January 14, 2009
Harberton Farm and Penguin Colony
Today we were picked up by a different guide who was equally as personable and knowledgeable. He drove us to the east to Estancia Harberton, a former cattle and sheep ranch. As we drove through the industrial area he explained that in the 70’s the government declared the area tax free and invested in industries there to encourage people to move there. For a time there were a lot of factories assembling appliances and such. Eventually it was no longer profitable and all but three of the factories have closed. He said that when the factories were being built the city grew faster than it could handle. People built houses wherever they could on government land, the roads and utilities came later. So many people were required by the government to move their houses that some were built to be moved. They were called sled houses and he pointed out several that still exist.
At Estancia Harberton we boarded a Zodiac and sped toward Martillo Island to see the penguin colony. On the way we passed a cliff with nests of rock cormorants and were followed by a sea lion who seemed as curious about us as we were about him.
On Martillo Island were hundreds of Magellanic penguins lounging on the gravel beach, playing in the water and sitting in nests. The sound of the all calling penguins was something else. John was able to record it with his camera and promises to send it to me by e-mail. The island is owned by Harberton and they only allow a limited number of people to visit, so we were the only people there. There was an area marked off with logs that we were required to stay within, but the penguins considered it a part of their areas and so we were able to be right near them. They were not afraid of us. There were many babies, the youngest about a month old. One stood looking at us and flapping his wings. He was so cute.
In the center of the Magellanic penquins were some Gentoos, larger than the Magellanic and with orange-red beaks ending in black. They were nesting on rocks whereas the Magellanics were nesting in the dirt, digging small holes.
On our way from Martillo Island to our hike on Gable Island we also saw a chinstrap penguin. He was short and stocky. Our guide said they are not usually in the area and they had seen two the day before. We were just lucky to be seeing him. He stood still as we maneuvered closer and took pictures. So exciting!
We then landed on Gable Island and had another easy hike across the island. At one point we could look across the water and see Puerto Williams in Chile. Our guide again is well educated in the flora, fauna and history of the area. I can’t say enough about how great the Ushuaia guides are. The hike was interesting because of the unusual, to me, plants and trees we saw. I took a lot of pictures again today and again I don’t remember the names of all the plants I saw. Should have taken out my notebook.
Eventually we came to an abandoned cabin that had been occupied by the sheep herder when Harberton was a working ranch. We had lunch there, including another good bottle of wine. Nearby was an abandoned sheep sheering barn that was falling apart, with most of its roof missing. The view of the water and small islands was beautiful. We finished our hike and were picked up by the Zodiac for our return to Harberton and the drive back to Ushuaia. As we were leaving the ranch we saw a grey fox and birds feeding on a carcass. We were able to drive closer to watch and get a picture.
Tonight we went to Maria Lola for dinner. Again the food and wine were great. A nice way to end a great day.