Hercules Bay and Stromness, South Georgia Island
  • Daily Expedition Reports
  • 31 Jan 2022

Hercules Bay and Stromness, South Georgia Island, 1/31/2022, National Geographic Explorer

  • Aboard the National Geographic Explorer
  • Antarctica

It was a beautiful morning here in Hercules Bay, South Georgia Island. The weather was sunny, cloudy…and then sunny, cloudy, etc.—typical for South Georgia! We enjoyed Zodiac cruising to get closer and better views of macaroni penguins and the gorgeous landscape. Hercules Bay is a huge, open-ended amphitheater. The walls are composed of the contorted layers of the Cumberland Bay geological formation. A turbidity flow formed the rocks by layering sand, mud and volcanic debris underwater. Looking up and around from our Zodiacs, the sheer cliffs appeared layered like a gigantic cake. Many thin layers rippled into sweeping curves under the immense pressure. Plants love the ledges, and ‘toddler’ fur seals love the slopes.

One of my favorite features here is a tall and narrow waterfall that drops to the back of a gravel beach before disappearing with no pool or outflow. In front of the waterfall, king penguins stood stiffly and towered over the more agile macaroni penguins. Elephant seals settled in for molting. Fur seals, mostly the very young and their mothers, were everywhere, in addition to the ubiquitous gentoo penguins. The penguins do not breed on this beach. Their nests are located up on the side of the amphitheater among tussac grass that looks green indeed, thanks to the fertilizing.

After lunch, we dropped off a group of hardy adventurers to follow in the footsteps of Shackleton and company. The hikers tracked the last part of Shackleton’s hike to safety and rescue, traveling from Fortuna Bay and across a mountain pass to the Stromness whaling station. The rest of us traveled on National Geographic Explorer to Stromness, where we walked along the beach with the playful ‘toddler’ fur seals or hiked up Shackleton Valley. I chose the valley. It is this valley that Shackleton, Worsely and Crean stumbled down, their energy spent. Soot stained their skin from a long confinement with seal-oil lamps, and their beards were uncut and tangled. Two young boys stopped and stared at these strange creatures coming from the mountains where no one had ever come before. Smart boys, they ran! Everyone at the station was amazed. When veteran Norwegian whaling captains learned about Shackleton and what his team endured on their open-boat journey across the Southern Ocean, the captains stood and silently shook their hands with the greatest respect.

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