*Our Patagonia trip was from 28 November to 19 December 2016.
On day two, we started our day bright and early, as we were really stoked for penguin spotting! We had read rave reviews about the local penguin tours at Ushuaia, and were all ready to get up close and personal with our feathered friends 🙂
We had booked a half day tour with PiraTour the day before, and were told to meet at their head office next to the Tourist Information Centre at 730am for the pick up. We were booked on a 6 hour half day tour, which cost us USD 150 per pax, inclusive of transport to and from Haberton Ranch. Our tour included a visit to Haberton Ranch, Martillo Island (where the penguins were), and Museo Acatushun. More on that later.
Our guide, Anna, spoke good English and downloaded lots of information to us en route to Haberton Ranch. On the way, we saw lots of beaver dams dotting the river banks. We later learnt that the exploding beaver population in Tierra del Fuego was a growing concern, and that it had actually been introduced by the Argentinian government in 1946, where beavers were imported from Canada as a potential source of commercial fur trading.
We arrived at Haberton Ranch after a 40 minute journey, and alighted at a lookout point of Beagle Channel for a photo stop.
Pretty amazing stuff, huh? Now here’s where it gets a little bit creepy. Along the white fence was actually a really scary looking rag doll. J took a picture of it and then, all his subsequent photographs got deleted and his newly bought Samsung Galaxy S7 could no longer take photos. To make matters worse, I discovered a long time later that one of the photographs I had taken of him had half his profile erased… right at the spot where the doll was. Creepy, no? Eek!
Anyway, after the photo stop, we arrived at the jetty, where we boarded a speed boat to Martillo Island.
At that point, it started to drizzle and the dark clouds were coming in. The winds were blowing and it was really cold! Although I was bundled up like a bazhang (Chinese rice dumpling), the cold was still biting my bones. We prayed for fine weather and boarded the speedboat, and it was another 10 minutes of an ultra bumpy ride.
And… our perseverance was rewarded as we were greeted by this sight:
Is this crazy or what! I don’t even get to see that many penguins on NatGeo! We literally went O M G and our jaws were left hanging.
Watch our epic video of the extent of penguins on our YouTube channel here.
There were magellanic penguins EVERYWHERE! The best part was, they were totally oblivious to our existence and just carried on doing their own thing. Anna explained that we would start by keeping a three metre distance from them. We sat on the ground and slowly and quietly inched our way forward. She explained that penguins have poor eyesight and we appear as mere shadows, so the correct way to approach them is to sit down and inch our way forward, very slowly and quietly. Of course, we are not allowed to touch the penguins.
Martillo Island is the natural home of two species of penguins, the Magellanic penguin and the Gentoo penguin. On this island alone, there are 10,000 breeding pairs of Magellanic penguins and 40 breeding pairs of Gentoo penguins. The sweet thing about penguins is that most of them – including magellanic and gentoo penguins – are monogamous and mate for life. 🙂
At this point, we thought we’d seen it all. But no! As we walked round to the other side of the island, there were even more penguins! This time we saw Gentoo penguins in their burrows.
The burrows, or breeding nests, were built behind a hill to shelter the chicks from the very strong winds. We were so lucky because it happened to be breeding season, so we managed to get peeks of baby penguins in their burrows too!
Why hello, mister penguin! How are you today? 🙂
We also learnt that unlike other animals, both male and female parents are involved in the preparation of the nest and the care of the chicks. Ain’t that remarkable!
We spent about an hour on the island, and towards the end of our visit, we happened to spot this lone King Penguin coming ashore.
He seemed to be really confused and lost. Of course lah, his internal GPS led him to the wrong island! The King Penguin’s paradise is a few islands away! We saw him wandering up to the Gentoo penguins’ nests, only to be shoo-ed away. It was unfortunate that we couldn’t intervene or help him too – always leave nature alone. 😦
Just a point to note if you are intending to visit the island: The winds are very strong and it gets chilly. Remember to bring along your gloves, beanie and even winter wear if you like!
After about slightly over an hour on the island, we returned to Haberton Ranch via speedboat, and warmed ourselves at the cafe. We also treated ourselves to some delicious homemade lemon tart and coffee. It was so, so good (sorry, couldn’t resist my first bite)!
We then proceeded to our last stop for the tour – Museo Acatushun. From the outside, it looks like an unassuming residence painted in white, but in actual fact, it is a museum that houses skeletal remains of marine animals in the area (think orcas, whale sharks, penguins etc). Somehow, these marine animals tend to get washed ashore here. This place is also a research institute that was founded by Natalie Goodall.
We then made our way back to Ushuaia, where we had a simple meal at Banana Cafe. We shared a ham and cheese sandwich, and some popcorn chicken. The food was nothing much to rave about. Here’s a picture of the bear who aptly resembled a banana that day 🙂
For dinner, we decided to pamper ourselves a little more by cooking a hearty pasta meal, complete with some soup and Argentinian wine.
With dinner against such a beautiful backdrop, could we have asked for more? 🙂
*This is a non-sponsored post.