Rose in front of king penguin colony at St Andrews Bay. © AHT/Rose Lasham
Rose Lasham 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’.
After a few days of delay in Punta Arenas, Chile, and a long bus ride on the Falkland Islands, we finally saw our home for the next few weeks, the Magellan Explorer. With much anticipation and excitement, we walked up the cold metal ramp and into a warm boat where the crew greeted us. I couldn’t begin to fathom all the amazing memories that were soon to be.
It took us three days to travel across the Scotia Sea to South Georgia. We quickly learnt who got seasick as they vanished during those days. Luckily I didn’t need the strong meds I’d asked for in preparation! On day three, we were travelling through a thick fog that blurred the horizon and at the most surreal moment it cleared, revealing one of the first icebergs of our trip. Simultaneously jumping from our seats, we all rushed to the window and then outside, hearts racing. Not one, but various icebergs started appearing in the distance surrounding us. I could not believe I was seeing floating fragments from an Antarctic ice shelf; a wave of wonder and adoration washed over me. After travelling past the rearmost one, the fog quickly enveloped us again leaving us eager to see land.
‘Magellan Explorer’ next to an iceberg. © AHT/Rose Lasham.
Giant icebergs. © AHT/Rose Lasham.
Before commencing the trip, I had watched just about every documentary and YouTube video there was to be seen on South Georgia. I was obsessed to the point where I had a live camera on 24/7 whilst doing my art. The emotions I had landing on the island far exceeded anything I could have imagined. We slid out of the Zodiac and were suddenly confronted with the most dramatic and glorious landscape most of us had ever seen. Content elephant seals lined the shore and unfazed king penguins walked proudly around us. I caught the attention of a king penguin who followed me everywhere I stepped, possibly curious about my white suit.
Rose and her king penguin friend. © AHT/Sam West.
One thing that struck me about South Georgia was the rawness of nature and the vast juxtaposition of life and death. Fragments of whale bones scattered the sand resembling tree trunks as new growth formed over them. Penguins porpoised as leopard seals hid in the kelp forests waiting for one to near. Skuas spread their wings isolating baby chicks from their huge crowds to hunt them mercilessly. One of the most memorable days for me, was when we went to Gold Harbour. We couldn’t land as it was blocked off by hundreds of elephant seals so instead, we had a Zodiac tour. Suspensefully, we watched a newborn seal being thrashed about by waves in the water. We were quietly cheering him on, hoping for him to be strong enough to make his way back to shore. With all his strength he made it, our worries were lifted, and we started to celebrate. Unfortunately, at the same time the skuas had also spotted him, and our hopes were quickly shattered. As we quietly drove back to the boat we saw motion under us. We looked down and saw an apex predator of Antarctica, a leopard seal, then suddenly two! They playfully encircled our Zodiac, curious. After joyfully watching them, we left feeling immersed in a National Geographic film.
King penguin with carcass in the background. © AHT/Rose Lasham.
Fragments of whale vertebrae. © AHT/Rose Lasham.
Jenny Sahng and Rose Lasham at St Andrews Bay. © AHT
South Georgia has sparked my imagination and has been so inspiring for artistic practice. I am a part of the Visual Art outreach group; the collaborative nature of this expedition has been so influential. Connecting with likeminded and passionate people has opened up my prospects and has been inspiring. My art practice is inspired by the continuous and interconnected web of nature. It tries to challenge human-centered ways of thinking as well as questions hierarchies we place on nature. South Georgia has some of the densest populations of wildlife in the world, a startling fact is that just 4 percent of the world’s mammal biomass is wild. Seeing such quantities of wildlife was a once-in-a-lifetime experience and has given me an even greater respect for nature. We were just visitors in their home and our actions at home will consequently impact the wonderful biodiversity and fragile ecosystem of South Georgia. I hope the profound connections we formed with this remarkable place will be portrayed and encourage other New Zealanders to explore and have a greater connection with our beautiful world.
Standing amid South Georgia’s enormous, picturesque landscape and crossing the colossal open sea for three days puts your life into perspective. It makes you feel small, like you are a tiny part of the whole connected universe. On South Georgia, I was in a constant state of awe. Awe can be hard to put into words. The Oxford Dictionary explains it as “a feeling of reverential respect mixed with fear or wonder”. As mountains towered over us, and we travelled through up to 10m swells, I felt a mixture of vulnerability and euphoria. It was a very humbling experience and made me consider what’s important in life. We were so lucky to see such a special place amid a deteriorating climate crisis. I am so grateful for this opportunity and all the people who helped make it a reality. It has changed my life.