Don’t forget your waterproofs repair kit and a spare washing line!

How many times in the last couple of weeks have we had to explain that polar bears are in the north and not the south? And usually this has been the next question after “why would anyone want to go to Antarctica- there’s nothing there?” !!!  But for us this is the beginning of the trip of a lifetime and an opportunity to further indulge our passion for wilderness, wildlife and photography.

We started talking to Simon at Antarctica Bound two years ago (I’m convinced he’ll be breathing a sigh of relief when he knows we are finally on the way…!) and the advice and help he has given, not to say the patience,has been amazing.

We knew exactly what we wanted to do and where we wanted to go – and we also knew what we didn’t want included. We set Simon the challenge of finding the right tour for us. At first he didn’t think it would be possible to find one tour that would cover everything we wanted and we thought we might have to do two tours back to back.

July 2013 – Simon phones to say he thinks he’s found the trip foru s….. Quark’s EpicAntarctica: Falklands, South Georgia and the Antarctic Circle – and it is perfect. Everything we wanted and almost nothing on our ‘no’ list.

So, we booked.  Almost exactly seventeen months have gone by since then and our adventure to Antarctica is now less than a day away!  We didn’t waste the time since booking, making sure we would have the right camera equipment,right clothing, bags, and everything else you can think of for a month long trip.

And then we started reading blogs, trip reports and got totally confused!! How many pairs of socks is the right amount? Which lens will really be the best for taking Emperor Penguins up close? Camping washing line or not?

Over the last week we have been forced to consider the final selection. At the moment our spare bedroom is covered by all of the things we think we’d like to take. No way is it all going to fit in,either into the luggage or the weight restrictions. (We are NOT taking the cat – although she seems to think that if she hides in the clothes she might come too!).

This trip really is an epic adventure for us. Having got married earlier this year,this is our delayed honeymoon and “big birthdays” event all rolled into one.  The time has flown by and now it is here.  I guess we’ll find out if we got it right when we get there. And we’ll be sure to share the highs (and any lows). Just one more day to find the final items and get it all packed.

kit needed for antartica expedition

R&R – READING AND RECOVERY

Although the major part of our trip is the Quark cruise, we decided to add a few days of R& R and to get acclimatized.  Plus we had heard from a number of people that Aerolineas Argentinas could sometimes be a little ‘delayed’ and that it would be better to ensure arriving at Ushuaia in time for the ship to leave at the very least!

Hence we find ourselves in Buenos Aires for three days.  Acclimatising is, in the circumstances, an interesting concept- for the time zone it is perfect, Argentina and the Antarctic are three hours behind the UK.   Not a huge difference, but enough to cause some confusion to the brain at bedtime. And so spending a couple of days getting into the right time zone is helpful. As for the climate nothing could be further from what we expect to face next week.

At the moment Buenos Aires is in 30 degrees of heat and somewhat humid….having packed for the ice, most of our clothes are at the very least ‘inappropriate’! However, we have managed to put on the thinnest trousers and t-shirts we bought with us and have been managing.

We have based ourselves in the Hotel Madero, which is situated on the waterfront and makes sightseeing of the important buildings easy enough on foot. Everything here is on a huge scale.  From eight lane roads to enormous buildings.

ushuaia antarctica

We took in the major sights this morning and had an enjoyable lunch in a traditional Argentinian bar. The biggest challenge has been the currency conversion. We brought dollars and so have to work through the Peso to dollar to pound exchange rates to work out how much anything costs.

peso exchange rate

There are also three different exchange rates for the Peso: the official rate (at banks and in the hotels currently around 8.3 to the dollar) the blue market rate (we paid in the bar/café with dollars and got a rate of around 10 to the dollar) and the black market rate (around all the major tourist attractions and the shopping centres, people on the street offer “cambio” and will change dollars at around 13 Peso to the dollar). All rather strange and confusing – but the prices are around the same as (or slightly cheaper than) London for food and drinks.

This opportunity prior to the cruise has given us the time to catch up on reading about the trip itself.   We can now truly identify a chin strap from a Macaroni penguin and have discussed the various merits of using the monopod as a walking aid, underwater camera pole (saves getting your hands wet and cold) or for actually balancing the camera!

Argentina boasts some of the best beef in the world and hopefully we will be able to report the truth of this statement after dinner tonight!

USHUAIA – THE END OF THE WORLD (Well, not quite)

We packed up and left Buenos Aires with some excitement and a little trepidation. Although we knew that the checked luggage would come in under the weight limit the hand luggage with the cameras was well over. We had read other blogs before leaving the UK which said that there was no problem at the airport, but you just never know do you?

Making the hand luggage look as small and light as possible we did get through the airport fine – and the checks at security were cursory to say the least. The flight was on the ´interesting´ side, pretty bumpy but the views were spectacular. Coming through the clouds on the descent into Ushuaia with mountains covered in snow just outside the window and flying over the bay with the town (the last city at the end of the world – although I think that Chile claims the same title!) spread out below was quite breathtaking.

breathtaking views of antarctica

The flight touched down at 19.00 and by the time we had collected baggage, found the transfer and made it to the hotel it was around 20.30 – but it seemed like early afternoon….the sun was still high in the sky and it was broad daylight. Fortunately the hotel has blackout curtains – it was still light at 23.30 when we switched out the lights in the room!

