We didn’t realize getting to the Falkland Islands by flight can sometimes be an interesting and dicey situation because both commercial (LATAM) and military (RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire via Ascension Island) flights are subject to the phenomenon of “rotor winds” (strong downslope northerly winds causing ‘rotor streaming’ turbulence), a serious challenge at the Mount Pleasant Airport. Thankfully, we had planned to take it slow and easy in the Falkland Islands, not rushing through an action packed itinerary. So when our LATAM flight ended up being delayed for 48 hours, we only lost one night in Stanley and one night at Volunteer Point. Our 2 nights home-stay at Volunteer’s House (located via a rugged track traversable only by 4WD about 2.5 hours from Stanley) with Derek and Trudi Pettersson was wonderful, as we had thousands of penguins all to ourselves. The juvenile king penguins are just as comical as we remembered them from South Georgia, and we enjoyed having hours of solitude to sit, observe and soak it all in. Even though we hate getting up early on vacation, it was worth it to see a 4:45 am sunrise over the beach at Volunteer Point with dozens of penguins gathered in a makeshift formation. Our last day in the Falkland Islands was at Stanley, so we had ample time to check out this quaint town. The bright colors of compact Stanley made it fun to walk around, although there really isn’t much to this town to be honest. Thankfully, we didn’t have problems with rotor winds upon our departure from Mount Pleasant, but it was all pins and needles until we saw the LATAM flight land and we knew we would be getting out of here on time. We plan to return to the Falklands again, and next time we’ll definitely factor in a couple days’ leeway to relax in Santiago, Chile in the event there are flight delays. No need to stress out about tight connecting flights when flying in/out of the Falklands is such a crapshoot.
Volunteer’s House: Located at Volunteer Point with Derek & Trudi. Comfortable bed with super warm blankets and 2 windows with nice views outside. Room gets super hot at night as the heat rises from the first floor to the second. Our room was up a narrow set of stairs…difficult to navigate the first time but then we got the hang of it. The shared bathroom is on the first floor off the kitchen. Nice hot showers and very clean. Food here is excellent. Both Trudi and Derek chip in to prepare what guests like. We enjoyed a delicious roasted lamb dinner and a seafood pie, and had bacon/eggs for breakfast as well as a packed lunch. They go out of their way to make their guests stay as enjoyable as possible. Highly recommend!
Lookout Lodge: Fully renovated in Feb 2018, this spacious lodge can house large tour groups. Located high above Stanley, a 15 minute walk into town. Cost is 60 pounds for a single room or 120 for a double, including breakfast. Rooms are immaculately clean with a white decor, and rouladens on the windows for complete blackout. Compact shower with hot water. Tea/coffee and cereal available 24//7 for free in the kitchen area. Very strict no smoking policy and no consumption of food or beverage in the rooms. We were surprised this was one of Stanley’s cheaper accommodation options based on the facilities available (entertainment room with pool table, library, fully stocked kitchen)
5 Nov: Getting to the Falkland Islands proved to be a bit more difficult than we anticipated. The weekly Saturday LATAM flight from Santiago to Mount Pleasant was unexpectedly cancelled due to “rotor winds” and we were forced to spend an extra day in Santiago at our own expense. The next day, the flight was a “go” so we flew from Santiago to Punta Arenas and were in a hold pattern to determine if we would fly onward to Mount Pleasant. At 2 pm, we happily boarded the plane and took off for the 90 minute flight to the Falklands. We got to within 10 km of the Falklands when the captain broke the bad news to us that the military at Mount Pleasant had closed the runway due to the infamous rotor winds (coming from a northerly direction). Apparently, the winds are so strong that they can cause a plane to smash into the ground upon landing, and flights are frequently delayed/cancelled since the military got a new piece of equipment in 2017 that helped them better analyze the rotor winds. Huge bummer! The passengers aboard the plane were in a low state of morale as we turned back to Punta Arenas. 4 hours of sitting and waiting at the airport resulted in a last minute scramble as LATAM struggled to find sufficient accommodation for everyone. We got a hotel room at Hotel Diego de Almargro and had our first decent meal in 48 hours. The next morning, we got picked up at 8 am to start the process all over again. Checking in was smooth and efficient and we waited at Gate 1 anxiously, unsure if our flight was a go or not. Luckily, third time was a charm. We made it to the Falklands after having a nice chat with Julia from Canada who works for One Ocean. Clearing customs and retrieving our bags took a few minutes, and we were thrilled to see Derek Pettersson standing by to pick us up. Yay! The drive out to Volunteer Point from the airport took nearly 3 hours, half of which was off road. No wonder why 4WD is mandatory…the track to Volunteer Point is no joke!
