesting history with the incredible story of Sir Ernest Shackelton and the whaling industry.
The other landing is to allow people to retrace Sir Ernest Shackleton's final portion of his trek to seek help for his men on Elephant Island and you walk walk from one side of South Georgia to the other. This is not an easy trek that requires some up hill walking and takes about three hours. For those in good shape and who like to hike, this is a wonderful experience. However, those that have doubts about their ability to take the walk should probably not attempt this as you cannot turn back. Once you start the walk, you must finish the walk. On this day, we off loaded those who were brave enough to take the final part of the hike that Shackelton made to reach the whaling station in Stromness Bay. Those who stayed on board enjoyed the incredible scenery of glaciers, mountains and old whaling stations along the coast.
Grytviken is the official entry port of South Georgia and a Maritime officer will come on board to clear the ship. This is where Sir Ernest Shackelton is buried and the ship held a ceremony at the gravesite. Around the gravesite, were large elephant seals and we could "smell them" before we saw them wallowing in mud along the pathway. Located in the abandoned whaling station is a whaling museum and a small church. A walk was offered over the hill for wonderful views of the bay to the museum and church or you can take a shorter walk along the harbor and see all the baby fur seals. The museum is small but very well done and offers insight into the life of the whalers. You can buy souvenirs and post letters from the post office located inside the museum. The church was tiny and very picturesque.
ST. ANDREWS BAY
We awoke this morning to see bright sunshine shining on the mountains and hordes of King Penguins on the land. This is reported to be the largest King Penguin Rookery in South Georgia. What a magnificent sight! We were all anxious to get ashore and we were certainly NOT disappointed. There are small hills you can climb and look down to so many King Penguins that it was hard to even comprehend. Activity was taking place everywhere and all our cameras were clicking away as the Penguins entertained us with their antics. The waterfront was especially active with baby seals and penguins going in and out of the water and interacting with each other.
This was many people's favorite landing in South Georgia. The diversity of scenery is truly spectacular; mountains, glaciers, plants, seals, birds and thousands of King and Gentoo penguins. The combination of the glacier and the rich green plants make for a stunning backdrop to the penguins. At our landing site, there were many elephant seals all piled on top of one another, grunting and making loud noises. They are so big when you are close to them. We all experienced an overwhelming sense of wonder at everything we were seeing. A stream ran through the beach area and many penguins were in the water and crossing between areas. Seeing the Gentoo penguins and the King penguins together was a treat
This is a delightful spot that is all about birds and seals. You will be greeted on the beach by many fur seals and their pups plus birds sitting on the beach. This landing is all about the largest flying birds, the wandering albatross, as these birds are nesting on this island. A wooden walkway has been erected from the beach all the way up to the nesting area of the albatross.
It is a lot of steps but pretty easy walking. What is fun, is that the fur seals like using the walkway too and are often a few steps ahead of you and finally jump off as you arrive. Now and then one will give you a little charge but of course you just clap your hands and they back off. Once you reach the nesting area, there is a viewing platform and you can be quite close to the birds and the fluffy grey chicks. It is a lovely sight and the view from the top is wonderful. This is a very easy walk that anyone without major walking difficulties can do. These birds can have a 12-foot wingspan and the opportunity to view these books up close is a unique experience.
Antarctica is quite different from South Georgia. Here you leave the greenery behind and enter a world of ice, rock and snow. Very little grows here and the land is very fragile and must be treated with great respect. The beauty of this region of the world is impossible to describe.
The nature of Antarctica is pristine but with rapid weather changes, from brilliant sunshine to driving gale force winds in a very short period of time. It is generally colder here than in South Georgia. If you have a calm day, it is amazingly comfortable with your long underwear and parkas and often you see people peeling off layers of their clothing. Fortunately, during the tourist summer season there are many gloriously sunny days to enjoy the spectacular scenery.
In Antarctica, you can see various types of seals; Weddell, Fur, Crabeater and Leopard Seals. Many varieties of whales and of course the stars of the show are the Penguins. Adelie, Chinstrap, and Gentoo are the penguins you will see in Antarctica.
These are the landings we have made. Each trip will have different landing sites depending on the conditions during your trip.
ELEPHANT ISLAND AND POINT WILD
Most expeditions can only sail past this historical spot due to weather conditions. Fortunately, on one of our trips we experienced PERFECT conditions and it was a great outing. You cannot land but you do a zodiac ride around the area where Shackelton's crew were stranded and a statue is in place to the Argentine Captain who finally rescued the men. The area is full of chinstrap penguins and watching them entering and returning from the water and porpoising around the zodiacs was very entertaining. The adjoining bay had some spectacular icebergs that we buzzed around in the zodiacs.
On our 2012 cruise, we actually landed on Elephant Island. We were told the night before that there was little hope of landing on Elephant Island and in 10 years our expedition leader had never been able to land. That morning there was no wind, perfectly calm seas and there was excitement in Robin West's voice as he said "wear your rubber boots we are going to land". Each zodiac took turns landing as the landing area is very small and they laid out towels on the rocks to make it easier. Prior to our turn to land, we spotted a humpback whale from the zodiac and also watched spellbound as penguins jumped from the water high onto an iceberg. See picture at right.
