Our guide Olle Carlsson is blogging from our trip on board the ship Academy Sergey Vavilov. Read and allow yourself to daydream about the subantarctic island South Georgia, hosting one of the world's most staggering wildlife shows!
26th October - round to the north coast, Gold Harbour and Royal Bay
A grey sky over Gold Harbour didn't diminish the great impression of a beach crowded with elephant seals side by side with king penguins and their furry chicks. And they were not alone – skuas, kelp gulls, sheathbills and giant petrels were patrolling the beach, looking for something to eat, like a placenta or a dead seal. On the flat behind the beach gentoo penguins were nesting and just above them flew pintails. By the slopes light-mantled albatrosses engaged in courtship displays, and their call for each other were heard close to the landing where we could enjoy the sight of these graceful birds. The clouds parted and the sun shone warm over us when an extraordinary fight between two male elephant seals overwhelmed us, and many were lucky enough to see leopard seal on their way back to the ship too. Amazed by the wildlife and the beauty of the surroundings we arrived just in time for lunch, and the ship sailed on towards Royal Bay. Its ice covered mountain peaks and glistening glaciers were well worth the time we spent there. Sun went down and the light reflecteded in calved ice, mist and clouds amongst the mountains blushed, and so this fantastic day had come to an end.
We all woke up excited this morning as David announced a blue whale sighting from the bridge! Everyone was up before breakfast to catch a glimpse of the largest animal to ever live on this planet. We were lucky to get a very close meeting with two different blue whales as they swam next to the ship.
After breakfast we took a trip to the northernmost society on earth, the scientific research town of Ny-Ålesund. An opportunity for some retail therapy and to learn some history in one place was given as we strolled through the village. Mia and David told the story of Roald Amundsen’s journey to the North Pole with the airship Norge, and we also visited the anchorage point for the airship. The cold winds were blowing quite fiercely this morning so we all appreciated a chance to buy a warm waffle from the ladies at the waffle stand in town.
The afternoon brought us to Krossfjorden and the 14th of July Glacier where we had a spectacular meeting with the Atlantic puffin. A small colony has started to congregate at the entrance of the bay and we got to witness courtship behavior and boding between pairs. With the Zodiac engines turned off could we listen to the snaps and crackles of the ice around us and saw a few large chunks fall off the glacier. Then we went ashore for a walk underneath a busy bird cliff and to watch some reindeers navigate the steep cliffs to graze on the plentiful vegetation that had grown under the cliff, fertilized by the bird colony.
As we finish the day we sail further north, and when we wake up there will be ice in all directions!
We flew across a snowy, mountainous landscape before landing at the airport outside Longyearbyen. Many of us spent the evening having dinner at the restaurant Kroa.
After a good night’s sleep and breakfast there was time to get familiar with the village. We also had lunch and made a visit at the museum before we embarked our little blue ship Sea Endurance. Security reviews and presentations of the guide team were followed by our first dinner on board.
The weather could not have been better, and just before we left Isfjorden behind us, we saw a group of humpback whales swim next to the ship. Then we sailed through the beautiful Forlandssundet in the beautiful midnight sun. A perfect start of our Arctic adventure!
On many twenty-year-old Swedes’ bucket lists you will find a backpacking trip to Southeast Asia. Erik Edvardsson had something completely different on his list. He dreamed of an island in the middle of the Southern Ocean, and island that is believed to have more wildlife per square metre than any other place on the planet – South Georgia. In 2008, his dream came true and already two years later he returned. Here he shares his experiences of this paradise for wildlife lovers.
I've probably dreamed of South Georgia since I saw BBC's "Life in the Freezer" for the first time, but I never thought I'd get there. This cold, windy island, located far out in the ocean and days from nearest country. A place where you find unique and fascinating wildlife, surrounded by dramatic mountains and magnificent views. When I started to think of a trip to Antarctica, I wanted to find a trip that also included South Georgia and the Falkland Islands.
You visited South Georgia twice in two years, why did you choose to go back?
During my first trip, South Georgia definitely became a favourite, actually more than Antarctica, and I didn’t feel that I was done with this island. I wanted to see more of it and stay longer at some sites. As a photographer, a second visit means that you have better chances to take great pictures as you know the sites, the animals and have plenty of time. We were also able to make landings at dawn, take walks and really immerse ourselves in the nature of the island and its unique history. I hope I will be able to make a third visit sometime.
What is your best memory from South Georgia?
Oh, it is difficult to choose just one, but I will never forget the first time we went ashore. How incredibly many animals there were, how curious they were, the unbelievable size of the elephant seals and the beautiful surroundings. But the strongest memory is probably when I sat in the middle of the huge penguin colony at St. Andrews Bay, alone in light snowfall, and just enjoyed the wildlife show around me.
