Day 23 – Tuesday 30th October 2018
The Beagle Channel
By plane – 0
By public transport – 90kms/50 miles….not sure how many miles by boat
By foot – 21 kms /12.84 miles
Steps taken – 30,382
Yesterday I was on another mission!
So whilst planning this trip I wanted to see penguins in their natural habitat…I was having great difficulty. Trips to see the penguins did not officially start until November 1st…there were other trips that sailed you past the island but I felt that wouldn’t be the same and it would just be teasing me….so my mission began!
We went on the hunt for a guide to take us to Martillo Island aka Penguin Island.
Eventually we achieved success and this morning we were up, ready and waiting for the bus at 7.10am….I was super excited. I love animals…especially in their natural environment…just pure nature at its best…simple as can be but spectacular…and where better to see penguins than here (well apart from Antarctica that is!!!)
So the plan today was for us to take a bus trip to Estancia Harberton Ranch and from there we would take a small boat out to Martillo Island, then we would sail back to Ushuaia by boat on the Beagle Channel….it was going to be a wow kind of day…did I tell you I was excited!
We took the bus from Ushuaia, taking Ruta 3. Along the way we stopped at some panoramic viewpoints to enjoy the landscapes of South Patagonia. We saw Lenga Forests, with the trees literally wind swept to the North due to the strong Patagonia winds. The bus trip was stunning.
On the drive we also learned a little about Estancia Ranch that we were going to visit.
A short version goes like this….
So basically it was founded in 1886 by a British missionary Thomas Bridges and it still sits within the same family.
An American botanist Natalie Prosser (Goodall) married into the family and went on to found the Estancia’s Aquatic Museum and laboratory for rare marine mammals which is dedicated to the study of the region’s wildlife.
She herself dedicated most of her adult life into research and did a lot of hard manual labour.
She came across skulls of dolphins, porpoises, whales and began to collect them. As her collection grew she invited other scientists to help her identify species and wrote many scientific papers on some of the world’s rarest marine mammals, included in this was the skull of an Andrew’s beaked whale, an animal that even today has never been seen alive
Martillo Island (Penguin Island) belongs to Estancia and was originally used for grazing, but when the sheep were moved away, Magellanic Penguins started to arrive. Their colony steadily grew and there are now more than 3000 breeding pairs as well as smaller numbers of Gentoo and King Penguins.
The ranch only allows limited visits to the Island in small groups to create minimum impact whilst protecting the penguins in their natural environment, which I was pleased to hear.
The ranch is in a stunning location and the homestead looks much like it did in the 1880’s: a neat cluster of whitewashed red-roofed buildings set on a sheltered bay, flanked by green hills and jagged, snow-streaked Andean peaks.
From Estancia we crossed over the Beagle Channel to Martillo Island by boat.
Once on the Island we made a short walk to the colony of penguins who call this home…some just arriving here from Antarctica.
Today we saw the Magellanic Penguins colony and Gentoo Penguins and we even got to see a King Penguin…which we were told we were very lucky to see.
Here we learned about their customs and habits, their offspring and nests, the different species with their particular characteristics.
Can you see the King Penguin, the big guy in the front…he has the yellow/orange spots at the side of his head….he was a big!
A penguin lying on its eggs…this is a Gantoo penguin, they make themselves holes in the ground…we saw many lying in their nests on their eggs.
I loved this dude…how cute is he
I loved it and I was totally in my element.
Penguins are so much fun to watch. It was freezing cold as the island was so open but I could have stayed there all day watching these fascinating creatures.
I felt privaleged at being able to see these fascinating animals in their natural habitat….again I was one happy girl!
These are the Magellanic Penguins…they have the orange feet. They build their nests outside with pebbles etc. As we stood watching them they were hilarious, stealing each others pebbles when the other wasn’t looking.
This lot were just playing in the waves for ages. Swimming around, running out and jumping back in again
We eventually then made our way back to Estancia Harberton to visit the museum.
