Bleaker Island

Lying to the southeast of Lafonia, Bleaker Island was on the tourist map for many years only as a stopping point for some of the cruise ships visiting the islands. However, the opening of high-class self-catering accommodation nearly 20 years ago opened up the island to all visitors, from both land and sea.

This long, thin island is over 12 miles (19km) long, but is only one mile (1.6km) wide at the widest point. It is still stocked with sheep but has a very good range of wildlife, including three species of breeding penguin, and as such has been designated an Important Bird Area (IBA) by Birdlife International. The northern part of the island is a National Nature Reserve. Although it is not as famous as some of the other wildlife sites around the archipelago, Bleaker Island has plenty to offer and is well worth including in any itinerary. The modern accommodation is centrally placed and is ideal for exploring as it is only a short walk away from a huge king shag colony, with the rockhopper penguins also nearby. Here, visitors get a real sense of being away from it all.

What to see and do on Bleaker Island

The highlight of this island is the rockhopper penguin colony of some 720 pairs that is situated only a short walk from the settlement although for many the colony is rather overshadowed by the 9,000 pairs of king shags situated on the flat ground in the centre of the island, not far from the settlement. The sheer number of birds flying in and out of the colony along with the attendant gulls and skuas rather dominates the skies. You have to pass these king shags in order to reach the rockhoppers, and it is worth spending a bit of time watching this bustling community.

The highlight of Bleaker Island is its rockhopper penguin colony © JeremyRichards, Shutterstock

The rockhopper colony is situated on the low cliffs on the eastern side of the island just over half a mile from the settlement at Long Gulch. Further south, a colony of gentoo penguins can be found, along with a scattering of magellanic penguins. Rock shags also breed on the outer cliffs.

The pools on the island contain both white-tufted and silver grebe, as well as many wildfowl, including the occasional black-necked swan. Big Pond, a 20-minute stroll north of the settlement, is an excellent spot for wildfowl including silver teal and white-tufted grebes and can hold the odd ornithological surprise such as white- tufted coot from South America. In rough weather many of the gulls that would normally be feeding out over the kelp beds will come and roost beside the pool. There are patches of tussac grass in various locations about the island, which are home to a population of grass wren. There are also some small tussac islands offshore; First Island, Second Island and Third Island are in the bay by the settlement, and Sandy Bay Island and North Point Island are home to some of the birds that can occasionally be seen on Bleaker Island, including Cobb’s wren and tussacbird.

Rock shags breed on the island’s outer cliffs © Ondrej Prosicky, Shutterstock

Birds of prey are well represented on Bleaker Island, with breeding southern caracara and the occasional striated caracara, which have probably come from Sea Lion Island to the southwest. Southern sea lions can often be seen hauled out on the rocks but do not breed on the island. Up to 40 have been seen at any one time, although this number does vary from time to time.

The islands’ meandering coastline means that there are miles of open country for walking and long sandy beaches for those that like to potter along the strand line. You can walk straight down the middle of the island from one end to the other, but then you would miss out on the various pools, sheltered bays and the wildlife that uses these locations. It’s a rather low-lying island, with a high point of only 27m at Semaphore Hill, but to get to each bay you will walk over slightly elevated ground thus the views are varied. As it is also a narrow island you can zig-zag up and down, looking for flora such as lady’s slipper as well as yellow orchid and dog orchid. These are at their best in late November and early December.

There are patches of tussac grass in various locations about the island © Vladislav_T. Jirousek, Shutterstock

On some of the headlands facing west into Adventure Sound, southern giant petrels can be found nesting. These birds are very shy and are easily disturbed; in order to avoid causing them to fly, keeping a safe distance of 200m is suggested. They will often look like large rocks sat on the flat ground in the distance so can be easily missed.

Travel to Bleaker Island

In the past, the majority of visitors who reached this island did so via the smaller cruise ships that are able to get in close enough to land people. Now there is accommodation on the island, independent travellers are able to access what the island has to offer, too. It takes 30 minutes to fly to Bleaker Island via FIGAS from Stanley. The airstrip is a 10-minute drive from the accommodation; transfers are available as the owners drive out to meet every plane.