Ushuaia itself is best described as an outpost. With one main street filled with shops providing everything from outdoor clothing (just in case you forgot anything) to penguins in every shape size and form (stuffed toys of course, but in chocolate, stone, soap etc etc) and a variety of cafes and restaurants. To one side of the main street is the sea and the busy port with small and large ships arriving and departing, and inland towards the mountains is the residential district with house in many colours.

Finally, it is sinking in that tomorrow we will be leaving on the Sea Adventurer and will have a cabin as our home for the next twenty three days. Arriving in Ushuaia to see the snow covered mountains and the drop in temperature of nearly twenty degrees makes it all much more real!

So far we have only discovered two important items that we left behind…..a South American adaptor – we have adaptors for every other type of socket worldwide – but not for here! I´d certainly advise that if you make this trip and spend any time in Buenos Aires or Ushuaia you make sure you have the right adaptor. And today we realized that a bottle stopper would have been really handy! Since this trip is going to mean that we are on board for Christmas and New Year we are taking a couple of bottles of bubbly with us (bought in the very helpful supermarket at the end of the main street). Neither of us are big drinkers and so to protect the remains of the bottle from spillage and to maintain the bubbles, a stopper would have been ideal!! I guess we´ll have to make the most of it and drink it all in one go!

Some of the people who arrived on our flight yesterday are leaving this afternoon on Quark´s sister ship Sea Spirit. They have been waiting patiently in the hotel lounge and we have a taste of what we´ll be doing tomorrow. We plan to take a walk along the sea front to watch the departure and prepare for our own adventure to continue tomorrow.

PRE-BOARDING – THE EXCITEMENT BUILDS

Remember to book early!

Finally last night we met our fellow travellers. Quark held a meeting in the hotel to give us information about embarkation and what to do with our luggage. As we expected the majority of the others are Americans, followed by a good percentage of Australians and then British with a few other nationalities.

The explanation of what will happen is simple and then we reaped the benefits for having booked over a year ago…an upgraded cabin!! Turns out that Quark move people round the ship (at first we were slightly panicked by this as we had spent some considerable time pouring over the cabin plans, dimensions and configurations and choosing the one that we thought would suit our needs best), to provide for late bookings. We didn´t stop to ask any questions, but gratefully accepted the move from the lower deck (one porthole cabin) to the main deck (picture window cabin). This means we´ll get a better view of the waves crashing on the ship during the Drake Passage crossing!! And hopefully some great iceberg views too.

Somewhat frustratingly today we have to wait around for embarkation time. Check out at the hotel is 10.00 and meeting to transfer to the ship doesn’t take place until 15.30 – this means there are around 80 people wondering what to do (take a late breakfast). Those who only arrived last night take the opportunity to wander round town and do last minute shopping. But taking hand luggage around for the rest of the day (remember how heavy our camera bags are?!) isn´t really a viable option. So we found a space in the hotel lounge and hunkered down for the duration.

This delay is understandable since the ship only arrived in port this morning and is due to leave tonight. Between times the crew has to prepare for the new set of guests. But still it is a challenge to see the ship in the port and contain the excitement of setting off.

Between reading the Kindle, playing cards and rechecking the cameras for the hundredth time we´re keeping the excitement under control.  Hopefully our next report will be from the ship under sail.

LIFE ON BOARD SEA ADVENTURER – THE NEED TO KNOW BIT

Cabins are well appointed and larger than we expected and from the pictures we had seen. Beds are very comfortable and the room temperature can be adjusted to suit individual requirements. The small en suite bathroom is compact, but provides an excellent shower with a toilet and wash hand basin. There is really no need to bring shower gel or shampoo as those that are provided are perfectly adequate and smell just fine. It might be worth bringing a very small amount of a shampoo and shower gel you really like for a weekly ‘treat’. And, if you like to use one, bear in mind there is no conditioner provided separately. But there is a hair drier….I’m not vain, but with the need to be prepared to go on deck at a moment’s notice to see the wildlife, it’s certainly a benefit to be able to dry your hair quickly rather than risk going out with wet hair into a very cold environment!

There is enough cupboard space for clothing items and an area which accommodates boots and parkas away from other clothes so that they can dry without making everything else wet. There are also drawers and shelf space and a small desk, so room for all the ‘other’ items you need to bring. It is worth spending a little time planning where to put things when you arrive both to make them accessible in case of needing to get on deck quickly but also to stop them flying around during rough seas.

the calm antarctic ocean

There’s an open door policy on the ship. This means that no one is able to lock the door of the cabin. This is for safety reasons and has not been an issue. A safe is provided for the protection of your valuables.

Each cabin has a steward allocated for the whole voyage. This amazing person (whom we have yet to actually see) comes in every morning to make the beds, clean, restock the bathroom and take away any laundry. In the evening they come again to provide a turn down service. Gerry, our steward, has been superb. Whenever there have been items left on the beds and he has been in to make up the cabin, every single item has been put back exactly where it was left.

