Grytviken and South Georgia wildlife

Today (Feb 16, 2022) the itinerary consisted of another South Georgia wildlife landing to explore the native tussock grass as well as an abandoned whaling town, Grytviken.

Unfortunately in the night we moved out into deeper water and started having a lot of the rolling seas again. CJ was immediately worried about feeling seasick again, and quickly took medication and exited our cabin to find a calmer spot on the ship. Thankfully, though she had to be outside our cabin, she was able to get some sleep out there. I also did not sleep well from that point forward. We were confused as to why the ship decided to go back out to sea rather than anchor near South Georgia.

We grabbed a quick breakfast consisting of the usual, but with some good cinnamon rolls today, to power us through to our first adventure.

The wind was blowing hard that morning and it led to our landings for the day needing to be flip flopped, now going to Grytviken in the afternoon.

That is one thing we can say about Hurtigruten is that they did a great job being agile, adapting to the changing conditions, and always getting us the most of the days that they could. Much like us waiting to see if this trip we even happen during Covid, you just had to be flexible, hope for the best, but also plan for the worst, which brings to mind another quote:

“Never stop because you are afraid – you are never so likely to be wrong. Never keep a line of retreat: it is a wretched invention. The difficult is what takes a little time; the impossible is what takes a little longer.”

Fridtjof Nansen

We landed at Jason Harbor, and couldn’t see much, and had been told by one of the expedition leaders that this area was a bit more marshy, so we weren’t sure what to expect, but trusted in the quality of the Hurtigruten expeditions. When we landed there was a small hut to the left that had been built in 1911 yet was still standing.

And tussock grass was everywhere! It covered the landscape with bunches of tufted hair. Nestled within the grass were seals and elephant seals, and it made a great home for nesting birds. We got quite a long walk in during this landing and enjoyed all of the heads and eyes peering out at us from the grass.

We even saw an elephant seal cow slowly, so slowly, no, no, even more slowly than you were just thinking, make her way from the grass into the sea. It was about a 20 foot journey, she would do a few wriggles, make about 3-4 feet of distance, and then lay down to rest for 5 minutes before doing a bit more wriggling.

Which resulted in her taking about 30 minutes to finally get into the enjoyment of the water. Although if I weighted between 900 – 1,800 pounds I’d probably need double that to move so far.

Finally at the end of our walking area we came to a large open green meadow where fur seals were frolicking to and fro, which I dubbed New Sealand, much to CJ’s chagrin, though I did get a laugh out of Amelie one of our expedition guides.

There were other things at Jason Harbor as well, including penguins, humans, dead penguins, nice views, and ships sitting on tussock grass.

For lunch before Grytviken, we both had borscht soup to start, which was quite nice, and then pasta Bolognese, but with faux meat. Overall one of our better lunches, and so nice not to have a cream based soup for once!

The second landing was at Grytviken an actual town, our first of the trip so far. Although how much of a town is a bit debatable, as it’s official population is only 8 people, but in the summer that can swell to 30 or so residents including scientists. We enjoyed seeing the rusted out buildings that nature and the wildlife had started to reclaim.

Upon the landing we first started to make our way up a hill towards a small cemetery where Ernest Shackleton and his right hand man Frank Wild were laid to rest (with Frank appropriately to the right of Ernest). As we headed that way, we passed numerous molting penguins and fur seal pups who wanted to show how tough they were by galumphing towards us and trying to intimidate us, though all we had to do was make ourselves look a bit bigger and they would quickly decide they weren’t quite as tough as they thought, and would back down.

They were very cute though, and we appreciated there attempt at valor.

As we hiked up the walkway closer to the Grytviken cemetery, elephant seals dotted both sides of the path, so quite close to where we had been designated to walk. The cemetery was small with pleasing grounds. The white stone and gray rock of the sailor’s plots stood in nice contrast to the deep greens, browns, and blacks of the surrounding scenery.

At the furthest depths was the most stately of the graves, which was clearly Ernest Shackleton’s. Interestingly it didn’t include his “Sir” title and the back had the quote:

I hold that a man should strive to the uttermost for his life’s set prize

Robert Browning

Although that quote definitely fit Shackleton, it was fascinating that they hadn’t included his family’s motto Fortitudine Vincimus—”by endurance we conquer”. While we don’t feel like photos with gravesites are very appropriate, the historian Sandra did talk us into taking one for our memories. Not something we’d ever share on Facebook though, if we even still had Face.. er, Meta.

As we walked down from the Grytviken gravesite, I was just about to pass the previously sedate elephant seal cow that was lying in a trench next to the walkway when she reared up, their necks can really reach when they want, and she flashed a wide gaping mouth, her teeth, and a groan at me. My heart skipped a beat as I froze for a second, but then she settled back down, and I had a good laugh at my expense. It was a fun real moment. We learned the next day that she actually did manage to nip someone and break the skin, but didn’t do much damage.

We continued to walk towards the main mass of Grytviken, with baby pups continuing to challenge us along the way. We let them know they “were doing a good job” (an inside joke), and were very scary and brave, even as the cowered away. We explored the remains of the old Grytviken whaling station which included a hydroelectric plant, an old freezer plant (no longer functional), workshop (still operational), barracks, church, separator plant (for purifying the whale oil), along with a meat and blubber cookery. It was somewhat encouraging to hear that they had used all parts of the whale during the operations here, which had there heyday in the 1920s.

We spend a bit of time in the church built in 1913, and were most happy to hear that even the pastor had said that “religious life does not wax strong amongst the whalers and left much to be desired.” Which is why it was also used as a food store, cinema, and concert hall.

We then meandered over to a small museum that had a wonderful replica of the James Caird, the boat that Shackleton had sailed from Elephant Island to South Georgia. We marveled at how small it ultimately was for 6 men, and the detail of ballast rocks even included in the bottom of the replica. There were also images of Grytviken in its prime.

We went through the post office with its goods for sale that didn’t interest us much, but with some great reproductions of Frank Hurley’s pictures from the Endurance Expedition, and a nice video on the whaling station’s history.

There was one more museum that we walked through with some additional great history of the area and prominent people, and we liked their gift shop a bit more, and ended up purchasing an Endurance mug. We walked out, enjoying the hulls of two more rusted ships with fur seals all about (nature reclaiming its space over human industry). I could have watched them playing forever, but we made our way back to the tender boat and returned to the ship.

Doing our usual rounds in the science area, we learned more about Grytviken and also viewed a detailed map of South Georgia, as well as the usual map plotting the course of our journey so far.

The dinner tonight was awesome and finally, ethnic! Egg drop soup to start and then General Tso’s cauliflower for our main. We also had a good conversation with Shatakshi and Suman on our trip who live in Vancouver, but are actually moving soon to an area near Calgary. We had often said “Hi” in passing around the trip and on excursions, we had noted that they were our age and we’d likely get along, and found exactly that upon talking to them more!

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One thought on “Grytviken and South Georgia wildlife

  1. […] a great day in Grytviken, we were looking forward to the South Georgia Shackleton hike, and being in the footsteps of this […]

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