South Georgia Island and Antarctica Expedition 2014 Report

In November 2014 I led an extensive twenty-one day landscape and wildlife photographic expedition with good friend Andy Biggs to the Falkland Islands, South Georgia Island and Antarctica. The purpose of this extended expedition was to provide the definitive Antarctic and sub-Antarctic experience. We planned to take in the best of the Falklands, South Georgia Island and Antarctica and experience not only the diverse landscape and wildlife, but also some of the historic relics and history of these amazing places.

Our expedition saw us cover more than 3400 nautical miles in a round trip from Ushuaia, to the Falkland Islands, South Georgia Island, The South Shetland Islands, Antarctica and finally return to Ushuaia. We experienced the full range of weather and conditions from brilliant sunshine to gale force winds on our approach to Antarctica. As a photographer who prefers the drama of overcast skies and storm conditions I relished the opportunities that we had to shoot in inclement weather. Those of us who preferred calmer conditions were likewise blessed with some wonderful weather during much of our time in the Falklands and South Georgia. Unfortunately for me, I did suffer (not alone ) a good dose of seasickness during this expedition that more or less confined me to cabin during our sea days on this expedition. This was the first time I have succumbed in such a manner to sea sickness and I can now completely sympathise with anyone has been unfortunate enough to suffer from this uncomfortable condition.FalklandIslands-063612014In the Falklands we visited West Point Island and New Island where we photographed majestic Black Browed Albatross and Rock Hopper Penguins. Rock Hopper Penguins are the rock stars of the penguin world and are extremely photogenic with their wild hair and cool looks. We were fortunate to have some fabulous light and incredible access in the Falklands and were able to photograph nesting Black Browed Albatross up close. Some of us were also fortunate to see and photograph the very rare Striated Kara Kara. Although I did manage to grab a couple of snaps of this rare raptor for documentary purposes the images themselves are more record photographs and not considered compositions. Nevertheless it was a real thrill to see and photograph this rare bird of prey.

FalklandIslands-096412014We also stopped in Stanley, the capital of the Falklands where we refuelled on coffee and took in some local sights. Keen to make our way to South Georgia our stay in the Falklands was brief and we were soon underway for three days sailing to South Georgia Island.

South Georgia is one of the most remote islands on the planet and is a full three days sail from the Falkland Islands. It is also host to an incredible biomass of wildlife that makes it not only unique but also incredibly special. The sheer mass of wildlife on tap in South Georgia is a wildlife photographers dream and the opportunities are infinite. South Georgia is nothing short of a complete sensory assault with tens of thousands of nesting King Penguins, penguin chicks, Fur Seals, Elephant seals and a virtual cornucopia of birdlife. At first blush South Georgia can be so overwhelming that simply making sense of it can be difficult and it pays to spend some time simply enjoying the experience as well as photographing.King Penguins Saint AndrewsSouth Georgia island is strictly controlled in terms of number of visitors permitted on the island, where they are allowed to land and the hours they can be ashore. The purpose of these restrictions is to keep South Georgia as pristine as possible and to give wildlife a chance to rest away from the disturbance of human visitation. As such it is not permitted to land in South Georgia before 4am and you must depart by no later than 10pm. In order to take advantage of the best light possible we frequently commenced our zodiac operations at 4am so that we could not only maximise our time ashore but also ensure we experienced the best of the light available. These long hours usually enabled us three landings per day which meant we could squeeze in a great amount of photography during our time in this amazing location.

Our first stop in South Georgia was Grytviken where we explored the old whaling remnants that lie scattered amongst the small settlement. Fur seals and elephant seals greeted us as our zodiacs landed amongst the rusty whalers remnants. I chose to focus my efforts at this location on a very playful baby elephant seal wallowing in the shallows of the harbour. This photograph was taken with a Canon EOS1DX with a 16-35mm F4L IS lens in an Aquatech underwater sports housing with wide angle dome port. The seal seemed intent on kissing the camera and I had to wipe seal slobber off the dome port on several occasions. My sincere thanks to Aquatech for the loan of the underwater housing for the duration of this expedition.SouthGeorgia-8339-Edit22014One of the greatest attractions in South Georgia are the majestic King Penguins. These elegant birds are the Kings of South Georgia and can be found by the tens of thousands at Salisbury Plain, Gold Harbor and Saint Andrews – all of which we visited during this expedition. Larger than the Gentoo, Chinstrap, Rockhopper and Macaroon they are also the most colourful and to my mind at least, the most elegant and photogenic.

