I’ve been meaning to write this for a whole year, so I thought it was better to write it now before Christmas dawns upon us again. On 13th December 2016, one year ago, my parents arrived in the Falklands to be our first family visitors here (which is of little surprise given the cost of the flights). It was incredibly exciting for us to show them our home and I thought it would be a good idea to write up their trip and provide a good outline of how to spend a few weeks in the Falklands. Hopefully they had a good time, so perhaps this might be of some use to anyone who might find themselves here one day. They arrived to a sunny Falkland Islands, though as it turned out that wasn’t to be the precedent. Within their first few days, they were treated to the sights of Stanley: the excellent Museum, a lecture by local historian John Smith (whose book, 74 Days, is well worth a read), dinner at the unfortunately-named Malvina House Hotel and, of course, their first penguins at Gypsy Cove.
Within their first week, we were lucky enough to catch a low Summer tide. I say lucky as we’d heard it was possible to walk out to the Lady Elizabeth shipwreck, so when we spotted the tide was low enough, we surprised Bailey on his lunch from work with a picnic on the sand-bank in the shadow of the iconic shipwreck of Stanley Harbour. Not your usual luncheon spot, even we’ll admit.
In order to feed my Dad’s fishing obsession, we left Bailey in work and made our way across to Newhaven (the ferry port/concrete ramp with tyres) to spend some time among the gentoo penguin colony there before hopping on the Concordia Bay ferry to the West Island. Following our departure at Port Howard (as ever, accompanied by the dozens of Commersons Dolphins who seem to love the ferry’s arrival), we made our way West for Hill Cove but only after a stop at the Port Howard Museum (which is a little more hands-on than most museums filled with the remnants of conflict). We arrived at the stunning settlement in unusually-wooded surroundings. Hill Cove’s Peter Nightingale opened his home to us in the classic Falklands welcoming way and we enjoyed spending time with him and Duck – possibly the only pet Falklands Flightless Steamer Duck in the World! We spent our days fishing in the areas surrounding Hill Cove in order for John to take advantage of the Sea Trout fishing here that, we are told, is among the best in the World. Bailey flew in Friday after work and joined John for a spot of fishing on Saturday morning, catching the first fish of the weekend! But it was only a mullet, not the trout we’d been hoping for. John was fishing for bigger game. The pools at Crooked Inlet saw John bringing in some success so trout was finally on the menu (a 2.5lber and 4.5lber).
We headed back to Stanley to await the arrival of my brother and sister (the return ferry wasn’t uneventful: it showed my parents their first albatross spotting). Unfortunately, as is the way so often with Falklands flights, they were delayed both at RAF Brize Norton and on Ascension, leaving them to enjoy the finest mass accommodation that the British Military can offer. Reviews from Scott on arrival were 1* for their first place, then things went downhill on Ascension.
With the whole McKechnie family finally with us at 51 degrees South,it was time to show them why we live so far from Ireland. First port of call was the lengthy Bertha’s Beach for Jess and Scott to see some Gentoos up close and personal. On the way, Bailey showed them the start of the track to Whale Point, where Mum wasn’t sure the car would make it up the short slope to BEGIN the off-road drive. They were in for a shock over the next few weeks as we had some remote destinations in mind! We ventured, then, to one of Bailey’s favourite places on the Falkland Islands: Whale Point. The Point lies about an hour off-road from the MPA road and has more penguins (of course), an elephant seal colony and the wreck of the ship St Mary. The family were amazed by how close they could get to the wildlife. It seemed that photos don’t do it justice and you have to see it to understand, especially when you’re sitting feet from a 4-tonne elephant seal burping and farting. On the way back, Jess and Scott got a taste of TRUE off-road driving in our Pajero. Scott, in particular, was hooked and spent much of the return journey offering to take over at any point. I think that was a good introduction to what lay ahead.
Back in Stanley, due the awful weather that was to plague us for the next few weeks, Christmas carols under the Whalebone Arch on Christmas Eve were moved to the Parish Hall but we were treated to the Zimbabwean de-miners choir (who missed a trick in not calling themselves the D-Minors).
As has become our Falklands Christmas tradition, we hosted a drinks party at Midday, followed by a walk to the Cape Pembroke Lighthouse (after Bailey had been able to source the key by collecting one of the Museum workers from her home to open up the Museum: only in the Falklands!). Sadly, the Boxing Day races were flooded out so we kept things local with a swift walk up Mount Tumbledown to see the view, get a little bit of history (of course) and see some remnants of the ’82 conflict. We followed this with some drinks in Stanley’s cheapest pub (the Stanley Arms) to witness the shock from London-based siblings on getting a round in.