There are enough sockets, but bear in mind they are European type. We have found it helpful to bring a 4 way trailing gang to enable us to charge up multiple batteries and use the laptop at the same time.

Each cabin also has a phone which allows you to reach reception and other areas of the ship in case of emergency. You can also purchase a phone card for making calls home. We will be testing this out on Christmas Day to see if the family is having a good time back home!

The cabin also has a TV – this is primarily to provide the daily programme and anything you need to know about landings on shore. It also enables you to watch the educational lectures provided by the expedition team from the comfort of your cabin. Each day there is also a video shown.

Each day on board has its routine, mainly timed around meal times and activities. Everything you need to know is shown on the TV screen in the cabin and posted on notice boards round the ship. Most things are discretionary (except for the safety briefings).

Meal times don’t vary much except for when the weather or onshore activities dictate. There is plenty of food all of excellent quality and, except for dinner, served in buffet style. The restaurant is free seating which means you can choose who to sit with each meal time – a great way to get to know fellow travellers without finding yourself stuck at the same table every meal.

Outside official meal times there is a coffee and tea station available 24/7 and snacks and cookies if you find yourself hungry at any time.

Each day there is a briefing meeting to find out what has been seen during the day, and an update on what is likely to happen the next day. Additionally, the expedition team put on lectures about different aspects of wildlife, birdlife, geology, history etc.

Landings can take several forms and are timed to ensure everyone has ample opportunity to experience the area.

experience antarctica

Outside of meals and activities, time aboard is your own. There is an excellent library, a lounge and, of course, all the decks to spend time watching for birds and sea mammals such as Peale’s Dolphins and the ubiquitous Great Petrels, not forgetting some sunsets (before you get too far south).

post cards from south georgia

Internet is available from two Wi-fi areas on the ship. There are two options, one for an email only account and the second to purchase megabytes of data. The second is relatively expensive. To access emails only, you need to purchase an ‘account’ (at $30) but this lasts for the whole voyage, so arguably if you are going to take advantage of this it is better to purchase it as early into the trip as possible. The email account does not allow the attachment of any documents and so can’t be used to send pictures home.

There is an onboard shop which is open infrequently, and stocks souvenirs, gifts and things you might have left behind – sunglasses, dry bags and sun tan cream. If you want to send a postcard home from South Georgia, the shop has a stock of pre-stamped postcards which means you can write them before landing and then just post without having to spend time queuing on arrival.

Observation/viewing areas are all round the ship. Very few areas are off limits (it is also possible to sit on the bridge and watch the captain and crew steering!), but choosing the best place to stand depends on the weather and the wind direction. So far there has been ample space for everyone to see and for cameras to be swung around to capture the birds following the ship. Expedition staff are often on deck to identify any species you are not sure about.

Other tips:

Bring an extra washing line.  You will get wet, even if it is just from washing your trousers in the detergent bath upon returning to the ship.  The in-cabin clothes line is fine but doesn’t give your cabin mate any room for their clothes! The best ones are those used for camping that don’t need pegs. But be aware that you might need to go looking for one much earlier than your trip – many shops only have them available during summer camping season.

Bring a repair kit for waterproofs.  There are plenty of jagged edges at landing sites along with other things that you can get snagged on and any rips will destroy the waterproofing capabilities immediately.  The expedition team might be able to help but don’t rely on it.

Don’t forget something to clean your camera equipment with.  Even if you don’t change lenses, thus protecting the sensor, the lenses themselves will get dirty, whether from spray, rain, dust, or any number of environmental conditions.   Keep an eye on this and take the time to clean the front of the lenses (and your viewfinder) on a regular basis.

Photographing Penguins on the Falkland Islands

Our arrival in the Falkland Islands was early in the morning after a very rough night at sea. We were due to land at West Point Island (West Falklands) around 08.30 but the expedition leader deemed the sea state too bad and we had to wait.

A couple of hours later and we took to the zodiacs and arrived on the beach. West Point is the landing to visit a Black Browed Albatross and Rock Hopper Penguin colony. We were told the walk was around 1.6km over easy terrain. Actually it is 1.6 miles up and down hills and since we were battling a very strong wind it was not easy going. There is an option of getting a lift by land rover from the beach to the colony – if you get offered this option our advice is take it!

The colony is situated on the side of a hill and you can get within touching distance of the birds, but the paths are very narrow and the number of people great, so it is worth taking your time and letting the crush die down. 

falklands wildlife

There is plenty to see and just watching the antics between the species and themselves is fascinating. Photography here was a challenge as, bizarrely, most things are almost too close! 

birds of the falklands

There is a lot going on besides the Albatross’s and the Penguins and it is worth keeping an eye out for the Caracara which hover constantly over the area looking out for lone chicks to take.

falkland islands scenery

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Our afternoon landing was at Saunders Island (West Falklands). This was a picturesque bay which on our arrival was filled with Commerson’s Dolphins. Around 100 individuals rocketed round the boat and chased after all of the zodiacs as they made their way to the beach. None of the expedition staff had ever seen this quantity in one place – truly magical.

