quick enquiry sent

from the blog

General News

Truly Spectacular South Georgia!

written by Chris & Monique Fallows

Penguins in South Georgia

Posted on Thursday, 15 December 2016

Once off; Wildlife & Photography Specialty Expedition October 2017

 

Over the years we have been lucky enough to work with many of the worlds leading natural history film crews and camera operators. Ever curious, I always asked what their favorite wildlife location was.

Almost without fail, those that had ventured to South Georgia (SG) said that this location topped everything.  

 

In 2012 Monique and I first travelled to SG aboard a One Ocean expedition trip and spent four amazing days exploring some of the most popular areas with 100+ other passengers. We were gob smacked by the overwhelming volume of wildlife and the trip surpassed our already high expectations.

In 2015, now smitten by my first taste, I signed up for a very special once every ten years survey of wandering albatross breeding sites on SG, this time on a far smaller boat with only 11 other participants.

 

 

The smaller boat and limited number of guests really allowed us so much more time ashore in often remote locations, and most importantly the skipper of the boat was one of the most experienced Southern Ocean captains and made some very tricky landings easy. Instead of being ashore for three hour stints, and always at the mercy of the weakest passenger and regular meal times etc as with any other expedition to SG, we stayed ashore sometimes the whole day. We visited sites off the regular route and had a huge degree of flexibility as we were not following a stringent time schedule. We also regularly got up before sunrise and stayed out till after sunset, no mean feat in January at those latitudes, such was the flexibility granted to us.

 

What this meant is that you could really take time composing images, watching behavior and really enjoying the natural marvel that is SG.

 

 

So what makes SG so special, let me put a few numbers out there for you: 

SG is roughly 135km long and varies between 1 and 35km wide. 

It is home to the following estimated populations, 

4 000 000 + Antarctic fur seals

600 000 Southern elephant seals,

7 000 000 penguins of 4 species (several colonies of over 200 000 pairs!!) 

Wandering, light mantled sooty, grey headed & black browed albatross breeding colonies. 

An estimated, depending on whom you talk to, 40 - 70 MILLION seabirds that live on the island and surrounding islands… 

 

 

All this wildlife occurs in spectacular settings with hanging glaciers, huge jagged mountains and boulder strewn bays adding to our palette of possible photographic backgrounds. En route to and from SG to the Falklands, wandering, grey headed, light mantled sooty and black browed albatross soar next to the boat.

Various cetacean species are also seen en route including Commersons , Peales, Orca and possibly Hourglass dolphins. Humpback, Sperm, Fin, Minke and possible Blue whale sightings

 

So…….to get to my point; we simply have to go back!

 

 

Laws and costs are quickly changing and access to SG is becoming more and more difficult, restricted and costly.

In October 2017 we are putting together a trip that will truly give us, as the cliché goes, “once in a lifetime opportunities”.

Together with the same team that I went to SG with in 2015, we will be chartering the same small but incredibly seaworthy boat (formerly a North sea rescue craft). We will have arguably the Southern Oceans best captain, who is also owner of the boat and our skipper, as well as his equally capable partner.

 

The plan will be to spend 20 days on and around SG at locations I and the skipper have chosen to give us spectacular wildlife and photographic opportunities.

Instead of spending three hours at these sites we will spend many hours, and multiple landings over multiple days to give us varied lighting and weather options to get truly unique imagery.

We have chosen to go in the Southern Hemispheres early spring as coupled with varying weather that gives often dramatic atmospheric conditions, huge numbers of elephant seals are hauled out on the beaches and fighting for their right to dominate the beach. Albatross are also around in good numbers and penguins are everywhere. As a real added bonus, with no guarantees that it will happen next year, the following is an excerpt from my last correspondence with the skipper who has just got back from an early season trip this year.

 

There was a very unusual number of leopard seals; I counted 36 individuals at Right Whale Bay and 31 at St Andrews Bay. Needless to say they were massacring the King penguins at quite a steady rate. At Right Whale Bay they utterly dominated the bay and the penguins were having a very stressful time coming and going. We saw some fairly unprecedented leopard seal behaviour; up to 9 animals interacting around the zodiac, 2 animals food sharing (pulling a penguin apart between themselves) and up to 4 animals hunting together (I don’t know that they were actually cooperating though). What was most remarkable was that 2 or 3 animals had a hunting technique of chasing penguins out of the water onto the beach and then bursting out of the surf (like the orca do at Valdez Peninsula) and grabbing them in the backwash.

Seems like something is definitely happening with leopard seals this season; there were plenty of them in the Falklands too. Although their winter presence both in South Georgia and the Falklands has increased over the last few years, it will be very interesting to see if this season is a one-off “spike” or if there will be a similar situation next year”.

 

 

 

So, if we are lucky we may see this again next year which would, as suggested, really give us something else special to photograph! I can’t stress enough how special it is to see all this wildlife , not from 100m away but often all around you whilst you respectfully sit on the shores and let the wildlife’s behavior unfold!

 

What this meant is that you could really take time composing images, watching behavior and really enjoying the natural marvel that is SG.

At this stage this is the itinerary I have proposed and within reason and weather allowances, the skipper has accepted.

