Antarctica Cruise: Part 1 – Falkland Islands

We were an unusual sight as we boarded the Sea Spirit with our packs on our backs, without a doubt the only backpackers amongst this well-heeled crowd.  We settled into our suite – yes, we had a beautiful suite that included a bedroom area with a king bed, dresser and two portholes, a living room area with couch, chair, television, and of course a private bathroom  – this was a luxurious amount of space compared to hostel living! A welcoming cocktail in the bar on the upper deck gave us our first opportunity to meet some of our fellow travellers.  It would take a while to meet each of the 100 or so passengers and even longer to remember everybody’s names but we had plenty of time, almost three weeks at sea.   We pushed off around 6:30 pm under sunny skies and with calm seas along the Beagle Channel, an omen of the weather to come.

Our first port of call was the Falkland Islands.  I knew little about these islands other than a faint recollection of the war that occurred in the early 80’s.  Luckily for me, it would take a day at sea to reach the Falklands and this time was spent listening to several lectures about the history, geology, and zoology of these fascinating islands.  Time was also spent doing the mandatory safety drill as well as a zodiac briefing.

Our first day at sea went something like this:  breakfast, lecture, snack, lecture, lunch, lecture, snack, cocktails at the open bar, zodiac briefing, dinner and more drinks.  By the end of the day, we were exhausted!  This would become our routine, more or less during the days at sea.

We spent two days on the Falkland Islands; one day visiting New Island and Carcass Island and the second day in Port Stanley.

New Island, located on the western side of the Falkland Islands, was our first stop.  A kilometre long stroll inland led us to a thriving rock hopper penguin rookery. The rock hopper penguin is easily recognizable by the long, wispy, yellow feathers above their eyes and the crew cut on the top of their head. It is smaller than the Magellanic penguin, and their habits seemed quite different; for instance, the Rock Hopper chicks congregated together away from the adults, rather than clinging to their parents as the Magellanic chicks did.  It was remarkable to observe the rock hopper penguins, cormorants, and black-browed Albatross and their chicks co-habiting in peaceful harmony.  Now and then a predator such as a blue eyed shag, would swoop down and threaten to snatch a young chick.  All were safe on our watch!  We spent three hours observing and photographing these fascinating subjects.

Observing the rock hopper colony on New Island.

Black browed albatross on nest with chick.

Lonely cormorant.

Cormorants on nest with chicks amidst the colony.

Rock hopper penguin with chicks.  Notice the little guy 
flaked out on the rock in the background. 

It was fascinating to watch the colonies of the different species:
the albatrosses 
with their huge wing spans flew in large circles
overhead while their fluffy grey chicks laid in their elevated 
nests on the cliffs;
the rock hopper chicks walked around looking for 

their parents; and the cormorants were busy building their nests.
We could have 
stayed all day, it was so interesting. 

At this point in the trip, Chris was suffering from lens envy in a big way.  Usually Chris is the king of the proverbial photographic castle, but here, his few lenses were dwarfed by some pretty serious equipment and equally serious and talented photographers.

Examples of some of the photography equipment
and serious photographers on board.

Carcass Island, located on the northern tip of the west side of the Falkland Islands was our second stop for the day.  This area reminded us of Isla Magdalena, Chile where we saw the large breeding colony of Magellanic Penguins, but this was on a much smaller scale.  Still, we observed the adult pairs with their pairs of chicks staying close to their nests in the ground.  We also saw a colony of gentoo penguins  – our first encounter with the gentoos.


Christina walking amongst the tall tusac grass towards the magellanic
penguin colony.  
You had to be careful as there were nests hidden in the grass
and it would be easy to step on one if not watching carefully. 

Two magellanic penguins close to their nest.

Gentoo penguin with colony in background.

Typical landscape of the island.

We passed a beach with sand as white and fine as refined flour, contrasting sharply against the aquamarine colored sea.  From here, we could see large groups of penguins swimming close to shore, purposing out of the water just like miniature dolphins and whales.  I plunked myself down on the sand and just watched.  A few gentoo penguins approached, as curious about me as I was about them.  I watched them and they watched me – it was magical.  I could have stayed there all afternoon, but we had a 3.5 km walk ahead of us and a schedule to keep.   

Tusac grass along the edge of the beach.  These grasses reminded me
of the ornamental grasses we plant in our gardens in Ottawa,
although these were on a much larger scale. 

