We’re finally back in Seattle, recently returned from back-to-back voyages aboard the National Geographic Explorer revisiting the Falklands Islands, Antarctica and the amazing island of South Georgia.
we landed on one of the archipelago’s most remote islands, Steeple Jason, where we hiked to the fringes of the world’s largest breeding colony of black-browed albatrosses numbering close to 200,000 pairs. We were up to our armpits in the native tussock grass, peering out at thousands of nesting birds in a colony that stretches over two miles along the island’s windward coast.
Another unusual bird species that lives in the Falklands is the inherently curious “Johnny Rook” (striated caracara). Dozens of them glided in as we arrived on Steeple Jason, looking for something to eat after a long winter. One swooped down with clenched feet and whacked Jack soundly on the back of the head, knocking him to his knees. Yow! Maybe the bird thought he’d get something big to eat?
South Georgia, a remote and rugged sub-Antarctic island of immense beauty, is truly one of the most amazing wildlife spectacles to be experienced anywhere on earth. The masses of wildlife that pack its beaches during the breeding season are mind-boggling.
Fortunately, the massive bull elephant seals are not aggressive towards us, and we are mostly ignored by the thousands of king penguins. If you sit down, the penguins and the recently weaned young elephant seals, “weaners,” often get quite curious.
South Georgia’s beaches are notorious for often having rough surf that makes for challenging Zodiac landings, but again we were very fortunate to have extremely calm conditions on most days. On several mornings we were able to land ashore at these huge colony sites before sunrise, trying not to stumble over sleeping elephant seals in the dark. We did encounter some big swells at the eastern tip of the island during our first voyage. Rikki got nailed by a series of large swells, the first one smacking the transom and thoroughly soaking her. She then had to back out through more waves with the Zodiac pontoons looking like a submarine. (The guests were already on shore.)
On the second voyage, from South Georgia we sailed southwest to the Antarctic Peninsula and into the Weddell Sea. Passing through Antarctic Sound, also known as “Iceberg Alley,”
we began encountering gigantic tabular icebergs broken off from ice shelves that carpet much of the Antarctic continent. These massive floating islands of ice are captivating to everyone as we cruise among them, dwarfed by their size.
It was wonderful sailing again with our friend and Ice Master supreme, Captain Leif Skog, as he always has an infectious eagerness about plying through the icy waters of the polar regions. He found a suitable place to park the ship in shore fast ice so guests could walk off the gangway and onto the frozen pack ice. Patrick, our Hotel Manager, always seemed to appear on any cold outing with hot chocolate and peppermint schnapps for everyone.
In addition to some clear skies, we also had numerous outings in snowing blizzard conditions. The gentoo and Adélie penguins were already nesting. It was incredible seeing only small beaks and stiff tails sticking out of the snow as birds incubating eggs were covered by the windblown snow.
We propose renaming it for the digital age, “Terabyte Gap.”
We feel so very fortunate to have visited these amazing placing with so many old friends and new ones as well.
We hope all your holidays are happy ones,
Jack & Rikki
PS: Here’s a slide show with additional images. Click here to see our schedule and special offers on our 2011 departures