This landing onto the sandy beach provides an opportunity to see literally thousands of Magellanic, Gentoo and Southern Rock Hopper Penguins and a small number of King Penguins. There is also a colony of Black Browed Albatross up the cliff.

penguins on the beach in the falklands

This is an easy walk along the beach and the penguins are either in large groups, small groups or individuals. It is impossible not to take hundreds of shots! The penguin are very curious and if you stand or sit still they will come waddling towards you completely unaware of the 5m exclusion zone that is supposed to be between them and us!

photographing penguins on the falkland islands

The colony of rock hoppers at the end of the beach provide an opportunity to see them doing what you see in the nature programmes – jumping up and down the rocks (this was not the case in the visit to the colony on West Point Island).

penguins diving off west point island falklands

Besides the Penguin there were Magellanic Oyster Catchers, Brown Skuas, Kelp Geese and Upland Geese.

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Coming into the straight before arriving at Stanley (East Falklands) gives a perspective of the landscape and reminds one of the battles that took place here over 30 years ago.

The landing is onto a jetty and you arrive right next to the information centre. It is a small town which is easy to walk round. There is an excellent museum which covers information about early settlers, the whaling industry, information and a short film about the Argentinian occupation and an actual example of an Antarctic hut used on an expedition.

tourist attractions falkland islands

The town also has an excellent supermarket which has items ranging from food stuffs through toiletries, electronics, clothes and hardware. If there is anything you think you might need, have forgotten or (in our case) has broken this is the opportunity to sort it out – there won’t be another one until you get back to Ushuaia when of course, it will be too late!

things to see on the falkland islands

There are a number of gift shops and places to eat and it is worth walking along the sea front to see the memorials, the church and the Governor’s house.

Every iceberg is different

Leaving South Georgia and heading down to the Antarctic Peninsula is a major crossing. We had reports that we were likely to hit a storm and this would mean that we wouldn’t be attempting to land at the South Orkney Islands.  Instead we headed directly for Elephant Island.Elephant Island was the place that Shackleton left the majority of his crew when he made the journey to South Georgia in search of rescue. Crossing the Scotia Sea brings home the hardship and enormity of the voyage they made in a rowing boat. For us weathering the storm was uncomfortable, but we still had all the creature comforts of the expedition ship.Elephant Island is another haven for penguins and seals. Leopard seals bask on the rocks and we had a rare sighting of a group of fur seal pups (apparently this is not their normal breeding area).

Essential tips for the Antarctic photographer

For us the final leg across the Drake Passage provided time for reflection on the sights and experiences we had had. It seems that everyone who makes the voyage across the Drake Passage starts it with some trepidation that the winds and weather will provide a tough ride. This time someone was smiling benignly over us and the crossing was much less difficult than our earlier experience from South Georgia.

Glaciologist Creates Scale Antarctica for Minecraft

For many people the hit computer game Minecraft is just something that the kids play with – or a pleasant way to pass a spare hour or two – but not for the hardcore fans who spend weeks recreating real cities and fictional worlds. Martin O’Leary, a glaciologist from Swansea University, has just joined their ranks, creating a scale model of Antarctica using Minecraft software.

Modern day Antarctic adventures

If you think that great adventures are limited to fictional heroes like Phileas Fogg and historic explorers like Ernest Shackleton then it’s time to think again! Modern day adventurers have achieved some incredible feats of endurance and exploration, and they deserve as much admiration as the all-time greats. Here’s a run-down of some of the most outstanding recent Antarctic adventures:

Remember to book early!

Finally last night we met our fellow travellers. Quark held a meeting in the hotel to give us information about embarkation and what to do with our luggage. As we expected the majority of the others are Americans, followed by a good percentage of Australians and then British with a few other nationalities.

Our home will be a cabin for the next 23 days

We packed up and left Buenos Aires with some excitement and a little trepidation. Although we knew that the checked luggage would come in under the weight limit the hand luggage with the cameras was well over. We had read other blogs before leaving the UK which said that there was no problem at the airport, but you just never know do you?

A guide to Antarctica

Antarctica is one of those places you’ve probably not been but should. Not many people know a lot about it. For instance, is Antarctica a country or a continent? Who owns it? And what’s the landscape and wildlife like there? So we’ve put together a guide to Antarctica to help you learn more about it, and add it to your list of places to visit.

Galapagos Snorkeling

You may have noticed John has recently visited Galapagos and we’ve been documenting his journey and photography for the last fortnight. What we kept quiet is that Simon went too. They split up once there to experience different expeditions and this is the 1st of 3 accounts from Simon…

QUITO Last Day!

This morning I went on my last excursion to the Mittel del Mundo, the actual line of the Equator. I have crossed the equator many time by sea and by air, but never stood on the line.

It is really fascinating and I saw demonstrations of how the water really does go down the plug in a different direction on either side of the line and straight down when on the actual line. Also other anomalies which show how one’s weight and one’s strength are less on the line.

Of course I had the obligatory photograph taken! There is also the original line, about 300 m away, which was calculated by French scientists the 19th century and is marked by an impressive monument. I had a picture taken there too, but it was pouring down by then, so I didn’t hang around!Then a call at the Capella dos Hombres or Chapel of Man, which is an amazing gallery of the works of the artist and sculptor, Guayacamin.