Here we learned all about it’s history. We were taken into the ‘house of bones’ and we were given a very thorough tour of South America’s rarest creatures, including dolphins, whales and penguins that had been washed up on these very shores.
The ranch spans more than 200 sq km of mountains, lakes, forests and 24 islands.
Then it was time to sail through the Beagle Channel taking us back to Ushuaia. We would be on the boat for approximately 2 hours 30 minutes.
We entered the Mackinlay Pass, which is the way in and out to reach Martillo Island.
It was amazing just enjoying the wonderful landscapes of the channel and the mountains that surround it. There are many magnificent mountain range views.
The Andes Mountains stretch the whole length of Argentinas western edge, this amazing mountain range is so beautiful. They offer high desserts, scenic lakes, great hiking and the continents highest peak, Aconcagua which is often called the ‘roof of the Americas. This mountain is the highest mountain outside of Asia, at 22,841feet, it’s the second highest of the seven summits.
Here in Ushuaia, a shift in the earth’s crust means the mountain range runs West to East rather than the usual north to south, therefore this town is the only town in Argentina on the west side of the Andes.
As we sailed I must admit I did think about all the people that would have sailed this channel….what amazing journeys for some and for others not so!
I thought about the famous HMS Beagle and Captain Fitzroy having to navigate these seas….the famous Charles Darwin voyage.
Todays sea was choppy, it was massively choppy. It was so choppy I think I pulled a rib! Now for those that know me well I’m not very good on boats so this was a very testing time for me.
The swell was huge, my stomach churned I held my nerve (and the table in front of me very firmly).
Wave after wave came smashing and smashing against the boat.
Going back to Sundays’s blog and that old boat etc I can now say I have experienced slightly the temperament of The Beagle Channel and can clearly see how it is classed as one of the most treacherous channels in the world and that it has sunk many a ship….and I think we got it on a good day!
After around an hour and a half of going up and down roughly we saw the Les Eclaireurs Lighthouse where a small rocky cormorants colony is.
I love this lighthouse and have saw many a photo of it…I couldn’t believe I was seeing it for myself. It was better than the pictures!
The captain of the boat was great and stayed around the lighthouse for ages getting us up close and personal, making sure we could enjoy it and then capture our own pictures.
After a bit we then approached the Sea Lion’s Island where we could enjoy these attractive sea mammals.
It was pretty amazing, again getting really close to them, watching how they live and interact…the noise from them was something and actually made me laugh.
We then went to the Despard Island which is the natural habitat of the Imperial Cormorants….there were thousands!
As we sailed we also saw black-brown albatros….which were huge.
We passed by the Chilean military township of Puerto Williams…they claim they are the most southern….but they are a town not a city so I don’t care what anyone has to say…I am claiming this one….I am at The End of The World in Ushuaia and thats final!!
It had been one day to remember.
Once off the boat we wandered town again. It was pretty late as our trip had taken the whole day.
We wandered up to the prison. So the construction of the National Prison started in 1902. It held convict’s guilty of serious crimes, many for lifetime or long sentences. The systems they used were based on work for lifetime with little salary. Outside the jail the convicts were used for building streets, bridges, buildings and also the timberland.
In this way thanks to the convicts a railway was built in the year 1910. This became the southernmost railway in the world.
The jail is now a museum which you can visit and the city still holds on to it’s past, through murals of prison life and even the many gifts that they sell in the shop..for example, t-shirts the same as the uniforms from the prisoners! You will be glad to hear we did not purchase any of this.
Cutter “Tomasito”, nicknamed Chucu-Chucu. This navigated the Beagle Channel. It was in Estantia Tunnel from 1963 and it stayed there until the Argentine Navy carried the hull to Ushuaia.
The prison buildings have now been taken over by Ushuaia Naval Base.
This is our final night in Ushuaia…I hope to return some day when I will board that boat for Antarctica.