Adventures in Antarctica – Part I

Gorse – Westpoint, The Falklands

letters to and from the UK and more recent items: photographs taken during the 1982 invasion and first-hand accounts of that difficult time. 

After spending ages poring over all of it alone, it was time for the pub, where I met my pals and shared stories of our time in Stanley as we looked forward to the rest of the journey. 

Our next stop was Westpoint Island for tea and cakes. Well, at least that was how it was described- which didn’t even begin to do it justice.
Our hosts, Lily and Roddy Napier, live on the sheep farm that has been around since, well, pretty much forever. They put on a tea for almost all of the ships that stop at Westpoint – and it was clear they had practice!

There were easily a dozen different cakes, squares and biscuits, gallons of fresh, hot tea and pots and pots of cream, jam and preserves. It was, for all of us, an absolute delight to be welcomed into Lily and Roddy’s home in this way and to have a chance to learn about the islands from people who have been here their whole lives.

After we were refreshed and rejeuvenated from our tea and snacks, we headed off, under the watchful, beady gaze of the other local residents: several

Striated Caracara – or Johnny Rook

curious striated caracara birds kept their eyes on us the whole way across the island.

Our destination was a large colony of black-browed albatross perched on the side of an oceanside cliff. These loud, large, but surprisingly delicate-looking birds live in harmony with a neighbouring group of rockhopper penguins who nest in-between large tufts of tussock grass. 

We spent over an hour at the colony, and I don’t think I moved more than a foot. Just sitting on a tuft of grass in the middle of the action was enough for me; watching as the penguins and albatross went about their daily business, ignoring our cameras and fascinated looks.

It’s difficult to get an image of a black-browed albatross where you can fully appreciate their size – all of my pictures seem to show a slightly oversized seagull, but they’re huge and nothing like their smaller-winged garbage-loving counterparts.

 After finishing our visit on Westpoint Island, we got back on to the M/S Explorer and headed to Steeple Jason, another island in the Falklands and home to the world’s largest colony of black-browed

Black-browed Albatross – larger than it seems!

albatross, a great assortment of penguins, and some amazing scenery.

On Steeple Jason, we had a short hike across the island, where we were treated to more visits from the striated caracara bird – it was fabulous that they felt comfortable enough to get so close, and made for some wonderful photo opportunities. 

The colony of black-browed albatross was sheer insanity. The massive birds swooped and screamed and flapped en masse, creating chaos from all angles. It was an amazing display of nature and one I won’t readily forget. Here too, despite their rowdy behaviour, the albatross were on neighbourly terms with a group of local rockhopper penguins who were nesting in the tussock grass.

Steeple Jason was a marvellous place to observe wildlife; it seemed as though the birds here were even less interested in us than the ones in the Galapagos Islands (from a previous trip).

Rockhopper penguins – Steeple Jason, The Falklands

Now that our visit to the Falkland Islands was finished, we headed out to open water again for another couple of days at sea. 

In addition to being fascinating in their own right, these two island stops had been a welcome relief to stretch our legs – even though we had only been at sea for a relatively short time, most of us were used to getting out for regular exercise and activity. Laps around the deck, as enjoyable as they were, didn’t quite count.

We were very lucky on board to have a number of different lecturers to provide distraction and information about our surroundings. We learned all about the local flora and fauna in and around the Falkland Islands. Unfortunately much of this information has since been forgotten, thanks to the way our voyage was so rudely interrupted.

Also interesting was the history of the region – we heard stories about the various camps and bases on the Antarctic peninsula, where land ownership is still hotly contested between UK, Argentina, Chile and others.

As we wiled away the time listening to lectures and catching up on our reading, we headed east towards South Georgia Island, and the settlement at Grytviken, where Sir Ernest Shackleton was ultimately buried. Along the way we were lucky to see a couple of southern right whales, who obliged us with a friendly little display.

Also en route were the Shag Rocks (so named for their birdlife!); these otherwise uninhabited islands offered a little distraction. One blue-eyed

Blue-eyed shag – Shag Rocks, South Atlantic

shag even kept pace with the ship, until we became too slow for interest. 

Despite having little to see besides open water, our days at sea were very comfortable – the food was excellent and the staff and fellow travellers were friendly. The small size of our ship (107 passengers and 57 crew) meant that we all ate at the same time, we could all fit in the lecture hall at once, and we all got to know each other a little. 

It was an entirely different experience than a large cruise would have been, and one I particularly appreciated later in the trip.

Click here for Part 2.