Tag Archives: Glacier

King Haakon Bay

Monday 4 March 2024 – The overnight transit from the eastern side of the island to King Haakon Bay on the western side went smoothly.

So it was that we found ourselves in a place where, almost always, the weather is wild and woolly.  The forecast that Pippa and the team had been working on – for fairly quiet conditions – appeared still to be correct when we awoke, so their non-traditional itinerary gamble appeared to have been a good one.

Plans accordingly continued for two expeditions during the day.  However, we had some excitement even before our first excursion – blue whales spotted off the starboard bow.  Frustratingly, I had just stepped into the shower when this was announced; by the time I could get myself on deck there were no signs of the whales. But Jane had managed to grab a couple of shots from the cabin – just enough to show that a) there was at least one very large whale, and b) that it’s small (relatively) dorsal fin showed it to be a blue, rather than a fin, whale.

In truth there wasn’t much for anyone to see, so Jane did a great job to get these images.  I just wish I’d caught a glimpse myself.

The two expeditions of the day continued the Shackleton thread running through recent days.  In seeking a rescue for the men he’d left on Elephant Island after sea ice destroyed his ship, he and five of his expedition crew sailed a small boat, the James Caird, across the (potentially very stormy and dangerous) Scotia Sea, using dead reckoning, to South Georgia – an extraordinary feat of navigation.  We would first visit the place where they first made ground, at Cape Rosa, and then moved slightly further in to King Haakon Bay to Peggotty Bluff, whence Shackleton and two of the others made their hazardous journey on foot over the mountains to the other side of the island – Stromness – where there was a whaling station whose men could help initiate a rescue operation.

The scenery at Cape Rosa is, as usual, spectacular, and, once again, very different from the other South Georgia locations we’ve so far seen.

As one can infer from the colour of the water, the bay has glaciers pouring into it.

Our first expedition was a Zodiac cruise with a short landing.  The cruise enabled us to potter about the islands that are adjacent to the shore, and the caves that the sea has carved out from the cliffs.

This one had a little beach in it, with some seals relaxing there.

We actually went deep into another one

but it was dark inside – not a rewarding photographic location.

As we cruised on, there were a couple of icebergs in what looked like a really incongruous location

but it soon became clear what the situation was.

There was quite a lot of wildlife, but nothing that I have not regaled you with lots of photos of already, apart from a native bird, the South Georgia pipit, the island’s only songbird.

The central, and one might say main, point of the cruise was to land at Cave Cove.  On the face of it, it’s not at all spectacular.

Its significance is historical and a matter of some ecstasy to worshippers at the Shackleton shrine; this is the sprt where he and five others first made ground on South Georgia in their small boat, the James Caird.  In those days, there was a stream running down into the water, and this was a lifesaver for them, as their reserves of water had turned brackish.  The stream is not very obvious today.

The whole cove is small (so small that only two Zodiacs were allowed in at any one time)

and the six men only stayed a short while before moving to a different location in King Haakon Bay (see later).  We stayed an even shorter while before decamping back to Hondius for lunch.

During lunch, the ship moved a right up into the bay so that we could explore the other locations of Shackleton-related interest – Peggotty Bluff and the Shackleton Gap. We had Adam, Pippa’s no. 2, as our guide and he made the afternoon very interesting, aided in no small part by the wonders of the natural world going on around us.

At the far end of the bay are two glaciers, Morris and Murray.


I was sorely tempted to ask if there was a third glacier called Mint. I manfully restrained myself.

We approached the right-hand one, and if you look closely, you can see an arch or cave towards its right hand side.

As we neared it, we went into a mass of brash ice, and we could hear it fizzing and crackling as bits of it practically exploded in the sunshine.  Adam fished out a lump of it

in which one could see different strata – very clear ice which had formed under great pressure, a well-defined border to a different formation, made under less pressure at the top, and, at the bottom, recently formed ice which still had air bubbles in it, which (a) makes it les transparent and (b) provides the fizzing and popping as it melts.

At this point, things got really interesting.

We could hear the rumblings of the sort that glaciers make when calving, and Adam could see that the arch/cave was home to a lot of ice decay.

Increasingly large chunks of the area started dropping

and before too long a whole great mass came crashing down.

Leaving scant evidence that there had ever been that arch in the first place.

