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South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands: Ocean Harbour

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Ocean Harbour | South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands | Antarctica

[Visited: December 2011]

We woke up to what promised to be yet another fantastic day at South Georgia. The sea was calm, the sun was shining on the mountainous, snowy slopes of the east coast of South Georgia. In all, the weather was perfect for kayaking; I was about to try a single for the first time. Fortunately, there was not much current, and we went into a small cove, where we found ourselves surrounded by elephant seals. Again, like at Esenhul two days before, I was thrilled by the proximity of the animals, who did not show any sign of shyness for us. We had to round a small cape, and I saw just in time that the bunch of kelp in front of me as actually lying on a rock, and could steer clear of it. When we entered Ocean Harbour, a deep bay named after the whaling station that once operated here, we were elated when a group of seals was jumping from the, porpoising their way out. A fantastic sight, and so were the seals that dove under our kayaks, with a trail of air bubbles in their wake. I approached a beach of pebbles on which more seals were sunbathing, and just waited for action which never took long to take place. More curious seals turned up at my kayak, dove under it; several times, the sound of a surfacing seal behind me startled me.

Picture of Ocean Harbour (South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands): The tranquil waters of Ocean Harbour reflecting mountain and wreck of Bayard

From the beach, my attention was drawn by the wreck of the Bayard, a ship that broke loose of her anchors in gale-force winds, and remains where she is now. Our kayaks allowed us to get a very close-up look at the rusty wreck, which turned out to have a small colony of blue-eyed shags on its bow. Actually, grass was growing on the deck, indicating that nature is in a long process to claim the ship for itself. Given the fact that the boat has been there for 100 years, it was still surprisingly intact. After looking at the wreck from our kayaks, it was time to go ashore. Unlike Grytviken, not much is left of the old whaling station; rusty machines are still there, and some small parts of the machinery. A herd of reindeer came running by; they were first introduced in Ocean Harbour by the Norwegians in 1911. Slated for extermination in an effort to salvage the original wildlife of South Georgia, the reindeer seem quite afraid of humans and were at a long distance before we knew it.

Picture of Ocean Harbour (South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands): King penguins and rusty machine at Ocean Harbour

Much more interesting were the elephant seals, which we could not tire of watching. At first, they seem to be lying down in a deep sleep, but observing them for some time makes you think again. They move, they push, and occasionally, get into a fight, after which the bunch of blubber rearranges itself. Strikingly, the enormous beasts can lift their heads and tails with ease, which should mean they have powerful muscles to lift all that fat. When engaged in a fight, or when simply yawning, the elephant seals turn out to have very pinkish tongues and mouths, contrasting nicely with their grayish or brown colours. The animals can seem quite aggressive to each other, and in fact, you can see quite a few with ugly wounds sustained in one of the many fights which often see elephant seals bashing each other with their upper bodies. But then, peace returns just as sudden as it has been broken, the seals calm down, cuddle up next to each other, and seem to fall into a deep sleep. Which, before you know it, is then again abruptly ended for a new re-shuffling of blubber bodies. The sight of a seal running through the surf, water splashing around, was equally impressive, and before we wanted to, we already had to head back to our ship docked outside Ocean Harbour.

Picture of Ocean Harbour (South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands): Seal about to dive in the waters of Ocean Harbour
Picture of Ocean Harbour (South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands): Ocean Harbour seen from a kayak
Picture of Ocean Harbour (South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands): Bayard wreck in the waters of Ocean Harbour
Picture of Ocean Harbour (South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands): Seal pup looking into the camera at Ocean Harbour
Picture of Ocean Harbour (South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands): Yelling elephant seals at Ocean Harbour
Picture of Ocean Harbour (South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands): Stand-off between two elephant seals at Ocean Harbour
Picture of Ocean Harbour (South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands): Lazy elephant seal having a rest
Picture of Ocean Harbour (South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands): Elephant seal on the grass, scratching his side
Picture of Ocean Harbour (South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands): Seal running out of the water at Ocean Harbour
Picture of Ocean Harbour (South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands): Reindeer and rusty machine at Ocean Harbour
Picture of Ocean Harbour (South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands): Rusty machine is all that remains of the whaling station at Ocean Harbour
Picture of Ocean Harbour (South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands): Tern spreading its wings at Ocean Harbour
Picture of Ocean Harbour (South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands): Old whale bone as a testimony of the whaling history of Ocean Harbour

Around the World in 80 Clicks

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