Cruise Day 10 - Falkland Islands

Published: April 5th 2016
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As we finished our approach to the Falkland Islands we were rushing about having breakfast and getting ready to go ashore at 8.45am. Our tickets for the King Penguins 4x4 Adventure stated that we needed to meet in the Mondrian Lounge at 8.35am for an 8.45am departure. We checked in at the desk at 8.30am and we were allocated to Vehicle 11. Whoa, there are some fellow passengers who are really keen to see those penguins because that makes us about 41st and 42nd to check-in. Unfortunately though, it was 09:30 before we officially arrived. With the tenders not being released until after we were anchored our start to the day's activity was a little delayed.

The first tender of the day was eventually under way filled with keen 4x4 adventurers. When we arrived in Port Stanley the 4x4 drivers were standing around with their vehicle number cards. We found the driver of Vehicle 11 easily and Jamie introduced himself. We were soon joined by our travelling companions for the day, Uri and Maryanne. A quick, last minute toilet stop and we were off to Jamie's Toyota Hilux. Most of the other vehicles were old Range Rovers, with the group leader in a Landcruiser. Jamie told us to decide amongst ourselves who was tallest and should sit in the front passenger seat. In a surprising show of Aussie assertiveness Bernie decided he was the tallest and claimed the front seat!

We headed straight out of town in a convoy of 16 4x4s. It wasn't long before the bitumen ran out and we were skittering along on gravel. Jamie warned us that once we headed off-road we would be wishing we were back on the unpaved road! At Johnson's Harbour Farm we had another quick toilet opportunity and then it was time to get serious about the 4x4 part of our journey. The fourbys all struck out onto the peaty flats and any memories of a smooth ride quickly faded from our consciousness as we held on tight to the ceiling straps doing our best to avoid smacking our heads on the door frames!!

As we jounced along I asked Jamie about the low-growing, heather-like plant that I could see growing everywhere. Jamie told us that the plant is known as diddle-dee - is that a great name or what?! Because the peat is so acidic very little grows on the Falkland Islands which makes the knee height diddle-dee the tallest vegetation.

With the weather conditions uncharacteristically dry and sunny the 'track' was in great condition for a quick-ish (one and a quarter hours) trip to Volunteers Point. In fact, Jamie told us that he couldn't remember a quicker trip from Port Stanley to the penguin colonies. This was good news for us because it meant that despite our late start we would still be able to spend an hour and a half at Volunteer Point before returning to Port Stanley.

And there were penguins everywhere! I thought that we might have to hunt about in the sand dunes looking for them, but they were quite literally everywhere. There were two areas ringed with white rocks. One ring marked the rookery of the gentoo penguins. The gentoo penguins have fairly classic black and white penguin markings. The second rock ring marked the rookery of the king penguins. The king penguins are black and white with amazing orange highlights on their chest, head and beak. They are very handsome birds. The Magellanic penguins are a burrowing penguin so they were a little harder to find. These penguins have a distinctive white arc that runs from brow to chin and another that runs around the chest.

The Volunteer Point colony is the largest breeding group of king penguins within the Falkland Islands with more than a 1,000 pairs producing between 500 and 700 chicks each year. The Falkland Islands are one of the most important sites in the world for the gentoo penguins and over 1,000 pairs are present at Volunteer Point. The Magellanic penguins are widespread along the entire Falklands coastline between September and April.

What an amazing experience to see so many penguins happily co-existing in one place right alongside the ubiquitous upland geese and in amongst the farmers sheep! The only disappointing part was all the other stupid, stupid tourists. So many tourists without the slightest idea how to behave around wild animals! We saw so many examples of idiot tourists crowding the birds just so they could have their photo taken with a penguin or a group of penguins. I hate to generalise, but it's usually the Asian tourists that are the worst. They strike the most idiotic poses everywhere. I'm quite sure their ridiculous 'look at me, I'm with a penguin' poses do absolutely nothing to enhance their photos!! And it was slightly creepy having the turkey vultures wheeling overhead serving as a reminder of the fragility of life in the wild as they looked for carcasses they might be able to feast upon ...