We met Trudi (Derek’s wife) at the mid way point and drove back as a 2 vehicle convoy to the guesthouse. Derek is a charming and friendly fellow, and we enjoyed our chat throughout the drive. Our guesthouse accommodations were better than expected. Our room was comfortable, with 2 massive windows overlooking the bay. After having a quick lunch, we donned our cold weather gear and Trudi gave us an orientation briefing. Then it was 4 hours of penguin time! Volunteer Point has 3 different types of penguins – King Penguins, Gentoos, and Magellanics . The juvenile king penguins had zero fear of humans because they had not yet experienced the dangers of seals yet, and they approached us in curiosity and hunger. It was magical…we had all of Volunteer Point to ourselves as there were no other visitors here today. Rain drizzled lightly and then the sun came out. The light at sunset at 8 pm was ethereal…and the oakum boys were super playful and curious. These first few hours more than made up for our painful ordeal getting to the Falkland Islands. Dinner was served at 8 pm and consisted of toothfish (Chilean Sea Bass) soaked in white wine sauce, topped with cheese. Heaven! Main meal of roasted lamb, potatoes and vegetables. Yum…Derek and Trudi are great conversationalists and we enjoyed chatting with them. In bed by 11 pm, with an alarm set for 4:30 am.
6 Nov: Up at 4:30 and out the door before 5 am. Got to the beach for sunrise and had a magnificent king penguin parade march past us…amazing. No seal action though, but it was interesting to watch the king penguins build up the courage to enter the sea while the gentoos were fearless and marched straight in! The kings seemed paranoid about seals in the water, and hesitated for nearly 30 minutes before they finally took the plunge. Half of them only took a quick dip before scurrying back to shore. Saw an oystercatcher’s eggs (she abandoned them as we approached and then returned to sit on them when we left). Had breakfast of cereal, scrambled eggs, bacon (yum), toast with peanut butter, juice and tea/coffee. After stuffing ourselves, we head back out for a few more hours with our packed lunches. Walked down by the inlet and the king penguins there were skittish and didn’t like being near us. The feral ducks were also afraid of our presence. Ended up back at the king penguin colony where we sat and watched the colony. Day trippers from Stanley had arrived and they brought bad weather with them. We chatted with them briefly before heading down to the beach. A strong wind caused the sand to scatter in neat patterns and the penguins were hopping in and out of the water. The clouds looked dark so we decided to have lunch at the hut and no sooner did we arrive and turn on the heat when the sky unleashed rain and hail. The poor day trippers got soaked to the bone, and the guy lost his lens cap to boot. Lunch of ham/cheese sandwiches and an orange hit the spot. We chatted with the couple’s driver who reinforced the fact that the rotor winds have had a huge negative impact on the flights in and outbound to the Falklands. Went back for a 2 hour siesta and heard another hail storm. Went back out at 3 pm and waved goodbye to the day trippers who were leaving. We went back to the king penguin colony and observed them for nearly 2 hours before heading back for dinner at 5 pm (pumpkin/carrot soup, seafood pie, and a tasty desert). Back out by 6 pm and had a final 2 hours to enjoy the penguins. Wanted to see the gentoos returning from sea but they were too sporadic and we wanted more action watching the juvenile chicks harass the adults for food. Very comical to see that and the mating ritual where competing couples would beat off other would-be suitors with their flippers and peck them with their beaks. They would get so wrapped up in the mating selection process that they would completely ignore us or almost run us over in the process! Sunset at 8 pm was very nice, and we walked back to the house for a tea/coffee and chat with Derek. Settled the bill for our 2 night stay (655 pounds – 195 pounds for the transfer from the airport to Volunteer House, 150 pound transfer back to Stanley, 140 pounds per night for 2 people full board, and 15 pound per person entry fee to Volunteer Point). Not cheap but well worth the effort to get out here. Too bad we couldn’t stay 1 extra night as planned as the transfer to/from is the most expensive part! Took hot showers and packed for tomorrow. Apparently, the FIGAS flight will go to New Island first and we are on the second flight. But we are still leaving early because the New Island flight often gets cancelled. So we’ll see what happens. Apparently there is a shipwreck nearby the airport we can check out as well as some wildlife nearby at Gypsy Cove?
