Jurassic Marine Park, Salisbury Point, South Georgia
Forget Walt Disney. This particular scene is far more Spielbergian, straight out of something like “Jurassic Marine Park II.” Which dawned on me as I walked across the flats here, over short moss and through tall tussock grass, literally surrounded by thousands of fur seals and tens of thousands of King penguins. It didn’t help that Pete Pulesten had told me earlier in the day of a friend who’d tried to outrun a sizable fur seal, only to be taken down from behind. The resulting chomp in his back was big enough to expose part of his lung. “You could see it sucking in and out through the wound,” said Pete, cheerily. Which meant I was keeping both eyes peeled 360.
The beach here is short, steep and rocky, and covered by seals. We carve a path among them to get onto the flats. While half of South Georgia is covered year-round by ice and snow, the other half is incredibly rich in deep hues of green, brown and gray. Latitude-wise, if this island were in the northern hemisphere it would rival the countryside of Labrador or northern England, though much steeper. Two sizable mountain ranges – the Allardyce and Salvesen Ranges, form its backbone.
South Georgia is what is known as a ‘sub-Antarctic’ island, a term unfamiliar to many from the north because, well, we don’t have any. They lie outside the Antarctic Treaty boundaries but within the Southern Ocean and south of the Antarctic Convergence or Polar Front.
Circling the globe, in the so-called Furious Fifties, a dozen like-islands – Macquarie, Kerguelen, Heard, Crozier, Marion, and Campbell – are variously territories of New Zealand, Australia, France and South Africa. South Georgia is governed by the U.K. While there is small debate over which of them is the most stunning, it’s largely agreed that South Georgia takes the prize for most otherworldly.
It’s without question the most surreal place I’ve ever been. As I navigate the spongy, flat fields I fully expect massive giant petrels to come swooping from behind the hills, followed by seals the size of dump trucks and giant penguins, which is not so far off … remember it wasn’t too far from here that the fossils of a 300 pound penguin were discovered.
Before climbing a heavily tussocked hill for a grand look out over the sea I stop along a shallow river lined with King penguins and watch the molting one-year-olds interact, like schoolyard toughs. As always when among big colonies of penguins I wonder what they see when they look at me? Given their non-chalance, I have to think they see just a big, red-furred brother.
Photos, Fiona Stewart