Below, Erik shows some of his best pictures from South Georgia and tells you more about the amazing wildlife.
The king penguin is the most numerous penguin species on the beaches of South Georgia as many of the other species breed in the grass further up the hills. The largest colonies exceed 100,000 birds and daytime the brown chicks dominate the scenery, but every chick has two parents who, by listening to their call, succeed to find their chick in the swarm.
The key to the impressive wildlife in South Georgia is the rich ocean surrounding the island. It is cold, nutritious, ice-free all year and produces food for millions of seals, birds and whales. The picture shows a group of king penguins on their way out of the water, probably full of food for their chicks.
There are many extreme facts about the southern elephant seal, the world's largest seal. Amongst other things, they have the largest size difference between the sexes of all mammals. A male can weigh over 4 tons, which is about 10 times as much as a female, and the biggest males can have harems consisting of up to 200 females!
The amount of animals on the beaches of Gold Harbour is amazing. It is quite jam-packed with fur seals, elephant seals, penguins and other birds. The concentration of animals per square meter is greater on the beaches of South Georgia than on the African savannah!
The wandering albatross is one of the world's largest flying birds and the one with the largest wingspan, measuring up to 3.5 meters. They fly huge distances in the Southern Ocean and can stay at sea for several years, but always return to land to breed. It takes more than a year in the nest to make an albatross chick fully fledged. This means that it must be strong enough to sit and wait for food even in the coldest winter storms.
A bit up the mountain slopes, above the shore, it is fairly calmer. But there is plenty of life here too. The majority of the island's seabirds breed in the tussock grass. The gray-headed albatross is one of four albatross species on the island, and probably the most beautiful of them all. They mate for life, but are still keen about the courtship for each mating season.
The high concentration of animals results in plenty of carcasses. South Georgia's vulture is the giant petrel. They are big, powerful birds capable of killing smaller prey, but mainly live on eating dead animals.
Fridtjof Nansen – the first man to cross Greenland’s ice cap
Get to know some of our most famous polar explorers! In previous newsletters, we have written about Willem Barents och Adolf Erik Nordenskiöld and their great adventures. This time, we will tell you more about Fridtjof Nansen – the first man to cross Greenland’s ice cap
Fridtjof Wedel-Jarlsberg Nansen was born in Oslo in 1861 and was an oceanographer, zoologist and diplomat. He was also a professor at the University of Oslo and ambassador in London. In 1922, he was rewarded with the Nobel Peace Prize for his humanitarian efforts and commitment to refugees, as well as the initiative for the so-called Nansen Passports. Still, he is most famous for his expeditions and great adventures as a Polar explorer.
In 1888, Nansen crossed Greenland on skis to investigate whether the ice sheet stretched all the way from east to west. This was history's first documented crossing of Greenland. In October they reached Nuuk, but had to stay throughout the winter as the last ship of the season already had left the harbor. Here, Nansen took the chance to study the Inuits and learned a lot about kayaking, rowing and survival in extreme conditions. After the expedition, he wrote two books, Skis over Greenland (1890) and Eskimoliv (1891).
In 1893, Nansen sailed towards the Arctic with the ship Fram to make an attempt to reach the North Pole. The plan was to let the ship freeze into the ice and then drift all the way to the North Pole. When Nansen and his companion, Hjalmar Johansson, two years later realised that this plan would not succeed they abandoned the ship. They moved across the ice on skis and with dog sleds and reached 86 degrees north latitude on 7th of April 1895. This was further north than anyone ever had been. Nevertheless, they had to face the fact that they would not be able get back before the Arctic winter would begin, and therefore decided to return home.
The beautiful fjord of Hornsund welcomed us with a blue sky, calm water and an astonishing view over Hornsundstinden 1463 m.a.s.l. At Gnålodden, we stepped ashore by the trappers hut used by several trappers, amongst them Vanny Wolstadt and also made a visit at the pomor site. A white Arctic fox came running along the shoreline, but was soon met by a blue fox, inhabiting the area. The blue fox was barking and shattering, and when the sounds did not scare the white fox off, it started to chase the white fox out of the territory.
Back on the ship, we continued deeper into Hornsund during the lunch and discovered one resting polar bear on the ice and another one distinctively walking south. The walking bear went into the water and swam towards the glacier Svalisbreen, where it went up on the ice again. From the Zodiacs, we could enjoy a really nice encounter with the bear on the shoreline. The cameras were working hard, and when, all of a sudden, a herd of belugas showed up, it was almost too intense for a short while. This fantastic day was ended by a ship cruise in front of the glacier Samarinvågen, where big herds of belugas were moving around in the waters.