South Georgia cruise to
Grytviken and the whalers ghost towns
March 13, 2005
During the first half of the past century many whaling stations were operative in South Georgia, but they were abandoned later when they became economically inconvenient, due to decrease in number of whales, penguins, fur seals and elephant seals, because of excessive killings. Today the wildlife is recovering and the tourists have the possibility to visit the ruins of the ghost towns in South Georgia, as well as the tomb of the "Boss" Sir Ernest Shackleton located in Grytviken.
Picture of the tomb of Sir Ernest Shackleton in Grytviken, South Georgia.
One of the purpose of this cruise to Antarctica and South Georgia, was to follow, at least partially, the itinerary of the famous expedition to Antarctica attempted by Sir Ernest Shackleton, that did turn to one of the most impressive rescue story of the exploration history. Our itinerary has included Elephant Island, the place where some of the expedition members did wait for the rescue, and now we are here in Grytviken, in front of Shackleton's tomb.But it might be worth writing a few lines on part of Shackleton expedition and the incredible story that has developed. The ambition of Shackleton was to cross Antarctica from coast to coast, but due to severe ice's conditions, not only the goal wasn't accomplished, but the expedition has never actually set foot in Antarctica itself, stopped by the ice in the middle of Weddel sea. On 5 December 1914, the ship Endurance, with Shackleton and his crew on board, sailed from Grytviken to the seas of the deep south bound for Antarctica, but just 80 miles from reaching the coast of Antarctica, the ship was trapped inside an ice floe "like a peanut in a chocolate bar" and then dragged north by currents, for more than 1000 nautical miles. After more than 9 months, the ship was actually crushed and demolished by the immense pressure created by the ice floes. The only way for the cruise to survive, was to build a camp over the ice floe, that was still travelling erratically in the Weddel sea due to winds and currents. They spent another 5 months over the ice floe when, after many vicissitudes, they reached Elephant Island where a new camp was built on land at Point Wild.From there, on April 24 1916, Shackleton and other members of the expedition, have attempted something so heroic, as humanly impossible: crossing the 800 miles in the stormy South Scotia sea inside a boat of 6 meters, with the goal to reach South Georgia and ask help to Norwegian whalers. Incredibly, they got to South Georgia, but only on the uninhabited side of the island, so they had to cross an alpine mountain chain, full of glaciers, to finally get to Stromness town. From here, Shackleton has coordinated the rescue for the crew still on Elephant Island and everybody was safe after almost two years from the incident. Shackleton died of a heart attack at just 47 years old, near South Georgia, during another expedition to the South and, for the wish of his wife, he was buried here at Grytviken in South Georgia.
The bay where Grytviken is located in South Georgia. The cruise ship is anchored off the coast and transport is provided by zodiacs.
Penguins and fur seals can be found everywhere between the ruins on the beach.
During my cruise to South Georgia, Grytviken was under maintenance, when several older buildings were removed and other restored.
Photos of the church in Grytviken.
Inside the church there is also a library, where the original books from the whaling era, are still stored.
The machines used to process the whales in South Georgia. Unfortunately, this activity did bring many animals, including whales, fur seals, king penguins and elephant seals, close to the extinction. The huge boilers were used to boil the animals in order to extract the oil, but luckily these machines are now only huge museum items for tourists visiting South Georgia.
In Grytviken there is also a small museum about the nature and the history of South Georgia.
Pictures of Grytviken and its museum.
A whaling ship.
Pictures of Leith Harbour
, a ghost town near Stromness. This village was used as a base for whalers processing Antarctic whales, and then abandoned later.
Dozens of fur seals live between the ruins that has bring them almost to extinction during the past century.
The ghost town of Stromness
, with many Gentoos and fur seals.
A white fur seal.