The Falkland Islands number some 748 different remote islands, of which perhaps a dozen are occupied by people. Some of these are private single abodes, difficult to visit and home to what I can only assume are fascinating personalities. Others are tourist destinations, offering self-catering or full-board ‘lodge’ housing to those wanting to get away from the proportionally cosmopolitan life in Stanley. Some of these names are well-known – Pebble Island for the SAS raid in 1982, Sea Lion Island often appears on BBC wildlife programs for the unique Orca whale visits that go on there. They vary in price and can work out extremely expensive for a weekend away but we splashed out on a visit to Bleaker Island for 2 nights, which then turned into two trips back to back for reasons that I’ll cover in Part II. The Islands are only visited by one boat each month so in order to visit you need to make use of FIGAS: the Falkland Islands Government Air Service. FIGAS run what are essentially charter flights in small planes for a fixed fee for those living in or visiting different settlements, whether they are on East or West Falkland (the two main Islands) or the outer Islands. For £67 each way, you can ring up the airport with a day and rough time that you’d like a flight and where to and they’ll do their best to get one booked for you and flying in all kinds of unlikely weather, as we found out. It can be just you and the pilot, or you can be making stops elsewhere to pick up/drop off other people or packages. Never having flown in a small plane before, it’s amazing how quickly this became normal as you turn up, weigh in and hop on board for the 30 minute flight to Bleaker, landing on grass airstrips with surprising smoothness. A little on the bouncy side, but the low-level aerial view is spectacular.
Flying in and out, for some reason, reminds me of the start of Father Ted with green fields, rugged coastline and sheer lack of houses as you drop closer to the ground. The plane’s departure as you wave it off reminds you that you are isolated on this Island with no hope of getting away unless the weather is clear enough for the ‘Islander’ planes to come and collect you again (it is simply a fact of life here that some people get stuck on their trips for a few days longer and few people ever mind that!). Still, that’s why you go so it’s really quite a nice feeling.
The Islands are so often about wildlife encounters and Bleaker is no exception. Bleaker is currently home to all 5 species of penguin found here, including our first spotting of their rogue but rare Macaroni sporting their distinctive ginger monobrow, a sea lion colony of c.50 sea lions, the odd juvenile elephant seal, large colonies of Rockhoppers and Gentoo penguins, Peale’s dolphins, and for the bird fans Caracaras/johnny rooks who are unbelievably intelligent and mischievous as well as breeding colonies of skuas, imperial cormorants and Southern Giant Petrels to name a few. We have many pictures, from the journey, the encounters with the different wildlife and the stunning light for photos here so we’ll upload these as soon as possible with a short summary for each topic.
Bleaker is the cheapest of the full-board island lodges and a weekend away at the more expensive can cost you around £500 each including flights so it’s not something we’ll be doing too often, but there are others high on the hit-list. We’re also hoping to get the ferry to West Falkland soon and that should prove a little more economical for a trip away.