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September 23rd, 2014

Pristine scenery, penguins and the prettiness of Port Stanley in the Falkland Islands by Liz Gill

By Liz Gill, Freelance Journalist who wrote for Mail Online.

The beauty of the Falklands lies not in its scenery - which, apart from its ‘stone runs’ - dramatic cascades of huge rocks sweeping down the hillsides - is generally pretty bleak and unexciting.

Instead it is to be found in the coastal crags and the lovely beaches, in the clear ever-changing light and in the surrounding waters, dark navy in one spot, Caribbean turquoise in another.

Then there is the wildlife: seals, sealions, dolphins, orca, even a passing whale if you are lucky. And thousands and thousands of birds from 200 species, including five kinds of penguin.

And this is birdwatching made easy - no hanging about for hours in hides or endlessly fiddling with binoculars. Upland geese leisurely cross the road in front of your car.

Albatross chicks let you stand within a few feet without batting an eyelid.

One day I had a couple of caracara hawks playing ‘Grandmother’s footsteps’ behind me, tailing me down a hillside, freezing when I stopped and turned - and then following me again when I moved.

If you sit patiently in certain areas, curious young gentoo penguins will waddle up to peck your bootlace or even nibble at an outstretched hand.

At times it seems the wildlife is actually competing for your attention. On a choppy but exhilarating boat crossing to West Point Island we spotted dozens of albatross, petrels and cormorants in a great feeding and fishing frenzy. And just as I was gawping at this spectacle, a school of dolphins appeared, swooping under the boat and leaping out of the water.

It was as if they were all claiming ‘Look at me’, ‘No look at me’, ‘No coo-ee, over here please’.

West Point was my only boat trip, as most inter-island travel is done by plane - for the simple reason that the Falklands archipelago is the size of Wales, and that getting from Stanley in the east to, say, Carcass Island in the west, might be a 50-minute flight with stop-offs as residents return to their far flung ‘settlements’, home from a shopping trip or a family party, or a Saturday-night date in Stanley.

On one flight, I am the only passenger in the ten-seater Britten Norman Islander plane.
So I sit up front and chat to Eddie the pilot, who tells me: 'People see the islands as a speck on an atlas. So when they get here, they’re amazed at the scale.'

Normally white-knuckled at the slightest bump of turbulence, I am astounded at just how much I enjoy these flights - skimming over the water at a couple of hundred feet on one; soaring above the clouds on another; taking off from a grass airstrip from which a cow has just been shooed; watching my hosts put up a windsock and radio a visibility report to the pilot.

Almost everything about the Falklands could be described as hardy: the planes, the all-terrain vehicles, the vegetation, the sheep, the wildlife. The same goes for the people: resourceful, resilient, often doing two jobs, sometimes a little reserved initially, but eventually warm and welcoming.

And although on some days the wind can whip up from the Antarctic and penetrate five layers of clothing, there is no shortage of home comforts and good food. The upland goose pate is delicious, the squid some of the best I’ve ever tasted and the baking for ‘Smoko’ – once a break for sheep shearers, now another word for elevenses – could have held its own at any W.I. fair.

Journey Latin America offers an 11-day Falklands itinerary which features three nights in Santiago (in Chile) and seven nights in the Falkland Islands.

Prices start at £4,095 per person based on two sharing, and include flights from London, all transfers, comfortable mid-range B&B accommodation and excursions in the Falkland Islands.

For the full article which covers:

• The South Atlantic archipelago will always be associated with the 1982 war
• But wildlife and rugged scenery are the main reasons to visit the islands
• Port Stanley is full of links to Britain, and is twinned with Whitby in Yorkshire

View it on Mail Online (published: 19:02, 3 September 2014).

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