Wildlife photos by Renato Granieri.
Wind-battered, wave-whipped, and remote, the Falkland Islands don’t seem like the most hospitable place to eke out an existence. But this archipelago of 700-plus islands off the coast of southern Argentina is teeming with life. Albatross, penguins, elephant seals, and host of bird species thrive here in thousands. So, too, do a few humans.
When the cruise ships have pulled away and passengers are tucked in for the night, the islands’ custodians remain on shore, safeguarding these important wildlife havens and — most importantly — getting to enjoy its wild, raw beauty in relative seclusion.
But what’s it really like to live on a land Charles Darwin famously described as desolate and wretched? The Falklands’ caretakers past and present will tell you it’s a joy.
The conservation game changer: New Island
British artist and conservationist Ian Strange, pictured at the top of this article, purchased this island, which had previously operated as the Falklands’ only whaling station and was overrun with sheep, in 1972. He spent years restoring the land to its natural state, replanting vegetation and removing introduced species, and was one of the first island owners to invite tourists to the Falklands.
Determined his family should be self-sufficient, Strange’s early days on New Island were spent maintaining power supplies (which included wind turbines and solar panels), repairing buildings, and taking care of wildlife.
During peak season, day tourists would arrive on cruise ships and be taken to the main rookery to watch rockhopper penguins and albatross. “Most island settlements in the Falklands are run by very practical people with a good basic knowledge of how to get by in remote places,” Strange reflects.
Surprisingly, the biggest challenge he faced wasn’t coping with solitude or battling rough weather: “[It was] overcoming the political turmoil that my project presented,” he says. “In the early 1970s, when the concept of forming a wildlife reserve was born, ‘conservation’ was a dirty word in a community of sheep farmers. … [T]he hostility was immense and every effort was made to stop the project.”
After 42 years, Ian’s family relinquished control of the island to a board of trustees, although his daughter, Georgina, still monitors projects set up for bird counts and weather instruments. A professional photographer, she also guides tours and, like her father, has designed stamps for the Falkland Islands postal service. The creative pair now work together on art and design projects; to see some, visit designinnature.com.
The TV star: Saunders Island
Famous for its splash-happy rockhoppers — who take turns showering beneath a mini waterfall at a cliff base — this island has attracted countless TV crews. The Pole-Evans family, who purchased it in 1987, still farm sheep and cattle on the land but also make a business from hosting tourists.
The ultimate tea break: West Point Island
A white picket fence neatly surrounds the typical English garden where Allan and Jackie White live. Cruise-trip visitors are treated to a spread of home-baked cakes and tea served in mismatched china cups, which are often just as much a talking point as the island’s scenic rookery. Roddy Napier owns the island, but now lives in Stanley, the Falklands' capital. He employs the Whites to maintain the place.
Keen to check out the remote Falkland Islands for yourself? G Adventures can get you there. Check out our small group tours to the Falklands here.