An Adventure in South Georgia with NOMADasaurus

For the first voyage of the 2018 / 2019 Antarctic season, One Ocean Expeditions welcomed adventure couple Jarryd and Alesha – also known as NOMADasaurus – aboard the Akademik Sergey Vavilov for the South Georgia In-Depth Photography Symposium. Have you ever wondered what each day on such an epic journey looks like? Here’s a day-by-day highlight reel of their amazing adventure, in their words.

Days 1-3 | Stanley and Sea Days

Excitement was in the air as we touched down at Mount Pleasant airport in the Falkland Islands. With customs and security out of the way, the guests boarded the waiting tour buses and drove the 50 minutes to Stanley, the capital of the British Territory.

The group wandered around the colourful, quirky town for a few hours before being transferred to the Akademik Sergey Vavilov, the Russian research vessel that would be home for the next two weeks. Introductions and safety briefings were made before sailing out of port and into the Southern Ocean.

It’s a two-day journey from the Falkland Islands to South Georgia, and the One Ocean Expeditions staff onboard filled the hours with educational presentations, quarantine inspections and delicious food. The professional photographers leading the photography symposium taught those who were interested how to properly take images of birds in flight, and with the hundreds of petrels, albatrosses and other seabirds soaring off the stern of the ship, there was plenty of opportunities to practice before finally arriving in South Georgia.

Sailing to South Georgia onboard Akademik Sergey Vavilov
Sailing to South Georgia.  Photo Credit: NOMADasaurus

Day 4 | King Haakon Bay

After two days of calm seas and following winds from Stanley, the Vavilov finally arrived on the western side of South Georgia. The first excursion entered King Haakon Bay, the legendary location that Shackleton and his men started their final 36-hour overland journey across the interior of the island to safety. The weather was rough, with pelting rain and winds, but that didn’t stop every passenger from excitedly heading to a destination that few expeditions make. The rain turned out to be a blessing though. As it was too wet to bring out the cameras, it forced everyone to simply sit down and admire the elephant seals and king penguins without looking through a lens. Each person stayed in the moment, and all stepped away with their own amazing first encounters from this magical and intriguing place.

King penguins in King Haakon Bay  Photo Credit: NOMADasaurus

Day 5 | Jason Harbour and Grytviken

A long and rocky passage around to the eastern side of South Georgia didn’t stop the Vavilov from making good time to Jason Harbour, the location for the day’s first excursion. This place has a much lower density of wildlife compared to other iconic spots on the island, and that allowed the professional photographers leading the symposium to share their best tips with all the guests without anyone feeling overwhelmed. People split up into groups, with some focusing on the elephant seals and others honing in on a curious cluster of king penguins, all while keeping a close eye on the male fur seals. Those feeling energetic took the opportunity to hike to the top of a ridge to enjoy spectacular views over the harbour. It really was a ‘four seasons in one day’ experience, with wind, rain, snow and eventually sunshine hitting the beaches. The mood was lively when we returned to the Vavilov, and the crew were waiting on the deck with hot chocolate and Baileys to warm everyone up. South Georgia keeps on delivering, and the best is still yet to come.

The guests onboard the Vavilov traded wildlife for history with a long visit to Grytviken, the capital of South Georgia and home to a large, abandoned whaling station. The excursion began with a toast to Sir Ernest Shackleton, the legendary Antarctic explorer who is buried in Grytviken, before everybody split up into groups to explore the tiny town. The whaling station at Grytviken is the only one open to the public after it was cleared of asbestos, and wandering around the rusted tanks leaves an eerie feeling to what happened to the huge whale population around the island. It’s not all gloom though, and people relished the chance to check out the old church and the remarkable museum, boasting artefacts from the regions Antarctic and whaling history, and even a complete replica of the James Caird, the small boat that Shackleton and his men sailed across the ocean from Elephant Island over 16 days to complete one of the most incredible survival journeys of all time.

King Penguin in Grytvikin.  Photo Credit: NOMADasaurus

Day 6 | St. Andrew’s Bay and Gold Harbour

Today on the Vavilov the crew navigated the ship into St. Andrew’s Bay, home to South Georgia’s largest king penguin colony. After the morning’s strong winds subsided, the guests headed ashore and were immediately greeted with a flurry of action. Curious king penguins waddled straight up to the Zodiacs to meet the new visitors. All around bull elephant seals battled for the title of ‘beach master’, while a few of the females gave birth to pups right in front of the guests. Snow fell in true South Georgia fashion, and after a long walk to the top of a ridge one of the world’s most phenomenal wildlife sights revealed itself – 100’000 kings covered the beach as far as the eye could see. At this time of year a dense population of brown, fluffy chicks made up most of the numbers, and their new feathers glistened against the black sand backdrop. The Vavilov adventurers had over 4 hours in this remarkable location, allowing everyone ample time to not only take their pictures, but also to simply sit and admire the incredible scene.

