A small dot amidst the South Atlantic Ocean, the Falkland Islands are at once very well known and quietly anonymous. Wild vistas and sweeping coastlines, together with a colourful maritime past and strong farming legacy characterise a surprisingly striking archipelago, where wildlife abounds.
The Falklands comprise two main islands, East and West Falkland, as well as an additional 748 smaller, mostly unpopulated islands covering an area slightly less than Northern Ireland. The majority of the 2,500 population live in the capital Stanley on East Falkland, while a small but determined populace live on isolated sheep farms in ‘camp’ – the name given to the countryside and derived from the Spanish word campo. Stanley is the only real town in the archipelago and offers modern amenities amidst signs of a lively past. Backed by hills, the waterfront is littered with photogenic shipwrecks and distinctive, colourful buildings give the town character.
The foremost appeal to visitors of the Falkland Islands is the abundant wildlife, where the sheer numbers of penguins, seals and pelagic birds is quite staggering. Colonies of rock hopper, macaroni, magellanic and gentoo penguins can all be encountered along with impressive king penguins, elephant seals, sea lions and around 10,000 breeding pairs of black-browed albatross.
While many visit this fascinating archipelago on an expedition cruise you can also choose to explore in more depth on an island-hopping land based adventure.
The attractive scenery of Carcass Island, situated to the northwest of West Falkland is ideal for hill walking and magellanic and gentoo penguins nest in the soft peaty soil. The island is also home to the fascinating striated caracara, known locally as the Johnny Rook, one of the world’s rarest birds of prey. Nearby West Point Island can be accessed by boat on a day trip. Great numbers of breeding black-browed albatross and rockhopper penguins can be seen at a rocky, tussock-covered outcrop known as the Devil’s Nose. A walk up to the summit of Mt Ararat, offers spectacular views to the south and west on a clear day. Saunders Island was the site of the first British settlement in the Falklands and is now a working farm. This scenic island is made up of two large peaks divided by a thin sandy isthmus called the Neck. One of the archipelago’s wildlife hotspots; Saunders has over 11,000 pairs of breeding black browed albatross, significant colonies of gentoo, magellanic and rockhopper penguins as well as elephant seals, cormorants, petrels and even a few king penguins. Separated from West Falkland by only a very narrow channel, Pebble Island also boasts concentrations of gentoo and rockhopper penguins, plus a substantial sheep population. It was a frontline site during the Falklands conflict and evidence of such can be seen around the coastline. Port Howard is the largest privately owned settlement on West Falkland, with a permanent population of 20 and 45,000 sheep! The nearby rivers provide some of the best sea trout fishing in the world. Enjoy excellent walking in the area nearby, with Mt Maria, the third highest peak on West Falkland offering breathtaking views from its summit. Yet more penguin colonies can be found nearby and a golf course is within easy reach – the first and second holes interestingly have clearly marked minefields for ‘out of bounds’!
Sea Lion Island is the most southerly inhabited island in the Falklands group and lies 5 miles long and just over 1 mile wide at its widest point. As such, it is perfect for exploring on foot. The island is home to the largest colony of elephant seals in the archipelago, with up to 2,000 of these grumpy animals hauled up on the dazzling white sand beaches at the height of the breeding season. Small groups of the rare southern sea lion also breed here and can be seen on the rocky coastal ledges as well as in the spectacular tussock grass plantations that cover one fifth of the island. Rockhopper, gentoo and magellanic penguins can also be seen, whilst pods of orca are often spotted offshore. The privately owned nature reserve of Volunteer Point, an impressive peninsula to the north of East Falkland can be reached overland by 4x4 vehicle. The beach of the same name is two miles long with white sand bordered by high grassy banks, leading down to rolling greens. This provides the ideal habitat for three species of penguin to breed – most notably, over 1,200 breeding king penguins – the largest such colony in the world outside of South Georgia. A lengthened breeding cycle means that there are always fluffy brown coated chicks to be seen. Gentoo and magellanic penguins also nest along the peninsula and over 40 species of bird have been recorded in this area including South American terns, rock cormorants and Falkland skua.