Landing was exciting, a truly once in a lifetime experience. To stand in the place where Shackelton's men waited for rescue and comprehend how they were able to surive brought the story to life. There is a chinstrap penguin colony on the island so we also had the penguins to entertain us.
Paulet Island is located in the Weddell Sea. The odor here was the worse that we experienced on our entire trip, so with our fleece pulled over our noses we landed on shore. However, the scene was worth the smell as we were surrounded by a large colony of Adelie Penguins. It was very slippery so many stayed fairly close to the landing spot and just enjoyed watching the penguins. In a few weeks after we left, all these penguins will depart the island and go to sea.
An explorer, Larsen, and his men wintered here when stranded during an expedition. At the top of the hill, are the remains of a small stone hut they built. After the landing, we took a zodiac cruise of the icebergs around the island that were a beautiful blue in color with the penguins jumping into and out of the water.
Later that afternoon we sailed through the Antarctic Sound and we went via the scenic Fridtjof Sound. We were treated to the sight of many whales and also massive tubular icebergs. The Captain positioned the ship very close to a huge iceberg and we were all in awe of the color and size of this iceberg. During the afternoon, there were porpoising penguins jumping in front of the ship and birds at the rear of the ship. There were photographic moments around us all afternoon.
Seals were everywhere along the beach. This is an abandoned British Antarctica Survey Base. It was also "swimming day." This is a volcanic area and the crew dug a pool on the beach. Due to the volcanic region, the water was warm and it became a hot tub. The plan was to run into the ocean and then run back to the beach and jump in the hot tub. A surprising number of the passengers engaged in this exercise. I think seeing people peel off polar parkas and long underwear to their swimming trunks was a spectacle I will always remember.
few Chinstrap Penguins were on the beach, but not a large colony. The area right outside of Deception Island is where many whales are spotted. On our departures from Deception Island, we have seen Orcas, Humpback and Fin whales very close to the ship.
It was windy and a little rainy; however, it did not dampen anyone's enthusiasm because we were all wondering how the landings could get any better than what we had already experienced. Next stop was Hannah Point to see the elephant seals, gentoo and chinstrap penguins.
I was very grateful for the waterproof pants, as we did get splashed in the zodiacs going over. Once there, it was another stunning scene; thousands of penguins with gentoos on one side and chinstraps on the other. If a chinstrap strayed into gentoo territory, the gentoo would chase him away and then of course the gentoo ended up in chinstrap territory. It was a constant battle with them chasing each other back and forth. After walking up a slight incline, you look down on this incredible scene with lots of elephant seals lying on the beach piled on top of each other and surrounded by penguins going into and out of the water. With the rugged cliffs and raging sea, it was really fantastic scene and showed the wild side of Antarctica.
The zodiac cruise of Paradise Bay was a wonderful experience. Huge glaciers and beautiful icebergs in every shape and size are all over the bay. This bay is in front of the Argentine Almirante Brown Station.
The landings are split so one group takes the cruise and one group visits the Almirante Brown Station and then a switch takes place. We saw whales, penguins and seals in the water and we moved our zodiacs very close. On one of our trips in Paradise Bay, our zodiac engine broke down and we were "rescued at sea" by another zodiac. A high-tech maneuver took place, where by the placing of oars between the two zodiacs we simply stepped across. It was quite thrilling. The glacier at the head of the bay has a unique shape that looks like a modern sculpture of a city skyline.
The picture below of a mushroom shaped iceberg with the small zodiac in front gives an idea of the size of this structure of ice. The seals are lounging on the ice and if you get too close they slip in the water and then return very shortly after you leave.
ALMIRANTE BROWN STATION
For many this is a very important stop as it is here that you actually stand on the seventh continent. After the cruise of Paradise Bay, we stepped onto the continent of Antarctica and visited the Argentine Almirante Brown Station. You could climb up the hill and slide down the ice to the bottom, if you wanted. The surroundings were really spectacular and everywhere you looked were mountains and glaciers, and, of course, gentoo penguins. There are a few researchers here but they do not sell souvenirs.
Peterman Island is located at the end of the Lemaire Channel. This beautiful rocky island is idyllically positioned in a natural bay. There is a penguin research place on the island with tents on it the that the researchers stayed in during the summer.
On one of our trips to Peterman Island, there was a lot of snow on this landing and a lone penguin sitting on an ice right where we landed. Once again, there was the "click-click" of everyone's cameras. He looked like he was orchestrating the landing. Gentoo Penguins welcomed us ashore and further up an incline we found the adelie penguins. This is a beautiful spot with mountains and icebergs all around the island.
