The Falklands

It would be fair to say that I wasn’t overly excited about our pending trip to the Falkland Islands. Paul has these silly ideas every so often and usually if I lie low they seem to disappear. But having played the ‘maybe’, ‘we’ll see’, ‘we can have a think about it’ card for more than six months, I decided I’d better just go along with it.

The snow-capped Andes weren’t quite my idea of escaping to the southern hemisphere in search of warmth

As we flew further and further away from the equator, on our fourth flight of the journey, I really wondered how I had managed to find myself looking at snowy mountains on my big winter trip to escape cold, cold England.

The Falklands…just as I imagined: grey, bleak and dreary

And arriving at the RAF base on the islands, looking out at gale force winds, dark grey clouds and miles and miles of bleak, bare landscape beyond rows of barbed wire, things didn’t really improve. The things we do for love.

A view from the main road running the length of Stanley, the capital of the Falklands

But ten days on and I find myself, in any spare moment, researching these desolate isles miles from anywhere, in the stormy Atlantic ocean. Dare I say it, researching property websites relating to these islands. I am totally and utterly hooked. Something about them connected so strongly with me and all I want to do is book our next trip out there straight away.

The Governor’s house (and garden) in Stanley

So, ‘was it the gardens?’, I hear you ask. Well, there was one garden on East Falkland: the garden of the Governor’s house. But we were assured this was the only garden in the Falklands; indeed the soil was so bad (sheep farming was calculated as acres per sheep instead of sheep per acre) and the climate so harsh, that no-one else had yet managed to create one. We later found this wasn’t entirely true but having seen many a house with tomatoes filling the full height and width of every downstairs window and virtually no trees anywhere at all, it was clear gardening was somewhat of a challenge.

Carcass Island…named after the naval ship, HMS Carcass

So why did I like this un-gardened, cold, wet, windswept place so much? I’ll take you on a quick tour of the Falkland Islands we saw, to see if their appeal jumps out at you, too.

Paul walking the coastline near New Haven in East Falkland

At about 4pm on our day of arrival, we went for a bracing walk along the coast with a guide from the house where we were staying. I thought he might help us dodge the land mines that still dot the islands. [I only later discovered this really wasn’t a concern at all.]

Looking closer, there were more colours and more birds (although still more grey clouds)

The coast was very pretty: full of ever changing colours as the weather blew through.

Little did I realise quite how much I would later come to appreciate this ferry, over and above its usefulness as a focal point for my photo

And what is the phrase about pots of gold at the end of a rainbow? This ferry was definitely our pot of gold. Some three hours from seeing the last car, person or building, with no means of communication and some 30 miles from the nearest house (the one we were supposedly staying in), our guide’s four-wheel drive got bogged on the soft, peaty ground. After a full hour of creative problem solving (with me as the lightest person being roped in to all sorts of activities I wasn’t so sure about), at 8pm, we finally admitted defeat. With empty tummies, we started the 30 mile walk home with just a bottle of water each. The extent of my love for Paul was somewhat being put to the test.

The view from our bogged car was very pretty…for at least the first thirty minutes

Just after an hour into our long march home, we discovered the ferry was in port. I say ‘port’. It was tied to the side of a wharf at the edge of some fields. But it had people, and communications and even a very willing sailor with a four-wheel drive. Our magical pot of gold.

Goose Green, looking perfectly serene with the soft light of dusk and its pretty coloured roofs

We were so relieved, we took a detour to dinner via Goose Green, a pretty coastal village with a terrifying history during the war. The ripping winds and dark clouds had since vanished and it was hard to imagine this peaceful collection of idyllic houses at the centre of military action.

Armeria macloviana (Falklands thrift) with its pretty, pink pompoms

In the morning, we had time to explore the area around the house and start to learn about the native flora before heading off to the airport. A bit like the ‘port’, the airport consisted of a field of geese (which we drove at in said rescued four-wheel drive to prepare the runway) and one shed. From the shed emerged the windsock, which was attached to a pole and a trailer of fire fighting equipment, which was attached to the four-wheel drive. One airport complete.

The airport terminal and control tower

From here, we headed over to Carcass Island. You can fly anywhere you like in the Falkland Islands, on any day you like; just don’t ask to plan any further. The Falkland Islands Government Aviation Service (FIGAS) looks at who wants to go where the following day and works out when it will pick you up. They inform your host the evening before, who then feed you before taking you to a field, building an airport, putting you on the plane, disassembling the airport and going home again. Oh, how much nicer it is than a Heathrow aviation experience (sorry, Heathrow, I’m a traitor of an ex-employee).

