Blue skies, temperatures up to 22/23 degrees, and a warm wind. The best days of the Falklands have arrived (don't blink - it could be snowing again tomorrow) and we are enjoying them while we can. We flew to New island on Friday; west of Weddell beyond west Falkland; a spectacular flight on a clear day over winding coastlines and running white streamers across the bluest of seas.
Maria Strange came with us to spend time with Georgina, her daughter, who manages the island for the Trust they created. It is a conservation island and generally populated only by Georgina, the handyman Sam (out from the UK for the Summer, and picked from a good crop of applicants) and a few scientists. It was good to meet Laurent and his wife Maude and two small boys again; they are out for a couple of months studying hormones in Rockhoppers. Another two scientists are observing the albatross. Laurent's son, about 3, spent the day making mud dams on the beach, surrounded by wildlife, happily chattering to himself, and shadowed by the resting hulk of an old icebreaker ship now beached, its copper hull green and peeling in the sun.
So, peace and quiet as we stayed across the bay from the rest of the group - in a tiny chalet-style log cabin which Ian and Maria built for themselves years ago. The view across the bay offers a picture of Upland Goose goslings, magellanic oystercatchers, kelp geese and Steamer ducks, and the odd Seal and Dolphin. The tide washes the small sandy neck in and out, and this weekend the sea sparkled magically.
Friday we walked across the main neck to The Rookery and spent an hour or so watching the heady mix of Imperial Cormorants, Rockhoppers and Albatross which shoehorn themselves into the rock faces on the west facing cliffs. There are thousands of them, all nest building and vying for nesting materials (diddle dee and tussoc) and space. A cacophany of noise and attitude. We wandered back in the evening sun and fell asleep early in the quiet.
Saturday morning, Georgina trundled us in the Rover across clay ruts and rock falls to the North of the island, to allow us to explore as far as possible in a day. We revsited North beach and its tiny shanty (Georgiana's honeymoon house when she is married in December), and walked through hundreds of gentoo penguins sitting on eggs. The Caracaras were doing their worst and there were some bloody sights, but watching penguins jumping in and out of the sea never gets boring. At the waters edges a huge male Fur Seal was sun bathing, but scuttled, dog-like, into the sea as we approached.
We set off for the nearby Albatross Rookery, set in precipitous cliffs above crashing waves, and walked the beautiful coastline to find the Fur Seals - about 30 of them - a community of characters; young males play fighting, mothers sleeping, young seals playing like labrador pups, sliding down rocks into the sea. ambushing each other from behind boulders. We walked from 10 in the morning til 7 at night and arrived back to the chalet for a glass of wine and a fabulous sunset. Dozing in the chairs, we remembered to venture out at 10.30, as dark fell properly, to witness the return of the Prions; the smallest of the Petrel family, they spend their days at sea and return to burrows at night. In the darkness, they seem to have a bat-like orientation system, flying into their small burrows at speed in the pitch black. Standing in the dark and feeling birds all around, hearing their wings past your face and their busy conversation, was a memorable experience.
Sunday our feet ached; we ventured south across the island to visit the abandoned whaling station. The only one of the Falkland Islands to be used for whaling, Salvesen set up a station around 1910 and ran it for 5 or 6 years, before deciding that South Georgia was more lucrative, abandoning New island. Huge rusting hulks of furnaces, vices, clamps and haulage devices stand on pristine white beaches, and you can only imagine the horror.
Back to MPH and across Onion ranges where live firing has set the diddle dee alight. back to business...