We had been waiting in great anticipation for our arrival in South Georgia; its fame of being one of the most beautiful spots of the world had set high expectations amongst us all. I was very excited, had tried to downplay my own expectations, and made sure to be out on deck for sunrise. While darkness lifted, all I saw was a grey sky with seemingly impenetrable clouds. Moreover, as we had crossed the Antarctic Convergence the day before, the temperatures had dropped considerably: it was really cold now. I walked around deck to stay warm, and wondered whether I should stay awake. Then, right ahead of us where South Georgia was supposed to be, a ray of sunlight pierced through the layer of clouds. As I continued watching, a marvellous curtain of sun rays developed; behind it, I could now see the contours of the snowy mountains of South Georgia. Even though I was freezing, I watched the scene unfold as we approached Esenhul. This would also be our first opportunity to go kayaking; an activity into which I was luckily drawn on the first day. After dressing up in our dry suits and skirt, we boarded the dedicated kayak-zodiac, which took us to a cove which gave us our first encounter with macaroni penguins with their messy hairdo, and seals.
Seals everywhere. Lying on the beach like lumps of blubber, they turn into very agile, fast swimmers as soon as they work their way into the water. They were shooting under our kayaks, made surprise appearances right next to our kayaks, coming up for air and another dive. Coming close to the beach made some of them anxious, and we made sure not to upset them too much. Then again, our curiosity for this wonderful place drew us as close as we felt safe to see the multitude of wildlife. We spotted our first king penguins here, gentoo penguins walking the beach, apparently ignored by the seals, a colony of macaronis a little higher in a grassy area on the rocky surface, while petrels landed on the water right next to us. We could see why Esenhul would be called the supermarket of wildlife. Following the coastline, we saw more pebble stone beaches with yet more seals, some of them having a rest, others fighting over the limited space at the foot of the steep rocks of South Georgia.
At one moment, when my kayaking mate and I were trying to keep a steady position just off a beach, a petrel landed near us, got up to the kayak, and started nibbling at our peddles, even though we could easily reach out to the big bird. It showed no fear whatsoever - which, we would soon find out, would be the same for other animals here, too. If anything, it reminded me of the Galápagos islands; it is certainly a strange sensation to approach an animal and find that it just does not move away. At the same time, it makes for a fantastic wildlife experience: we could see a drop of water dangling from the end of the beak of the petrel, we could count its feathers, we could have stroked it if we wanted to. At the same time, we wanted our paddles back, so we reached out for them, said goodbye to the bird and continued our amazing kayak experience on the relatively quiet waters of Esenhul. Our first experience of the wildlife of South Georgia had been nothing short of breathtaking.
Around the World in 80 Clicks
Personal travel impressions both in words and images from Esenhul (South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands). Clicking on the pictures enlarges them and enables you to send the picture as a free e-card or download it for personal use, for instance, on your weblog. Or click on the map above to visit more places close to Esenhul. Read more about this site.