Close up Of Two Gentoo Penguins on The Falkland Islands

1 Day in Port On the Falkland Islands

Having the Falkland Islands (aka Islas Malvinas) off the coast of South America as a port on our 32-day South America Cruise is exciting. Even better, we actually make port!

Ships dock in the port of Stanely, the capital of the islands. However, the area is known for its high winds, making navigation and docking difficult. In addition, the waters around the Falkland Islands are influenced by the Antarctic Circumpolar Current, which can create strong and unpredictable currents. For these reasons many cruise ships are forced to skip this port.

Still, around 120 cruise ships visit the islands between October and April (the summer/fall months in South America). If you are one of the lucky cruise passengers who make it ashore, you may wonder what to do on your 1 day in port on the Falkland Islands.

Morning Penguin Encounters: 1 Day In Port On The Falkland Islands

Penguins are the main draw in the Falklands, and there are a lot of penguins! In this general order, our focus for the day is Penguins at Bertha’s Beach and Gypsy Cove, Understanding a bit of the history of the Falklands, the Cape Pembroke Lighthouse, and  Stanley.

Our ship, the Sapphire Princess, anchors just outside the port. Stanley, the capital of the Falkland Islands, is a tender port for most cruise ships, and we are no exception. Cruise ships use their lifeboats to ferry passengers from the ship to shore in many locations.

The Sapphire Princess Anchored In Blanco Bay Falklands Islands

We have a private full-day tour today with a local guide booked to start at the pier at 8:30, so we hurry to get an early tender ticket and get ashore. Once at the dock in Port Stanley, we find ourselves in a mass of fellow passengers, and we start looking for our guide, Peter King (PK Tours – Falklands).

Fortunately, there is a local gift shop with restrooms at the dock in Stanley Harbour. When we met up with Peter, he encouraged us all to use the facilities as our first stop, Bertha’s Beach, which is about an hour away.

Bertha’s Beach is the place to go to see the adorable and funny Gentoo penguins

As we got a quick and early start off the dock, we were the first tourists to arrive at Bertha’s Beach. For about an hour, we had the long stretch of white sand beach filled with cute Gentoos all to ourselves. The beach is the home and nesting site for over 500 breeding pairs!

In addition to the Gentoo colony, this beach is home to many bird species, including the South American Tern, the Falkland flightless steamer duck, and ruddy-headed geese. The last two birds were abundant higher up in the grassland area of the beach, where we also found a few Magellanic Penguins tucked into the grasses (as they tend to like to hide).

The beach was named after a ship, The Bertha, an iron barque, which was wrecked on this beach in 1892. (A barque is an old sailing vessel with three or more masts). There are not really any remains of the Bertha. But if you can tear yourself away from the cute little penguins and do a little beachcombing, you may find some driftwood that most likely came from the ship.

Early Afternoon: A Brief History of the Falkland Islands

Bertha’s Beach was our most distant location on this tour. About halfway back to Stanely, we pull off the road for refreshments. Peter packed up sandwiches, drinks, and candies to fuel us. Most of the group are happy to have coffee or coke. But I am thrilled that Peter has prepared a proper pot of tea, with a splash of cream and a lump of sugar; I get to enjoy a proper “cuppa” to restore my soul.

Berthas Beach G&V and the Gentoos

Sheep farming is one of the major industries on the Islands. In the fields, sheep are everywhere. Most importantly, you must watch where you step as the sheep leave little “bombs” for you to find.

Speaking of “bombs,” as we head back towards Stanely, Peter gives us his brief view of the Falklands War (yes, he lived here then). He points into the hills at one bend in the road, where the last Argentinian forces held out. They could see anyone coming from the British military base or Stanely from up on the hillside.  

a Flock of Sheep By The Road

The most lasting remembrance of the war, which only lasted 10 days, was the approximately 20,000 landmines the Argentine forces laid out around Stanley and other strategic locations. Peter points out markers on the side of the road that previously closed off fields believed to contain these mines.

Immediately after the war, the United Kingdom and Falkland Islands governments cleared the mines systematically. The demining efforts were slow due to the challenging conditions and the sheer number of mines. However, by November 2020, the Falkland Islands had been declared mine-free.

