A sunny and calm morning, low swell and barely any wind. A welcomed new face of the South Georgia’s volatile weather conditions. Unbeatable circumstances for trying one of the nicest hikes in the island, with the plus of having a good chance to encounter the elusive Macaroni penguin.
Today’s exciting activities started with the Europa heaving anchor in the early hours of the day, making her way towards the secluded Cobblers Cove. The narrow entrance to this small bay always makes for an impressive view as skilful manoeuvring is needed to squeeze between its cliffs and shallows where Giant kelp grows. An operation only possible for the Europa when seas and winds are just as smooth as today. Nevertheless the confined space inside the inlet only allows for a swift disembarkation and then the ship has to steer off and wait outside until called again at the end of the landing.
Like that, we soon set foot at the beach and prepare ourselves for the walk from here, Cobblers Cove to Rookery Point, home for a large Macaroni penguin rookery.
Visits to this species colonies, despite they being the most numerous of all penguin species at South Georgia, always represent a challenging enterprise. The Kings occupy the long shorelines, wide open spaces, but they much prefer the harsh, steep and exposed coasts, where there’s barely any chance to operate with the zodiacs. To reach Rookery Point, one must walk from the shelter of Cobblers to the swell and wind battered coastline, making for a steep climb first, then a descent amongst the vegetation. Using the same way back afterwards.
For the ones amongst us that preferred a more leisure activity, a shorter hike was offered, now just along some hills, lakes and viewpoints inside the bay.
With ship still waiting in the flat mirroring waters of Cobblers, we start the first climb to get some height. A conspicuous saddle offers a spectacular view over the landlocked bay amongst cliffs and tussock grown slopes. A bit more uphill we reach the saddle that separates it from our goal. Up there the bones of a reindeer remain, as witness of a past when hearts of them roam freely in the area. An easy way down brought us to the Macaroni penguins. Not many left from that late in the season of the great numbers that nest here, but still plenty of moulting individuals hide in the tall grass and in small clearings on it here and there.
Further down to the exposed shoreline making our way through the tussock maze, we found the swell battered rocky area where they access the rookery from the rough seas. A handful of them seem to just have come out of the water, while a few more are making their way down to the sea. Giant petrels, Snowy sheathbills and the ever-present Fur seals also roam around this area. Now it was just the way back left to embark the ship and head a few miles towards the next place where to spend the afternoon, Ocean Harbour.
A challenging morning. An adventurous landing with a bit of a hike. A treat of a landing.
The amazing weather holds on for the afternoon. Windless situation and just a small long rolling swell foretells about a good chance for visiting this site.
A place loaded with old tales of sealing and whaling. Both were heavily hunted here, big business was made, but now the nature reclaims back Ocean Harbour.
Once a whaling station was based here, built in 1910 it worked for ten years. After that it was decided to merge Ocean Harbour and Stromness, and all the equipment and implements were moved to this latter one. Actually Ocean Harbour was equipped with all the modernities of the industry as it pioneered in applying the regulations of using the whole of the catch to extract oil, not just the blubber, by the use of high pressure boilers. As one of its energy sources, the coal. Like in other stations, old sailing ship hulls were used for its storage. Here the impressive Bark Bayard served this purpose, until the 6th of June in the year 1911, when her moorings didn’t hold the force of a strong gale, and drifted to the opposite side of the bay where she run aground on the rocks. Her rusty riveted iron hull lie there ever since, and its now home for a healthy Blue eyed shag colony. Terns and seagulls perch over her masts and bowsprit too.
A place with much to offer, a zodiac cruise around her amongst Kelp beds, a landing where Fur seals thrive and where some Elephants always find a good place to moult and rest. Some of the impressive large males could be seen here, piling up between the tussock grass and the sandy beach. For a moment they impressed us from a close distance with their loud growls while they wake up and rearrange their position in the haul-out.
Behind them, the green hills where some old crosses from the sealing times can be found, lead to a great viewpoint over the bay.
For the night, Ocean Harbour worked as a good anchorage, until the early morning when the engines are will be turned on again and she will make her way towards St. Andrews Bay.