The Falkland Islands
The Falkland Islands are hosts to five species of Penguins, plus Seals, Sea Lions, Black-browed Albatross and no less than 227 species of birds. It has often been described as an open-air zoo without fences or signs. The islands are the size of Wales, and have thousands of miles of beautiful, rugged and natural coastlines, often described as very similar in appearance to the west coast of Scotland. They are the most accessible place on the planet to photograph Black-browed Albatross. Two thirds of the world’s population nest here, along with the world’s rarest bird of prey – the Striated Caracara. Add 1.2 million Penguins and 22,000 Seals and Sea Lions and you have an incredible number of varied subjects to photograph. The Falkland Islands are home to one of the greatest gatherings of wildlife in the world. Photographing on these islands is like being on the Galapagos Islands without being restricted to paths and walkways. Providing you do nothing to harm your subjects you are free to go wherever you like (except the fenced-off minefields). The Falkland Islands are “a wildlife photographer’s dream come true”. The currency on the Falkland Islands – the Falklands Pound – exactly mirrors the UK pound. There is absolutely no need to change from your English currency and there are no inferior exchange rates on this tour. English pounds are universally accepted.
Designing the Itinerary for 2020
The itinerary for 2020 has been carefully designed using my experience from my recent trip to the Falklands in January 2018. That trip was three weeks long, enabling me to take in a fair sample of all the best of islands on offer, and to check out how each island performed photographically. I have designed this holiday exactly how my preferred option would be. Booking a Falkland Islands holiday is usually a compromise. Islands get booked up and tour operators usually end up taking a second-best option as certain places are not available. I was not prepared to compromise on what I wanted. It had to be my first choice or nothing at all. The first available date that all my first-choice options were available was February 1st 2020. That is more than 2 years from the date of my booking this holiday. I will list below the reasons for my choices. This tour is not about being the cheapest option. It is not about choosing two or three good options and then filling in the gaps with whatever is available at the time of booking. It is about picking ALL the best options and fitting them into one wonderful package. We will visit four islands, but five separate locations. For me, those five locations selected themselves very easily. Nothing else came close. Due to the logistics of arranging this very special itinerary, I would be extremely surprised if you were to find my itinerary offered by any other competitor.
Why stay overnight at Volunteer Point?
Volunteer Point is an amazing place, but to get the best out of it you need to be a resident at Volunteer Point. The location is usually reached by taking a day trip in a Landrover from Stanley. The journey takes 2.5 hours each way, and you typically get 2.5 to 4 hours (max) at the point. This means just 4 hours of photography from a 9 hours trip. Your photography will be late morning, mid-day and early afternoon, when the sun is high and the light is harsh. We saw no less than 60 vehicles arrive with guests from 9 am onwards on the day that we were there. They had all left by 2.30 pm. Their access to the island is very limited and the majority of the beach, all of the ponds, and all of the Magellanic Penguins’ nesting area is out of bounds to them. Just four people per day are permitted to stay at the Warden’s Cottage. It is a 10 minute walk to the beach or a 20 – 25 minute walk to the huge colony of King Penguins. We have full access to all areas on the island from before sunrise until after sunset. It is an incredible privilege to think that just four people have 12,000 King Penguins to themselves for nearly all that time. There are white stones placed around the King Penguin and Gentoo Penguin colonies so that you keep approximately 5 metres from them. Outside those, you lucky four people can go wherever you choose. So, in the whole of February 2020 each one of you will be one of a maximum of 116 people to have seen sunrise or sunset at Volunteer Point. You have 2 nights there, so you will have the opportunity to see two sunsets and one sunrise during your stay. If you get up early and stay out late, you will be fast asleep when all of the day-trippers are there. I can assure you that I did not see one.
Why stay on Sea Lion Island?
If seeing King Penguins was my number one priority, I think that capturing the Gentoo Penguins jumping out of the sea amongst the surf and the waves was only a “short-nose” behind. Sea lion island is definitely the best place to do this. There is a huge misconception from people that have not actually visited the Falklands that the Penguins actually stand up on the water and surf the waves. They do not do that. What they do is jump up out of the water and land vertically in the shallows so that they can walk onto the beach without struggling to get up. If you watch carefully for their body-shapes through the clear water you can predict where they will jump. They may jump through a wave, they may jump into white foaming surf, or they may just emerge into calmer waters. Which one of those scenarios you capture on camera is somewhat down to a certain amount of luck at the time you press the shutter. You just photograph every emerging Penguin that you can, and some of them will eventually look as if they are surfing. We have no less than three nights here, so you will have three evening sessions to capture these very special shots. There are several colonies of Gentoo Penguins, a large number of Magellanic Penguins, Upland Geese and Elephant Seals within a 30-minute walk from the lodge. We will also include a morning vehicle tour of parts of the island that are further away. You are likely to see Sea Lions, Cobb’s Wren, a Rockhopper Penguin colony, Imperial Shags and a Rock Shag nesting site.