For more history, I’ve written a short outline of the Occupation of the Islands between the British, French, Spanish, and Argentinians below.

Afternoon: Visit to Gypsy Cove

After our lunch stop, we continued back to Stanely. Peter takes us past the Government House, the 1982 Liberation Memorial, and the Margaret Thatcher Statue. We are heading up to visit Gypsy Cove next.

Exiting the main road from Stanley, we pass by the Lady Elizabeth, another wrecked iron barque. In 1912, the ship was damaged going around Cape Horn, but it could make it to Berkley Sound. Here, she was declared unseaworthy.

Lady Elizabeth

After serving as a floating timber warehouse in 1936, Lady Elizabeth broke free from her moorings during a fierce storm. She drifted into Whalebone Cove and was beached on a sandbar. This is where she remains today.

At Just 6.5 km (4 miles) outside Stanely, Gypsy Cove’s location and easy accessibility make this a spot most tourists head for. The cove is home to penguins, of course, but also black-crowned night herons, oystercatchers, long-tailed meadowlarks, and the Falklands flightless steamer duck make their home here.

Gypsy Cove Sign

If you scan the waters of Port William, Yorke Bay, and the white sandy beaches below the cliffs, you may catch a glimpse of southern sea lions or Peale’s dolphins.

This is the place to see Magellanic Penguins; there is a large breeding ground housing hundreds, if not thousands, of the little guys. You will know when you get close from the loud braying sounds the Magellanic Penguins make, giving them their nickname of the “Jackass” Penguin.

I have to clarify what I mean by “easy accessibility.” There is not much that I saw in the Falklands that would be easily accessible for the mobility-impaired. Even the most straightforward trails are rocky and have many ups and downs. “Easy accessibility” means that many buses, cabs, and cars can easily take tourists to Gypsy Cove and the head of the walking trail.

Gypsy Cove Sign

So, if you are counting, we’ve seen two species of penguins: Gentoo and Magellanic. A third species also makes its home here on the Falkland Islands archipelago: King penguins. These are the second largest of all penguins, the Emperor penguin being the largest. These guys hang out at a place called Volunteer Point. Unfortunately, we did not have time to get there.

Walking Trails Around The Bluff

We follow the main trail along the bluff overlooking the cove. It’s a lovely sunny day; the afternoon sun helps us stay warm as the cold wind comes off the water. We search the grasses for penguins in their nests but finally find a group hanging out together.

As you continue along the trail, you come to Ordnance Point. Here are the remains of World War Two guns (we would call them cannons). We finish our short hike back to the car park, loading up for our final stop before heading back to Stanley.

Late Afternoon: The Cape Pembroke Lighthouse

A short drive from Gypsy Cove is the Cape Pembroke Lighthouse, our final stop before Stanley. Cape Pembroke is around 3 miles east of Gypsy Cove and is the most easterly point of the Falklands Islands.

There has been a navigational aid on this point since the 1840s, but the first lighthouse was erected in 1854. This lighthouse had 18 lamps burning rape-seed oil and used a reflecting light visible for 14 miles in clear conditions. After a half-century of operations, the lighthouse’s foundation became unsafe, and a decision was made to build it anew.

By 1907, the rebuilt lighthouse was finally illuminated using a new refracting third-order apparatus lit by paraffin lamps. This time, the light was a flashing light visible up to 16 miles away. This lighthouse served continuously until after the Argentine invasion in April 1987.

Cape Pembroke Lighthouse

Today, a group is working toward the lighthouse’s restoration, and the Falkland Islands Museum & National Trust is coordinating this project, scheduled to begin in mid-2024.

This is the final stop of our tour with Peter, and for cheers and thanks for spending the day with him, he offers us a quick shot of a local whisky before heading back to Stanley.

Exploring Stanley: A Nice Stroll Before We Head Back To The Ship

Upon returning to Stanley, Peter presented us with this detailed island map. The map identifies many places we saw on our tour and the primary battles from the 1982 war. With some time left before returning to the ship, we decided to walk around this capital city.

Falklands Map from Peter King

The population of Stanley is around 2500 persons, and it is the most populated place in the islands (total population is around 3,800). So this is a small town, and it is easy to walk from one end to the other in a short time.

