Exploring the Falkland Islands with Viking Review – We Saw the Penguins!

Seeing the penguins worth a visit to Falkland Islands

Gentoo Penguins

I had not heard of the Falkland Islands until the 1982 war. I’m really glad we decided to visit in the early spring of 2020. The Falklands are a British overseas territory consisting of two primary and 776 smaller islands. The archipelago lies in the South Atlantic Ocean approximately 300 miles east of South America and 750 miles from Antarctica. As part of the Viking South America and The Chilean Fjords Cruise, we spent a delightful day seeing penguin colonies and exploring West Falkland Island with local  Viking guides.

We reached the Falkland Islands with great anticipation — we would see the penguins up close Photo by Dianne Davis

Visiting the Falklands is not always a guarantee for passengers on a cruise ship. There is no docking pier for cruise ships so our only option was to transfer to land by tender.  Viking Captain Atle Knutsentold us that the islands often experience high winds prohibiting the launching of small tender boats. We were not assured access to the island til the morning of the excursion. Fortunately we had low winds and made it to shore.

The landscape is stark Photo by Dianne Davis

We selected an optional tour to the Bluff Cove Lagoon. As we drove to the lagoon and admired the stark scenery, I kept thinking that we were in Scotland. All the locals we met had British accents and were proud of their heritage

 

What a treat this was.The “Belted Galloway”, a hardy breed of Scottish Cattle, is distinctive because of the belted, white band evenly distributed around the mid section of the otherwise totally black animal. Many breeders and cattle fanciers refer to the “belties” as Oreo-cookie Cows. We can see why, can’t we. Photo by Dianne Davis

Our local guide discussed the 1982 war between Argentina and England. Argentina historically viewed the Islands as theirs and named them Islas Malvinas. Their forces captured the Islands in April of 1982 and two months later a British expeditionary force recaptured the territory. The resentment toward Argentina runs deep among the locals. Argentina is referred to as “East Chile” and there are no commercial flights to and from there.

After a 20 minute drive in vans past a sparse stark countryside, we were transferred to 4 X 4s for the last leg of our trip to Bluff Cove, the highlight of our adventure. There along the beach were what seemed like thousands of penguins. Actually, there were rookeries of both king and gentoo penguins.  King penguins have orange spots near their ears and on the neck.  Flamboyant red-orange beaks, white-feather caps, and peach-colored feet make the Gentoo penguins stand out against the surroundings. 

Photo by Dianne Davis
Photo by Dianne Davis

 

Our guide pointed out flags and lines in the sand which we were told not to cross when observing the penguins. Respecting the boundaries, we were, nevertheless, able to get close enough to get some cool souvenir pictures of these fascinating creatures.

King Penguins are the second largest species of penguins Photo by Burt Davis

Most of the penguins were standing motionless in order to conserve their energy. The King Penguins had several newborns in the group. Their grey color sharply contrasted with the black and white of their parents. A strong cold wind whipped along the beach, but we didn’t care. It was a small price to pay to have the opportunity to be up so close to these attractive birds.. Watching the penguins kept us warm.

Time for freshly baked pastries including scones Photo by Dianne Davis

After a bit, we succumbed to the cold wind and visited the local Sea Cabbage Cafe. There, we were treated to hot tea or coffee and pastries served by the friendly proprietors, Of course Scones were the house special. Following our snack, we headed back to Port Stanley.

Wanting to maximize our guided tour time on the Islands, we had opted for both the optional morning excursion and the included one in the afternoon. We had a few hours before our second tour which we used to explore Port Stanley by foot.

Port Stanley Photo by Burt Davis

 

Port Stanley is the capital of this territory of 3,700 people. Frankly, there is not a lot to see. There were many quaint cottages, a historical church and several tourist shops. We had lunch at the Waterfront Kitchen Cafe the most popular restaurant in town. I opted for a local favorite of roast lamb and my wife Dianne selected the fish. Just like being in England.

 

Roast Lamb Photo by Dianne Davis

 

Christ Church Cathedral is the he most southerly Anglican Cathedral in the World In the front of this church stands a monument—a whalebone arch, made from the jaws of two blue whales. The monument was raised in 1933 to commemorate the centenary of the British rule in Falkland Islands. Photo by Dianne Davis

After lunch, we boarded a motor coach for a visit to Gypsy Cove.  This tourist destination is a wind sheltered beach populated by a variety of land birds, sea birds, marine mannels, insects and plants, some found only in the Falkland Islands. Oh yes – and penguins. We walked along a protected path overlooking the beach. Of course our focus was on the hundreds of penguins standing on the beach and sometimes jumping into the frigid water. Local guides told us that sometimes the penguins stay in the water for weeks at a time as they hunt for food.

We returned to the Viking Jupiter after an enjoyable memorable day. The Falkland Islands do not boast of any major monuments and cathedrals, but they contain what we had hoped to see– penguins.

 

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