Why stay on Saunders Island?
If I had to place Volunteer Point at the top of the list, then Sea Lion Island and Saunders Island would be a dead-heat for second. We are spending five nights on Saunders Island to enable everyone to have two days of quality time at The Neck, and also two days at the Rookery. The accommodation at the neck is tiny. Four people sleep in one room in bunk beds that is no more than 4 metres square. I have chosen to stay at The Settlement (not the Neck), and the owners will drive us to and from the Neck on a daily basis. They will leave as early as we request in the morning and will bring us back early evening in time for dinner. The transfer takes one hour each way. The Neck is, according to internet reviews, probably the top place to go to. I did not agree. It is still a “must go to” place, but for me The Rookery was far better. We will have two days at both venues. Just four people can stay in a really nice self-catering lodge (pre-cooked meals available) at The Rookery. That is why bigger groups avoid it, and they prefer the Neck (it sleeps 8 people). The group will swap over very early one morning so that everybody has two full days at each location. The Neck is vast and has colonies of Gentoo Penguins as far as the eye can see. There are approximately 20 King Penguins there that we can get very close to, and many other species (including Imperial Shags) are there as well. The Rookery was, in my opinion, by far the best place in the whole of the Falkland Islands to see the Black-browed Albatross. There are 12,000 birds nesting along the cliff-tops and then there is the Rockhopper Penguins’ shower. This is an absolutely incredible sight to see. The majority of the Rockhoppers take a freshwater shower after coming out of the sea. They will keep you entertained for hours. Most photography groups miss out on the Rookery. Again, like Volunteer Point, only a maximum of 116 people will get to stay there in the whole of February. You will be extremely privileged to have two nights there.
Why stay on Bleaker Island?
I would rate Bleaker Island a little way behind Sea Lion Island and Saunders Island, but way in front of all the other islands in the Falklands that we are not visiting. Based on what I experienced, it was a very easy task, and a no-brainer to pick these top five destinations to construct the “perfect” Falkland Islands holiday. Due to reasons that I have already stated, I very much doubt that you will find another company doing this same itinerary as mine. I will hire a self-drive vehicle for us to use on this island, and we will have full access to all sites whenever we choose. Here, you will find a large colony of Rock Shags, a species that you will only see briefly elsewhere. There is a huge colony of 8,000 pairs of Imperial Shags close to the Lodge. These offer incredible opportunities for flight shots plus a lot of high-speed action with the Falkland Skuas predating on them. There are several colonies of Gentoo Penguins, a colony of Rockhopper Penguins, and thousands of Magellanic Penguins. You should see both Striated and Crested Caracaras as well as many other Ducks, Grebes, Teal and Geese. Most years (but not all) they have a pair of Black-necked Swans and a pair of Macaroni Penguins. The really special bird that you will see nesting, and with chicks, is the Southern Giant Petrel. These birds breed here every year.
Why visit Cape Bougainville?
All trips to the Falklands should end with a buffer day in Stanley. If you are fogged-in at your last island and you miss your last flight back to the UK, it will be extremely costly. I was not impressed at all with the standard half/full day tours from Stanley. You will not see Cape Bougainville advertised anywhere as an optional destination for your buffer day. The reason is that only two vehicles per day are permitted to go there. It is a two-hour drive from Stanley and is home to a good range of wildlife including a large colony of Rockhopper Penguins. You will also see Imperial Shag (also known as King Cormorants) and Southern Giant Petrels. Sea Lions are usually present. These are young males that have been forced out of other breeding rookeries. They can often be seen sleeping in the tussock grass or on the cliff-tops around the parking area. There is one more species to be found here. It is the Macaroni Penguin, the one with the amazing bright yellow tufts of hair round its head. There is usually a maximum of 6 individuals here during the breeding season (this includes February). Sometimes there will be inter-breeding between the Rockhopper and the Macaroni Penguins, and mixed pairs may be seen here raising chicks.