With our time drawing to a close - and knowing how much bladder bouncing terrain was coming up - we used the chemical loos and then hunted out our bagged lunch back at the Hilux. Yum, our sandwiches were classic English fare - cheddar cheese and pickle. We thought our sandwiches were great, but Uri didn't like his. As we ate Maryanne expressed her disappointment that there weren't more penguins. WTF?! Apparently she expected there to be hundreds of thousands of penguins so a mere couple of thousand birds just didn't cut it with her. And she went on and on and on ... and on! ... about rockhopper penguins and wanting to see rockhopper penguins. Apparently these are the ones with the bushy eyebrows. FFS there's no pleasing some people!

Our convoy of 16 formed up and we set out on the return journey. The 16 vehicles soon split off into four groups of four with each sub-group taking a slightly different route back to the entrance to Johnson's Harbour Farm. I didn't think to ask Jamie, but I think they did this to reduce the impact of the 4x4s on the 'track'. The weather had remained glorious all day so the drivers were really enjoying driving on a (mainly) firm, dry 'track'. In fact, the drivers were pretty much racing all the way back to the farm gate. What fun!

Jamie told us that they regularly get people who sign up for this trip who then complain every inch of the way about how rough it is. Well, der, it is described as a 50 mile 4x4 adventure via gravel roads and grassy tracks, what did they expect? Another example of how stupid some people are, they book a 4x4 adventure, but what they really want is a smooth ride without any bumps. Seriously, if you want an armchair ride stay at home and watch the documentary!!

Back in Port Stanley, Jamie decanted Uri and Maryanne at the Post Office. That was the other thing she had gone on about all day - her need to be back in Port Stanley in time to be able to post some mail from the Falkland Islands. Jamie drove us a little further and deposited us near the gift shop. Bernie gave Jamie a decent tip in recognition of his four wheel driving skills and I gave him an Aussie key tag in return for a photo of him at the wheel of his Toyota Hilux. After a quick foray into the gift shop and a short walk past the Whale-bone Arch and the Anglican Church we found ourselves back at the pier where we arrived this morning.

One last photo of the red telephone box in front of The Globe Tavern and it was time to return to the ship. Back on board we headed up to the Crow's Nest on Level 9 and took some photos looking back over Port Stanley. Once again we consider ourselves to have been exceptionally lucky with the weather. The Falkland Islands are very much a fair weather proposition and cruise ships frequently have to drop Port Stanley from their schedule because the weather is simply too bad to be able to anchor. We enjoyed a seriously glorious day ashore on East Falkland Island.

We met the group at 7.15pm in the Ocean Bar for pre-dinner drinks and to compare notes on the Falkland Island excursions that we had taken. Everyone was happy to have seen penguins of at least two different types. Everyone had seen either gentoo and king penguins (Bluff Cove Penguin Rookery) or gentoo and Magellanic penguins (North Pond Penguin Colony). Only Volunteer Point boasted three varieties of penguins so we were happy we went on that tour ... even if we were feeling like our kidneys had migrated to our armpits!

Gail and Gloria's experience was somewhat tainted by a stupid American woman who whinged about how rough the four wheel driving was and then tried to tell them that the Falkland Islands flag is the same as Australia's. No, it's not - Gail said. Yes it is - stupid American woman insisted. NO ... IT'S ... FUCKING ... NOT Gail told her, thoroughly fed up by this stage with the woman's unrelenting stupidity. The group members who had been to Bluff Cove waxed lyrical about the complimentary cream tea that was included in their tour. They thought the home-made scones spread with home-made diddle-dee berry jam were delicious.

Steps 19,342 (13.56km) Whoa! Who knew that four wheel driving could boost your step count like that?! Obviously the Apple Watch was unable to tell the difference between being bounced around in the back of a twin cab 4x4 and actual exercise!! There is simply no way that we walked anything close to 13.56 kilometres today.

Additional photos below
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5th April 2016

Worth the wait
The photos were well worth the wait, the Penguin pics are brilliant. Hard to imagine how anyone could be disappointed with the numbers, they have been watching too many docos and need to go further south I guess. When the photobook is finally being produced it will evoke such wonderful memories of your adventure.

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