We awakened Tuesday December 13 to a beautiful morning. Kathy was very excited as this was the day we were going to see the penguins. After a relaxing breakfast, we were pleased to see Augustine at 8:10 am with a new driver to take us to Estancia Haberton, the oldest estancia in this area. We picked up another couple and were on our way. It took about 90 minutes and during the drive Augustine pointed out the trees and flowers, discussed the history of the area we would see and answered questions. Again it didn't take long for our small group to feel like friends. We learned that the Estancia had been established in 1886 by the missionary Thomas Bridges and was originally a full estancia with cattle and sheep. However, due to a bad winter storm in the 90's and the loss of most of the livestock, present day owners changed the focus of the estancia to tourism and particularly care of the penguins on one of the islands on the estancia. Bridges was also the man who wrote the Yamana dictionary, the language of the native people of the area. Management of the present day estancia remains in the hands of Bridges descendants.
When we arrived at the Estancia, we went to the dock where we viewed the lovely main building. Since the staff is greatly reduced compared to a livestock estancia, many of the other buildings were no longer in use. We soon boarded a kodiak for our ride to the penguin rookery on a nearby island. It was not a long ride and the wind blowing through our hair as we gazed around the beautiful surroundings was quite a start to the day. As we approached the island we could see hundreds of penguins on the beach. They were not frightened by the approach of our boat which quietly slid onto the beach. We did not get out of the boat, nor disturb the penguin habitat in any way. There were two breeds of warm water penguins on the beach, the magellanic in the majority and the gentoo, a much smaller group. We could see where they built nests and enjoyed watching them swim, waddle about and play with each other. It was a lifetime dream of Kathy to visit the penguins in their native habitat, she was very thrilled.
After taking many photos of the penguins, we headed via the kodiak to Gable Island for some more hiking. The pace was perfect for our group with many stops to enjoy the beautiful flowers, birds and animals as we walked through the pastures surrounded by the mountainous cliffs around the Beagle Channel. The hike then took us inland to view the lagoon and the work of the beavers. The beaver population on the island has exploded since there is no natural predator. We were amazed at the size and complexity of the dams that these nocturnal beaver engineers built. Their extraordinary ability to chop down trees however destroys the habitat for other animals.
As we continued our hike we came upon an old sheep shed which was our lunch stop. Our cook was busy preparing a delicious smelling meal as we went inside to enjoy the appetizers and of course Argentinean wine from the End of the World winery. We had hake, a local fish grilled with potatoes and vegetables and fantastic bread. We had great conversations with our other group members and lingered over the wine and brownies for dessert.
Then we headed out to the channel to catch the zodiac back to the estancia. Again the views were breathtaking and the weather perfectly clear. We made an additional stop at the Museo Acatushun ( Marine Museum) on the property and had a short tour with some of the research scientists who were studying the many fossils found in the region.
Before returning to Ushuaia, we had one more short stop to view the Guindo trees (one of two Lenga tree species) known as flag trees due to the shape they develop from the strong winds that blow there. Their shape reminded us of the coastal pine trees in Monterey California, similarly shaped due to being windblown along the rugged California coast.
After a delightful day we climbed back on our little bus for the 90 min ride back to our hotel. We managed to take a short nap, but the scenery was too good to miss.
After a short break at the hotel, we headed downtown to shop and find dinner. Carol Jo was on a quest to find some Argentinean jewelry and after looking at every shop in town and with some advice from her friends she found the perfect set. Kathy also took home some Rodocrosita (Rosa de Inca) earrings and pendant. Janet was successful finding her nativity scene. An advantage of shopping in Ushuaia was that it was all duty free. We did not have any problems getting more money from the ATM's to spend.
We sat down for dinner about 9pm at a Bar B Que restaurant where we filled ourselves with fresh vegetables that we had been yearning for and some bar b qued chicken. Full and happy we headed back to our hotel, where we fell into bed.