There are far too many species to list. One of the main species that we will target will be the Penguins. There are 5 different species and we plan to see them all. They are Gentoo, Magellanic, Rockhopper, King and Macaroni. Photographing the Macaroni Penguins may present a challenge, as there are just 50 pairs on the islands. You will have plenty of opportunities to photograph Penguins in frantic action as they launch themselves from breaking waves and desperately scramble ashore. There are no less than 800,000 Black-Browed Albatross that reside on the various islands. Other birds include Falkland Flightless Steamer Ducks, Crested Ducks, Rock and Imperial Cormorants, Kelp Geese, Upland Geese, Ruddy-Headed Geese, Ashy-Headed Geese, Striated Caracaras, Magellanic and Blackish Oystercatchers, Variable Hawks, Southern Giant Petrels, Shearwaters, Skuas, various species of Plovers, White-Tufted and Silvery Grebes, Black-Crowned Night Herons, Kelp and Dolphin Gulls, and various songbirds. We photographed 55 species of birds in 2018, many with no more than a 300mm lens. Some of the best bird photography in the world is found here on the Falkland Islands. Many of the Falklands birds lay their eggs in November and have young in December, so photographing them with their growing chicks in February should be incredibly easy.
Mammals, Flora & Landscapes
South American Sea Lions & Southern Elephant Seals will be easily photographed. The Elephant Seals return to Islands in September and pupping starts at the end of September and continues through October and November. Their largest breeding area in the Falkland Islands is Sea Lion Island. Sea Lions begin pupping towards the end of December. Fur Seals may be seen and even the odd Orca that patrols the shallows around the various Seal colonies. For those who are interested in flowers, 350 species have been recorded on the islands. We should not forget to record the unique landscapes in the Falklands. Picturesque island farms and homesteads offer a glimpse of the traditional way of life. The islands have sweeping moorlands with big skies and seascapes.
Our trip will begin with a trip to Volunteer Point. It has the largest breeding group of King penguins within the Falkland Islands. Volunteer Beach is an impressive two-mile long white sandy beach, bordered by high grassy banks and dunes, leading to rolling greens. These provide the ideal habitat for three breeding species of penguin, King, Gentoo and Magellanic. Around 1200 king penguins breed at Volunteer Point. There are also 1,500 pairs of Gentoo Penguins found in colonies on Volunteer Green. The burrowing Magellanic penguins are widespread along the coastline. All three penguins are easily spotted during a day trip to Volunteer Point. Over 40 bird species have been recorded in this area including South American Tern, Rock Cormorant, Blackish and Magellanic Oystercatchers, Dolphin Gulls, Kelp Gulls, Upland Geese, Kelp Geese and Ruddy-Headed Geese. Falkland Skuas, Peregrine Falcons and Variable Hawks may be seen scouting along the coast. Southern Sea Lions may be seen patrolling the coastal waters waiting for penguins arriving and departing from sea. The best time for photography is sunrise and sunset. We will have two opportunities to photograph the sunset and we will take in one sunrise. Something the day trippers NEVER get to do.
Sea Lion Island
Sea Lion Island, the most southerly inhabited island of the Falklands group, is five miles long and just over a mile wide at its widest point. The spectacular tussac grass covers one fifth of the island and provides a perfect habitat and protection for much of the islands’ varied fauna and wildlife, including Elephant Seals (the largest population on the Islands, with up to 1,800 Seals) and Sea Lions. There are dazzling white sandy beaches, cliffs, freshwater ponds and heath land, all with their own populations of wildlife. The 47 species of birds that can normally be seen on the Island include five species of penguins and five birds of prey (including the Striated Caracara -one of the rarest birds of prey in the world). Pods of killer whales circle the Island in pursuit of the Elephant Seals and Sea Lions, which breed there. Many of the Island’s plants are quite rare and a joy to see. Award-winning, world renowned photographers have adorned books and magazines with their prizewinning shots of the wild life on Sea Lion Island, but even with the most basic equipment you will take away shots to treasure. Make sure you have plenty of storage for your photos. You will need it. This is the island where the penguins can best be photographed “surfing” the waves as they arrive back from their day’s fishing.
Saunders Islands was the site of the first British settlement in the Falkland archipelago. It is now one large farm of about 30,000 acres. The Island is most well-known for the sizeable colony of Black Browed Albatross situated to the North West of the Island. This is commonly known as The Rookery. You will also find various other species in and around the colony, including Southern Giant Petrels, Rock Shags, King Shags and the odd Striated Caracara. The North of the Island is made up of two large peaks, Rookery Mountain to the North East and Mount Hartson to the North West. This combination of wildlife and natural, scenic beauty afford some of the best photography opportunities in the world. The famous “Rockhoppers’ Shower” is on this island and I am certain that more than one session will be spent there. We will have two full days visiting the “world-famous” Neck. This will be one of the highlights of the whole trip.