Very exciting!

I have video, of course. Sorry, as ever, that I can’t share it here and now. I’m beginning to think that I will include a page dedicated to some of the video footage that we’ve garnered over the trip; but I’ll need a large amount of unlimited internet data to provide that, and I haven’t got that right now.  Watch this space….

After all that glacier excitement, we pottered over towards the areas of historic Shackleton-type interest.  Peggotty’s Bluff

shields a cove

(the bluff is on the right, above).  This is the second place in the bay that Shackleton and his five companions landed on the island. In the background of the picture you can see that the moraine rises gently to meet a glacier.  That area is called Shackleton’s Gap. Here’s the view from the bay itself.

That is the glacier over which Shackleton and two of his men walked, some 35 kilometres as the crow would fly if there were any crows here, over some 36 hours, to reach the whalers at Stromness, on the east coast.  (They left the other three sheltering under the upturned James Caird.) Apparently there is an appetite among a certain type of foolhardy courageous person for recreating this journey; these days, to preserve the environment better, a permit is needed to undertake the journey.  It’s a very strenuous, demanding and dangerous expedition even dressed in and using today’s advanced technical gear. Shackleton’s party had none of the fabrics and materials available today, and even had screws (from the James Caird) put through the soles of their boots as improvised crampons to enable them to walk on the glacier ice.  Ridiculous, but utterly heroic. And, happily, successful.  He got within earshot of the Stromness factory just as they were blowing the shift start whistle, which enabled him to find the station. The rest is history, with a fair bit of geography entwined in it.

There was more interesting wildlife on this afternoon cruise.  I managed to get satisfactory pictures of a couple of birds in flight: the Wilson’s Storm Petrel

and Antarctic tern.  A whole bunch of juveniles came out and flew around and over our Zodiac, checking us out; it was lovely to see them.

It was a great afternoon’s cruising and so we headed back to Hondius very happy with our afternoon’s experience.

As we waited to go down to dinner, Jane caught a great shot of seals porpoising by the ship, a sight we hadn’t really seen thus far.

And so ended a good day’s Shackletoning.  There’s a final morsel of Shackletoniana promised for the morrow.  If all goes well, we’ll get to Grytviken, where there are the preserved remnants of a whaling station – not the biggest, but probably the best-known on the island. The others are merely disused; Grytviken has had restoration work done in the settlement, and, further, is the seat of the island’s governance group and an important location for the South Georgia Heritage Trust.  We will get to hear more from the Trust – and the government – before we set foot on Grytviken, and between now and then is a journey back out into the wild and woolly waters around the north of the island as we make the journey.  We’ve been cosseted over the last several days with light winds and calm waters.  Tonight promises to change all that.



All a-bored!

Friday 12 August 2022 – We’re now aboard Silver Muse and underway. This is the view from our cabin’s balcony right now (it has been like that ever since we left Seward); appropriately we are in Disenchantment Bay.  (It improves – keep reading.)

We’re not missing anything right now, therefore this  is a fantastic opportunity to bring you up to date with how everything went yesterday.

This being a holiday, we were up earlier than would normally be the case at home. OK, the jetlag helped. Thing is, we needed to hand our luggage over to the nice Silversea people, conveniently located at a desk in the hotel lobby, between 8am and 9am, which means 8am ‘coz we always want to give ourselves maximum contingency for cock-ups. As well as handing over the suitcases, we had to prove that we were free of the Dreaded Lurgy and that we had ‘fessed up to the Canadian authorities about our imminent arrival in a week’s time. Jane, as always, had done a mistressful job of marshalling the necessary paperwork, which left the Silversea folks almost as impressed as I was.

It was our lot to travel by rail down to Seward, where the boat would leave. We actually had no particular idea about whether this was better or worse as an option than traveling by coach, but, whatever, we had to be ready to be picked up at 1215.  This gave me the opportunity to finish writing about our day in Anchorage on Wednesday, which had been sufficiently eventful that it took two days to write it up.

