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South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands: Gold Harbour

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Gold Harbour | South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands | Antarctica

[Visited: December 2011]

Our last landing at South Georgia proved to be a fitting dessert of our visit to the hauntingly beautiful island. A nice sunrise over a bay with calm waters, in which penguins were porpoising around our ship, made the early rise worth the while. The yellow glow on the rock face explains the name of the place: Gold Harbour. Once more, we were keen to get off our ship. First, we started with a zodiac tour of the bay; from our low vantage point, the rock face rising steeply our of the sea topped by an deep blue and white wall of ice in the form of Bertram Glacier seemed all the more menacing. By now, we were used to seeing a wide array of animals around us in the water, and on the rocks close by. We sailed past the beach and some rocks, where we saw an abundance of animals. When we finally made it to our landing site, we had a choice: turn left or right. I decided to first go left, towards another king penguin colony. On the way, there were plenty of elephant seals on the beach, whose humorous behaviour once again made us laugh. Their massive bodies looked so clumsy, yet when they moved, they at times seemed surprisingly agile. The king penguin colony was but very small compared to the enormous one we had seen the day before at Saint Andrews Bay; still, the beautiful creatures drew our attention. Moreover, seeing the kings walk on the black sand beach from up close was a fantastic sight: their footprints in the sand, and the reflection of their bodies in the sand when a wave receded, was one to behold.

Picture of Gold Harbour (South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands): Singing King penguin at the colony at Gold Harbour

Apart from the king penguins, we also saw gentoos, while skuas were inevitably on the lookout for an opportunity to feed. One particularly brave chick successfully chased a skua away, while a petrel was devouring the remains of a young penguin. Retracing my steps to our landing site, a massive elephant seal threw himself into the sea, splashing the water, and was pushed forward and back by the powerful waves. Lying flat on our bellies gave us fantastic vantage points again, and it was only when I realized that I still wanted to climb the hill on the other side of the bay that I decided to get up and moving. Sitting on the beach, especially the weaners turned out to be very curious about our presence, and approached almost without any reserves to inspect those funny looking intruders with their yellow parkas. We were warned about the final stretch: while looking innocent, young fur seals were hiding among the tussocks, and could be annoying if one came too close. It seemed all easy to spot - but actually, to my surprise, not only did the seals climb quite a distance up the hills of the island, they also were well camouflaged among the grassy terrain.

Picture of Gold Harbour (South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands): Cute seal at Gold Harbour

After a short climb, with the cute stares of young seals that did not pose a problem, I reached the prize of the climb: a nesting light mantled sooty albatross. Our ornithologist proudly stood there, like a father guarding his child, and I understood at once that I had to whisper my questions. There he was: within arms reach, the enormous bird, with its subtle shades of grey, and curiously, a feather in its beak. It did not seem disturbed by my presence (only one person at a time was allowed to look), and its only movement was the occasional closing of its eyes, which had a white line around them. Here it was, the master of the sky, temporarily grounded for reproduction; it seemed fine with its inactivity, and almost seemed like hibernating. When I turned around, the scenery below me was a sight to behold. At the far end of the bay, the vertical wall of rock topped by the glacier, now in full sunlight; under it, the black beach, and its busy population of seals, penguins, and other birds. The weather was still fine, and without realizing it at the moment, it was our last time to set foot on South Georgia. A little further south, the winds were so strong that our last planned landing site at Cooper Bay unfortunately had to be skipped.

Picture of Gold Harbour (South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands): Light mantled sooty albatross in close-up
Picture of Gold Harbour (South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands): Gentoo penguin showing off at the beach of Gold Harbour
Picture of Gold Harbour (South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands): King penguins going for a walk at Gold Harbour
Picture of Gold Harbour (South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands): King penguins walking down Gold Harbour reflected in the sand
Picture of Gold Harbour (South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands): King penguin entering the surf at Gold Harbour
Picture of Gold Harbour (South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands): Early morning light on Gold Harbour
Picture of Gold Harbour (South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands): View of Gold Harbour with Bertram Glacier in the background
Picture of Gold Harbour (South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands): Reflection of photographer and glacier in the eye of a seal
Picture of Gold Harbour (South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands): King penguins walking the black sands of Gold Harbour beach
Picture of Gold Harbour (South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands): King penguins at Gold Harbour
Picture of Gold Harbour (South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands): Elephant seal in the surf of the sea at Gold Harbour
Picture of Gold Harbour (South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands): Early morning sunlight on Bertram glacier and rocks
Picture of Gold Harbour (South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands): A moment of peace for an elephant seal

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