The Falkland Islands are situated between latitude 51˚ and 53˚S and longitude 57˚ and 62˚W in the South Atlantic, some 300 miles to the east of southern Argentina. There are two large islands, East and West Falkland, and over 700 smaller islands, which combine to create a total land area of 4,700 square miles (12,173km2). Most of the islands’ population of over 3,400 now live in Stanley, the islands’ capital. The remainder are spread over East and West Falkland and 12 of the smaller islands. Stanley has grown considerably since my first visit with new houses now east and west of the original town and more being built as I write. However, the relaxed pace of life is still the same, even if the smell of peat smoke does not linger over the town as it did in the past. Away from Stanley the drop in wool prices has led to a steady increase in the numbers of islanders leaving the camp and moving to work in the capital, although there is still very much a community feel there.
Five species of penguin breed around the islands’ coasts, making this one of the best places in the world to observe them © kwest, Shutterstock
The islands hit the international headlines when Argentina invaded in April 1982, and the subsequent recapture by the British Forces raised the islands’ profile in the world at large. A fledgling tourist industry took advantage of this post-war interest to offer holidays to these wild and beautiful places. The numbers of cruise ships visiting is still increasing, enabling more visitors to reach this isolated archipelago. Income generated by the advent of the fishing industry and tourism has increased the standard of living thus encouraging more to make the islands their home.
Stanley and New Island are at opposing extremes, east and west, 148 miles (238km) apart. The coastline is highly indented with many rocky headlands and sandy beaches. Large inland bodies of water are absent but there are many small lakes and pools. Mount Usborne at 2,312ft (705m) in the Wickham Heights range on East Falkland is the highest point on the islands. Standing on the hilltops gives one a feeling of being on top of the world as the islands are laid out at one’s feet. The amazing clarity of light in these islands never ceases to amaze me.
Natural woodland is not a feature of the islands, the only trees having been introduced around the settlements. Low grasses, ferns and shrubs provide the most typical ground cover, with a fringe of tussac grass around the coast away from any grazing animals.
Sitting quietly not far from a penguin colony and seeing them come out to see us is a magical and memorable experience. Every time I leave the islands I realise I have taken yet more photos of the scenery and wildlife.
Geographical isolation has limited the numbers of animals that have reached the islands by their own means and has restricted the birdlife to long-distance migrants and strong fliers. The flora of the islands is equally restricted, although isolation has created a number of endemic species and subspecies. Five species of penguin breed around the coasts, making this one of the best places in the world to observe this family. The prospect of seeing elephant seals, killer whales and penguins attracts many visitors to the islands. The Falklands, although not as rich in species of flora and fauna as nearby South America, offer an abundance of spectacular wildlife to gratify man’s continuing fascination with nature. Sitting quietly not far from a penguin colony and seeing them come out to see us is a magical and memorable experience. Every time I leave the islands I realise I have taken yet more photos of the scenery and wildlife.
The Falkland Islands are one of those magical places in the world that capture the imagination, and although the weather is not always clement, the overriding memory is of blue sea, blue sky, teeming wildlife and smoko as soon as you get back indoors.
Like many people in Britain I watched the television coverage of the 1982 war, little realising that I would one day visit those far-away islands. My chance came out of the blue one Saturday afternoon in January 1994. I had led some tours here on the Isles of Scilly for Libby of Island Holidays and had said that I should be pleased to lead tours elsewhere. She rang that afternoon to say ‘You know you said you’d like to go to the Falkland Islands? Could you go on Monday?’ Well, to cut a long story short, a few phone calls later it was all sorted and I was ready to go.
‘Having visited the islands almost every year since 1994, I still find them to be one of the most amazing places in the world’ © Ondrej Prosicky, Shutterstock
Reaching the islands for the first time was a magical experience, from watching upland geese and meadowlarks to admiring the huge expanses of white grass on the bus ride into Stanley. I shall always remember my first walk along Stanley seafront with the faint smell of peat smoke in the air, and the first penguin I saw swimming just off shore.
Since that first tour in 1994 I have led groups around the islands for Libby on many other occasions and have managed to visit a large part of the archipelago. Every trip brings something new, whether birds, flowers or seeing familiar places at different times of year. There is tremendous pleasure in taking people around the Falkland Islands and watching their reactions to the sights and sounds. I have been lucky in that some people have visited the islands with me more than once and are therefore able to share my memories of what we have seen and the events of particular trips. The welcome in each of the places we stay makes it so much easier to settle in and enjoy the highlights of each area.
Having visited the islands almost every year since 1994, I still find them to be one of the most amazing places in the world. Hopefully you will agree.