The rail trip to Seward starts, somewhat counterintuitively, from the airport. There are no scheduled trains from Anchorage to Seward, so this was a Silversea Special and it departed from the rail depot at the airport (presumably needed because of the massive logistical significance of Anchorage as a hub). A coach took us to the airport, where we joined a queue to prove, once again, that we had the paperwork, then another queue to get a boarding pass for the train and our cabin keys. There was a holding pen whilst we waited to board the train

and then we were called by carriage number.  They called carriage 555 first, and we were carriage 554, so held ourselves in readiness to sprint forward. Then they called….carriage 553. No matter, they hadn’t forgotten us and we were next to take the walk down the platform.

The carriage had big observation windows

and for the journey we had the pleasure of the company of the two ladies bottom right, Rebecca and her mother Margaret. Notice that there’s nowhere to put bags, so my super-heavyweight backpack had to be stashed somewhere else.

The carriage was run by a chap called Christian, who did the best he could to gee everyone up with tales of possible sightings of moose and eagles and bears and that, but his news that the train trip was going to take four and a half “ish” hours came as a bit of a surprise. The weather conditions also quite literally dampened expectations of fabulous and interesting views.

Christian started serving people from the far end of the carriage and it became clear that it would take him some time to work his way up to our end.  Happily, we discovered that we were next to the buffet car, which was rather like any British Rail buffet car except the lady serving behind the counter knew how to mix cocktails.  We satisfied ourselves with a hat trick of G&Ts before we were able to get a salad via Christian’s service, and that nicely lubricated the conversation with Rebecca and Margaret as we ground our way slowly along.

The most interesting challenge, photographically, was seeking a gap among the trees in order to get a photo.  The train might have been moving slowly, but the gaps between the trees seemed to flash right by.  I managed one glacier

and one lake

and that was about it (no moose or eagles or bears), which meant that by the time we got to Seward we were beginning to feel rather bored with the whole process. I don’t know whether the coach option might have been swifter, but we were all glad to get to Seward, where the weather conditions (as forecast)

weren’t all that conducive to any further beautiful photography.  Scurrying from the train to the boat was actually a higher priority

and, naïve soul that I am, I was surprised at the size of the ship.

The boarding process was very smooth and it was soon clear that we were going to be very well looked after during our cruise.  Every cabin has a butler; ours is called Francis and he came and introduced himself and talked us through some of the information we’d need throughout our cruise.  We also found the launderette, which is a nice thing to have the use of. These things are important, you know.

The rest of the day was taken up with the inevitable and important safety briefing and dinner, which we took in a restaurant called Atlantide.

Great food, nice surroundings and efficient and courteous service. After dinner, we thought it would be good to stretch our legs, so we walked around the ship to orientate ourselves.  It’s a big ship in our experience, but quite small in the general cruising context – a maximum of 596 guests if full. Relatively small as it is, it’s still an 11-story building  so there was a lot to take in.

We learned from one steward (Simon, German) that there are 437 guests on this cruise and somewhere around 360 crew, so the service level is near one-to-one; also that even if the numbers had been higher post-pandemic, the ship would not have been full, as they have to reserve some cabins for quarantine purposes. The pandemic’s consequences continue to affect the hospitality industry, even after all this time.

The strains of the day began to tell, and even the prospect of further free booze wasn’t enough to keep us going, so we called it a day at this point and got our heads down in order to prepare for a day at sea containing the prospect of seeing the Hubbard Glacier at reasonably close range from the ship. We therefore hoped for decent weather, not something that we’d seen thus far.  However…..

….the skies have cleared, making today’s activity a bit more promising.  I’ll write about that in the next post, so do come back and find out more, won’t you?


Day 2 – Raining in our expectations

Wednesday 30th June. Long Read alert – lots of pictures!

We needed a prompt start, as we had a ferry to catch as well as a load of relentless tourism to undertake. Hoping against hope that we would have nice weather, we lifted the blinds and peeped out…

Oh, well…..the only thing to be seen were some sheep which had drifted up overnight by the hotel.

We got up, breakfasted and checked out – I studiously avoided any mental calculation of the awful truth about our bar bill – in time for a 9am start. Our first photo call was the Black Church just a short way away, which would have had a lovely backdrop of the Snæfalljökull glacier, had the driving fog and drizzle not obscured it. It left rather a desolate scene, to be honest.

This was to be a hallmark of the morning – wind all the time, rain quite often and temperatures around 11 or 12C. Despite this, Dagur found us some interesting things to see and photograph.

