Latin America

The Falkland Islands Nature’s Last Stand

written by | Posted on January 31st, 2012

The managers—Elaine and Robert Short—keep the operation running and Elaine is there to ensure your packed lunch is ready, the facilities are kept immaculate and pretty much ensure your stay is going to be a memorable one. In addition to being a working farm, this is a professionally run tourism operation and guests fill their days with hiking, wildlife viewing and photography, all aided by the Rendells with a wealth of knowledge about the Falklands, with Mike, the long-time previous owner of The Malvina House Hotel (malvinahousehotel.com) in Stanley, and Phyll, a recent retiree of the Falklands government. It’s an elegant operation and the Rendells are gracious, warm and friendly hosts.

Next morning, it’s back on the 7-seater to Sea Lion Island and the country’s only Natural Nature Reserve, established last year, which means all sheep were removed, fences taken down and only natural species allowed and there’s plenty of those. It’s also home to the only purpose-built tourism resort, the Sea Lion Lodge (sealionisland.com), where we enjoyed a 2-night stay in impeccable accommodations with three delicious meals a day, an honor bar, WiFi and daily excursions around the island, plus plenty of time to explore on foot, with a relatively flat landscape that makes for easy trekking. It’s hosted by Jenny Luxton, lodge manager and manager of the reserve itself.

This is an area that offers the most diverse wildlife viewing you’ll find on the Falklands. There’s a clearly defined hiking route that takes you to specific areas where you’ll find the varied penguin species, sea lions and elephant seals. The sea lions ensconce themselves at the base of a cliff with the females and youngsters, growling and boisterous like combatants in the World Wrestling Federation—huge, hairy and testosterone-filled bulls that take the cute out of Disney movie look-a-likes.

At Elephant Bay, the southern elephant seals are no less impressive, enormous lumbering creatures that lie on the beach like massive driftwood until they get up to stretch or plunge into the water after a nap. Killer whales patrol offshore waiting for an errant penguin or pup for a snack, although we didn’t see any come close. King penguins are a treat, though, with their stately manner standing straight, tall and imperious, as though waiting for you to bend the knee and honor them as the royal they apparently assume to be.

Next afternoon, we flew off for a very brief 1-night stay at Saunders Island, hosted by David and Suzan Pole Evans, owners of the island, for a brief self-catering stay that’s popular with naturalists and nature photographers. The appeal here is the Neck, which you access via a spine twisting, lumpy ride in a Land Rover that’s well worth the ride as it’s a breathtaking coastal area rich with black-browed albatross that offer an unforgettable flight show, swooping and twisting through the bright blue sky, as well as a colony of southern rock hopper penguins that you can watch for hours. Smallest of the Falkland penguins, with colorful, stringy crowns on their heads, they emerge from the ocean, heads bent, flippers held back and trudge inland like serious-minded medieval bishops.

Finally, it’s off to Stanley for a final two days at The Malvina House Hotel and a day-long visit to Volunteer Point and the largest, most accessible king penguin colony in the world.

Stanley, the capital of the Falkland Islands, is a charming little town and home to the majority of the citizens of the country. Cruise ships stop here on a regular basis and the streets are full of cruise passengers checking out the souvenir and crafts shops, trying out the pubs and heading off on tours of the battlefields around the town where some of the heaviest fighting of the the war occurred.

One of the most popular tours, however, is the 2-hour jaunt to Volunteer Point in caravans of 4x4s that bounce and bang their way over hillocks and rocks, and up and down gullies—all working hard not to get bogged down in the mud or hung up on the rocks.

Once travelers arrive at Volunteer Point, they’re greeted by a blindingly beautiful and windswept beach that stretches across the horizon, home to the largest king penguin colony on the islands. They share this idyllic spot with Gentoo penguins, Magellanic penguins who burrow into holes when they’re not fishing in the sea, a variety of sea birds, dolphin and morel. The creatures seem to love to perform for the crowds with the king penguins strutting regally, the Magellanic waddling back and forth from the beach, while the Gentoo horde together in their mob scene, clearly disdainful of all the human activity around them.