The don’t miss key attractions are easy to find. First stop Christ Church Cathedral and Whalebone Arch. This Anglican Cathedral sits on the corner of Ross Road, the road that runs much the length of town along the water.

Christ Church was consecrated in February 1892 and is the southernmost Anglican cathedral in the world. Without a doubt, this is the most impressive building on the islands. Its bright red roof and stained-glass windows shine in the late afternoon sun.

The other notable monument on this site is the whalebone arch in front of the cathedral. The arch, constructed from the jaws of two blue whales, was erected in 1933 to commemorate 100 years of British rule in the Falklands.

We did not stop at the Falkland Islands Museum, about ¼ mile further along Ross Road. But if you are a natural and maritime history fan, you may want to visit this historic dockyard museum. I read the cost is only $5, but other cruise passengers from our ship mentioned that the fee may be waived.

If you, like many, would like to mail home a postcard from these far-flung places, the post office is also along Ross Road, just three blocks from Christ Church.

How The British Came To Occupy The Falklands

I am not a historian or a student of British occupations, but I am curious about the places I visit and their history. Here’s a brief overview of what I’ve read regarding the recent history of the Falkland Islands.

The British had a small settlement on West Falkland in 1765 but were driven off by the Spanish in 1770. Spain maintained a settlement on East Falkland (Soledad Island) until 1811.

In 1820, the Buenos Aires government claimed sovereignty over the Falklands. However, in 1831, the US warship Lexington destroyed the Argentine settlement on East Falkland after Argentina arrested three US ships hunting seals in the area.

In early 1833, British forces expelled the remaining Argentine officials without firing a shot. By 1841, a British civilian lieutenant governor was appointed. By 1885, a self-supporting British community of 1,800 people was established on the islands.

Conflicts Between The UK And Argentina

Argentina has claimed sovereignty over the islands throughout the British occupation of the Falklands. In 1965, the UN General Assembly called for Britain and Argentina to discuss a peaceful solution. These talks continued until February 1982. However, on April 2, Argentina’s military government invaded the Falklands, starting the Falklands War.

The war ended 10 weeks later when the Argentines surrendered at Stanley to British troops. Although Britain and Argentina reestablished diplomatic relations in 1990, sovereignty remained contentious.

In the early 21st century, Britain stationed around 2,000 troops on the islands. In January 2009, a new constitution reinforced the Falkland islanders’ right to determine their political status. In a 2013 referendum, the islanders voted overwhelmingly to remain a British overseas territory.

What Is Of Such  Importance In The Falkland Islands To Cause A War?

  1. Geopolitical Location — Proximity to Key Maritime Routes: The Falklands are located in the South Atlantic Ocean, near the crucial maritime route around Cape Horn. This route is critical for ships traveling between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.

Additionally, there is access to Antarctica: The islands are relatively close to Antarctica, providing a potential logistical base for scientific expeditions and asserting influence over Antarctic territories.

  • Military Significance — Defensive Position: The islands offer a strategic military position to monitor and control movements in the South Atlantic. The British military presence ensures a rapid response capability in the region.

Air and Naval Bases: The British have established military bases in this remote location, including an airbase at Mount Pleasant, which enhances their ability to project power and maintain security in the South Atlantic.

  • Lastly, Economic Interests — Fisheries: The waters around the Falklands are rich in marine life, making fisheries an essential economic resource. Control over these waters ensures access to valuable fishing grounds.

Potential Hydrocarbon Resources: The area around the Falklands is believed to have significant oil and gas reserves. Exploration and possible exploitation of these resources provide economic incentives to maintain control over the islands.

The Best Way To Spend 1 Day in Port On the Falkland Islands

This was the best way to spend our time on the Falkland Islands. The opportunity to have a private guide and transport made it possible to be more connected to the tour. Was it a little pricey? Maybe, but that is because Peter only takes as many guests as his Land Rover Defender can hold. That’s usually 4 unless someone is willing to sit in the jumpseat in the back, then it will accommodate 5. But it was well worth the cost.

Peter & His Defender

Excursions from the ship were equally costly, and I’ve never liked being on a bus. Having a private driver and tour guide meant we got to Bertha’s Beach before other tour buses or groups. It was a joy to have that hour with just the six of us on the beach among the penguins in their natural habitat.

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