Our guides are blogging from M/S Stockholm and Sea Endurance, and this is what Åsa, who is on board M/S Stockholm, wrote this Saturday.
Yesterday we had a nice day in Geirangerfjorden. Half the group walked up to the Skageflå farm and had a magnificent view of the fjord. At the same, they were able to learn what life as a goat farmer in this remote area is like.
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. In this newsletter he shares his experiences in/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.
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.
27th May, 2017 Location: Sørkapp Coordinates: 76˚35 'N, 17˚60' E Weather: -2 ˚C, 1030 Bar, cloudy, wind from N, 4 Beaufort
In three directions, the pack ice broadens. On an ice floe two big seals pass by, a mother with her pup. We are surrounded by sparkling pack ice and can’t wait to get out. Soon we cross the ice edge, surrounded by many different kinds of ice: pack ice, ice floes, pressure ridges and icebergs. The silence is overwhelming. As the sky darkening in the horizon, we become aware of how small we actually are, and this feeling filling us with awe. Of course it is cold, but nothing but the beauty of the surroundings matter anymore.
28th May, 2017 Location: Akseløya, Gåsbenodden Coordinates: 77˚40 'N, 14˚45' E Weather: -0 ˚C, 1032 Bar, clear sky, wind from NE, 3 Beaufort
After breakfast in the Van Keulenfjord we visited Ahlstrandodden. A landing in Bamsebybukten offered, among other things, 200 million years old fossils, mountain peaks, ptarmigans, an Arctic fox and Svalbard reindeers. Back on board, Cecilia held a lecture on white-headed geese and their various challenges, but she was suddenly interrupt by a... polar bear! At the end of the Van Mijenfjord, on the fast ice, we could see a polar bear with two cubs! We followed her hunt for seals and the interaction between the three for the rest of the evening, with a break for Ivory gull and belugas only. What else can we call what we experience here, other than just Arctic magic?
Far into Hornsund we suddenly see big tracks in the snow from the bridge. We follow the trails for a couple of kilometres towards Samarinvågen and as we reach the fjord ice we see a polar bear on the slope. We quickly jump in to our Zodiacs and on our way towards the bear we see that it's not just one bear, but two! We approach slowly and watch for a long time when the bear eats the remains of a prey, a seal. After a while, one of the bears was curious enough to follow us along the ice.
After lunch, several of the travellers choose to take a cool swim amongst the ice floes. The water measured minus 1.8 degrees, but it didn’t stop them! The sun was shining and everyone was happy.
The world's northernmost post office , a calving glacier and curious walruses
During lunch the ship moved further into the Kongsfjord. Before we jumped into the Zodiacs everyone dressed warmly for a longer cruise along Kongsbreen. It became an exciting and magical one amonst big blue icebergs, bearded seals on ice floes, some harbour seals on a small, lone rock and an Arctic fox that ran back and forth. PolarQuests guides are blogging from the ship Sea Endurance. Here you will find an excerpt from the trip on 17-25 May 2017.
Friday started with a guided walk in Ny Ålesund. We divided ourselves into two smaller groups and went through the small community that hosts researchers from all over the world. We visited the shop to buy souvenirs and to send letters and postcards at the world's northernmost post office.
During lunch, the ship moved further into the Kongsfjord. Before we jumped in the Zodiaces, everyone warmly dressed for a longer cruise along Kongsbreen. It became an exciting and magical cruise amongst big blue icebergs, bearded seals on ice floes, some harbour seals on a small, lone rock and an Arctic fox that ran back and forth under a cliff where kittiwakes had gathered to nest. During dinner, which was incredibly good, the hot topic was the calving glacier and the bearded seal with a pup.
20th of May 2017
After a cloudy day, we woke up to the perfect view in the Magdalene fjord. Inside the fjord, the water was mirror-like and the sun shone over the towering peaks and the glaciers between them. We saw some walruses in the water and decided to have a closer look at these magnificent animals. We jumped into the Zodiacs and once on spot, we saw that there were dozens of male walruses in the snow. We made a quick decision to make a landing to get even closer. After quite some time together with these grand gentlemen we were starting to think about heading back, but right then, two more walruses came out of the water and curiously looked at us before one decided to climb up to his friends just in front of us.