I recently had the good fortune to travel to the Falkland Islands as a guest of Falkland Islands Tourist Board to survey our new Falkland Islands and Chile holiday. I consider myself a lucky man to have seen such a beautiful place. For the walker, the wildlife spotter or birder, the war historian or just any lover of beautiful deserted beaches, fresh air, good food and community spirit, this is the place to go. My most abiding memory is sitting on North Beach on Sea Lion Island and having a group of curious Gentoo Penguins coming up to peck at my shoelaces to see who I was. Sitting on a beach a few feet from a 3½ ton elephant seal was quite impressive too!
I followed the same itinerary as the holiday flying with LAN Chile to Santiago on a comfy new Boeing Dreamliner. The flight schedule gives us 24 hrs in Santiago to enjoy a sightseeing tour of the city have dinner and good night’s sleep before heading south to the Falklands.
The landscape on the Falklands is starkly striking. There are no native trees and the few introduced species only grow in sheltered areas so the landscape at first glance is barren; this is big sky country. However closer inspection reveals moorland and mountain, white sand beaches, crystal clear seas and more coastal wildlife than you could shake a stick at.
I started in Stanley, the capital (population 2100) in the very comfortable Malvina House Hotel on the waterfront of Stanley harbour. On arriving in my room I looked out of the window to see a sea lion looking back from the harbour, not every hotel boasts views like that. The Falklands have a very British feel to them, they are proud of their British heritage and many aspects of life look familiar to a Brit.
From Stanley I had a great walk out along the water front of the Harbour to Gypsy Cove for views and wildlife and my first encounter with penguins (Magellanics, one of the five breeding penguins on the islands) and Comerson’s dolphins playing in the surf off the beach. Other highlights from Stanley were a guided walk through the battle fields left from the 1982 war. Names like Mt Tumbledown and Mt Longdon may resonate with those that remember the time.
To get around away from Stanley a Land Rover is the only serious choice, so off I went to Kidney Cove for a great cliff walk passing colonies of Rockhopper Penguins, who live unsurprisingly on the rocks.
On Kidney Cove the Gentoos (who live on the beach and grassland behind) showed a great love of quality engineering in the shape of the Landrover. They did seem fascinated, bizarrely as Landrovers look nothing like fish!
The next highlight was Volunteer Point for the King Penguins, possibly the prettiest birds on the islands and largely disinterested in tourists. They ignored me, so I could be captivated by them.
The jewel in the crown of the huge array of attractions on the islands is Sea Lion Island, a half hour flight to the south of Stanley. I flew down in a 10 seater Islander plane, sitting next to the pilot who flew us down to have closer look at a Sei Whale on the way.
The planes lands on the airstrip right outside Sea Lion Lodge. It’s like having your own private plane.
The lodge only has 11 rooms and was quiet whan I was there, which gave me a chance to chat to the locals and find out a little about life on the island. The Lodge is the only accomodation on the island so other than hotel staff and one other visitor I had the place to myself.
Although they do have Sea Lions here the highlight for me were the Elephant Seals. About 100m from the lodge on the beach I came across a herd of them and very impressive beasts they are. In the afternoons they sleep undisturbed but I went down early the next morning to see them at their lively best. For some this means opening an eyelid…
…for others, starting a fight with their brothers. Boys, it seems, will be boys!
These are just a few of my highlights. All the wildlife was completely unafraid of humans so they were easily observed. Each day provided something new and a week was hardly enough to see everything.
One final thought. After a day out in the fresh air (of which they have a plentiful supply in the Falklands), a hearty meal, lamb is the local favourite, and a pint of the local brewed real ale I slept like a dead man.
I have had the good fortune to travel to many places with my job here at Ramblers Worldwide Holidays but I would say the Falkland Islands are the most impressive destination I have visited. I can’t wait to go back.