These sites are all incredible, St Andrews Bay alone is home to nearly 500,000 King penguins as well as 1000’s of Elephant seals!

The news re the dramatic Leopard seal behavior has just come in so I am sure we would add Right Whale bay into the options.

 

SG for 4 weeks:

23 September to 21 October 2017

4 days there and back so 20 days on site divided as per below:

3 days Bay of Isles with 2 different landings Salisbury plain

4 days St Andrew Bay

2 days Gold Harbour

1 day SW glaciers. 

10 days of the Skippers choice for giving us the most spectacular penguin and Elephant seal sites as well as best chance for dramatic weather in the selected locations based on his watching of forecasts. 

 

In the 10 days allocated above to the skipper to choose us best sites I would suggest doing a day at Grytviken for everyone to take in some of the incredible history of the area, the scene of one of the worlds greatest whaling stations and related massacres, Ernest Shackletons grave, British Antarctic survey research station and also some good wildlife options. I would also suggest a day going into Stromness or Leith harbor to see another notorious and spectacular whaling station few ever get to see. Incidentally our skipper was born there.

 

 

The fact that there will only be 12 of us is truly special; most ships that go there are 50 to several 100 and follow very scheduled routes.

 

This will not be a trip run by Monique and myself, nor Apex.

 

We are putting the trip together with like minded people.

We are splitting costs and thus will not be a commercial trip.

  

This is a trip where we will all be responsible for ourselves, our safety and enjoyment and will need to gel as a team to get the most out of the trip.

It is not a trip for those who get seasick easily as there is a spectacular but at times uncomfortable four day crossing either way to get to SG from the Falkland Islands.

Once we are there landings will be governed by the skippers call. Our plan is to try to make as many early and late landings as possible and sometimes in bad weather. As such it will be each participants option whether they wish to go ashore or not on any given landing. Each individual, throughout the trip, will be responsible to themselves.

 

Each participant will need to make sure they have adequate clothing and boots (very important). To help with this we will supply a suggested packing list.

You will need to sort out travel insurance if required.

Although the boat carries most medicinal needs and equipment each participant needs to be in good health as we are a long way from home. 

 

 

There is no cheap way to get to SG as ultimately it is almost as far from humanity as you can be in the Southern Ocean.

If you go online most trips for a 21 day round trip which only takes in 4 days at SG and 8 in Antarctica with the balance mostly at sea , costs from $11,000 -$21,000 + and you will be with anywhere from 56 to several hundred other passengers and on a tightly restricted schedule.

Granted luxury levels will probably be slightly better, and you may be able to have a G&T more comfortably, but the experience is not a shade on what we are likely to experience, and the captain and crew we will be with are very hard to beat.

Most importantly however to be able to spend 20 days on and around SG’s best locations with amazing access is truly unique.

 

OK so to cost: 

We will be leaving from the Falklands so costs are in Great Britain Pounds.

GBP 8,400.00 per person.

All cabins have two bunks, and there are two luxury cabins as well. Guests will be allocated 2 to a cabin unless booked as a couple.

 

All meals included. The food is good, hearty and with a French flair with lots of personal touches but don’t expect 5 star cuisine on a smallish vessel.

Bunks will be allocated on a first pay first serve basis, but all are comfortable.

 

2 en suite cabins

2 Bathrooms to share between other cabins. Tumble dryer on board as well as drying and charging racks.

 

 

Spots will only be confirmed once payment has been made in full.

Refunds only once a cancelled spot has been filled.

 

I can’t stress enough what an amazing expedition this has the potential to be.

 

We only have 6 spots of the 12 left.

 

The arrival and departure dates coincide with the once weekly commercial flight into the Falklands from Chile. We would all meet in Santiago and then fly LAN to Punta Arenas and then to Stanley in the Falklands, departing that same evening from the quay to SG. We will depart 28 days later via the same route.

 

 

We can give guidance having done this flight before but ultimately you would be responsible for your own flight arrangements and travel needs, visas etc. We have a great travel consultant based in the US who has got us great fares before so can also help in this regard. The images above are all from my last trip showing the diversity of habitat, wildlife and variety of options, conditions etc.

 

 

As mentioned this is strictly a first come first serve expedition so if you are keen, let us know quickly.

 

 

Read about Chris & Monique’s last trip to South Georgia here:

2015: The Wanderer – Albatross Island

Tags:

Marine Life, Penguins, South Georgia, Wildlife

Comments

Patrick RICHEBÉ

Hi Chris, Gill Fruin emailed me that you'll plan a new trip to SG. I'll be happy to be again with you... even if i'll be 2 years older, now over seventy. I look forward to hear some news from you. Patrick

Posted on: 16 December 2016

Kylie Jones

Hi Chris! My friend Patrick Richebe let me know you're arranging this trip, I'm very interested and would love to hear from you if you have any spots left. Kylie Jones

Posted on: 16 December 2016

Kabel Morgan

Chris I just came across this trip. SG is definitely one of the greatest wildlife destinations on earth. I would love to join this extraordinary trip if there are still any spots left. If not, I can only hope you feel an overwhelming need to go again in 2018 or 2019. Please let me know.

Posted on: 14 February 2017

Have your say