This a beautiful passage through a narrow channel that opens to the bay for Peterman Island. As you sail down the channel, the ship is constantly in sight of glaciers and photo opportunities. In the four hours we had been on Peterman Island, a large iceberg had blocked a portion of the narrow entrance to the channel. Looking at this iceberg, it really seemed to block our path. We watched as our Captain maneuvered the ship around the iceberg.
THE ICEBERG GARDEN
I thought the icebergs at Paradise Bay were fantastic, but then we went into the iceberg garden. How anyone can explain what we saw, I do not know. Pictures cannot do this scene justice. There are incredible large icebergs of every shape and color of blue you can imagine. Seals were everywhere and of many different varieties. It was amazing! Everyone was quiet because it was very mesmerizing and special. You did not want to break the absolute peace and tranquility of the surroundings.
A British Station where you could go shopping. The two men manning the station sold t-shirts, stamps, postcards, etc., and you could mail something with a "South Pole" postmark. This was a lot of fun to do. It was also a beautiful spot with Gentoo Penguins absolutely everywhere and a backdrop of glaciers in every direction. Some of our best pictures came from here because the surroundings were once again spectacular.
I did not want to leave this area as the little penguin chicks seemed to be particularly inquisitive at this spot. Perhaps they were more comfortable with humans because the station was there. We also saw a variety of birds and small chicks wandering around among the penguins.
THE NEUMAYER CHANNEL
The mountains were mirrored in the water and the channel was clogged with ice and icebergs. We tested the ship's ice rating as we made our way slowly through the ice and avoided the icebergs that often held seal. We spotted whales and once again, the cameras clicked away furiously as everyone tried to capture this magical moment. The water where there was no ice was mirroring more than I have ever seen anywhere in the world.
The captain opened up the front of the ship and everyone was leaning over in amazement as the ice parted and we moved forward. When I show people pictures of this afternoon, it does not seem real. Picture postcard perfection in every shot.
Another zodiac cruise in another amazing iceberg garden wehre we saw absolutely magnificent icebergs in every shape and size, however this time in brilliant sunshine. They looked so different from the other iceberg garden. Both were beautiful and I was so glad I had seen them in an both in an overcast sky (the blues are brighter) and then in the sunshine. Then we were onto Cuverville Island, for our last visit with our new found penguin friends.
This scene is hard to describe as there are thousands of penguins; which were very active with all their funny behaviors, and we now understood so much more. The ship nestled in the background with a huge mountain behind it and then in front the magnificent iceberg garden. Everywhere you look there is a photo opportunity.
VISIT TO RUSSIAN BASE OF BELLINGSHAUSEN AND CHILEAN BASE OF PRESIDENTE FREI
King George Island and Maxwell Bay have the biggest concentration of Scientific Stations anywhere in the Antarctica. Of the two bases that were located next to each other, one was Russian and one was Chilean. These were interesting to visit and we wandered around looking over all the buildings, including a small Russian Church.
There was a store that offered souvenirs for purchase. Both the Chilean and Russian Bases, had small churches and the Russian Base allowed us to visit inside their quarters and they were surprisingly comfortable. Surprisingly there were about 15 children on the base, from small children to teenagers. Most of the staff, go home for the winter but a few stay on throughout the year.
This was an outstanding landing. The area has a great Adelie colony with a sensational backdrop of heavy ice with incredible shapes and sizes. Walking on the ice (not too slippery) you can actually go quite a distance up the hill, about a 20-minute walk. The moment you step ashore you are among the penguins so how far you want to walk is up to you. Almost everyone saw Leopard Seals on the ice and it was a wonderful experience.
This is an adelie penguin rich area with a black sand beach under a giant Brown Bluff. Located in the Antarctica Sound, the scene is wonderful and this landing is located on the mainland of Antarctica. So a landing here means you have stepped on the 7th continent. The Adelies line the beach marching up and down and finally one hits the water and then it is like a row of dominos as they all follow the leader into the surf. it was here I sat still and a penguin hopped right into my lap - how much more magical can it get!
This was a fairly easy landing. Ice had blocked the sandy beach so we had to go up a small rocky hill to reach the colony. Only about 10 to 15 feet to climb and the staff helped you up the hill; most people would have no problem with this landing. The Gentoo Colony was scattered around this large landing area. There were a few fur seals and some great skewer activity with many birds flying around trying to catch some of the smaller chicks. The Gentoos were molting on our visit so they were not too active.
CAPE HORN | SOUTH AMERICA
The final wondrous event was the opportunity to land at Cape Horn where we visited a Chilean weather station. On one trip, we had calm conditions here and on another the roughest water we had encountered. T-shirts, postcards and small items were available for sale. Several monuments grace the top of the hill. On one side you have the Pacific Ocean and the Atlantic on the other side. Incredible picture opportunities with green grass, something we had not seen in awhile.
I had a chance to play with a little girl that lives at the point. Her parents said she loves it when a ship arrives as I am sure most of the time it is pretty lonely living in this remote location. Upon returning to the landing site, the crew had champagne waiting for us and we sat on down in the sunshine and drank "champagne on the rocks" at Cape Horn.