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Published: February 4th 2019
Dad and I
West Point Island
All good things must come to an end, as they say. Our amazing voyage with One Ocean Expeditions, aboard the Akademik Ioffe, is one such. The final two days of the voyage were spent in the Falkland Islands and it was a fitting place to end.
I mostly knew of the Falkland Islands from the short war fought there in 1982 when Argentina invaded, and the British responded. Naively, I never really thought of them as a wildlife destination until I was researching this trip. But there was much to see on these remote islands and I’m sure we could have spent more time there.
We started early on Friday morning by heading ashore onto West Point Island. Normally there are only two people who live there, but due to two ships visiting that day, they called in help from some friends and there were four this day. The landing on the zodiacs was not quite a dry landing but was on a boat ramp. This made it even easier than usual.
We left our life jackets in a shed by the water and headed up the hill with the photographer Jonathan. It was a relatively balmy 8
degrees, so Dad and I opted for our regular rain jackets instead of the heavy jackets we had been using. We were the only ones, however, but I’m glad we did because it was a decent walk. I would have eschewed the jacket altogether, but we had a steady drizzle accompanying us the whole way.
The walk to the other side of the island was about two kilometres, and once we climbed the initial hill it was fairly easy going. There was the option to hitch a ride in a Land Rover, which a few people took, but after being on the ship for 3 days we were keen to stretch our legs. Not as keen as one passenger who was training for a marathon in a couple of weeks and took the opportunity to run it.
Arriving at the other side of the island, we were at a rookery perched on a cliff amongst tussock grass. This was home to Rockhopper penguins and Black-browed albatrosses, who lived side-by-side. It was amazing how close we could get, even though both birds were nesting, and we could see many chicks. The expedition staff kept us in appropriate locations, so
we didn’t bother the birds, but we didn’t need to get any closer for great photos. I headed down as far as I could get and sat there for ages taking hundreds of photos of albatrosses swooping over our heads as they came into land.
Once again, my photography took too long for Dad and he had started the return journey ahead of me. I was not the last to leave, however. It was tough to get a good position amongst the tussocks so I’m sure some people were waiting to grab my position when I left. But leave I did and yomped back across the island. Once again, I fell in with Jonathan for the last part of the walk and we had a final discussion about all things photography.
Arriving back, we didn’t go straight to the beach because the homestead was open for us. We headed inside for a cup of tea and a wonderful selection of cakes. I limited myself to just three, but I could have had so much more. Having warmed up a bit, I headed back down to the beach, keen to get aboard the ship and have a quick look
at how my photos turned out.
Dad was down there, waiting for a zodiac to head straight back to the ship. I could have joined the line for a small zodiac tour, but thought I’d join dad. When our zodiac arrived, the driver was Matt the biologist. So when he spotted some South American Sea Lions, he was keen to turn our trip into a zodiac cruise. However, on board we had the marathon runner who was now extremely cold and had to get back on board before she froze. So Matt took us back to the ship and everyone got off before me.
As I readied to get off, Matt asked if I wanted to go see the sea lions and I said yes, of course. So I ended up with a private zodiac tour with the resident biologist to check out the sea lions. There were two groups on the rocks and we soon spotted another group sitting in the tussocks above. We even saw one swimming in the water. There were a number of different types of birds on the rocks too, which I unfortunately cannot remember. But it was a great little trip, filled
with Matt’s enthusiasm and knowledge.
Back aboard the Ioffe and it was time for lunch while the ship headed on to the next location at Saunders Island. Here we had a beach landing in the zodiacs, which was probably the wettest one yet.
As I walked onto the beach, I almost had too much choice about what to photograph. Some people were heading up a hill towards another albatross rookery. Instead, I decided to stay down at the beach and use the opportunity of beach sand to get down low for some penguin photography. We also had some Striated Caracaras on the beach, and even some sheep!
After taking a few photographs on the first beach, I headed around to the beach on the other side of the neck where we landed. Along the way I reached the highlight of the island – a small group of King Penguins. Although not as large as the Emperor penguin, the King is just as pretty with a spectacular orange ear patch and gold patch at the top of their chest. They were not very active though, except for what appeared to be a bit of ostracism for one poor
West Point Island
fellow who walked around trying to join in. I heard someone say that he (or she) had lost their chick but I don’t know if that was the case.
From there I headed down to the other beach. Besides the fact it was cold and there some patches of rain, the beach looked like a piece of paradise. The Magellanic penguins hanging out there were a surreal juxtaposition. Again, I got down and laid on the sand to take photos and I am happy with how they came out.
I headed down towards the end of the beach where there were some Rockhopper penguins. Unfortunately, I’d spent too much time taking other photos and was turned back by some staff because the tide was coming in.
Instead, I headed up the hill a bit to check out the Magellanic penguins in their burrows (not sure if that’s the correct term, but that’s what they looked like!) before heading back to the zodiacs. The wind had come up now so boarding the zodiac at the beach was tough. Making matters worse, I hadn’t brought my dry-bag so was just carrying my camera. With plenty of assistance and a
West Point Island
well-time jump from the waves, I managed to get aboard.
The trip back to the ship was windy, cold and frequently wet as we splashed through the waves. I sat there with my hat over my camera to keep it as dry as possible. It is a weather-proof camera, but I didn’t want to push the limits. When I got back to the ship, I left the camera to dry before testing if it still worked. Thankfully, it did.
That night we had the Captain’s dinner, where the captain of the Akademik Ioffe joined us in the dining room. He entered to much fan-fare as the expedition leader Aaron led him in while playing the bag-pipes. There were a few speeches and a spectacular dessert (allegedly a Baked Alaska, but really just an ice-cream cake) decorated with icebergs, whales and penguins.
After dinner we had the voyage re-cap where the expedition leader went over everywhere we had been, and everything we did. The finale was a 15-minute slideshow put together by the Jonathan, the photographer, with his photos and some of our own. It was great to watch, and I appeared in a couple of photos and
West Point Island
two of mine were included. We got a copy of it on the zip drive they gave us.
The next morning, we arrived in Stanley and it was an early start as we had to disembark at 7:30am. We had just over an hour to walk around the town. It was nice and they even opened a couple of gift shops and the museum for us. I didn’t get to the museum, but dad and I walked down to the war memorial before having a look around a gift shop.
We then boarded buses and drove out to the airport. The airport is actually the RAF base at Mount Pleasant and is about 45 minutes out of Stanley along some rough roads. Apparently, the road roughly follows the path taken by the British soldiers who liberated Stanley during the Falklands War.
And that was where the excitement ended. We had to wait a few hours at the airport for the weekly plane to arrive with new passengers for the ship. We flew back to Punta Arenas and had a few hours to wait before our flight back to Santiago. We landed just before midnight and went straight
to our hotel for a much-needed sleep.
Words can’t describe the amazing journey we’d just had. I hope the photos go some way to showing just what an incredible place Antarctica is and how important it is for us to keep pristine. I highly recommend anyone who gets the chance to go!
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