Carcass Island, looking out over Leopard Beach and Duke’s Bay

The closer you get, the more you see. Can you spot the jackass (they really do sound like donkeys) penguin popping out of its burrow in the tussac grass?

Pretty dunes behind Leopard Beach

Colourful flora, cute penguins, soothing water, pretty topography…Carcass Island has it all

Penguins swimming in Duke’s Bay

Turquoise waters suggest a hint of the tropics

Pretty wildflowers, so small you only notice when you sit down amongst them

At the other end, Rob, the owner of Carcass Island came to pick us up from his very own private airport. And that’s where the trouble began. You see, it all sounds very grand, but the reality couldn’t be further from the truth. We were picked up in a beaten up Land Rover Defender and taken through the fields (there are no roads on the island) around 3 miles to our ‘simple’ accommodation. According to Audley Travel’s categorisation scheme, the rooms are not ‘opulent’, or ‘deluxe’, or ‘first class’ or even ‘medium’, but ‘simple’. And I wouldn’t have had it any other way. It was all part of the charm that captivated me.

A performing elephant seal on Carcass Island

More playful seals with a random whale bone washed up

This seal looked entirely beached until it had a bit of an itch on its right ‘hand’ and reached over to scratch it

Moulting season for seals…it wasn’t nearly as soft as it looks, but when you see the rocks they haul themselves over, it’s really no surprise it’s tough

Rob has lived on, managed and owned the island since the early seventies and seems, unfortunately for my dreams, inseparable to it. He asked us about the flight over from Chile, commenting, ‘ah, no bananas this week. We can have visitors or bananas, but not both’. The Australian sitting next to us on the flight was setting off on a cruise from the islands and her fellow sailors’ baggage had filled the hold on the one commercial plane coming into the Falklands that week.

Just going for a stroll along the beach with my mates…

A jackass penguin burrow, such a long way from the water

Our days on Carcass Island were magical, from start to finish. One lady was visiting  from the UK for the eleventh time, which just about summed it up. You just never wanted your days to end. There are just six rooms on the island, all at the ‘Manager’s House’; Rob already has bookings for 2020.

I stumbled across a whale skeleton, as Paul watched the seals

The elephant seals were enormous but not in the slightest bit interested in us

The island is around seven by five miles, and each square inch is a total delight. Rob has ensured it has not been overgrazed by sheep and even replanted many tussac grasses (Poa flabellata) to restore the island’s natural balance of wildlife. The beaches and coastal areas teem with penguins, seals, ducks, geese and other birds: sit still for a moment and different animals pop up from their burrows or emerge from the sea, wandering a metre or so from your side. It’s just you, in a spectacular bay, and all the wildlife going about their daily business. It’s hard to describe how privileged you feel to be sharing it with them.

Rob’s boat that took us to West Point Island

We managed to prise ourselves away from Carcass for one day to visit West Point Island. There are just two human inhabitants on West Point Island, and Alan and Jackie were equally welcoming hosts for the day. They even helped me leave something for my friend, Caroline, who by some extraordinary co-incidence, happened to be visiting tiny West Point Island later this month from the US.

Courting albatross were fascinating to watch…

…and sitting on their chicks quite extraordinarily cute

Here, we hid behind the tussac grasses watching albatross glide gracefully in from the sea to feed their adorable, fluffy grey chicks, just a few feet from us. Paul and I explored every nook and cranny of the island we could, discovering colonies of sea lions and penguins and stunning plains of flowers. It all felt a little unreal to be there. As if we shouldn’t really be disturbing life on this island. But walking slowly and talking in a whisper, nothing was in the least bit interested that we had joined them for the day.

The grey, mustard and white looked like a modern interior design palette to me. On the hills beyond we came across a large group of penguins watching the world go by

I promise, this is just as my iPhone (and I) saw it. In fact I haven’t adjusted a single light or colour setting on any of the photos in this post. The common occurrence of simultaneous sunlight and dark clouds made for incredible colours and plays of light

Just four minutes after the photo above, Paul and I were hiding in the tussac grass cursing the sharp hail stones that were bouncing off us and covering the ground with a white carpet…

…and less than twenty minutes later we were sunning ourselves watching a colony of sea lions

If it was a wrench to leave West Point, it was even harder to leave Carcass Island the following day. We had made lovely friends at meal times each day, with other guests, the island family and even the utterly charming Chilean chef, Roldan.

