After cruising north overnight we spent the morning at sea before arriving in Caleta Gonzalo and heading ashore to explore Pumalin Park, a fine example of environmental philanthropy. Created in 1991 by a North American clothing entrepreneur, the park now covers over 700,000 acres and protects large stands of evergreen temperate rainforest. It also provides public access for recreation and tourism while promoting sustainable land use practices in and around the park.
We boarded minibuses and headed south along the Carretera Austral to trailheads within the park. As some of us have discovered in the past few days, these forests would be impenetrable without the trails, so we were glad of the opportunity to hike through the rainforest, viewing spectacular waterfalls (pictured) and native wildlife such as the diminutive bird the Chucao tapaculo. We passed through stands of the largest, oldest, and most magnificent of the South American conifers: the alerce. It grows in moist to very wet forests, from sea level to the slopes of the Andes. Alerce grows very slowly, but reaches great size and age. It reaches barely a metre in diameter at an age of 1,000 years, and trees in excess of 4.5 metres diameter, 45 metres in height, and 3,600 years in age are known. While it is known as the Southern redwood, it is not closely related to the North American redwood. It produces a straight-grained, rot-resistant, reddish-brown wood that was formerly highly prized. Today, alerce is protected by decree of the Chilean Government and as much as 35% of the remaining stands are found within the Pumalin Park.