Magellanic penguins on the beach.

Gentoo penguins on the beach.

Gentoo penguin in a hurry.

Heading out on our 3.5 km walk with 
promises of an English Tea waiting for us at the other end.

Video synopsis of our first day in the Falkland Islands.

Rob and Lorraine, the only inhabitants of the island, and who also run a B&B, provided a spectacular English Tea. I assume everything was made from scratch; it’s not like there was a local bakery they could call up.  Imagine preparing afternoon tea for 100+ guests.  You’d better make sure you don’t run out of sugar or anything else for that matter – no neighbours from which to borrow, and no grocery store around the corner either.  Rob and Lorraine have been the sole residents on this island for over 20 years!  Apparently, it is quite popular to fly directly to the Falkland Islands from London, and then island hop staying in isolated B&B’s along the way.  Not only did we enjoy a piping hot mug of tea, but we indulged in delicious, home made scones with fresh cream, tarts, and a variety of delicate cakes and squares.  I could not imagine living in such a remote location, let alone being the only inhabitants on the entire island!

We awoke the next day to find ourselves docked at Port Stanley, the capital of the Falkland Islands, with a population of about 1500.  We were given a few options of how to spend the day – walk to a place called Gypsy Cove or go to town to visit the museum and the shops.  It was a free day to spend as we chose.  Chris and I decided to go for a run to Gypsy Cove – about 10 km out and back.  I had run the previous two mornings at the crack of dawn on the ship deck, and was really enjoying the opportunity to run again.  We haven’t been running much lately – too busy hiking mountains – and it felt good to get back into that routine.

It was a rather ordinary run to the cove on a dirt road, passing by an industrial area and what looked like a quarry in the distance.  Probably the most interesting sight was the two ship wrecks in the bay – the Plym and the Lady Elizabeth, as well as the areas that were fenced off with warnings of the possible presence of land mines, visible reminders of the war in 1982.

These warnings were posted everywhere – too bad penguins can’t read!

The cove was very pretty with powdery fine white sand and emerald waters.  A lone King Penguin was molting on the beach.  We found ourselves alone at the cove with the park ranger, giving us an opportunity to chat with him a bit about what it was like to live on the Falklands.  He described a way of life that was typical of any rural setting.  Children were sent off to England for secondary and post-secondary school and often did not return as there were few opportunities on the Islands.  His family had been on the island since the mid-1800’s.

Later that morning, after getting cleaned up on the ship, we explored Port Stanley.   The town looked like a typical English seaside village.  People spoke with English accents, and drove on the “wrong” side of the road.  There was a charming museum chock full of a startling array of artifacts on every subject imaginable.  It presented a glimpse into what life would have been like back when Port Stanley was established in the early 1840’s as well as a poignant account of the sequence of events before, during and after the Argentine invasion in 1982.  I was touched by the personal letters on display written by residents during this difficult period of time.



Falkland Islands

Gardens in front of the Governor’s residence.  

Houses along the main street facing the Sea in Port Stanley.

Post office box on the main street in front of the Post Office.

Typical row of cottages.

A little British humour.

There were many historical monuments like this one
honoring the men who lost their lives defending the Falkland Islands. 

Many lovely gardens to admire.

The walls of this Anglican church are adorned
with memorial plaques of residents who have passed away. 

This garden has gained notoriety – I wonder why?

Another wreck, the Jhelum, at Port Stanley.

After visiting Port Stanley I had a greater understanding of its history and an appreciation for the reasons the British chose to vigorously defend this remote island; I’m sure the fact that there may be oil off shore has nothing to do with it.    


Category: Antarctica
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2 Responses
  1. Fellow Steerage Passengers says:

    Well Done on completing your first 150 days of World Wide Travel.
    May we wish you many more Happy Travels ahead.
    Your fellow Steerage Passengers salute you! (and miss your Craic).

    • christina says:

      Hmmmm……and which of our fellow steerage passengers might you be? The “Craic” was a give-away, that is after I looked it up on Wikipedia. For our North American readers, it is a term for “fun, entertainment, and enjoyable conversation, particularly prominent in Ireland.” Busted! We didn’t do too badly in steerage – from closing down the bar whilst playing a mean game of Uno to dining at the Captain ‘s table….I’m sure the tongues are still wagging! Cheer’s Andrew!