Kaitlyn on the bow of the Magellan Explorer in front of Risting Glacier in Drygalski Fjord, South Georgia. ©AHT/Anna Clare.
Kaitlyn Martin was one of 22 young New Zealanders who travelled with the Trust to South Georgia in October 2023 for our ninth Inspiring Explorers Expedition™ to honour the centenary year of Sir Ernest Shackleton’s final expedition, the ‘Quest’.
On the day the cover photo for this blog was taken at Drygalski Fjord, there is one line in my journal. It simply reads, “Big ice. Big emotions.” For the better part of three hours, the Inspiring Explorer team could not run around the Magellan Explorer’s decks fast enough. Excited shouts and cheers harmoniously punctuated the steady background of engines, sea, and floating ice we’d grown so accustomed to. We were surrounded on all sides by the majesty of mountains, glaciers, icebergs, and snow petrels at the southernmost tip of South Georgia.
As I stood there stunned, trying to capture the experience, I wondered: Could we really be just around the corner from the place Captain James Cook named, ‘Cape Disappointment’?
In 1775, Cook and the HMS Resolution landed on South Georgia, claiming it for the United Kingdom at what they named Possession Bay. Continuing their journey southeast along the coast, they were amazed by the sheer amount of snow and glacier covering the island, giving Cook hope that they had found the as-yet-undiscovered Terra Australis Incognita, the great southern continent. As they passed what would one day be named Drygalski Fjord, and skirted round the cape, they found themselves tracing the coast in a northwest direction again. A dawning realisation that it would join with where they first spotted land made them realise this was no great continent – but an island.
Kaitlyn recording 360-degree video of Drygalski Fjord for the Education outreach team. ©MetService/Peter Fisher.
A map of South Georgia showing two of twelve sites the Inspiring Explorers visited (Possession Bay and Drygalski Fjord) as well as the location of Cape Disappointment.
©European Space Agency, edited by Kaitlyn Martin.
The Magellan Explorer in Possession Bay on a cloudy and wet day in South Georgia. ©AHT/Kaitlyn Martin
Penguins land on the shore on our first clear day at Fortuna Bay. ©AHT/Kaitlyn Martin
In 2023, leading up to our departure, I found myself struggling with how I was going to fit into this expedition. I felt an underlying pressure to savour and make the most of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and was nervous about whether the experience or I would live up to each other. To ease my own worries, I convinced myself that as the oldest Inspiring Explorer™, this trip might not be life-changing for me, but I could be part of making it life-changing for others. I really felt I’d figured out my mission and said as much to the Trust’s Inspiring Explorers™ Programme Manager, Mike Barber, at the airport on the day we left, and was reaffirmed by his simple, “Mhmm”. Three weeks later as we disembarked the ship, who do you think he echoed those words to when she couldn’t stop crying?
Cook wasn’t the only one whose expectations were shattered by this little island in the Scotia Sea.
In preparing for the trip, I had two main expectations: working on our Education team outreach project and the amazing creatures and landscapes we were going to witness. The Education team is developing an educational card game based on the wildlife, environment, and history of exploration on South Georgia which will integrate multimedia like audio, photos, and 360-degree video into the game play. I had the privilege of leading an incredible team on this project – Perry Hyde, Destiny Martin, and Savannah de Vos. Barely halfway through the trip, the team figured out how to print a prototype of the card game (in the middle of the Southern Ocean thousands of kilometres from civilisation) and (while most others were busy being seasick) these three were trialling the game and generating ideas with their fellow Inspiring Explorers™, Trust supporters, and the ship’s crew. Seeing their creativity, adaptability, and dedication come through in often challenging and uncertain circumstances truly warmed my heart on the coldest of sub-Antarctic days. They can consider themselves the first culprits of shattering my expectations.
Kaitlyn waves to the camera as Expedition Guide Marcelo Flores takes the team on a zodiac ride in search of leopard seals at Gold Harbour. ©MetService/Peter Fisher
Like the cold water in your boots when you’ve fallen in one-to-many snow-covered streams, the unexpected kept finding ways in. A break in the clouds gave us a brilliant night of astronomy. Gorgeous connections and friendships were measured not in their length of time but in their depth. We shared meals and adventures with an incredibly knowledgeable crew who supported and inspired our passions. New ideas and partnerships formed for investigations about Antarctic education as part of my research in science communication. I realised there wasn’t going to be an audio clip, photo, journal entry, or blog post from this trip that wouldn’t be shaded by the memories of those we shared the experience with. Probably the biggest one though – I didn’t get seasick!
Three King Penguins investigate the 360 camera on our first landing at Right Whale Bay. ©AHT/Kaitlyn Martin
The mountainous coast of South Georgia and icebergs illuminated by the setting sun, as seen from the deck of the Magellan Explorer exiting Drygalski Fjord. ©AHT/Kaitlyn Martin
On the day the cover photo for this blog was taken at Drygalski Fjord, it was late afternoon by the time we left. Standing on the bow, looking across a field of massive icebergs at a sun sinking behind glacier-laced mountain peaks, I felt the dawning realisation that we had exited the fjord, and turned north. We were going back. We weren’t going to stay forever. Suddenly, what could have been my own ‘Cape Disappointment’ was interrupted. A raft of king penguins alongside the boat, porpoising into the sunset, returning to their chicks from a long day of fishing. Without trying or discussion, the thoughts clicked into place effortlessly. ‘This isn’t my place, this is theirs. But now that I have known it, I love it. I can share, so others know it too.’ Does that spot have a name? Perhaps ‘Cape Inspiration’.
A group including Trust supporters, expedition crew, Trust staff, and Inspiring Explorers™ share a moment together at Shackleton’s Waterfall in Stromness. Shackleton, Worsely, and Crean negotiated this waterfall in their epic journey to cross South Georgia to secure a rescue mission for the Endurance crew. ©AHT/Kaitlyn Martin
Warming up after a polar plunge in the balmy coastal waters of South Georgia (just above 0oC) as we cheer on our fellow shipmates from the deck of the Magellan Explorer in Ocean Harbour. L-R: Mike Barber, Rose Lasham, Destiny Martin, Georgie Archibald, Kaitlyn Martin. ©AHT/Kaitlyn Martin