240 Photos

Santa Fe and South Plaza Islands
Darwin Country

Beautiful Emerald ValleyBeautiful Emerald Valley (Kerry Wohlstein)
The morning dawned crystal clear and I had a spectacular view of Santa Fe Island. The island was formed by an uplift, rather than a volcano, which gives it a table top shape. It was a wet landing at a sparkling turquoise cove, called Bahi Barrington, but the island was extremely hot and arid. We were advised to bring plenty of water to ward off dehydration.

The first part of the walk that morning was through a giant cactus forest. The Prickly Pear or Opuntia forest is named for the pear shaped fruit of the cactus. They are nearly twenty feet high in places. I suppose this adaptation was to ward off the land iguanas attacks. Though some of the spines were larger than my fingers, cactus finches managed to nest inside the trunk. I spied a nest with two babies and a mom who came to feed them. Que bonita!

A longer hike found us walking up the steep side of the cliffs through San Paulo and Scalesia trees as Daniel explained the geology of the area. Many tree finches sat in the Santos Paulo trees. Perhaps it was because the tree smelled faintly like incense. Here we saw the endemic Land Iguanas in and among the purslane munching the yellow flowers.These iguanas are the largest in the island chain and their golden color is similar to the cactus fruit they eat. Also on the path we watched mocking birds and their symbiotic relationship with the iguanas as they sat on their heads picking them clean of insects and other pests. The path continued past the iguanas to the top of the cliff where there was a breathtaking view of the cove below. We returned to the boat and went for a well earned snorkel and swim.

After lunch and a siesta in the quiet cove, we once again went by panga to an islet close by and South Plaza. This was a dry landing on a flat table top island where the largest colony of sea lions in the entire archipelago resides. The hike was about 1 km, but it wound past many land iguanas and swallowtail gulls nesting on or near the cliffs. The gulls tended to their fluffy babies among the rocks. Walking along the top of the cliffs, I watched sea birds diving for food and soaring across the sky in front of me.The red-billed tropic bird with its beautiful long white, elegant tail floated just out of reach above my head. At the far end of the rocks, with a steep path, I sat quietly as a lone male made his way up to the top. These males have either been beaten by a larger, more aggressive male for their harem and have come to lick their wounds, are adolescents, not ready for the fight yet or they are old and need some respect. They even had their own bachelor pad!

As we left there was always one more baby sea lion who wanted to be loved!

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