5 January 2013
Godthul, Sandebugten, and Grytviken
Submitted By Passenger Joanna Ettlinger
We awoke to yet another spectacular morning as the ship navigated past gigantic floating ice sculptures on our way into Godthul (Norweigian for “good harbor”). The weather gods truly are smiling upon us. The first group disembarked the ship and headed directly to shore inside Godthul for rocks and gentoos (what more could you want from a day?) while others headed off for Zodiac cruising to Rookery Point to observe a colony of Macaroni penguins frolicking in the surf. These most dandy of penguins, with their exaggerated eyebrows and high-fashion penguin tuxedos only inhabit rugged, exposed headlands which are often inaccessible by zodiac; however, we were fortunate this morning, with clear calm seas. The zodiac ride back to the ship was livened up considerably by a close encounter with a calving “bergy bit”, whose collapse generated an unworldly cracking noise and a sizable wake, expertly ridden out by Ed Rooks, who was piloting the inflatable nearest to the action.
Geology hikers were then ferried across Godthul to a landing spot at the contact between the Cumberland Bay and Sandebugten formations. It was advertised as an “easy” hike across the Barff Peninsula to the next bay where the ship would pick us up not far from Grytviken. From the beach we headed directly up the steep grassy slope and scree into Reindeer Valley, a spectacular desert-like landscape of flat glacial outwash encircled by steep, rugged, geologically complex peaks. The structural geologists were in their element, and punctuated their conversations with jargon like “vergence”, “thrust” and “cleavage”. They also improved the current understanding of South Georgia geology with the revelation that the contact between the Sandebugten and Cumberland Bay formations on the Barff Peninsula is an oblique slip fault, not a thrust, and that it is mislocated on the geological map of the island. All in all a successful outing for the rock-lickers!
Exiting Reindeer Valley the juxtaposition of essentially a desert environment with the emerging view of icebergs in the bay was stunning, and a happy sight for those who found the hike a little more challenging than expected. After a short scramble down the verdant mossy slopes to the beach and a labyrinthine path through some very territorial fur seals we were back on the Zodiacs and heading for the ship to ready ourselves for the afternoon’s adventures.
After clearing customs and visiting briefly with British Antarctic Survey personnel we departed the ship and headed for Grytviken. Grytviken is an historic whaling station and the seat of government on South Georgia Island. The settlement is steeped in history, and so our first stop was the cemetery for a toast to Sir Earnest Shackleton and the traditional sprinkling of scotch on his grave. Poignantly, we arrived in Grytviken on the 91st anniversary of his death in 1922. We walked from there to the whaling station, a dark and forbidding pile of derelict buildings only hinting at the bloody history of the island as the site of wholesale and unsustainable slaughter of many whale species. Excursion passenger Helen Nattrass serenaded us with a performance on the restored church’s harmonium. The excellent museum provided much information on the various facets of South Georgia, from its valuable place in late 19th and early 20th century Antarctic exploration history, to the life of a whaling station, and current conservation efforts to rid the island of Rattus norvegicus and return South Georgia to its rightful place as host to some of the most diverse and abundant bird and sea life on the planet. The excursion was completed with visits to the South Georgia Heritage Trust gift shop and the post office.
Evening festivities commenced with a barbecue, unfortunately held indoors due to the late afternoon rain, and a ship-board visit by every resident of South Georgia Island. It was early to bed for some in preparation for a 5:30 am wake-up call the next morning.