Very impressive and very moving – his themes are based on peace and his expressionist art was influenced by Picasso. Too short a time was possible here because I had to get back through the traffic to pick up by transport to the airport, and the Quito traffic is notoriously heavy.

Check in is also requested at 3 hours before departure. Now on the way home via Guayacil, Madrid and London – not looking forward to this. But have had an amazing three weeks…

Thanks for sharing my adventures in Galapagos. If you’re interested in seeing more photos, please get in touch. If you’d like to arrange your own trip to Galapagos, please call our team for arrangements and availability.

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Galapagos – Our last full day on board

Our last full day on board and a relaxing start with a morning zodiac ride around Witch Hill area of the coast of San Cristobel and time spent on the shore just watching blue footed boobies and pelicans fishing, seals playing around, marine iguanas and various finches.

Galapagos Hawk captured by John

Saturday and we anchored off Chinese Hat Island at about 06:30. It is a small volcanic island named because of its shape. We cruised around a bit in the zodiac hoping to see the Galápagos penguins, but they were not being cooperative and we only caught a glimpse of one head in the water.

Galapagos Journals – more stunning photography from John

What an amazing day we have had on Genovesa Island. This is the only place in the world where red- footed boobies breed, and this morning, after a wet landing on a white sandy beach, we walked though their nesting territory, which they share with great frigate birds, swallow-tail gulls and a few other species.

GALAPAGOS 2 – further extracts from John’s journal

Tuesday and woke to a beautiful morning, with blue skies and super views from the deck of my luxury tent at the Eco Safari Lodge. For the first time since I left home, I am in no hurry this morning and have no actual schedule, except to explore and enjoy at my own pace.

So, after breakfast, had a wander in the brush surrounding the camp, seeking out the many birds here – lots of types of finch especially. Then down into Puerto Ayora and off to Tortuga Bay. From where the road ends, it is about a 45 min walk, through cactus tree woods, with lots of birds and geckos, to the beach and then, well, it’s a bit like last week – you get so excited seeing your first penguins and then come across loads; today, it was the marine iguanas, so many around that you have to be careful walking up the beach and don’t mistake one for a strand of seaweed!

Very interesting though, particularly watching them come in and out of the surf. Later, went down to the harbour – lots of pelicans, frigate birds, Galapagos petrels and dark grey lava gulls – with every now and then, sea turtles popping up for air and seal lions too. Puerto Ayora is a buzzing little port and it’s hard to believe I am in the middle of the Pacific, it is so Spanish!

Delicious dinner of grilled whole local fish. Off to Plaza Island tomorrow for some land iguanas…

Galapagos Journals: Giant Tortoises Mating!

John from Antarctica Bound is currently visiting the Galapagos Islands, taking in the experience and capturing the wildlife on camera. During patchy periods of internet connection he is sending back extracts from his diary and some of the fantastic pics he’s managed to snap. It’s not quite real-time, but this is as close to the action as we can get….

VALPARAISO

Longish journey from Mount Pleasant to Santiago via Punta Areanas, but a quick transfer from the airport since we arrived as domestic and then Saturday evening traffic was quite light. We know our way around now, so went straight out for a walk and a bite to eat in the buzzing area across the river we ‘d been to last week.

Today, Sunday, we were up early and went for a trip to Valparaiso, the port city about 100k away to the north. Passed through agricultural land and the pleasant wine growing area of Casablanca and cam to the city. It does have a charm with statues and small parks everywhere. The statues commemorate those who helped to liberate Chile from the Spanish, including Lord Cochrane and Bernardo O’ Higgins, and also those involved in the War of the Pacific where Chile fought with Peru and Bolivia for territory in the north of the country. There are lots of old buildings, with a Queen Victoria Hotel too, and a steep hill with multi-coloured cottages clinging to the sides. The British were here in the 19th century and controlled much of the shipping and mining until the Panama Canal opened. The whole area is a World Heritage Site, but it did look decidedly seedy on a Sunday morning, not helped by the ubiquitous graffiti on every doorway, monument and wall. Very interesting, though. We continued on the the adjacent city of Vina Mar, much more up- market with more modern buildings, but still some 100 year old residences. Also lots of tree lined boulevards and park ares. In the grounds of one of the museums is not only an original Easter Island statue, but also a Rodin sculpture, The Defender. Then on to some beautiful beaches with lots of locals enjoying the sunshine and the surf.

We’re now at the airport again for our flight to Quito, where we spilt up in the morning for our different itineraries in the Galapagos…

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VOLUNTEER POINT WITH NOBBY

Our driver today, Friday, was Nobby Clarke, who is something of a local legend, a larger than life character full do stories. He took us off in his big Land Cruiser with oversize wheels off to Volunteer Point. It was just over an hour on the made up road through snowy countryside and then the last 10 miles was across open country, with barely a track in site – very bumpy but great fun. Volunteer Point is where the largest colony of King Penguins on the island lives and it was super just sitting and walking amongst them with their head waiter appearance and antics and their big, fluffy brown chicks. There were also lots of gentoos and Magellenics around. I went down on to the log sandy beach to watch groups of kings wandering along the water’s edge and then this wild squall blew in with the snow flying horizontally. Much more appropriate seeing penguins in the snow, rather than on the green field behind!

