New Island has often been described as one of the most scenic of the Falkland Islands. It is located over 150 miles from Stanley; its nearest neighbour is Beaver Island, three miles to the south. New Island is about eight miles (13km) long and half a mile (800m) at its narrowest point.
The highly indented coastline runs for 52 miles in total. The cliffs on the western side of the island rise to 600ft (183m), whereas the eastern shores gently slope into the sea. This island is best known as the home of one of the world’s most spectacular seabird colonies, which accommodates large numbers of black-browed albatrosses (29,000 pairs) and rockhopper penguins (13,000 pairs). It is a popular destination for the many tourists who come ashore from passing cruise ships, attracted by the birds and and the most photogenic scenery.
What to see and do on New Island
The prime aim of a trip to this island is visiting the most accessible seabird colony. In the settlement – a small collection of modern houses overlooking the picturesque Settlement Harbour – you’ll find the jetty, where those with their own boats land. From here, stroll westwards for 5 minutes, past the house with the blue roof, towards the head of the bay.
In this bay lies the wreck of the Protector III, which was beached here in February 1969, having originally been brought to the islands to be used as a sealer based at Albemarle in West Falkland. It is also here where the majority of visitors to the island, arriving via cruise ship, land. The shed at the head of this beach was built towards the end of the 1800s for dealing with sheep and for storage and now houses a small museum where stamps and gifts are sold. This robust building contains a mixture of artefacts relating to different aspects of island life – from the ships that have been wrecked around the islands to farm life – as well as reflecting on the wildlife that can be found in the area.
The gorse bushes that flank the half-mile-long path from the settlement are a superb sight in springtime and are home to many of the small birds which breed here; dark-faced ground-tyrants and Falkland thrushes are easy to spot. The path then crosses a grassy valley, which has been cropped short by generations of rabbits, before gradually climbing up to the higher, western, side of the island. Once past the stile, the tussac grass increases in density as it reaches the cliff edge. The sounds of the colony greet the visitor before the colony itself is visible on the rocky coast. The cliff is not very high at this point but is chock full of birds. This colony is a real mixture, with black-browed albatrosses, king shags and rockhopper penguins all jumbled together. The albatrosses and shags tend to be right at the top of the cliff. Even though some penguins do nest with these other species, they also have their own colonies slightly further inland, in the heart of the tussac grass.
By following the path that leads to the south side of this area, it is possible to get to a good observation point without disturbing the birds. This spectacular site has so much going on it is difficult to know where to look and it is definitely one of the most photographed areas on the islands. Birds are coming and going all the time: the albatrosses glide by with a serene grace and the shags hustle and bustle as they crash land next to the nest, while the penguins porpoise their way through the sea to the base of the cliff before living up to their rockhopper name as they clamber up the cliff to their rookery. Above all this, scavengers keep an eye out for an opening: turkey vultures and Antarctic skuas are the most noticeable, while dolphin gulls the most vocal. Striated caracaras create the most havoc as they glide over the colony, as they are the main predator here. Only the albatrosses seem unperturbed by this ace scavenger.
Fur seal colony
Another recommended site, although rarely visited due to restrictions on time, is the fur seal colony that lies to the north of the settlement. A vague track leads from the valley behind the seabird colonies and heads north, upwards past Rookery Hill. After the best part of an hour, you will reach Landsend Bluff.
Approximately 500 fur seals come back to breed each year on the flat rocky ledges that are found here. The seals can be viewed in safety from the tussac grass at the top of the cliff. There is always something going on in this colony, whether it is the males defending their territory, the females tending their pups or the non-breeding animals playing in the beds of kelp a few yards offshore. Elephant seals do not breed here, but occasionally one or two can be found hauled up on the beach when they have to come ashore to moult. Southern sea lions can also be seen almost anywhere on the island, but usually in small numbers.
The sheltered eastern side of the island is more to the liking of magellanic penguins and gentoo penguins as it is more low lying than the cliffs of the western side and thus easier for these birds to access. The former make their nests in loose colonies along the shore, avoiding the wetter areas. The gentoo penguins on New Island have large colonies at the north and south end of the eastern side of the island. These are not generally visited, but can easily be seen from a boat. The occasional king penguin will join with the gentoo colonies when they come ashore to moult.
The largest pool on the island is beyond Coffin Bay at the southwestern end. This is the best place to look for any wildfowl on the island, such as speckled teal, Chiloé wigeon and crested duck. There is also a sizeable gentoo penguin colony on the side of the small hill behind this shallow pool. As on the other islands to the west of Falkland, there is always the chance of vagrant birds reaching these shores; the common diuca finch was present in 2017.
One of the most numerous birds on the island is the thin-billed prion. Approaching the island by boat affords views of these grey-and-white seabirds flitting low over the waves close to the shore. This bird spends most of its time at sea, only coming ashore after dark to elude its predators. Some do not escape, and their corpses can occasionally be found near the narrow burrows in which they have laid their eggs. The peregrine falcons that live on this island appear to have learnt how to catch these elusive birds and can be seen flying over the island from land and sea.
Travel to New Island
There is a grass airstrip on the island, but as it has limited operational conditions, getting to the island by air is not easy. Weather conditions impact the landing site and the plane has a limit of two passengers and luggage. This flight may well be delayed for several days because of adverse weather and as such is only available for those living on the islands, scientists, film crews staying for long periods and visitors who are staying in the Falklands for a long time and have more flexibility. Flights are operated by FIGAS.
The majority of visitors who call in at New Island during the austral summer do so via the cruise ships that come into Settlement Harbour. Generally, most ships only visit the island for a maximum of 4–5 hours so either a morning or an afternoon visit is the norm. Permission to land on this reserve must be obtained in advance from the New Island Conservation Trust. For those on a cruise this will have already been organised, as will the £12 per-person landing charge. For those in their own boats, once permission to enter the Falklands has been given by customs and immigration officials in Stanley you can land here, again with permission from New Island Conservation Trust, for a charge of £15 per person per night.