Funny, funny looking ugly pengling chicks with their really rather handsome, if somewhat testosterone-laden, dads fighting it out

But Volunteer Point and its king penguins were calling, so off we went to the airport and on to the Falklands’ capital, Stanley.

Three gentoo penguins make a run for the colony past the sea cabbage (Senecio candicans) at Volunteer Point

The king penguins were very clearly paired up and super cute in their husband and wife mannerisms

Penguins and sheep start to seem perfectly normal flat mates after a while

The photo captures the essence of Falkland Islands’ weather: sun, white clouds, dark clouds and rain, all at once

A pristine, sandy beach, with three types of penguins in residence, was a lovely end to our holiday. It wasn’t the brightest weather for our visit, but there is a saying in the Falklands that ‘if you don’t like the weather, just wait half an hour’. The forecasts suggest it rains everyday, but the reality is that rainbows (and pots of gold) appeared many times most days. It was a constant cycle of sun, dramatic clouds, a few drops of rain and then sun again. We were told it’s never as cold as England and I read that it gets less rain and more sunshine hours than the UK.

Paul looks for whales by the lighthouse near Stanley, whilst I investigate the wild flowers

Yet I felt so at home here, no doubt in part due to its British history and influence on its culture. An England with more sun is hugely appealing to me.

A view of Santiago from the top of the cable car

So much so, that our subsequent week in Chile didn’t in any way live up to our Falklands’ experience, despite…

…finding my first (and second) ever four-leaf clover…

…seeing spectacular glaciers…

…wonderful trees with permanent, natural, perfectly round Christmas baubles in them…

…staying in beautiful hotels…

…and going for beautiful walks…

…and lazy lunches in stunning surroundings.

A gentoo penguin bursts out of the water at full speed – an incredible thing to watch

A king penguin ruling the roost at Volunteer Point

Gentoo penguins climbing up the hill to their colony

A penguin party on the beach at dusk

Where did all my friends go?

It was the penguins, I think, with their people-like personalities, their adorable waddle and the enormous gravitas they hold for such small creatures, humbly presiding over these islands.

I’m pretty sure these were two seal cubs playing around but I think they look ever so much in love in this picture!

And the people and their way of life. Not constrained by the processes, rules and bureaucracy that larger communities gravitate towards. Everyone treated as a person, not a number. The true joys in life truly appreciated above all material things.

A duck and her five ducklings stride out to the water as we sit mesmerised, just a few metres away

I think, it would be fair to say, I’m well and truly hooked. But it really is quite annoying when husbands turn out to be right all along.

Bye bye for now…off we go out to sea…
























30 thoughts on “The Falklands

  1. Adriana Fraser says:

    Who needs gardens when nature does it so perfectly for you? Wonderful Janna and what a great experience – Paul’s ideas might sometimes seem off-beat but in the end they seem to engage you!

  2. Noel Hartem says:

    lol Im going to start saving for Carcass Island! every picture as good or better then the previous. Great detail about your trip and the Island. How did you ever drag yourself off of there? What a dream. Thanks for sharing

  3. Deirdre says:

    Fauna and flora look so similar to those on Macquarie Island, sub-Antarctica, where my daughter is currently spending a year as a field researcher. Made me want to weep, seeing your beautiful photos …

    • jannaschreier says:

      Sorry Deirdre, I didn’t mean to do that to you! But know that you daughter must, must still be having the time of her life, if it’s similar to this. And gosh, her year will be up before you know it. Now, do I need to put Macquarie Island on my wishlist?

      • Deirdre says:

        Sadly, it is only possible to go to Macquarie Island as a visitor for half a day! Cruise ships going to Antarctica from Auckland stop off there and my daughter and the other field researchers take them on a guided tour! Yes the time is going very quickly now to the end of the summer season. The page of the Australian Antarctic Division’s website called ‘This week on Macquarie Island’ has some fab photos each week of the wildlife and flora.

        • jannaschreier says:

          Thank you for telling me about the ‘This week at Macquarie Island’. Now you’ve made me teary! It does look so similar but also looks an absolutely amazing thing to do. I even found an interview of your daughter; I can quite empathise with her love of not having a TV, adverts in front of her or a phone! She clearly misses you too (and looks like you!) but what an experience. Just fantastic.

    • jannaschreier says:

      I believe you gave the identical response I received from everyone I told about this trip: ‘why are you going there?’. It didn’t help fill me with confidence! But it turns out it’s a true hidden gem. A small horticultural tour is the answer – too many people would spoilt the experience, after all.

