Latin America

The Falkland Islands Nature’s Last Stand

written by | Posted on January 31st, 2012

At the Kingsford “settlement,” as most of these enclaves are referred to, there’s a small collection of buildings—the family home itself, a large home overlooking the bay and beautifully furnished, a comfortable, furnished tourist cottage with three bedrooms, large kitchen, lounge with TV/DVD, washing machine and small yard, where we stayed, and a smaller one as well. Across is a cousin’s home, as well as another home a few yards away and a shearing shed they all share. Outside were two dogs who had lost most of their duties to technology—4-wheel ATVs for herding sheep. Nevertheless, one of the dogs satisfied his disappointment and his instincts by herding a large chicken around the yard.

After losing the luggage, we headed off to Ajax Bay and en-route, got a history lesson on how the British surprised the Argentines by landing opposite of where the enemy expected, allowing them to move across the island against a slightly smaller defensive force. Still, the fighting was fierce and many on both sides lost their lives, honored today in cemeteries and memorials to both sides, which we visited, poignant and sad reminders that youth pays the price for war.

At Ajax Bay, where the British set up a field hospital for wounded warriors from both sides, we also visited the first of many penguin colonies we’d see over the next five days. These little critters—in this case, Gentoo penguins—put on a show like no other. They waddle busily from the sea and from their burrows in their little tuxedo-like getups like the rabbit in “Alice in Wonderland.” They group in large numbers—literally hundreds—braying away and huddle like religious fanatics, staring blankly, many motionless and mesmerized like they’re waiting for the second coming.

The next morning, after a wonderful dinner the night before, the McPhees loaded us up and we headed off for the dirt landing strip for our first trip on the government service aircraft for our next leg, Bleaker Island, but not before the McPhees weighed me and my luggage to ensure the 7-seat, twin engine aircraft didn’t plunge into the sea thanks to my ample posterior. That’s the inter-island transport here, it brings tourists, mail and other small supplies to settlements around the islands. And it’s no little task, either. The settlements ensure the runways are clear of debris, a wind sock is deployed, radio communication is employed between the aircraft and the settlement and two people from the settlement are always on hand with a small fire truck coupled to their 4x4s or Land Rovers when the aircraft land or take-off.

En-route to Bleaker, we flew over some of the most beautiful scenery found anywhere, as we did on each leg of the flights to the various settlements—miles and miles of unspoiled fjords, estuaries, hills and small mountains, all breathtakingly beautiful and visual reminders of the naked stark beauty of the Falklands. And as you descend and circle the waiting dirt landing strips before fluttering into a landing, you get a taste of what’s waiting for you at your next stop.

In this case, it’s Bleaker and the island owners Mike and Phyll Rendell whose settlement sits in the center of a beautiful island ringed by virgin white sandy beaches and neat little sheltered coves. A working farm, the focus here is on 1,000 sheep, but also on Hereford cattle, with an emphasis on sustainable, organic farming utilizing non-fertilized winter fodder. Charles Darwin left his footprint here in 1834 when he participated in a survey aboard the famed Beagle.

The facilities are impeccable, including their new 4-bedroom cottage Cassard, with beautiful wooden floors, spacious bedrooms, and a large living area with flat-screen TV and leather sofas and chairs that serve up to eight visitors. There’s also a spacious kitchen with all the necessaries, WiFi, a dining area, solar-powered under-floor heating and hot water and a bbq facility. The nearby Cobb’s Cottage sleeps up to five in three bedrooms. Full board accommodation is available or your clients can bring their own.

Mike met us at the landing strip and gave us an orientation tour around the island, pointing out where one can find four species of penguin—Magellanic, southern Rockhopper, Macaroni and Gentoo—that inhabit the island, as well as imperial cormorants, ruddy headed geese and a variety of small bird species. The Big Pond area is paradise for bird lovers because it’s home to the Chiloe wigeon, silvery- and white- tufted grebes, black necked swans, and speckled and silver teals, as well as occasional visits by the flying steamer duck.