King penguins are a big draw for tourists in the Falklands - GulfToday

King penguins are a big draw for tourists in the Falklands

penguins 1

King penguins are seen at Volunteer Point, north of Stanley in the Falkland Islands. AFP

Penguins are a delight to behold. These lovely black and white birds, with their heads held high, have an air of royalty about them as they walk. This is one species of aquatic bird that does not fly.

Waddling in single file, king penguins in particular are a major draw in the Falkland Islands' tourism industry; tourists, particularly their children, like to get as close to them as possible so that they can touch them.

Their fluffy brown chicks are nearly fearless of humans, meaning tourists at Volunteer Point, a peninsula on East Falkland Island, might get almost close enough to touch one.

"We're the furthest location north in the world that you can see king penguins," said Tony Heathman, a sheep farmer who has spent the last 16 years taking tour groups to Volunteer Point, where a thousand pairs of the islands' signature species go to breed.

"We get lots and lots of people who... love to come here and get as close to the king penguins as they possibly can," the 70-year-old said.

Kings are just one of five penguin species in the Falklands, alongside the wacky-looking rock hoppers which have yellow tassels sprouting from the side of their heads, gentoos, macaronis and the burrowing magellanics.

penguins 3
Kings are just one of five penguin species in the Falklands. AFP

The Falklands have incredibly rich biodiversity, including more than 25 species of whales and dolphins, but it is the guaranteed ability to get up close with penguins that makes it a particularly enticing destination.

Tourism is a growing industry in the Falklands despite their remote location in the South Atlantic some 480 kilometres (300 miles) off Argentina and occasional political and economic hostility

Like a Hitchcock film

Another of the Falklands' stunning locations for wildlife watching is Kidney Island, where rockhoppers use their claws and beaks to help them get to the top of cliffs where they will mate.

In order to see the birds, visitors must trek a half hour through tall, three-meter (10-foot) tussac grass while avoiding ground bird nests.

penguins 2
A King penguin and its chick are seen at Volunteer Point. AFP

But a bird called the sooty shearwater is what makes the island truly unique.

"Kidney Island is home to 140,000 breeding pairs of sooty shearwaters that are just rafting off the coast here ready to come in," Denise Blake, the Falklands government's environmental officer, told AFP during a visit to the outlying island.

"So as night falls you really see them swooping in over the heads a bit like the Hitchcock movie where all the birds start circling in: It's incredible for that."

Beyond birds the endangered sei whale is found off the coast of the Falklands while the distinctive black and white Commerson's dolphins swim near Yorke Bay and Gypsy Cove.

penguins 5
Their fluffy brown chicks are nearly fearless of humans. AFP

Leap of faith

In addition to nature watching, adventure tourism is also growing on the islands, where enterprising locals are branching into the industry.

Tom and Jane Chater recently launched a business offering helicopter trips and tours.

The married couple is hoping to attract some of the 60,000 people a year who arrive in the Falklands from cruise ships by offering the chance to explore the islands from their four-seater Robinson R-44 helicopter.

"It's been a very busy and exciting time for us," said Tom Chater, 43.

"It's something we thought about for a long time," added 46-year-old Jane. "It's a leap of faith but we're keen to see how it works out."

Related articles