Having been here for quite a while now, we know the place fairly well so we’d planned a good few trips to help the family see the highlights.Next up was a day-trip to the settlement of Goose Green to take in a circular walk including the daunting Bodie Creek Bridge and some wreckage from a downed plane from the conflict. This also gave Jess another chance to drive in Camp and shake off her London shackles.
The next day, we then went out to spend the night at the settlement of San Carlos. As well as being the sight of the British landings and a small British cemetery, it is also home to White Grass Ceramics where you can paint your own souvenir pottery from the Falklands. We had a great time with Andi and Matthew there and even better to have some take-away gifts to remember the trip with.
From San Carlos, we met up with our friends Regi and Pete to provide the good-practise second car on a further off-road journey to the most Northerly point of East Falkland: Cape Dolphin. I’d wanted to take my family there as it’s beautiful, is a fun trip and also because of the sheer number of sealions breeding at the end of the point. We had a fine day, for a change, and the sealions didn’t disappoint by putting in many an appearance.
As many of you will have seen before, if there is one place that is high on every visitor’s list here in the FI, Volunteer Point is seen as a must. I think it’s the combination of the adventure it takes to get there and the photogenic flat beach leaving excellent reflections for photos. Oh, and the largest King Penguin colony in the Falklands, of course. Where gentoos, Magellanics and even Rockhoppers are relatively common elsewhere in the Falklands, the stunning Kings aren’t found in too many places en masse so Volunteers combines a great opportunity to see these guys, as well as others, with a real off-road experience across Falklands wilderness (I seriously don’t know how people navigate there) and the chance of other encounters like the occasional sealion. Once again, I’ll let the pictures do some justice to the memorable moments you get at Volunteers;
There was not time to be wasted on this trip, as you’re probably starting to get a sense of. When people have traveled so far and paid so much to be somewhere, I figured it was best to squeeze as much into the trip as possible, so a pricey-but-worth-it trip to Sealion Island had to be included in the itinerary! Of course, Sealion has the chance of seeing the orca pods made famous by BBC’s Life, but it also has the largest elephant seal colony in the Falklands, excellent relaxing accommodation, gentoos, magellanics, rockhoppers and all kinds of other birdlife. I also wanted the family to experience one of our favourite things about the weekends away: flying on the Islanders! It’s still crazy to think that we ring up/email and a flight is put on for us to get places. A charter plane isn’t so expensive after all! We had two nights on Sealion, spending New Year having great craic with Micky and the team there. Sadly, the orca were off having their own NYE party elsewhere, but the Rockhoppers gave us enough entertainment just by trying to make their way up the cliffs and back to their nests through the turbulent seas. Why they choose/have evolved to take on such risky nesting habits we will never quite figure out, but you can spend hours watching them coming in and scaling the cliffs themselves. Another thing we’ve learned coming here: Penguins are excellent climbers! Who knew?
After the madness of the last few days, we took a couple of days back in Stanley, enjoying the nightlife with Scott fixating on the pool at Deanos Bar (with it’s infamous penguin-in-a-top-hat carpet) and taking some leisurely walks around Stanley to take in the views from Sapper Hill. It seemed this wasn’t to be enough for my family, though, as Dad had had a taste of the Islander flights and wanted more. We hadn’t planned on it, but Dad had spotted a gap in the itinerary after Jess’ departure so we decided to fill it with an impromptu trip to Saunders Island. I can’t figure out if the major draw was the chance to see albatross up close at The Neck or the chance to just hop on the Islander again, but a few phone calls later and we were booked and ready to go! For what it offers, Saunders does work out more expensive than the other Islands, but a night in the settlement wasn’t restrictively priced and, once again, the ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ mentality kicked in so off we went to show the family just how big sea birds can get:
As all great holidays must come to an end, we had a couple of days to stock up on all of the penguin souvenirs we might need for the rest of our lives and prepared for departure from the Islands. This wasn’t so bad, as I was flying back with the family this time.
Hopefully this gives you an idea of how a few weeks here can be spent, the kinds of memories you can make and why a little bit of an adventurous spirit can go a long way in enriching your life.