St. Andrews Bay.  Photo Credit: NOMADasaurus

In the afternoon the Vavilov made its way to Gold Harbour, one of the most visually spectacular destinations in all of South Georgia. The density of fur seals however meant that a safe landing wasn’t possible, so instead everybody loaded up the Zodiacs and went for a long cruise to admire the wildlife and imposing glacier from the sea. This was the first opportunity that the guests had to properly see the enormous numbers of seals and penguins away from land, and the unique perspective gave everyone a deeper appreciation of South Georgia’s splendour.

Day 7 | Gold Harbour and Drygalski Fjord

The short sail to nearby Cooper Island was made extra exciting by the appearance of hundreds of seabirds caught up in a feeding frenzy on the water, and three majestic orcas breaching right next to the Vavilov. Unfortunately strong winds meant the planned excursion to a macroni penguin colony had to be cancelled, but the expedition leader made up for it by cruising into Drygalski Fjord, one of the most unique and stunning geological places in the world. Huge glaciers tumbled into the water on all sides, and the clouds lifted to give unrivalled views of the jagged peaks around. Every single passenger was either on the bow or in the bridge to admire this spectacular, narrow fjord, and the wind died down enough to allow the captain of the Vavilov to expertly reach the very end. Snow petrels circled the ship, making the end of an already extraordinary day even better as the sun lit up the snowy mountains into the evening.

The crew and passengers of the Vavilov woke early still in Gold Harbour and set out on a long, extended morning excursion of the shore, and were rewarded with some phenomenal wildlife experiences and stunning scenery. After almost a week of snowy, windy conditions, the sun finally broke through to reveal the captivating hanging glacier rising above the beach.

Drygalski Fjord  Photo Credit: NOMADasaurus

A large number of elephant seals had occupied the landing site, but the expedition leader and staff managed to find a safe spot to land and get everybody into the site. Scattered around the tussock grass were dozens of male fur seals, currently docile while they wait for the females to arrive, and a small group of gentoo penguins were busy building their nests. A route was flagged heading towards the enormous king penguin colony, however the challenge was trying to keep a 5m distance from the hundreds of baby elephant seals that were scattered all over the beach. They were literally everywhere, and would flop over to check out the passengers as they walked by. At the king penguin colony everybody sat down at the edge of the boundary to admire the thousands and thousands of birds that stretched out as far as the eye could see. The brown, fluffy chicks immediately flocked to the group though, and started curiously inspecting the boots and cameras of the astonished visitors. With over 4 hours set aside for the excursion it gave ample opportunity for everyone to make the most of the time spent with these amazing creatures, while the professional photographers leading the symposium shared tips and advice on how to make the most of their shots and get some creative angles.

Penguins and Chick in Gold Harbour.  Photo Credit: NOMADasaurus

Day 8 | Prion Island and Salisbury Plain

The Vavilov started its penultimate day in South Georgia with a trip to Prion Island. Home to a high number of wandering albatross, the largest bird in the world, it is only possible to visit the island in the early season before the male fur seals become too aggressive on the beaches to ensure a safe landing. The passengers on the current South Georgia photography symposium were lucky that they could be one of the last visitors here for the season, and were treated to the lucky opportunity to see nesting albatross just off the boardwalk.

A trip to Salisbury Plain usually stands out in people’s minds because no matter which way you look, you are surrounded by thousands and thousands of animals. It really offers a 360-degree experience, and you often find yourself in the middle of an abundance of wildlife. What made these landings so unique wasn’t just the vast colony of kings that spread up the side of one of the mountains, but the hundreds of surfing penguins that played around on the beach. The crew found a section of the site that was clear of fur seals, and manned it while the guests photographed and watched the penguins taking on the waves.

Salisbury Bay. Photo Credit: NOMADasaurus

Day 9  | Salisbury Plain and Right Whale Bay

On the second excursion the One Ocean staff opened up another side of the colony, which allowed everyone to get a different view from the previous day. Here the guests sat in the tussock grass and spent the hours watching the penguins court each other, while the brown chicks came up to inspect the new visitors.

Having two excursions to Salisbury Plain was a huge bonus, and it resulted in one final experience that would have been otherwise missed had the plan not been altered – Two humpback whales came right up to the Vavilov as they were leaving the bay on the second trip, breaching only 10m from the ship’s port side. It’s unusual to see whales this early in the season, but goes to show you never know what you’re going to get in South Georgia.

Humpback Whale.  Image Credit: Nathalie Gillis

For the Vavilov’s final excursion on the South Georgia Photography Symposium, the passengers visited Right Whale Bay, a spot that is often skipped on the shorter South Georgia trips. Dozens of fur seals lined the pathway to the king penguin colony, but the high number of staff meant they could safely escort the passengers through without putting anyone, or any creature, in danger. As it was the last few hours on the island, most of the guests put the cameras down and simply sat at the edge of the colony, contemplating what an amazing wildlife destination South Georgia really is. By sitting on the ground and being still, many of the penguins came right up to the people and curiously checked them out. It’s these interactions that mean so much more than just capturing images, and even the professional photographers accompanying the trip encouraged everyone to not look through the lens and simply make the most of each moment.

Thank you to NOMADasaurus for their day-by-day account of their Photography Symposium South Georgia In-Depth voyage. We hope to see you onboard again soon! In the meantime, be sure to check out their travel blog.