The first landings of our 22-Day Antarctica Ultimate Expedition was the Falkland Islands. We boarded the MS Fram in Ushuaia and sailed along the Beagle Channel the first night, heading east to this UK territory claimed by Argentina.
After one full sea day, we reached the western Falklands.
We were really excited for our first ever landing of the expedition at New Island – but the weather didn’t fully cooperate, and we were forced to wait out the wind and swell. Thankfully all was calm after some time, and we finally took our first tender boats to shore.
It was beautiful. Yellow gorse lined the harbor, leading to a shipwreck by the beach. Then the trail marked by the Expedition Team headed inland, eventually up a hill to a viewpoint and our first penguin colony.
The first penguins we saw were the rockhopper penguins, along with the black-browed albatrosses that nested in a shared area. There were so many! Not only where we were, but all along the rocky cliffs by the sea. They looked like little rocks in the distance.
Aptly named for their agility over rocky terrain, we watched rockhopper penguins hop up and over rocks. It still makes us smile to think of these little fellows with their yellow crests flapping in the wind.
November is breeding time, so all the birds were nesting in some way or another. Oftentimes one of the parents presided over the eggs while the other went off to fetch more rocks or grass to fortify the nest.
Other birds like the blue-eyed shag also hung around the colony, hoping to steal an egg for themselves.
What an awesome start!
West Point Island
Since we were delayed landing at New Island earlier that morning, we weren’t sure if we would make it to West Point Island, our second planned landing of the day. Luckily we squeezed it in (yay for long days)!
Unfortunately, there wasn’t enough time to walk to the penguin colony on the island and back. But we got to visit the couple that lives on the island (yes, just the two of them!) – Allan and Jacqui. They had a cute house and a lovely garden.
They also prepared a ton of cookies and sweets to welcome us to their home. Can you imagine how much time they must have spent baking?
After a few too many brownies, we spent the rest of the time exploring the area around the house. Despite the lack of penguins, there were plenty of other birds around. Upland geese roamed the hills as their chicks followed closely behind. Turkey vultures watched over from above.
As dusk settled, we said goodbye to our first day in the Falklands and headed back to the Fram.
We woke up on our second day in the Falklands to perfect weather. Yes! Similar to West Point Island, Saunders Island is inhabited by a couple. But what we really came to see were the multiple penguin colonies and rookeries on the island. It didn’t take long.
We came across the gentoo penguin rookery almost immediately. Unlike rockhopper penguins, gentoo penguins nest on the plains. Their distinctive red beaks were unmistakable.
One gentoo penguin was particularly active, and we tracked its path through the rookery and out. There was something so free about the way it walked – both flippers out, one purposeful step at a time. We couldn’t tear our eyes away and followed it all the way to the beach and open seas.
The beach was stunning. Wide stretches of white sand. Blue waves gently rolling in. Light shimmering across the waters. If not for the penguins, this could have been mistaken for a tropical destination.
We wandered the beach leisurely, while gentoo penguin activity surrounded us. Some groups stood in clusters as if having a planned meeting on the beach. Some padded into the swell and dove into the water. Some raced each other along the shore. We could have stayed there forever, watching these cute creatures roam about.
But the fun was just beginning. A very small king penguin colony existed on Saunders Island that everyone was dying to see. Our first king penguin sighting! There were even a few moulting chicks! There would be so many more on South Georgia to come, but the first time is always special.
While it wasn’t our first time with rockhopper penguins, we still enjoyed seeing their shared rookeries on the cliff with albatrosses. This time a nesting penguin got up and gave us a peek at the egg it was incubating, tucked into the fold of fat by its feet. It’s easy to forget that penguins are nevertheless birds despite the fact that they cannot fly.
We were already pretty psyched about seeing three different species of penguins within the span of an hour. Imagine our disbelief when we encountered yet another (the fourth!) species here on Saunders Island – the magellanic penguin! These highly resembled the African penguins we saw in the Cape Peninsula in South Africa that burrow into the ground on the hills.
To top it all off, looking down the sweeping view of the ocean, we saw Commerson’s dolphins surfing the waves! Incredible.
Last but not least, a whale carcass reminded us that it wasn’t only birds that populated and dominated these islands and surrounding seas.
Thank you, Saunders Island, for an absolutely wonderful wildlife landing.
After an exciting morning at Saunders Islands (and too many pictures and videos to sort through), we savored an easy visit in the afternoon to nearby Carcass Island. Similar to yesterday’s evening visit to West Point Island, Carcass Island had no penguin colony visits, but a look at the local life of those who have settled in these remote areas.
Carcass Island had the most gorse of all. The yellow flowers lined the coast and glowed under the sun.
Yet another family welcomed us to their home with open arms and a huge table of sweets. Gaggles of upland geese fought each other by the water. The landscape drew us in, from tree arches to the spectacular coastline.
Since we had more time here, we had the luxury to go slow and just soak it all in.
Our last day in the Falklands was a full day in the capital, Stanley, in the eastern Falklands. There were optional additional tours, but we opted to spend the day in town and get a sense of life here. It felt like a small coastal town in the UK. Pretty decent infrastructure and services for remote islands.
Is there anything more British than a telephone booth? We think not.
The Christ Church Cathedral in town had a very characteristic whalebone arch in front, unique to the Falklands and unlike any other church we had ever been to.
There was a wonderful museum on all things Falklands – island settlement, history, life, wildlife, the Falklands War, a gateway to the Antarctic, etc. We really enjoyed all the exhibits.
One of the highlights was a hut that was once in Antarctica, used as a refuge for scientists doing research as part of the British Antarctic Survey. It was very small, but contained all the basics. Can’t imagine being in that hut in the middle of nothing but snow and ice for months and months.
Most importantly, the day in Stanley coincided with Carlos’ 30th birthday! The big 3-0. Happy Birthday Carlos! What a way to spend a 30th birthday, on our 22-day Antarctica Ultimate Expedition. The Hurtigruten crew were kind enough to not only take note of the birthday, but celebrate with singing and a special cake.
The Falkland Islands were the perfect first landings, easing into the expedition in every way. An introduction to seabirds and wildlife; a more remote area before we head to the complete wilderness; an adjustment period to the expedition lifestyle. Two more days at sea before South Georgia!
For more pictures from the Falkland Islands, please check out the Falkland Islands gallery!