Situated toward the Southeast of East Falkland, Bleaker Island is a small working sheep farm. The Island itself is roughly 12 miles long, 1 mile at its widest and fairly flat making it an ideal location for clients looking for easy walks along the long sandy beaches. The island is home to over 750 pairs of Rockhopper Penguins, along with 1300 breeding pairs of Gentoo Penguins and colonies of Magellanic Penguins. Long sweeping bays, tussac areas and ponds provide superb habitat for many other bird species, including White Tufted and Silver Grebe, Southern Giant Petrels, Steamer Ducks and Black Necked Swans. An impressive colony of over 4,000 pairs of Imperial Shag is within a few minutes’ walk of the well-kept settlement and your accommodation. Our own private vehicle means no walking on this island.
Photography will be our priority while on the Falkland Islands. We will be staying in comfortable and cosy lodging, and where possible, within walking distance of the best photography without throngs of other visitors. 5 star accommodations are not available anywhere on the Falklands Islands. With the exception of our two nights in Stanley, all our accommodation will be on local farms. All rooms will be shared and single supplements are rarely an option. Most will be on a full board basis. One location only offers self-catering, but pre-packed meal packs are available. On most of the islands we have the option of either being dropped off by Land Rover at a remote location and walking back to our lodge, or walking from our farmstead to close-at-hand photo opportunities.
There will, depending on the make-up of the clients, be either 6 or 7 clients plus myself. Due to the fact that our itinerary is taking in some really specialist venues that only cater for a maximum of four people, the group will be split on two occasions. This will mean that I will stay in one location while the group is split, so that every one of you will have the same amount of time with me. This will also mean that you will have 4 days without me. It is the only way that this very unique itinerary can work. I will make myself available on a regular basis to help you all with photography techniques, to ensure that you all return with many stunning images. All inter-island transfers will be by a local FIGAS plane. There will be road-trips from Stanley to Volunteer Point and to Cape Bougainville.
Excess Baggage and Camera Equipment
Our internal flights on the Falkland Islands are with FIGAS, which is the only option. Many people are very concerned with the 20kg weight limits imposed by this airline and leave important camera equipment at home. There is absolutely nothing to worry about. 20kg is just an amount that FIGAS will transport free of charge. When I visited the Falklands I packed as I would for any other trip. You are charged £1.40 per kilogram per internal flight for anything over 20kg. Let us assume that your luggage weighs 20kg and your camera equipment also weighs 20kg. You will be charged for 20kg excess. So, for 20kg at £1.40 the cost is £28.00 per flight. Let us assume there are 5 internal flights, then the total cost for 20kg is 5 x £28 = £140.00. This is a small price to pay to enable you to take the equipment of your choice.
Itinerary – 1st February 2020 to 15th February 2020
Day 1, – 1st February 2020
Group arrive in Stanley Airport
Group 1 to Volunteer Point for 2 nights.
Group 2 to Bleaker Island for 2 nights.
Day 3, – 3rd February 2020
Group 1 to Bleaker Island for 2 nights.
Group 2 to Volunteer Point for 2 nights.
Day 5, – 5th February 2020
Whole Party fly to Sea Lion Island for 3 nights.
Day 8, – 8th February 2020
Whole Party fly to Saunders Island for 5 nights.
Group 1 stay at the Settlement
with 2 x day visits to the Neck. 3 nights.
Group 2 go directly to the Rookery. 3 nights.
Day 11, – 11th February 2020
Very early road transfers by road vehicles.
Group 1 go to the Rookery. 2 nights.
Group 2 go to the Settlement
with 2 x day visits to the Neck. 2 nights.
It is expected that full board will be offered
at the settlement in 2020.
Day 13, – 13th February 2020
Transfer both groups to Stanley. 2 nights.
Free afternoon in Stanley.
Day 14, – 14th February 2020
Full day trip to Cape Bougainville
Day 15, – 15th February 2020
Cost for 2020
£ 5295.00 based on twin-share accommodation
Official prices for 2020 are not yet available.
The price for 2020 has been calculated by adding 6% to 2019 prices.
If the rise in costs exceed this amount, the excess will be added to the trip cost.
Local flights between the islands. All pickups, drops & transfers between venues. All meals where indicated.
International flights (2018 prices, £1652 from London to Stanley via Latam Airlines).
One night in the airport hotel in Santiago is required before and after the tour.
Food while on Saunders Island (can be bought on the island). Cash only.
£25 departure tax when leaving the Falklands.
Excess baggage costs (currently £1.40 per kilo per internal flight). 5 Flights
Contact us to book…