After 36 hours at sea from Ushuaia, Argentina we arrived at the Falkland Islands, the first destination on a 21 day trip (18 days at sea) to the Falkland Islands, South Georgia Island and Antarctica on the ship Island Sky run by Polar Latitudes.
The Falkland Islands are most known for the 10-week war in 1982 between the UK and Argentina, both of which claim sovereignty of the islands. The British base their position on their occupation and administration of the islands since the early 1800s and the Argentinians insist the islands were part of their territory when they declared independence from Spain in 1816. The Islands are known as the Malvinas in Argentina, but remain under British control today.
For the numerous British passengers on the ship visiting the islands had significant historical importance both for the settlement and economic development of the islands as well as for the war. While I found the historical aspect interesting I was far more fascinated by the wildlife. The flattish islands gave us our first encounter with a variety of penguins and other birds. This was the only place we would see Magellanic penguins and an albatross rookery.
Saunders Island – The Neck
The Neck turned out to be not only the first but one of my favorite excursions of the entire trip. Highlights included our first views of King penguins (although we would see many more on South Georgia Island), Gentoo penguin chicks running after their parents begging for food, the only sighting of burrowing Magellanic penguins, Rockhopper penguins and an albatross rookery.
We arrived on the beach at about 9 a.m., stopping on the south side of the Neck. We were originally supposed to land on the beach along the north side of the Neck but because of the ocean swell the south side was a better option for beaching the zodiacs. Both sides of the Neck have a beach but the north side has a longer, wider and prettier beach. It’s an easy walk from one side to the other.
From the south side we started our way up the right side of the mound between the two beaches where there was a colony of Magellanic penguins, most of which were at a pretty good distance. Soon we came across a waddle of about 25-30 King penguins not too far from the trail. I was told that there were chicks under their bodies and it was possible to catch a glimpse of a head but I didn’t see any.
At the beach on the north side were a few Magellanic and Gentoo penguins, some running and diving in the water. Along the beach further to the right the Rockhopper penguins were hopping down to the water. Although the sun was unfortunately behind them it was great fun trying to get a photo of one in mid-hop or in the air when they jumped into the water.
At 10:00 there was a guided walk up the hill to an Albatross rookery. Although the guide warned that the trail was steep and narrow, if you were fit at all it was not difficult. Along the way were a couple of burrowing Magellanic penguins as well as a Rockhopper colony near the top.
The Albatross rookery was filled with medium sized flightless chicks, still with their downy undercoat. A few adults guarded the crèche.
On the way back down the hill we could see dolphins in the water below.
Back on the beach we spent more time with the penguins. By this time the adult Gentoos were feeding the chicks. The chicks waited on the shore while the parents went to sea to feed. When the parents came back the chicks ran after them begging for food before they were finally fed. I could have spent hours watching the crazy scene of chicks chasing parents around the beach, sometimes in perfect unison, sometimes falling flat on their belly.
The 3-hour visit was passing quickly and we continued our way along the loop to the west side of the Neck back to the south beach and launch site, again passing the Magellanic penguin colony. We ended the tour with a handful of penguins on the south beach.
Afternoon Activity – Port Egmont
We were supposed to go to Saunders rookery in the afternoon but the swell was too great and they couldn’t get the zodiacs off safely. Instead, after some time checking out conditions, they decided to move the ship to Port Egmont, the site of the remains of the first British settlement from 1765.
It was getting late as we were the last group off the ship and didn’t arrive to shore until 6 p.m. We were delayed a bit because there was a Peale’s dolphin playing around the zodiac when we were about to beach. Actually watching the curious dolphin around the zodiac was the best part of the excursion.
By the time we reached shore we had just a half an hour to explore the ruins and bluff. There really wasn’t much to see, mostly piles of stone marking the foundations of a couple of buildings and the small port and a British flag and plaque of course.
Along the bluff were a few birds but otherwise not much of a stop for wildlife or photography enthusiasts.
Port Stanley, a historic town and capital of the Falkland Islands, is a quaint, walkable village with a notable museum and several restaurants and shops.
The ship spent the day in port with two destinations possible, Gypsy Cove, a nature reserve, and a visit to town.
It was a beautiful summer day with blue skies and the temperature a warm 11 Celsius (52°F). The day’s itinerary started with a visit to Gypsy Cove, a 15-minute bus drive from Stanley harbor. Guests had a choice of 2 buses to the cove at 8:15 or 9 with the option of taking an 8k walk back to the harbor. There were so many guests opting for the walk back that there were no spaces left on the bus for Don and I who just wanted to take the earlier bus out for a chance of spending more time in the cove at a bit earlier hour when the light might not be as harsh. We were the only 2 who didn’t get to go on the earlier bus.
Gypsy Cove is a small vegetated bluff over-looking a couple of white sand beaches with a few Magellanic penguins and other birds around. Most of the burrowing penguins were at a fair distance and despite the beautiful day the light couldn’t have been worse, with the high sun facing the beach. Since the beach faces north I don’t think it is ever well lit for photography. The white sand, blue water and green bluffs strewn with interesting rock formations make for a lovely setting. The loop walk along the bluff and then back over the hill, more of a mound than a hill, is not even a ½ mile.
Once back at the boat we had the option of going into Stanley. They had hourly shuttles that ran to town or you could walk the pathway along the harbor, about a mile, into town. We decided to walk as it was such a lovely warm day.
Stanley is more attractive for those interested in the local history or the Falkland War. They have a small museum in the center of town that covers the early settlers of the area, scientific research in Antarctica and the war. For those who like to shop there are a number of stores to explore without the town feeling overly touristy. Polar Latitudes also offered an hour long tour of town.
The ship left the harbor at just after 4 p.m. for the open sea and on to South Georgia Island.
February 1-2, 2023