group mail play plus user camera comment close arrow-down

Cobblers cove and St. Andrews Bay

Shortly after departing Grytviken in the early morning, countless whale-blows are spotted all around. Many of us were enjoying breakfast on the main deck and we were greeted by the sights of tens of humpback whales feeding close to the ship. This was our first sighting of humpbacks on our trip and for many of us it was a sign of hope for the future as the day before we had witnessed the industrial massacre of whales in the whaling station of Grytviken. This numerous group seem to have found a good feeding spot just where we sail around. In small groups they can be seen all over, and a closer look through binoculars reveals more and more of them in the offshore area. Some even take a break from their business to come closer to the ship, have a quick look and keep going with their occupation. Apparently feeding on sub-surface waters, they continuously show their flukes every time they go for a shallow dive, just to pop up again on surface a bit further. As we could clearly see, every single fluke colour pattern is different. Scientists use pictures of those individually distinctive patterns to photo-identify and code-name them, just as we use the human fingerprints.
After enjoying this spectacular sight of over 100 Humpbacks spreading all around us, Europa heads straight towards the place where we plan the morning activity ashore.
Three bells rang to gather us on deck when we were about to enter the tiny Cobblers Cove. Our skilful captain steers the ship through the narrow gap between the high cliffs on the port side and kelp beds over the rocks on starboard side. Once inside the cove, the reduced space doesn’t make for a good anchorage and the ship has to leave soon after we board the zodiacs and make our way to the landing beach. From there the plan is to walk over the hills to reach Rookery Point, located out of the bay and exposed to swell and winds, a preferred spot for thousands of Macaroni penguins. Even though this morning activity involves a bit of a hike, many joined to have a chance of a close encounter with those beautiful birds. As usual, the first thing after setting foot ashore is to deal with several Fur seals zealously defending their small coastal territories. Also the few females that already have arrived are giving birth, already belonging to the harems that the males are establishing and defending. Next to them snooze the much more tranquil Elephant seal weaners.
Going uphill on a hard climb over grassy and rocky slopes, soon all who made it to a knob on the ridge that frames Cobblers Cove were to enjoy the splendid view over the whole little bay, with the Europa starting her way out. From here the lack of suitable manoeuvring space and the narrow gap that separates Cobblers from the open waters is evident. While having a rest and taking some pictures, an elegant Light mantled albatross glides along the cliffs at our feet. Following old reindeer paths, we made it to an saddle between the steep mountains. There, as witness of the past years, now gone after the successful Habitat Restoration project, lay several of their carcasses and bones. Pleasant Festuca grassland slopes bring us downhill towards the exposed North coast that is home for several Giant petrel nests scattered around. Soon after, everybody is sitting down at the edge of the Macaroni penguin rookery. Mainly hidden by a thick cover of the fully developed tussock grass, some groups of birds are visible in the few clear spaces amongst it. Those are much easier for us to observe. Many of them are home, lying on their eggs, cleaning themselves or mutual preening. Skua’s have been busy catching many of their eggs, and many broken and eaten ones are found piled in the surrounding area. Here there is still the chance to walk a bit further to reach the rocky 
coast, and many join our guides on their way through the high tussock grass peppered by several Fur seals. Great views awaited all when reaching the sea level. Many penguins use the rock slabs battered by the big swells and winds, as access to the sea back and forth their colony. During the whole way the views to the open ocean are great, where today all the whales we came across early in the morning are still hanging around. In the quietness of the good weather they could be clearly seen and heard from our track over the coastal hills. Approximately using the same way down that we used to come up a while ago, with some difficulties over the steep terrain, we all reach the beach at Cobblers Cove to be picked up before lunch. There lays back again the Europa sitting on the flat calm waters waiting for us. Our afternoon was enjoyed on deck under the sun, where once again whales where seen all around the ship.
The afternoon landing was the eagerly anticipated King penguin colony at St Andrews Bay. At first sight from the ship, glaciers tumbling down from the pristine peaks above dominate the landscape, towering over a large glacier flood plain. As we slowly approach, this fantastic place reveals its grandeur. The scenery is impressive. Mount King, Vogel Peak, Smoky Wall and Mount Patterson (all part of the large Allardyce mountain Range) encircle the coastline, with their vast Buxton and Cook Glaciers framing the wide open flat space and the shores teeming with wildlife. It’s not just us admiring the landscape, but a full flock of Snowy sheathbills perch on our bowsprit to enjoy the view from the ship. The boatswain wasn’t very happy as later on the crew had to spray it with the fire hose to clean their mess… The outwash plain at the St Andrews bay is home to the largest king penguin colony on South Georgia with over 200,000 pairs of penguins and their chicks. St. Andrews is famous for many things besides this incredibly large king penguin rookery, between them it’s also renowned for the often foul landing conditions. But today, just a bit wet zodiac stern landing on the long surge area preceded a short hike along the back side of the beach up a small hill at the edge of the colony. Here we spent several hours in the afternoon, observing, photographing and marvelling at the animals in their natural habitat. An experience that left many of us in awe and speechless. It’s not easy to explain the greatness of such nature’s opulence. Sitting in the sun, we better enjoyed it in silence. Gradually our mind has time to change scale from the grandeur of the panorama to pay attention to smaller details. With our senses fully overloaded we have time to soak ourselves in what can be a life changing experience. St. Andrews has proven to be a fantastic experience, one of a kind between all the other beauties of South Georgia.

Written by:
Jordi Plana Morales | Guide

2

Comments

lieve groet van de Sint en de pieten uit Nederland.


thomas borggrefe  |  05-12-2018 15:12 uur

GEWELDIG.


margriet.  |  05-12-2018 09:28 uur

Comment on this article