SouthGeorgia-2456-Edit42014We also visited Little Moltke harbour, Hercules and the Drygalski fjord in South Georgia. All of these offered incredible landscapes and wildlife opportunities. I hope to share more photographs from these locations over the coming weeks and months.

As we sailed from South Georgia Island to Antarctica through the Scotia sea we passed gigantic tabular icebergs slowly drifting out of the Weddell Sea. The largest of which measured an enormous twelve kilometres on the ships radar. Icebergs of this size and magnitude generate their own local weather system and are always dramatic to photograph.SouthGeorgia-9735-Edit62014Our approach from South Georgia to Antarctica presented us with nearly 50 knots of howling wind which prevented us from landing at Deception Island. However, we were able to land briefly at the historic Point Wild in rising Catabolic winds. This is the first time I have been able to actually place a foot on rock at this location having been blown out on all other attempts. Point Wild is home to a colony of Chinstrap penguins and was the location where Antarctic explorers huddled for three months before rescue.Antarctic StormDuring our time in Antarctica our most southerly point was the breathtaking Lemaire Channel which we cruised through during a magnificent polar sunset. The Lemaire channel is always a dicey bet this early in the season but with the experience of our Russian Captain we were able to navigate the ice strewn waters and experience one of the most amazing sunsets I have ever witnessed in polar waters.

Antarctica-375612014We also explored Neko Harbour, Paradise Bay, Cierva Cove and more. We cruised on zodiacs amongst spectacular icebergs as well as landing and exploring on foot. We were regularly greeted during our landings by our comedic friends the Gentoo penguins.

Our final landing in Antarctica was at the penguin festooned Cuverville Island. Cuverville has become one of my favourite landings in Antarctica with its stunning dramatic scenery, extensive Gentoo penguin colonies set against precipitous mountains and incredible glaciers hanging between mountains. It provides the perfect backdrop for Antarctic photography. Add a liberal dose of inclement weather and the island comes alive with drama. Cuverville was our coldest landing with 20-25knott winds and a significant wind chill. The resulting images bore out a taste of just what Antarctica can truly be like. It is hostile in its magnificence.Antarctica-2380-Edit82014There were some fantastic photographs that resulted from this expedition by many of the photographers who participated. Personally, I shot over 7,500 images during the course of the expedition and as is usual it will take me many months to mine the jewels from this expedition. For now the photographs in this report are just a few of my initial favourites. During the course of the expedition the ships crew prepare a report of the previous days activities as well as what to expect for the coming day. You can download the daily trip reports as a SouthGeorgiaReport PDF.

SouthGeorgia Group PhotoWe also had a videographer aboard to document our expedition and I hope to share the video from this expedition in a few months once all of the editing and post production work is complete.

If you are interested in travelling and photographing in South Georgia Island I will be leading a dedicated fifteen day expedition in November this year that departs from the Falkland Islands and that will spend more than eight days in this wondrous location. There are now only two places remaining before this expedition will be sold out. If you would like any additional information you can register your interest by dropping me an email at info@jholko.com

5 thoughts on “South Georgia Island and Antarctica Expedition 2014 Report

  1. Hi Josh,

    Amazing photos and indeed a wonderful place.

    I’ve just got back from a 9 day cruise around the Antarctica peninsula this week. Once I get some time I’ll start to process my photos. I took a similar amount to you. More in fact, but a lot of them are brackets.

    You’ll be no doubt envious to know that while we still had inclement weather and moody overcast skies, the seas were calm and we made great time getting from Frei Station to to polar circle from where we explored and made our way back slowly.

    I think I saw that same giant iceberg, although I think it may now be much further south than when you saw it. I didn’t ask the bridge how big it was, but it certainly could have been as big as you described, and certainly did have it’s own weather system. A lovely big tablecloth type cloud hanging directly above it. I’ll send you a pic once it’s processed.

    They say that going to Antarctica is a once in a lifetime experience, but once you’ve been that all goes out the window. I can’t wait until I can get back there. I wish I was still there actually with Sydney’s heat and humidity at the moment. Once minute I’m in -4C conditions and the next I’m in 34C temps!

    Cheers
    Craig

    Like

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