Overnight, the Sea Explorer has made its way to the north coast of South Georgia, just south of Mount Skittle, where St. Andrew's Bay becomes visible. The ship anchors at a comfortable distance from shore, and I can see hordes of king penguins interspersed with elephant seals. What a scene—I'm excited!
As we approach the landing area, the topography of this cove is quite interesting. The Ross Glacier has been retreating for thousands of years, leaving behind the gravel beach that appears before us in its wake. In close juxtaposition are the Heaney and Cook Glaciers that add to the enormity of this indentation in the South Georgia seashore.
This geographic region was first sited by Captain James Cook on his 3-year expedition that was undertaken in 1772-1775. His goal was to discover what was felt to be the elusive Southern Continent, still an imaginary concept at the time. The Royal Society and British Navy provided support for Cook's ship, the Resolution, as it headed in an easterly direction from New Zealand. It was fun for me to imagine what he might have thought as he encountered St. Andrew's Bay for the first time.
We've been briefed by the staff that St. Andrew's Bay is truly a gem but not easily accessible due to the highly variable weather conditions this estuary is subjected to. With an ever-present swell from the Southern Ocean, this beachfront provides little shelter. The result is a heavy surf that makes beach landings treacherous. Nevertheless, on this day the winds are calm and the breakers small—favorable conditions for our zodiacs to land.
As we disembark and surrender our life jackets, we're told to stay at least 5 yards from the wildlife. Since thousands of kings are lining the coast, this means walking more inland. While the sheer numbers of king penguins are astounding, this is my first acquaintance with elephant and fur seals. Surrounded by the penguins in pockets, the elephant seals appear to be napping. Periodically, they lift their heads and open their mouths—a sight to behold.
A glacial stream runs through the beach, its water level only moderate during the month of February. I am able to cross it on my way to the Moraine Hills, the best vantage point for viewing the largest colony of king penguins on South Georgia Island! I find that it takes conscious thought for me to stop photographing this scene long enough to really appreciate the breathtaking beauty before me.
Our morning in St. Andrew's Bay is winding down. Slowly trudging towards our zodiacs for return to the Sea Explorer, I feel fortunate to have experienced the natural beauty of these surroundings, together with a display of wildlife that has been unique to South Georgia Island. For me, this clearly rivals the sensation that enveloped me as I witnessed the migration of the wildebeest marching from the Masai Mara in Kenya towards the Serengeti Plain in Tanzania. I pray that humans don't do anything to destroy these natural marvels.