Position: S 53* 10.05’ W 070* 54.54’
Weather: Bright and cloudy, turning to rain later
We awoke to find ourselves berthed at Puntas Arenas, regarded by Chile as the most southerly city in the world, although this is disputed by the smaller Agentinian ‘city’ of Ushuaia. We disembarked at 9am to take coaches to a specially chartered ferry bound for the Isla Magdelena Penguin Reserve. The two-hour journey there was across calm sea, but as we arrived at the island the wind started to get up and, perhaps unsurprisingly, it began to rain.
As we left the ferry, we were greeted by ‘little men in tuxedos’ – the penguins. The reserve is home to about 60,000 pairs of the delightful creatures. Magellanic Penguins are found no further south than southern Chile, and breed as far up as Chiloé Island on the Pacific coast, and central Argentina on the Atlantic coast. They are also found on the Falkland Islands (Las Malvinas).
It was a delight to watch them comically waddling across the grass and disappearing into their burrows. Occupied burrows could be identified by the faces peering out and the droppings left outside. Some birds were seen coming out and collecting grass to take in, which may act as a nest lining but could also ‘compost’ in the burrow to produce extra warmth. When a bird briefly left a burrow, it provided a rare opportunity to see the two eggs that most would be incubating.
At the top of the island was a lighthouse and associated buildings that act as information centre and park ranger office. Here, our guides told us of the penguin reserve, part of a Natural Monument made up of Martha Island and Magdelena Island. First created as a National Park in 1966, it became a Natural Monument in 1982.
The island was also home to Kelp Gulls and the menacing Chilean Skuas, both of which will predate penguins, taking eggs and young from careless parents. Dolphin Gulls were also seen along the pebbly beach and some South American Terns were feeding offshore.
The journey back to Punta Arenas by ferry was uneventful and we arrived safely at the quay where many guests opted to visit Punta Arenas for an hour. This city is based around a fine plaza with a large statue of Ferdinand Magellan in the centre. From high on his plinth, he looks down on statues of four local natives and tradition has it that to rub one of the toes of these brings good luck!
At about 5pm, we sailed away from Punta Arenas, heading for the Beagle Channel, which would lead us eventually to Ushuaia. The Captain’s Farwell Cocktail Party and Dinner took place this evening where we were able to thank the many staff behind the scenes on the ship. The dinner was livened up by the appearance of Peale’s Dolphins in our wake and provided a perfect end to the day.