West Point Island, owned by Roddy and Lily Napier and run as a farm, is not one of the bigger Falklands islands. Covering 3,630 acres, it is five miles long and just under two miles at its widest point. The population is just two, plus Bosun the dog. Despite its size, there is more than enough for walkers and naturalists to see here – whether in a few hours on a stop from a visiting cruise ship, or for a full day when visiting from nearby Carcass Island.
The island is renowned for its huge colonies of black-browed albatrosses on its western side, on some of the most spectacular cliffs in the archipelago. The area around the small settlement, where the island’s buildings are, is at its most colourful in springtime when the densely flowered gorse is in bloom. Sheep are still kept here, but tourism is the source of most of its income. The highest point on the island is Cliff Mountain at 1,250ft, while nearby Mount Misery stands at 1,211ft above the albatross cliffs. The channel, located at the narrowest point between West Falkland and West Point, is Woolly Gut, which is strongly tidal before it opens out into West Point Pass to the southwest.
What to see and do on West Point Island
As on the neighbouring island of Carcass, the welcome and afternoon tea provided at the farmhouse for cruise-ship passengers are some of the highlights of a visit to West Point. Even though the main aim of landing on the island is to visit the seabird colonies, the concept of tea and cakes should be high on your agenda, along with taking a look around the settlement.
The birdlife of West Point, although not as varied as that on Carcass Island owing to the introduction of cats, rats and mice years ago is still present, only less abundant. It is now believed that cats have been successfully eradicated and there has been some recent work to remove the rat population around the settlement resulting in an immediate increase in the number and diversity of smaller birds. Some, such as black-chinned siskin, Falkland thrush and grass wren survived the higher rat numbers quite well by breeding on cliffs inaccessible to rats. These birds can be heard singing on spring mornings with others now being noted on a more regular basis.
Tussacbirds are now also being seen regularly and there have been recent reports of possible sightings of Cobb’s wren which is very good news. The lush garden and vegetable patch, close to the farmhouse, are good places to see some of these species. Male long-tailed meadowlark, known locally as military starling, look particularly fine when perched on flowering gorse bushes. Their red breasts stand out from a long way off.
The major attraction is the impressive black-browed albatross colony located on the western side of the island. From the settlement, it is about a 5-minute drive to the colony – the managers will be able to give you a lift. Alternatively, the colony is an easy 30–40-minute walk along a grassy track that is marked by red-topped stakes and passes through a series of fields before reaching the inner edge of the tussac grass that grows on the island’s periphery, at a safe distance from the local sheep.
The birds situate their mud-pot nests on the top of the slope, so that they can land and take off without too much difficulty. With a wingspan of over 7ft (2.13m), they need plenty of room to get to and from their nest site in safety. The main path leads down to the colonies for a few yards before splitting. You can then follow either path to loop around the colony, walking from one end of it to the other. It is therefore possible to take a circular walk and get wonderful views only a few feet away from the birds. As long as you stay on the path in the tussac the birds carry on with their daily activities without seeming to be concerned by your presence. In the past, some of the albatrosses in this colony were ringed as part of a research project to determine the longevity of the species, where the albatrosses went after leaving the island and if they returned here to breed.
The waters around the island are favoured haunts of Commerson’s dolphin. They follow many of the boats into the harbour, often playing in the bow wave as the ship enters the harbour.
From the westward side of the island it is possible to see the occasional fur seal swimming close inshore, and on very calm days some of the great whales, most commonly sei and southern right whales, have been seen from many locations around this island.
Travel to West Point Island
This popular island is on many a cruise-ship itinerary. It does have an airstrip, but it is small and difficult to use, meaning air travel isn’t an option for visitors. It does, however, have a very good anchorage at West Point Harbour, just below the settlement. The track from the jetty leads 100yds uphill to the settlement’s farmhouse, which is tucked in among some very healthy monterey pine trees. Hundreds of cruise-ship visitors must have passed through the farmhouse lounges on Carcass Island and West Point Island over the years. You get the impression that every subject under the sun has been discussed on these far-flung islands.
For those visitors staying on the Falkland Islands instead of cruising through them, day trips by boat are a popular choice from Carcass Island. The SeaQuest carries up to 12 guests on the 40-minute trip across from Port Pattison to West Point Harbour.
It is also possible to sail to West Point Island in your own yacht, but it is a good idea to call them on the radio on arrival to let them know you would like to come ashore.