  4. Helen Basson says:

    Wow! Just wow! Reminds me of when I was convinced to go to the Faroe Islands on honey moon as you say the things we do for love! (It was amazing.) Great article thanks Janna

    • jannaschreier says:

      Lovely to hear from you, Helen. I’ve been researching the Faroe Islands! It looks a wonderful place to go. Perhaps not quite as sparsely populated but it looks peaceful and beautiful, natural and full of wildlife. Perfect! We had been planning a trip to Northumberland to see puffins but maybe we’ll venture a bit further. I’ll let you know!

  5. Barbara says:

    Lovely to get a new globetrotting report Janna. And more so as I will never visit that part of the world, it is like going there in person 🤗. These tussock grasses look very Australian 🙂, poa labilliardieri.

    • jannaschreier says:

      It’s amazing how much of Chile feels like Australia, actually. The same dry, grey green landscape. Even my very Australian husband kept saying it. And so many plants in Chile and the Falklands are from the same plant groups. Funnily, the colder south of Chile looks more like the drier parts of Australia and the hotter north has all the landscaping plants of Sydney. But both countries span such a wide range of climates and I guess were once joined up.

  6. Tamara Block says:

    Dear Janna, I love your report! I feel myself again on the island by reading it.
    What a marvelous pictures you shot!!! All of them fantastic but my favorite is albatross with cheek. It looks as just after changing place. One of parents is flying to the see to catch fish. Other will sit on the cheek in the next moment

    • jannaschreier says:

      Hello Tamara! What a magical time we had. I keep wanting to look at my photos to pretend I am still there. My pictures are very poor (Frank’s will be much, much better!) but not bad for an amateur, with an iPhone, in grey weather, I think! It just proves how beautiful it was. I look forward to seeing your photos soon, and yes, weren’t the albatross amazing?

  7. rusty duck says:

    Believe it or not, given my very strong preference for warmer climes, it’s somewhere I’ve always wanted to go. Mostly to see the wildlife. But I can now see it has a character of its own that extends well beyond the natural beauty. And it does look truly glorious. Yes, you must move there. Definitely. It would give us somewhere to stay.. 🙂

    • jannaschreier says:

      Ok, it’s a deal. I’ll work on Paul! I am quite amazed it’s on your ‘list’. But there is enough sun not to be miserable and you’re so busy being mesmerised by everything you see, you don’t even notice the weather. It’s just not a factor. You’re just in the moment, giddy with excitement and not quite believing you are there. Look forward to you visiting us!

  8. Louise says:

    You sure get to some places Janna! Stunning, isolated part of the world….nature sure is amazing. Thanks for bringing it to me….those penguins are amazing little creatures! I, like you would have been pensive about going. The stillness, quietness and beauty of nature is unbeatable.

    • jannaschreier says:

      Yes, and I didn’t even mean to end up there! I feel so lucky to have seen so much of the world and there’s nothing better than when somewhere absolutely smashes all your expectations. I have vivid memories of the special moments with the wildlife – I think if I’m feeling stressed I’ll just whizz myself back there and all will feel fine!

  9. Caro says:

    This is a wonderful post, Janna – I’m really not surprised that your time spent on the islands changed your initial reserve. It’s not a holiday destination that would have occurred to me (I last thought about the Falklands when my brother was there with the Royal Navy during the war), but your photos show what a wonderful, natural and remote place it is. You’re quite right to want to keep it a secret!

  10. Peter Young says:

    Hi Janna,
    I thought your blog really brings out some of the unique aspects of the Falklands. And, having lived there for six years until recently, I do know what you mean about looking at your photos pretending you were still there.

    Thanks for reminding me what a wonderful place it is, with special people and wildlife.

    • jannaschreier says:

      Thanks for leaving a message, Peter. I’m very envious that you lived there for six years! It is an incredibly special place. I’m really hoping we might be able to get back again for another visit in the not too distant future.

      • peteryoung111 says:

        I’m sure you’ll go back, Janna. Please feel free to ask me any questions about the Islands or travelling to them. While I was there, I tried to let friends and family know what we were up to in a blog called peterspenguinpost, so that has lots of photos and background if you search for it.

  11. Matt says:

    It is always lovely to see the Islands through a fresh pair of eyes, especially when so eloquently written. If you want to maintain your Falkland Islands contact then feel free to pop into Falkland House, 14 Broadway , Westminster or follow us on Twitter @FalklandsinUK .

    You may also be interested in Falkland Islands flora growing at Kew Gardens in the UK summer.

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