Back to Stanley, with a different perspective on the war, seeing the hills of Longden, Tumbledown, Harriet, etc. from a different angle – the same the marines had, except that they did all the last but at the dead of night! Also drove past the distinctive stone runs -unique remnants of the receding ice, thousands of years age. Drinks in the Victory, where we caught up with one of the locals who had been with us on Carcass, then to Shorty’s Diner for a meal, a drink in the Globe and then back to our hotel for nightcaps with another couple who had been with us on Sea Lion. We’ve made lots of friends here!

This morning, Saturday, we have been down to the new museum where we also bumped into Peter and Ranjit, a couple we have been with lots over the week. Some souvenir shopping and we are of to the airport soon.

So, goodbye from the Falklands, it’s been brilliant!

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STANLEY AND AROUND

Arrived early afternoon and picked up by Kyle from FITB. He had promised us a battlefield visit, so we diverted and picked up a friend of his, Zoran, who is also a member of the FIDF (local reservists). They took us up in 4x4s into the hills overlooking Stanley, where some of the fiercest fighting took place and showed us the direction the marines had come on their famous yomp carrying about 100lbs of equipment each. Still lots of shell holes around and bits of field guns.

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Then up to the summit of Mount Longden. This is where the paras attacked at night up the rocky sides of the mountain an in fierce hand to hand fighting took out the enemy positions in a battle which lasted 10 hours. 23 Paras were killed including one VC. There are little memorials up there to the dead and it is very moving. As Zoran was explaining in vivid detail how the battle had progressed, even showing us original pictures of where foxholes were, where specific actions took place, where a sniper had pinned down soldiers for hours, etc, etc, it started to snow, which made the whole thing even more atmospheric. The Falklanders are amazingly patriotic and grateful to Margaret Thatcher and the British forces who liberated them. Very interesting talking to those who were there and their, often harrowing experiences with the Argentinians.

Super dinner at the Waterfront Hotel with out local agent, ITT. Tomorrow is Friday and our last day.

BLEAKER TO STANLEY

Thursday, our penultimate day in the Falklands. Our flight this morning is not until 1130, so up for the best breakfast yet, with a massive goose egg on the plate – taken from just outside the buildings from one of the thousands of upland goose nests – delicious, thank you Mr & Mrs Goose and Gander! There was a flurry of snow just before we walked out and we could see a covering on the hills on the distant mainland. Definitely cooler today. Went out for about an hour and a half, walking along the cliffs just enjoying all the bird life. There is a massive king cormorant colony and then another rockhopper one and all the time, flying around, skuas, petrels and sheathbills. Sat for ages on the edge of the penguin rookery, just watching their antics and nest building, unlike the gentoos who have already laid eggs. Some of them just don’t care where they get their nest material from, just casually ambling up to another nest and stealing a beak full of straw – quite comic and very David Attenborough. Strange to feel that we were the only people on the island apart from Elaine and Robert, who look after the house and the animals. Back to the house for a cup of tea and off to the airstrip and goodbye to our hosts.

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SEA LION TO BLEAKER

It’s just a 10 minute flight to Bleaker and because of aircraft rotations, we had to leave at 0830, which meant a 0700 breakfast, but we still managed an early trip down to the beach. Caught another glimpse of the orca out in the bay and dodged the fast lumbering bull elephant seals as I got in their way – not that I meant to, but you walk past them and they look fast asleep and the next minute, they are up on their flippers and moving really fast! Also had another look at the seal carcass, which is now reduced to a pink skeleton being picked over by the cara caras. Sorry to leave here – there is so much wildlife and you become so absorbed with everything around you.

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Arrived on Bleaker and our hostess, Elaine, was more than happy to take us out or leave us to our own devices with lots of guidance. We opted for the latter, so Elaine showed us where to go and what to see and dropped us off South of the settlement so we could walk back. We needed the exercise and enjoyed our walk back along the coast stopping for a delicious packed klunch overlooking a bay watching steamer ducks with chicks, rock shags and the graceful giant petrel. On the way, we ticked another box when we came across a colony of night herons with several nests and quite large chicks.

Back to our house for tea – we are the only guests sharing a house with 4 ensuite bedrooms, kitchen and lounge;there is another house with two further bedrooms an there are available for singles, couples, families or groups on a full service basis in high season or self catering in the winter.

We said we wanted to do more walking, so Elaine then dropped us off at the far end of the island for us to walk back the 8-10 km. the very end of the island is a nature reserve, I.e. no livestock grazing. We had to walk carefully because this is also where lots of southern giant petrels have their nesting sites – really amazing being so close and it was sometimes difficult to see them because they were so well camouflaged, even though these are massive birds. Also, lots of cliff colonies of rock and king shags and always, kelp and upland geese, kelp and dolphin gulls, South American tern, sheathbills, oyster catchers, etc. We walked across the meadows of diddle dee and tussock grass seeing plover, dottrels, finches and tussoc birds, with brown skuas always on the lookout for unattended nests, until eventually, we reached Sandy Bay, a long expanse of beautiful white sandy beach. We had come to see the gentoo penguins (and a few jackass too, coming out of their burrows) and what a beautiful picture they made in the late afternoon sunshine. Then out of the blue came a commotion in the surf and there was a pod of the spectacular black and white Commerson’s dolphin – yet another tick on the list of amazing Falklands wildlife.

