Behind the Lens: First Stepping Ashore at Gold Harbour

Expect the Unexpected: “There’s always a degree of uncertainty with expedition travel—it adds an element of excitement,” says Benn Berkeley, Expedition Filmmaker and one of Silversea’s Onboard Photographers, when asked about his most memorable moments in the field. “It’s important to stay dynamic and flexible to react to the conditions and to make the most of the experience.”

Berkeley’s recollection of the moment he first visited breathtaking Gold Harbour in isolated South Georgia pays testament to how being dynamic while on an expedition can yield extraordinary moments.

“My first trip to Gold Harbour will live long in my memory,” begins Berkeley, in a tone of fond nostalgia. “We were at anchor in the early afternoon, first setting sight on the bay amid a great deal of swell and an unusual amount of movement aboard Silver Explorer. The Expedition Leader announced that a beach landing would be impossible for the time being, but our Expedition Team took guests on Zodiac tours with the hope that the swell would reduce later on and we could explore the land.”

“We followed the undulating coastline and I was blown away by the island’s life, particularly by the vast colony of King Penguins that populated Gold Harbour’s beach”

Benn Berkeley

“I tagged along to scope out the setting,” recollects Benn. “I’d wanted to explore Gold Harbour ever since I first heard of its raw, natural beauty and its abundance of wildlife; I wanted to be prepared to capture the best footage possible. We followed the undulating coastline and I was blown away by the island’s life, particularly by the vast colony of King Penguins that populated Gold Harbour’s beach—their squawking calls were so loud. I couldn’t see the swell dying down, so I thought my chance to film the penguins had vanished. But I couldn’t believe my luck when conditions quickly changed later that afternoon.”  

Silver Explorer at Gold Harbour, South Georgia/Benn Berkeley

The Beach Landing: “While the swell had dropped a little bit, there was still some movement. Thanks to the versatility of the Zodiacs and the skill of the operators, we were able to step ashore safely. But the delay had meant that we were arriving slightly later than planned, in the early evening. As a result, the sun was lower in the sky and the light was fantastic for photography. It was my perfect scenario.”

“I’ve been to many incredible places in the world, but South Georgia is the most wild, untamed place I’ve ever been. I’ve never seen anywhere like it. From the moment you first see the landscape, you realize that this place is special. The otherworldly Bertrab Glacier seems to cling onto the cliff just beyond the beach, creating a setting that could pass for fictional, and the beach’s black sand lends an ethereal tone.”

“I’d been briefed on what to expect when landing ashore at Gold Harbour, but nothing could prepare me for what we experienced. It was so challenging to find a landing spot among the abundant wildlife: Tens of thousands of curious King Penguins, which go from elegant to comical in just a few waddled steps; vast 4-tonne elephant Seals; somewhat aggressive Fur Seals that will intermittently advance towards you; and Giant Petrels, skuas and other birds.”

“Landing at Gold Harbour was the most surreal experience and was almost overwhelming on the senses: I was stood in this incredible place, the light illuminated everything in an unreal shade, and the sounds of these rare animals were altogether alien to me.”

King Penguins on the beach at Gold Harbour, South Georgia/Benn Berkeley

Berkeley’s inspiring footage from the beach at Gold Harbour, and his compelling photographs of King Penguins and the island’s dramatic landscape, paint a captivating picture of South Georgia as being a remote wilderness. But how did the filmmaker go about documenting this extraordinary moment?

Capturing the Moment: “My first thought when stepping off of the Zodiac was that I needed to capture this on film. This type of moment is rarely experienced by travelers, let alone filmmakers. It was important that I did the amazing setting of Gold Harbour justice, as our guests expected the best footage to immortalize their time here. But it’s difficult to film one’s surroundings when King Penguins are playfully pecking at your lens!”

“You have to be on guard from the moment you arrive. Fur seals, for example, were approaching from behind as I stared down my lens. It was all systems go; an override of the senses.”

Benn Berkeley
Two King Penguins, Gold Harbour, South Georgia/Benn Berkeley

“And so, I’d say the most challenging thing about capturing footage of Gold Harbour was splitting my attention between the camera and the wildlife around me. Of course, it’s vital that we don’t disturb the animals. But they are naturally inquisitive and they instantly approach you. You have to be on guard from the moment you arrive. Fur seals, for example, were approaching from behind as I stared down my lens. It was all systems go; an override of the senses.”

“The variety of shots I could have captured was close to overwhelming, such was the abundance of life on that beach. I could have got millions of shots. For about an hour, my footage was mediocre; I felt like I needed to capture everything. I had to remain composed, focusing on distinct shots, varying frames, distances, and composition. I spent time in different spots, filming that location’s peculiarities. It’s always better to capture a handful of aesthetically strong shots than a litany of sub-standard clips.”

“For me, the close-up footage of the King Penguins was a stand-out insight into life in Gold Harbour. If you just sit down, the penguins waddle right up to you. They’re so curious. You can set your camera up on the tripod and, within five minutes, they’ll be poking their beaks into the lens. Because of this, I actually held my camera freely, in order to get on the same level as the animals for more personal shots. At the moment I clicked record on my camera, I found myself nose-to-beak with a particularly eccentric, yellow-breasted bird.”

King Penguins and a fur seal, Gold Harbour, South Georgia/Benn Berkeley

A Unique Setting: “South Georgia is an easy destination in which to capture breathtaking footage, as every moment spent ashore is spent in the company of remarkable scenes,” continues Berkeley. The filmmaker has since returned to Gold Harbour and vouches for the uniqueness of the destination as a hotspot for wildlife. “You’re spoiled in terms of photographic opportunities. You have a preconception about what you’d like to film, but your standards dramatically rise as you step ashore. I’m always thinking of ways to do justice to the beauty of the places we travel. In the case of Gold Harbour on South Georgia, I don’t think I’ll ever succeed in conveying its true beauty.”

The landing site at Gold Harbour, captured from a drone/Benn Berkeley