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Falkland Islands - When and where to visit
The islands are usually described as having an oceanic climate dominated by the prevailing westerlies © kwest, Shutterstock
The paramount climatic feature of the Falkland Islands is wind. The islands are usually described as having an oceanic climate dominated by the prevailing westerlies. Footage of the events of April, May and June 1982, showing the military in action in snow and ice, have resulted in a public perception that the islands are snow-covered throughout the year, as though comparable with the Antarctic. In fact, the islands have a rather narrow temperature range from 19°C in January to 2°C in July, with an average annual mean temperature of 6°C. Very warm days are rare during a Falkland summer, although the islands enjoy more sunshine hours than the south of Britain. The general lack of pollution and dust in the atmosphere increases the penetration of ultraviolet rays, so a high-factor suncream is an essential part of the visitor’s travel pack. The sea temperature varies very little during the year on average with a range of between 6°C and 7°C.
To see the islands at their best it is advisable to plan a visit during the austral summer, October to April, when the tourist industry is geared up to ensure that visitors truly appreciate the archipelago, its wildlife and its way of life. The long summer evenings of December and January offer a welcome respite from winter in the northern hemisphere. It is possible to visit the islands at any time of year; however, some of the accommodation closes out of season.
The reproductive cycles of the local wildlife may dictate when a visit to the Falklands is scheduled. Penguins are a major attraction and they, in common with many other breeding seabirds, are at their most vocal when displaying in the early months of the summer. Chicks abound in midsummer. Southern elephant seals and southern sea lions can be seen throughout the tourist season, as can the scarce fur seal. The greatest concentrations of these impressive beasts are to be found during the pupping seasons in spring and midsummer. Killer whales, although far from common, are best observed when the pups start leaving the beaches.
The flora is much more impressive in springtime when the majority of plants are in bloom © Will Wagstaff
As is to be expected, the flora is much more impressive in springtime when the majority of plants are in bloom; however, there are always some late spring and summer flowers, and several species produce attractive berries in the early autumn.
It is possible to come to the islands to fish for sea trout from 1 September to 30 April, although September and October and mid-February to mid-April are thought to be the optimal times for this species. Falkland mullet are not so seasonably variable and can be caught throughout the fishing season.
It is not possible to do justice to the islands in a short stay – a minimum of two weeks is recommended in order to experience the way of life on the archipelago.
Any itinerary for a visit to the Falkland Islands should include a few days in Stanley; exploring the town, its environs and the Historic Dockyard Museum, which opened in 2014. The islands’ tourist industry makes Stanley the focal point of any tour and, while there are places to stay within easy reach of the main airport at Mount Pleasant, the relatively wide range of accommodation available in Stanley plus the activities and entertainments on offer make it the ideal place to begin and end a visit.
Most visits to the islands begin in Stanley © Anton_Ivanov, Shutterstock
Recommended day trips by road from Stanley include Gypsy Cove for a first glimpse of penguins, and Volunteer Point for the majestic king penguin colony. For the latter, allow a full day; for the former a few hours should suffice owing to its relative proximity to Stanley.
As an introduction to the outer islands or a conclusion to a tour of the Falklands, Sea Lion Island is always enthralling. It’s possible to observe abundant wildlife from right outside the door of the island’s lodge. The short flight from Stanley takes less than 30 minutes before landing at the airstrip very close to the accommodation – tussacbirds may come to inspect your baggage and gentoo penguins can be heard calling in the near distance. Magellanic penguins can be heard calling to each other in the quiet of the night. A short walk in any direction from the lodge will bring the visitor in contact with elephant seals, sea lions, penguins and a range of other seabirds. It is possible to walk the whole island in a day, but a more leisurely approach would reveal so much more. Try to allow at least two nights, but ideally three to make the most of it.
A 15-minute flight from Sea Lion Island is the settlement of Port Howard on West Falkland where it is possible to discover what living in camp is all about during a stay at Port Howard Lodge. This working farm is set in some magnificent scenery, is one of the best centres for fishing on the Falkland Islands and constitutes the ideal base to explore the wide expanses of West Falkland. The small museum next to the lodge gives another dimension to this settlement as there are lots of photographs and artefacts from the Argentine occupation in 1982.
Vast areas of West Falkland are now accessible from Port Howard thanks to the road system and, as such, it is possible to be based here for several days while exploring the surrounding area. Recommended excursions include a day trip south to Fox Bay through some spectacular scenery to the eponymous settlement and the local penguin colonies. This tour usually incorporates a variety of stops en route including some of the crashed aircraft from 1982 and the Hawk’s Nest Ponds before a reasonably direct drive back in the late afternoon. To the northwest of the island, visitors can take a day trip to the settlement of Hill Cove with its ‘forest’ before passing back through Turkey Rocks with sufficient time and the appropriate permissions to enter the farmland. A jut of quartzite, Turkey Rocks are popular with the local turkey vultures (hence the name…), but also give super views out over the rolling white-grass landscape. A further full-day drive by 4x4 out on the camp tracks to the northern coast of West Falkland at White Rock is another must for penguin fans. Its rugged coastline is a photographer’s delight with penguin colonies situated where the diddle-dee heath and white-grass slopes meet the quartzite cliffs. Port Howard is a rather underestimated location as far as viewing wildlife is concerned as there is only a limited selection of species close to the settlement, but the trips out from here access some of the best wildlife sites on the islands.
Another short flight from Port Howard to the northwest brings the visitor to Pebble Island, where the various habitats shelter many of the bird species that breed on the Falkland Islands. The large pools on the eastern side are home to huge concentrations of waterfowl and the penguin rookeries are among the largest colonies seen on the islands. In the late 1990s and early 2000s the presence of two rare species of penguin, the erect-crested penguin and the macaroni penguin, meant that it became one of the very few places in the world where six species of penguin could be observed in one day. In more recent times, it has remained a reliable site for sightings of the macaroni penguin in the Falkland Islands, but the erect-crested has not been seen for many years at this site. It is possible to spend a minimum of three days on Pebble Island without returning to any of the wildlife sites, but a week would be preferable for those on a longer stay in the islands. This abundance of wildlife set in spectacular scenery, all within a short drive from a very relaxing lodge, makes this island a desirably integral part of any tour of the Falkland Islands.
The magnificent black-browed albatross colony on Saunders Island is worth a visit © JeremyRichards, Shutterstock
These three locations combined with those that can be reached from Stanley make up the bare minimum of a trip to the islands. With longer, other suggestions include at least two days on the fabulous Carcass Island, with its throngs of small birds and day trips to West Point Island for its wonderful albatross colonies and Saunders Island, home to the magnificent black-browed albatross colony.
For passengers aboard one of the cruise ships which frequent the islands, any itinerary that includes Stanley, West Point Island and New Island is going to provide an excellent introduction to the Falkland Islands. The smaller Expedition cruise ships will typically make one or two stops at islands to the west or south of the archipelago (depending upon where they are coming from) on their first day and then a whole or part day in Stanley before sailing on. The larger ships usually only visit Stanley for the day or half day.