Back to the house for a super dinner of roast lamb with mint and trimmings. Elaine’s husband odes the faming on the island and they kill their own beef and lamb. So tasty, I had third helpings! Gorgeous sunset. Back to Stanley in the morning…

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Pebble Island Pebble To Sealion

 


Pebble is a super island and we wish we had more time there. The Pebble Lodge is also a great place to stay and the owner, Ricky, with his team, is a perfect host. This morning, we took another Land Rover trip and the image above is a really typical island scene, penguin, sheep and geese, all in the same scene. We also went up to the HMS Coventry memorial and then down to see the wreckage of an Argentine Mirage, one of three shot down over the island by RAF Harriers in 1982.

All too soon, we had to be back at the airstrip for our flip to Sea Lion Island. This was all the way from north to South and we picked up and dropped off locals at Port Howard and Shallow Harbour on the way. Met by the very pleasant Carol at the Lodge; lunch and the straight out for a ride, surprisingly, cross country in a Land Rover (!), this time with new friends we had already met at Carcass and a young mother from Stanley who had come for a long weekend with her 19 month old son. Lots of stops to look at small birds in the undergrowth, including plovers with their chicks. Then on to the HMS Sheffield memorial, which also happens to be on the cliffs where there is a massive rockhopper colony – even though we have seen so many now, they are still so fascinating and endearing.

Back to the lodge for tea – as usual with lots of home made biscuits and cakes and then out for a walk.

We have seen so much wildlife over the last couple of days, but this afternoon was just wild life central! Across the field from the lodge dodging the Magellenic penguin burrows and on to the beach where there were scores of elephant seals, with the bulls every now and then challenging each other with loud roars and charges along the beach with the dominant male chasing the loser into the surf. Then watching fascinated as Southern gain petrels tore at a dead seal pup and then, gorged, had to run along the beach to to make flight. Turkey vultures fighting for their share too and cara caras waiting in the wings for scraps. Between the beach and the dunes were little islands of nesting gentoos, maybe a hundred or so on each with little groups of messengers waddling in between them. In the dunes themselves were the ubiquitous geese and the occasional sea lion. We moved across the headland to another beach, also crowded with penguins, elephant seals and birds and looked out to sea and there was a pod of about eight orca, hunting the swimming penguins. They were a way off shore, but really clear in binoculars. These were unlike other orca I have seen; more yellowy brown & black in marking than white & black- one big male even had white markings to the front of his body and browny ones to the rear. Just stood watching for ages, every now and then distracted by male elephant seals charging into the surf in front and to the side of us and by penguins darting along in the shallows. Never seen so much wildlife all in one place. Walked back in the fading light, being careful not to damage the entrances to Jackass penguin burrows. Warm, welcoming lodge and good dinner in pleasant company.

The Flight from Pebble Island

Because of the FIGAS flight pattern, early pick up in the morning for short flight to Bleaker Island.

Find out more about the Falklands here

Check out all our trips t the Falklands here

 

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CARCASS TO PEBBLE

The flight times for the Falklands Govt Air Service (FIGAS) are only announced the previous evening depending on forecast weather conditions and demand – they also only use 3 Islander aircraft with just 5 passenger seats. So our flight from Carcass to Pebble Island didn’t come in from Stanley until 13.30. So that meant we had a whole morning on the island and Rob, the owner took us out in his battered Land Rover for a gentle ride after breakfast up to Leopard Bay. There are no rats on Carcass, so there are lots of small birds, many of which are ground nesters, and Bob pointed these all out to us – Falklands thrush, Cobb’s wren, siskins, meadowlarks, Tussoc birds, plovers and more. Coming down to Leopard Bay, we say loads of Magellenic penguins coming in and out of their burrows and then at the bay was the gentoo penguin colony with the birds coming down to the beautiful sandy beach in company of an upland goose and her 6 goslings – there were a couple of snowy sheathbills there too, looking for any easy pickings.

Back to the lodge for tea and then off in the other direction to end up at the airstrip. And then another amazing highlight. We came to a beach with a haul out of elephant seals – all females and pups apart from one massive bull. There were a couple of other males lurking offshore not daring to come near the beach. So, we wandered up the beach and some of the females lifted their heads and gave us a roar. The bull seemed to just be enjoying lying around, occasionally opening his eyes, or rolling over, when all of a sudden he woke up and started lumbering, quite fast, along the beach and launched himself on top of one of th females. She roared and squirmed and after a few minutes, the bull just rolled off and seemed to doze off again, but a minute later he was off to try his luck again. This cow rejected him too, but he was determined and charged off again and this time he was successful and we watched voyeuristically as these massive animals mated. A very special moment.

Carcass Lodge is a great place to stay on a trip to the Falklands and Rob and his wife Lorraine are superb hosts.

