Cumberland Bay

Our plans for today in South Georgia required another lot of flexibility. We were due to visit Stromness and Furness Bays, but the government of South Georgia wouldn’t let us in there because they were carrying out their rat eradication program and didn’t want visitors interfering with the movement of their ships and helicopters. These bays were the places where Shackleton ended his epic trip and we were looking forward to seeing them for their historic value. In Stromness Bay are the remains of a whaling station but because all of the insulation is asbestos based, access is restricted to 200 metres distance.

Instead, this morning we visited Jonas Harbour in pouring rain. We were out in zodiacs at 9.00 am until 11.00 am. We landed at a little shingle beach near a group of fur seals and a small colony of King Penguins. Near where we landed, is a an old hut which was built by a whaler as a refuge in 1901. It was fitted out (like a high country cattleman’s hut) with a couple of bunks, a bench, table and cupboards. Just behind the hut, along a muddy section of the tusac grass was a wallow of elephant seals. These are big animals, weighing over a tonne each. They are similar to walrus in their behaviour and seem to know either only sleep or panic. LIke walrus, they lie together in close body contact.


On the way back to the ship, we did a little cruise around the bay. At one point, there were dozens of fur seals. They are naturally curious animals and they started to follow our zodiac, I guess to see what it was. It was great fun to see these little animals frolicking in the water all around us. A group of people from the ships were kayaking nearby and each kayak had about twenty fir seas porpoising along after it. It’s amazing to think that in the 1960’s these animals were almost extinct!


By the time we all got back to the ship, we were thoroughly soaked and I was glad to get back to the warmth of the ship and have a hot cup of coffee.

On another note of flexibility, we were going to head around to Grytviken this afternoon, but we found out that the Shackleton Epic Recreation Expedition won’t reach there until tomorrow morning and we would have missed them. Our alternative plan was to stay in Cumberland Bay and spend the afternoon zodiac cruising.

This turned out to be a great idea. The fickle weather had become fine and early in the afternoon, the sun had come out and there was almost no wind. We left the ship, in the middle of the bay, and first headed towards the entrance (about 3 kms away) where a couple of large icebergs were grounded on the shore. As with other icebergs that I have seen, these required an inspection and photograph from every possible angle.


After the icebergs, we cruised up the shore and past the ship to see more fur seals, a king penguin colony in a lovely green valley with a fresh water stream, and backed by tall mountains. Just around the corner from there, we saw some shags nesting on a rocky point. As we continued along the coast, we came to a large, broad glacier covered in dirty rock moraine. I looked as if it was covered in volcanic ash, as we had seen on glaciers in Iceland, but it was just loads of ground up rock.

Further around, in a broad inlet, was the highlight of the cruise, another glacier coming from some steep mountains which we estimated to be over 5000 feet high. The height of the face of this glacier was hard to estimate as everything around it was on an enormous scale. Perhaps it was 250 metres. It was a splendid scene.


By now, the wind was picking up, so we headed back to the ship. It took a half hour to cover the 3 or 4  kilometres of distance, but we were back safely just after 5.00 pm.

We were going to have an outside BBQ tonight but the wind would make that uncomfortable, so we will have that on another night instead.


Bruce is a keen traveller and photographer. This web site describes his travel and family interests

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