Today, Lindblad Expeditions and National Geographic Explorer broke new ground in the West Falklands with a maiden visit to Beaver Island. In fact, no cruise or expedition ship has ever made a visit to Beaver Island! At 12,000 acres, this hilly, spacious land is a wonderful place for spreading out and exploring. We landed on a white sandy beach and had an easy walk on a grazed path leading to a sub-colony of gentoo penguins. The penguins are always a treat to view, but the really exciting wildlife were the two gray Patagonian foxes which scampered among the tussock grass and observed the molting birds. Striated caracaras (known on the Falkland Islands as “Johnny Rooks”) also patrolled the colonies.

We hiked past another sub-colony of gentoo penguins for a walk on the wonderful shoreline, lined with fantastic rock formations. The walk took us along the beach and then up a hill for sweeping views of sheer cliffs and strong surf. The stiff breeze made the grasses sway and our hearts pounded as we hiked the vertiginous cliff-tops, but the exploration was a delight and the freedom to roam was much appreciated.

The Zodiac ride to the ship from the beach at Beaver Island was a bit splashy and kelp-filled, but many of us had special marine escorts in the form of playful and curious Peale’s dolphins bow-riding. We didn’t even mind that their leaping next to the boat soaked us with even more with seawater!

After lunch, we landed our Zodiacs at the settlement at New Island for our last stop of this incredible voyage. It was the first opportunity to observe a black-browed albatross colony. The amphitheater of steep, rocky sea cliffs provided a perfect backdrop not only to these wonderful chicks still on their nests, but also to southern rockhopper penguins and imperial cormorants. The albatross chicks were the stars of the show and at about six months, still had three to four weeks to go before being fully fledged. They tested out their wings, preened, and waited patiently for a parent to return to their high, cylindrical guano nests. A few adults returned to the colony and showed off their stunning coloration and the beautiful black “eye-liner” that gives them their name.

The hotel team took advantage of a protected area on the soft white sandy beach to finish off the day’s activities with a beach barbeque, complete with grilled sausages, beer, and soft drinks. It was a wonderful end to a truly unforgettable 21 days in the Southern Ocean.