Sorry for the blog silence, it has been a busy few weeks!
On the weekend of 29th & 30th October we headed out of town for our first night out in the wilds of camp. We booked at the last minute to go and stay at Elephant Beach Farm in their self-catering cabin.
We headed out of Stanley in glorious sunshine on the Saturday afternoon, off along the MPA road. We stopped to have a good old nosey at a Chinook wreck that we had spotted from the road when we went to the MotoX.
We turned onto uncharted territory (to us) after Estancia when we turned to the west and headed further around the ‘ring-road’. (This is not the best map but it may help, we came out of Stanley on the red road and took the first right and then at the yellow fork, where Estancia is not marked, took a left!) About an hour into the journey we realised despite packing for every weather eventuality (from sunhats to wooly hats) we had left the waterproof coats in the coat cupboard – we had the waterproof trousers but nothing more. We ignored every ounce of common sense, every echo of my father’s voice in my head (‘Don’t go out into the country without proper equipment’) and the fact that the weather here can change on a pinhead and carried on to our destination. An hour and a bit further on and we arrived at Elephant Beach, well signposted and easy to get to. It was a glorious evening and we were welcomed into our host’s own home for a cup of tea and a delicious homemade biscuit whilst he cleaned the accommodation after he had been out on a tour all day. The setting was stunning and the boys played by the side of a stream running between the self catering and the main house whilst we unpacked and unwound a little. It was such a beautiful evening that we had a long walk down to the lake where we saw South American Terns as well as the usual Upland Geese. We actually accidently disturbed and Upland Goose off her nest so we got a good view of the fluffy nest. We captured a vaguely good photo of a Meadowlark with it’s bright red underbelly too.
After a beautiful sun filled walk we wandered back towards the cabin but before we went in (on the advice of our host) we peeked into one of the barns and got a good look at two beautiful barn owls. Then we returned and cooked pizzas. It was a beautifully clear night and we were treated to a 6minute pass of the ISS that was as clear as anything. Having watched that the boys were treated to a ‘movie night’ and then put to bed very late.
We arose ridiculously early the next day (as always when those three share a room) and were greeted by a thick blanket of fog and we were seriously regretting the lack of waterproof coats. We threw most of our things into the Rover including getting rid of the sunhats in favour of the woollies and we all had plenty of layers on to keep warm. Ben, our guide, arrived to pick us up at 9am and off we set for some serious off roading driven by an expert. We had quite a drive to get to the main events of the wildlife but Ben was a very interesting guide and is keen to maintain and, more to the point, renew the natural Falkland Islands habitat which would have mainly been Tussac Grass and has been over grazed hugely by the imported sheep, so we talked a lot about that. Finally in the middle of the Diddle Dee plants (which had taken over since the Tussac has disappeared) we came across our first proper full penguin colony – these were Gentoos.
This post is going to be very wildlife photo heavy so I will run off what else we saw and how the rest of the day went.
We got up close and personal with both Gentoo and Magellanic Penguins on the beach where we sat within 2metres of the colony for over 45minutes, Chris and I sat there the whole time and the boys came and went, as long as they didn’t run at the penguins their movements went unnoted by the colony. The sun had burnt off all the cloud by now and we were massively regretting the fact we had left sunhats and had put on so many layers!
We moved further up the peninsula that is Cape Dolphin and found 2 male Sea Lions. Ben and Chris got up close with them whilst I and the boys watched from the cliff side of the beach (about 15metres away). Ben encouraged them to give us a roar and it was all rather impressive. However, with the sun on them they moved as little as possible and were the image of very large slugs. The whole while we drove there were Magellanic penguin burrows and penguins sticking their heads up everywhere. We got to the most northerly point of the cape where we had a great view out to Eddystone Rock and looked down on dozens of Sea Lions basking on the rocks. We were in amongst the oldest of the Tussac plantations that have been put back onto the cape and some of it was 6ft high so we had a wander through the clumps to get a feel for it (it is similar to Prince of Wales feathers – albeit without the feathers and probably with less chance of slicing hands) only to stumble across 4 other Sea Lions at close quarters sunny themselves hidden between the clumps.
We then drove down to Swan Pond and Ben clearly wanted to find us dolphins so we tried one beach, where we gathered many stones but saw no dolphins. Then we stopped near Swan Pond to look at a Sei Whale skeleton that had beached there previously and out in the bay we watched two dolphins playing chase with a group of Gentoo who were trying to get back onto land. On the Swan Pond we saw two Black Necked Swans (only found here in the islands we believe) a swan that is white all over with a black neck, stunning.
But then the sight that levelled up everyone’s ‘Penguin Breeds Spotted’ lists as we were driving across the land around the pond, there lying peacefully on its belly staring at a lamb just a few metres away was one lonely King Penguin. It was not expected to be seen there at all so was a real treat and we all soaked it in!
On the way back to the cabin we enjoyed watching Gentoos traversing the land on feet and bellies, particularly the one who fell over a short distance in front of the vehicle and then spent some time sliding down the track in front of us before jumping up and waddling off! We stopped at the house of the Cape Dolphin farm on the way back too for a well earned cuppa and loo stop as well as freshly baked goodies.
We returned to the cabin at about 4pm with sunburnt faces (lesson learnt that in the Falkland Islands every form of weather protection must be on ones person at all times), tired eyes, but happy, happy hearts, rejuvenated and refreshed. We enjoyed the whole experience more than is imaginable. It really was magical and given we were sat in a car for the whole day (as we still then had over an hour to drive home to Stanley) the boys were impeccably behaved. We feel sure we will return to Elephant Beach, it was fabulous.
(I will try to upload a map of Cape Dolphin itself at some point but I’m being told off about data so not just now!)
PS I was also told off by the boys for forgetting that in half term they also had school disco – Sam’s first!!!