Hercules Bay & Stromness Bay - Part 16
An expedition like this one is like working a farm: Up before dawn and to bed after the sun sets. To get to Hercules Bay for breakfast meant we were up by 4 am and sailing up the coast. Hercules Bay has a Macaroni Penguin colony, high cliffs for a Light-Mantled Sooty Albatross nesting area, Blue-eyed Shags, ever present Elephant and Fur Seals and more Reindeer. The rock formations are of interest and the bay holds kelp forests. We were also curious about the sea caves. We had talked about Hercules Bay before arriving and I was somewhat surprised that it seemed smaller and more intimate than I had imagined. After setting the anchor we launched the zodiac to explore the Bay. It was our intention to climb the rocks to the Macaroni colony, but it became too steep and slippery for our gear and us. We were fit and had been climbing nearly everyday on this trip to photograph other colonies of wildlife, but this one defeated us! How do those Macaronis do it nearly every day? I guess a coach would say, “One jump at a time.”
Back on the beach we watched “playful” Fur Seals at the waterfall and sea caves. I have no idea why a few groups of Fur Seals on South Georgia were “playful” or friendly, while the majority seemed aggressive and ready to bite your legs off…but here they were not threatening or charging us. Since we could not get up the cliffs and we were not here to see seals we decided to circle back to Stromness Harbour with its former whaling station.
Ernest Shackleton ended his famous journey at the whaling station in Stromness Harbour. There was another ship in Stromness and we decided to go to Leith Whaling station in Leith Harbour. This was the largest whaling station on South Georgia. Leith was a “factory town” with numerous buildings and capabilities. The town is now off-limits because of the many dangers from the rusting tanks and falling down buildings. From the water we could see the enormous warehouses, barracks, factory buildings, flensing station, giant oil storage tanks and the jetties for the numerous ships that used this facility.
We landed across the river on the left side of the station. We walked up the valley for about 2 or 3 kilometers. A football field was covered in Fur Seals and grazing Reindeer. I was struck by what I would call real green grass as opposed to the tussock and other clump grasses we had been dealing with. It had been a football field and was flat and sort of strangely out of place. There was a cemetery with white crosses ahead of us and I took time to look at the names and dates. Further up the valley we terminated our hike at the station’s dam and the shallow fresh water reservoir behind it. Gentoo Penguins had been following us up the valley and here on the bank of the reservoir we found their colony on the low hills overlooking that body of water.
The day was windless. The sky was blue. It was warm with wonderful light. I have been able to sit and watch Gentoo Penguins in many settings. After walking around the reservoir I sat and watched the Gentoo’s building and repairing their nests. Some were swimming in the reservoir. This was intriguing as it contained fresh water and I had only seen penguins standing in rivers drinking or bathing but not swimming around seemingly enjoying the fresh water. It was all too beautiful and time passed very fast. The others returned from their explorations and we returned to the beached zodiac. I thought that it might be the lack of crowding that allowed the Fur Seals to be less aggressive here as well. All in all it is a very pleasant memory.
The zodiac was loaded onto the deck and we sailed to Prince Olav Harbour as our safe, overnight anchorage. We had decided on Prince Olav because it was very close to Salisbury Plain and we wanted to have the entire day in that extraordinary place.