After arriving last evening to Rosita Harbour, we could all enjoy a good sleep. Just a few of us volunteered for anchor watches, much shorter and quiet than the regular sailing watches. Is all about keeping a sharp eye at the navigation instruments in the wheelhouse, checking that the anchor holds properly even under the strong gusts that hit us last night. It all happens in darkened decks following regulations for visiting South Georgia to avoid bird strikes on deck, as the many petrels and other nesting species in the area get attracted by the lights.
Located on the northwest side of the Bay of Isles, Rosita Harbour, despite being one of theist anchorages in South Georgia, is not usually on the regular schedules of other ships. But Bark Europa loves to visit it. The location its not home for large penguin rookeries, maybe explaining why Rosita Harbour has been overlooked.
The possibilities for hikes on wide open spaces amongst glacial and river valleys are plentiful, and up the hills we can get a good glimpse of the South Georgia interior character. Leg stretch that is needed after the last few days at dealing with rough seas as we sailed all the way from Falklands. Yesterday’s landing at Right Whale Bay offered great scenery and wildlife, but today we are all up for a bit more hiking.
The area is a well known breeding ground for Fur seals, and landing takes place amongst inquisitive males holding their territories desperately waiting for more females to come ashore, to start or increase their harems. The ladies are coming ashore pregnant from last year, and soon after arrival they give birth, as we are witnessing those days. About ten days afterwards they become receptive again, moment that the males have been eagerly waiting for. Soon they will mate with them afterwards swimming to Antarctica, while the mothers stay behind taking care of their pups for 3 to 4 months.
After dealing with them and gaining the upper beach area, we first visit a fresh water pond where some Elephant seals are refreshing themselves, home also for a flock of the endemic South Georgia Pintails. The walk lead us through the Tussock grass up gentle slopes to a more alpine terrain. As we gain height we slowly get into the low clouds, difficulting the visibility and masking the great views behind a veil of thin fog. Anyway we can peep into the inland domain, with alpine characteristics, snowfields and rivers. A small though spectacular waterfall toppling over its waters into a snow crevasse, marks the point where we cross to the opposite side of the valley we have been climbing. Descending the easy slopes bring us to the bottom of the river valley. Guided by its flowing waters we reach a larger and flat beach crowded of course by hundreds of Fur seals.
From there we are picked up, not before earning our own space at the beach amongst a few troublesome seals. Soon after we are back on board, the engine starts and we make our short way to the next destination, the famous Salisbury Plain. With its vast expanse of glacial outwash plains and large King penguin colony, is another of the South Georgia highlights.
Europa anchors close to the long sandy beach, and from the decks we could already see a large levelled area of over 2 square kilometres, left behind by the retreat of the Grace Glacier, now in the background. It is actually the largest flat area in the island.
The whole beach is teeming with King penguins, and on its Eastern side an incredibly busy rockery amazes us. But it was not always like this, in 1912, the first estimation counted a total of 350 pairs of King Penguins breeding in the area. Nowadays a total of around 200.000 individuals live here, being Salisbury Plain the second-biggest nesting colony of King Penguins on South Georgia.
The landing beach welcome us with swell and long surge along the shoreline. With the help of crew and guides we managed to disembark safely, timing the zodiacs between the largest waves. Just in one occasion a rubber boat leaving from shore to ship, had a tougher time when hit by a much larger wave, adding spectacle to the whole breathtaking scene around us.
Overwhelmed by the views and the large amount of wildlife all around, we slowly start our way from the landingspot to the main penguin colony, meandering amongst snoozing Elephant seals, everpresent Fur seals and penguin gatherings. Undeterred by the pouring rain, we reach the main rookery.
An unbelievable panorama extends in front of us, and many stand open mouthed, baffled by the thousands upon thousands of tall elegant penguins shoulder-to-shoulder covering the plain and the background slopes. Seems like the heavy rainfall didn’t bother us in excess while all our senses were fully filled by the bountifulness of the scene. But starting to feel cold, we all agree after a while to start our way back. Just then the rain stops falling and South Georgia surprise us again with one of her temperamental and sudden weather changes. In a few minutes the clouds dissipate, sun breaks through them and gorgeous afternoon light baths the landscape, completing the unforgettable experience we just lived this afternoon.
Europa will stay another quiet evening at anchor, and in the very early morning she will sail 25nm to Fortuna Bay, where we plan to land in the morning and walk from there to Stromness, part of what is known as the Shackleton walk.