A 20 minute flight to Pebble Island and something different again. The island is one of the main stops on the battlefield tour circuit and we learnt all about the SAS operation on the island in the early days of the 1982 conflict. The main attraction, though, was the birds and especially the penguins. There are 3 types of penguin on the island, Magellenic, rockhopper and gentoo, but we saw two more – there was a lone king penguin standing by one of the ponds – unable to swim because it was still moulting, and then, in the middle of a rockhopper colony, there was just one macaroni, with its bright yellow head feathers. Lots more upland and kelp geese, skuas, 3 kinds of shag – rock, king and imperial – petrels, turkey vultures, cara caras and the beautiful light grey dolphin gull with its bright red beak and legs. Some good company again at dinner, another super and enlightening day.

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STANLEY to CARCASS

Interesting day yesterday, Saturday, and brilliant day today, Sunday!

We arrived at Mount Pleasant after quite a long flight from Santiago – 3 hours to Punta Arenas and then another couple to the islands. Staying at the Malvinas House hotel, the best on in town and clean and modern – not sure why, but much better than I expected!

We had a bit of a wander around Stanley this afternoon. It is only small and is just like a British coastal town – it is actually twinned with Whitby – except that all the roofs are brightly painted in red, green, blue or even yellow. There are 19th century buildings, some typical seaside cottages and even some Victorian villas, a cathedral and all the usual public buildings such as post office and police station. Of course, the principal war memorial is for the 1982 conflict and the other big reminder is the feeling of a garrison town with a massive military complex at the main airport, which is 30 miles outside town. So, we ended up at the Globe Inn, a typical squaddie pub with flags and war memorabilia. Not much happening at 6 pm but that would change later!

A pleasant dinner with Kyle and Samantha from the Tourist Office and then we just had to go out for last orders – this time at Deanos – and at 10.30 on a Saturday night, it was really buzzing with all the soldiers and airmen from the base mixing noisily with locals, especially the single girls and everybody just a tad worst for the weather! And then at 11.00 the bell rang and it was just like the old days – time! Everybody piled out on the pavement – there were even a a male and female bobbie hanging around just in case, but it was all really good humoured and we made firm friendships with soldiers from Leeds, Liverpool and Essex and one airman from South Wales. A great evening.

This morning the weather was bright and sunny with azure sky for our flight from the local Stanley Airport to Carcass Island. Four of us flew in the BN Islander over the hundreds of islands at no more than 3000ft, absolutely brilliant. Met by the owner of the lodge and driven over to the house in one of his 4 x 4s – that’s all everybody has here and over 90% must be Land Rover basics! The Lodge has 6 bedrooms and is all very relaxed with cups of tea and cakes on arrival.

One of the islands that wasn’t on our plan was West Point and that was disappointing because that was where there were nesting brown brow albatross. So serendipity, the boat that takes visitors over to West Point was moored in the bay and was going over there anyway, with room for 4 more. What an amazing afternoon! I had seen a nesting albatross before but nothing could have prepared me for a full colony of hundreds of birds nesting amongst the tussocks and, not only that, but sharing the space with even more rockhopper penguins. The albatross were flying overhead, sometimes missing by inches and the rockhoppers were almost underfoot -spent ages just enjoying the experience.

A couple of seals and lots more birds to see including various geese, some with goslings being watched hungrily by the striated cara caras, known locally as Johnny Rooks. Cobs wren, the redbreasted military starling, and, later on a couple of Magellenic penguins. This really is a magic spot

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CROSSING THE ANDES

We are now about 20 minutes away from Santiago and just flying over the Andes. I am in a centre row seat, so can only see part of the magnificent view from the windows, but fortunately, the in flight camera shows me what is underneath.
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We’re Off To The Falklands

 

The Falkland IslandsSimon and John leave today for their fact-finding trip to the Falklands. At Wildfoot Travel, we have been receiving more and more requests from birders and other nature and wildlife enthusiasts for itineraries that spend more time on the Islands.

We have lots of ship-based expeditions that call in on the Falklands and stay for. A couple of days or so, but that is just not enough time to fully appreciate the amazing wildlife in different parts of the Islands. We are going to see for ourselves and will then be able to offer a range of trips to suit all interests.

Today, we fly to Santiago in Chile and then tomorrow, onwards to Stanley. We ‘ll keep you posted with our progress, so watch this space!

Take a look at our wildlife trips and cruises to the Falklands here

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Paddleboarding: the only way to see Antarctica!

Stand Up Paddleboarding in AntarcticaLast week I wrote about camping in Antarctica. Well, while you’re there, why not try the latest thing: Paddleboarding!

It may have become popular in the warm waters of the Hawaiian coast, but Paddleboarding is at its most thrilling when experienced in Antarctica. Paddleboarding, or more specifically Stand-up Paddleboarding, is one of the most recent additions to the variety of outdoor sporting activities that can make a trip to Antarctica so much more exciting. Here’s everything you need to know about this new craze:

Mentally Preparing for a High Altitude Adventure

There is no getting away from it, high altitude training is as tough as it is rewarding. In order to reach whatever summit you have set your sights on, you need to be in the right place mentally. This might sound easier said than done but if you follow these pointers you will be well on the way to reaching great heights (excuse the pun). Seriously though, to have success, you need to be strong mentally and emotionally, have a positive attitude and be able to think in the moment. Last week I wrote about the physical challenges, this post deals with the mental.