Our flight Wednesday from Saunders Island back to Stanley took about an hour, including a stop at Pebble Island to drop off a kitten and some cat food to the residents of the settlement there. We had a great view of Stanley as we approached the airport. The Malvina Hotel that we stayed at on our first night in the Islands (and will stay at, again, on our last night) is the brown and white complex at the bottom right, surrounded by the green roofs of the neighboring government buildings.
Down the harbor, just before the runway, was an old, iron sailing ship that had been shipwrecked in the early 1900s and towed into the harbor where it had been used by the salvor as a floating warehouse until the 1930s when it broke loose from its moorings and ended up here, where it was abandoned and has been rusting away for nearly 80 years.
The Stanley airport is only used for inter-island transport; the international airport is the one 35 miles away, Mount Pleasant Airfield, built by the British military after the 1982 Falklands War for defensive purposes, but also used now for the occasional commercial flight from Chile or the U.K.
We were met inside the terminal by Derek Pettersson, a friend and business colleague of Patrick, whose wife, Trudi, is the Warden of the privately owned nature preserve at Volunteer Point. With Derek was his grandson, Daryl, and Gavin Lee, a radio and TV reporter for the BBC, in the Falklands to cover the referendum and now taking a day off to visit his friend, Derek.
The five of us were loaded into Derek’s SUV for the drive out to Volunteer Point (4) which, though only 13 miles as the crow flies, is about a 3 hour drive from Stanley (1), requiring a 4-wheel-drive vehicle and local knowledge of the way. You can see on the map that the road stops at Johnson Harbor, well short of Volunteer Point – about 14 miles short, actually.
At Johnson Harbor, a Land Rover was waiting to follow us on the off-road ride to Volunteer Point. The Point is part of a 32,000 acre sheep ranch that recently sold, including all the buildings of the settlement and 25,000 sheep, for £700,000, about $1,000,000. Amazing! The land here sells for about 75¢ per acre!
The drive across the moor takes about two hours and is unlike any off-roading I’ve ever done. There’s no track and no apparent landmark; you just head off in the general direction you want to go and hope you don’t get stuck, since the land is mostly peat and bog. But Derek, who makes this drive several times a week, handled it like he was just going down the street to get a gallon of milk.
Here’s an example of the depth of the peat here. Derek has to cut and dry lots of this stuff because it’s the fuel he and Trudi use to heat their house and, occasionally, to cook.
I picked up a peat brick at the house once we arrived. It’s lighter than I expected it to be and it gives off a pleasant aroma when burned.
Here are our hosts for two nights at Volunteer Point, Derek and Trudi, with their peat-stove in use in the background.
We (and Gavin) stayed upstairs in the guest bedrooms. It was a small house, but convenient to the beach and the penguins. The folks in the Land Rover that followed us out – which, as it turned out, included Alicky and Michelle who we had met during our visit to Carcass Island – camped in the shelter down on the beach (and were gone early the next day).
Before turning in for the night, we were treated to a nice sunset over the house as we returned from our walk.
Volunteer Point gets about 2,000 visitors each year from the cruise ships, but those tourists are convoyed out here in SUVs and shepherded around the beach, ogling the penguins from behind roped-off areas for just an hour or two.
We were lucky to be able to stay with Derek and Trudi in their house. According to their guest book, they’ve only had about 100 overnight guests for this season, which is now at its end. Our experience at Volunteer Point is unrestricted; we can go anywhere we want for as long as we want.
And Volunteer Point has the largest colony of King Penguins in the Falklands.