7 Nov: Up by 5 to finish packing and have breakfast of cereal and toast, and on the road by 5:45. The drive to Stanley was uneventful and the weather was nice but really windy. We were scheduled for the 2nd flight of the day at noon, but Derek told us that the flight to New Island often gets cancelled due to the high winds (it is the western most of the Falkland islands). So we had to wait, as the first run was making a shuttle from Weddell Island to New Island and back to Stanley. Saunders Island is quite close to Carcass and West Point Islands which we had visited back in 2010. We visited Whalebone Cove where there were shipwrecks (sailing ship “Lady Elizabeth” and the tug boat “Plym”). It was really windy and cold on the walk there but we had layered up and soon were sweating on the walk back to the Stanley airport. After stripping down and layering our clothes to dry on the heaters, we sat around waiting for the flight. The FIGAS rep asked us to pay for all 3 of our flights (Stanley to Saunders, Saunders to Sea Lion, and Sea Lion back to Stanley) and the total cost for the 2 of us ran about 684 Pounds. Quite pricey for such short flights! Derek and Trudi had packed us lunches for the day, so we were all set for dinner tonight. Thankfully, our FIGAS flight wasn’t full, so the rep wasn’t too strict on the weight. He just weighed our big bags and had us stand on the scale with our small bags, which he said we could carry onto the flight and put on our laps. Yay! No need to stuff the heavy small stuff into our pockets. At noon sharp we boarded the plane and flew to Pebble Island (along with fellow passenger Rene AKA “Herman German” from Germany/UK).
From 7 – 16 Nov, we were island hopping from Saunders to Sea Lion. The notes pick up once we left Sea Lion island on 16 Nov to head back to Stanley.
16 Nov: It was a short 30 minute flight to Stanley and we had planned to catch a ride into town with one of the other guests but he was gone within seconds of hitting the ground. Leaving us the choice to wait for a taxi or walk. We opted to walk, as there were several nearby shipwrecks we wanted to check out. Our lodging was about 6.5 KM away at Lookout Lodge, and it took us a while to walk there because of the strong winds and hail that pummeled us as we neared the lodge. Arrived before noon and caught the receptionist before she went out for lunch. Grabbed a warm beverage in the dining room/kitchen area and met the only other guest staying at this massive lodge, a very well traveled (195 countries and counting) Hungarian guest named Andras Foldvari. He had lots of very interesting stories so we made plans to link up with him for dinner and went out into Stanley to have a wander about. The weather alternated between rain and sun, and was quite windy. Since Stanley is so compact, we were able to check it out in under 3 hours. Had a rest in the room before linking up with Andras at the Victory Bar, which came highly recommended by the locals for their fish and chips. Unfortunately, they don’t serve that during the weekend, so we suggested Shorty’s Diner which we heard was popular for its cheap eats. The place was packed but our food came quickly and Andras kept us entertained with his vast travel stories from all around the world. He only has 4 more new countries to visit, and is planning to submit himself to the Guinness Book of World Records for the most number of verified unique airport visits (well over 700). Back to the room by sunset at 8:30 pm where we packed and got ready for our departure tomorrow. Penguin Travels is supposed to pick us up at 8:45 am, way earlier than need be for our flight. If we hadn’t cancelled on them for our arrival into the Falklands, we would definitely cancel tomorrow and catch a ride with the same company that Andras booked as he isn’t getting picked up until a reasonable 10:30 am.
17 Nov: Brilliant sun shining day this morning…bodes well for our flight out of here today! Had English breakfast and cereal/toast while chatting with Andras, and then went to pack up our stuff for an early pickup to the airport. Penguin Travels advised us of an 8:45 am pickup but it was closer to 9:20 when they showed up. Thankfully we beat a massive bus of One Ocean customers and managed to be one of the first to check in for our flight. The military was fairly efficient, and check in was a breeze. Luckily, we had pre-selected our seats 2 weeks ago, so we had emergency aisle seats all the way back to Santiago…very spacious and comfortable! The departure tax had increased from 22 to 25 pounds each, but we had plenty of extra pounds so that wasn’t a problem. We heard that one of the cruises to South Georgia had a pretty serious incident when one of their guests was viciously attacked by an elephant bull seal which picked him up by the leg and just missed his femoral artery. The cruise had to depart 3 days earlier than expected to return back to the Falklands so the injured guest could get medical attention, and they were able to salvage a day on West Point Island as a result. Poor guys didn’t have a great holiday with the delayed flight and the seal attack! The queue for the flight started early and we got settled in. First flight was to Rio Gallegos (Andras came to say a quick goodbye as he was disembarking here), then to Punta Arenas where we had to disembark with our hand luggage, clear Chilean immigration, and reboard the plane. Then the last leg up to Santiago, and we arrived just before 10 pm. Yay! We had made it. After bidding Andrew and Jude goodbye, we grabbed a shared ride to our hostel (Sol y Luna) and got settled into our room. Internet for the first time in weeks so there was a lot of catching up on old emails.