For example, the dismal weather couldn’t detract from this viewpoint on the road towards a fishing village called Arnarstapi,

And the village itself features some enormous basalt columns

among which nestles a very photogenic cottage – one of the most famous in Iceland, Dagur said, because of its location.

This visit gave us the first example of one of the other hallmarks of the day – cliffs lashed by the sea and crowded with nesting seabirds (guillemots, kittiwakes and various sorts of gull).

A seal was playing around in the harbour and popped up to take a look at us.

Just down the road could be found a giant troll statue, of Bárður Snæfellsás – the Mythical Protector of the Snæfellsnes Peninsula in West-Iceland

It is said that it is lucky to go through the tunnel underneath, so Jane immediately went through whilst I decided to take the risk of bad luck instead; it would have been very undignified for me to get stuck, which seemed a distinct probability to me.

Basalt cliffs with seabird colonies are two a penny around these parts of Iceland, but this one, near old Bárður, is pretty striking – you can see seabirds flying in and out of the cave which forms part of this stretch.

Another good viewing location is near a large orange lighthouse called Svörtuloft

(which, by the way, has a baby brother just down the road)

It’s a good location to show the waves lashing in.

Generally speaking, this part of Iceland, the Snæfellsjökull National Park, is a pretty desolate landscape, consisting largely of black lava and yellow moss

Because this is just lava, it’s not fertile enough to sustain the growth of grass or other plants – volcanic ash makes for fertile earth, but lava doesn’t.  Only moss can grow, and the land can’t be used for anything agricultural at all.

The cliffs occasionally have an unusual feature such as this, which tremulous locals once thought was a troll.

but otherwise the landscape was bare, apart from a visitor’s centre, which actually showed a picture of the Snæfellsjökull glacier.  So, even though we couldn’t see it, we had some idea of what it might look like if the fog lifted.

Our next port of call was a fishing village, Öndverðarnesviti, which featured some extraordinary building art.

We carried on around the peninsula and, very gradually, the fog started to lift and the sun to peep through.  Eventually, we could even see the glacier which the fog had hidden so completely that morning.  We thought that Dagur had driven past the point where we could actually see the glacier, but he turned off and took us past the official viewpoint car park and along a very bumpy track

past a waterfall

and eventually, there we were, with a prime view of the Snæfellsjökull glacier!

As you can see, the sun was beginning to shine.  It was still very windy and there were still occasional bursts of horizontal drizzle, but fundamentally the weather had changed for the better.  It even enabled some shots of a church near Hellisandur, which in itself was quite photogenic, but it also gave a further opportunity to show the ubiquity of the lupins.

We had two final stops before a ferry journey towards our hotel for the night.  We struck really lucky for the first one.  The local mountain, Kirkufell, had been shrouded in fog, but this lifted, the sun came out and so it was a really worthwhile stop to capture a classic photo of it. (Apparently, single mountains are rare in Iceland, so this is a fairly unique sight.)

The waterfall is called Kirkjufellsfoss, and although this is a picture taken a million times by a million photographers I was very glad to get such a clear shot in such good conditions.

The final photo was taken in some haste as we made our way to the ferry at Stykkishólm.  Although the town has a perfectly normal small church, for some reason “an architect fuelled by cocaine”, in Dagur’s words has somehow got permission to build Stykkishólmskirkja, which was, erm, dramatic.

Unsurprisingly, opinion is deeply divided about whether this is a good addition to the town or not.  I quite like its arresting style, personally.

After this, we simply made our way to the ferry, a two-and-a-half hour journey to Brjánslækur, itself just a short drive from the hotel in which I sit writing this, the Hótel Flókalundur.

We had a swift drink and then a simple (but delicious) dinner in a dining room which to start with was full of an Icelandic care home coach outing, including one old guy who was wandering around being extremely genial because extremely drunk and taking swigs from a bottle of neat spirits of some kind.  He was eventually bundled into the coach and quietness returned to the dining room whilst we finished our meal.

If you’ve stayed with this post thus far, then well done!  We covered a lot of miles and sights today.  Tomorrow promises to be the same; I have no idea what the weather will be, but I’m sure Dagur will dig out the best sights for us to take in and pictures of.  So please come back tomorrow, when I hope I’ll have more photos to share with you.