Better than any other island in the archipelago, Saunders Island blends the attractions of natural history and history—its wildlife is abundant and accessible, but it’s also a case study in the Falklands/Malvinas controversy.
The Falklands’ second-largest offshore island, at 31,000 acres, Saunders is a roughly U-shaped landmass nearly cut into unequal segments by the east–west Brett Harbour. The settlement, though, occupies a site near Port Egmont, on the relatively sheltered east coast, almost facing Keppel Island.
British marines first established themselves here in 1765, but after France withdrew from Port Louis, Spain discovered and expelled the Port Egmont settlement two years later—nearly sparking a shooting war in Europe. Under pressure, the Spaniards restored the Saunders settlement, but, in 1774, Britain suspended its presence for, it said, budgetary reasons. After the British departure, Spanish forces leveled the settlement.
Just north of the current settlement, Port Egmont’s surviving ruins include extensive foundations and even some walls, jetties, and garden terraces that, by one account, yielded plentiful produce—mostly root crops such as potatoes and carrots, but also green vegetables such as broccoli, celery, lettuce, and spinach.
Ironically enough, long after Britain regained the Falkland Islands from Buenos Aires, Saunders became Argentine property. Scottish sheep farmer John Hamilton, who came to the Islands as an FIC shepherd in the late 19th century, re-emigrated to Santa Cruz territory, where he became a major estanciero; never losing interest in the Falklands, he purchased several island properties including Saunders. When Hamilton died, though, his Argentine children inherited the property, and until its sale to resident employees in 1987, its ownership was a sore point among Islanders.
For wildlife-oriented visitors, the big attraction is The Neck, a sandy isthmus about four hours’ walk from the settlement on the north side of Brett Harbour. On its north side, facing the open ocean, a large gentoo colony and a smaller contingent of 30 or so kings breed; for some years, a solitary chinstrap penguin made its home among the gentoos, but it’s apparently headed back to the Antarctic.
The Neck’s real highlight is the enormous breeding colonies of rockhopper penguins, cormorants, and especially black-browed albatrosses, who need the steep cliffs and stiff northwesterly winds beneath Mount Richards to launch themselves into flight. On land, these stunningly beautiful birds are ungainly but, nearly fearless of humans, they will reward photographers by waddling into close-up range.
For tireless hikers, this scenic northeastern coastline is an ideal way to return to the settlement, but its steepness, slipperiness, and high winds make it potentially hazardous. Beneath Rookery Mountain, more albatrosses, rockhoppers, and king cormorants breed near a new house and an old Portakabin that both offer accommodations; it is more easily accessible from the settlement proper.
Immediately west of The Neck, Magellanic penguins burrow in the coastal greens en route to Elephant Point (another four hours on foot), which has a substantial elephant-seal colony, as well as kelp gulls, skuas, and other birds.
February–May, there are whales offshore.
Hotels and Restaurants
In the settlement proper, farm owners/managers David and Suzan Pole-Evans (tel. 41298, fax 41296, davidpe [at] horizon [dot] co [dot] fk) rent the self-catering, six-bed Stone Cottage, dating from 1875 but with a modernized interior, and the separate 10-bed R&R House, sometimes used by military guests from Mount Pleasant. Rates are £30 per person.
Wildlife enthusiasts, though, usually prefer the converted Portakabin (£50 pp) at The Neck, which has electricity and hot water and can sleep up to eight. It also has a gas cookstove and a full bathroom with a tub and flush toilet.
Beneath Rookery Mountain, about 50 minutes’ ride north from the settlement near rockhopper and albatross colonies, Freddie’s Karavan (£10 pp) has two bunks, hot and cold water, a peat stove, 24-hour electricity, and a small gas cookstove. Nearly alongside, the sparkling new Rookery Inn (£50 pp) is a comfortable modern house with two ample bedrooms, plus a combination living/dining room and kitchen.
The Pole-Evanses also permit camping (£10 pp) anywhere except near the Portakabin at The Neck proper (though it’s possible not too far away, where there’s piped spring water and a latrine). The farm has a small store and may sell fresh milk and eggs, but visitors should bring most supplies from Stanley. Payment is possible in British sterling or in U.S. dollars.
Children under age 10 pay half price for accommodations, with children under 5 free. For those staying in the settlement, full board is available (£60 pp. minimum of six).
© Wayne Bernhardson from Moon Argentina, 3rd edition