Sunday 20 February

(magnify) Southern sea lion bull and harem

Steve has not been able to confirm availability of earlier flights so is still with us for the boat trip on the Beagle Channel. We’re on a medium-sized catamaran, downstairs in the main cabin to keep out of the cold.

We get underway at 9.40 am, sliding gently out of the harbour and heading east along the channel. To our right is the coast of Chile. Our first port of call is a small group of islands in the middle of the channel where colonies of southern sea lions and South American fur seals are basking on the rocks.

We are not the only boat out this morning, and there is a fair amount of careful manovering and jockeying for position as the various skippers try to give their passengers the best views.

(magnify) South American fur seals
(magnify) The Faro Les Eclaireurs lighthouse

A live commentary is given in Spanish and English. Unfortunately, the translation time-lag means that my attempts to photograph an albatross are thwarted. I do better later from the open deck on top after the commentary has finished.

There is a wonderful sense of space and wilderness here on the channel. The dramatic walls of ice and mountainous peaks that I had imagined are absent, but it does nevertheless feel something like the end of the world might.

(magnify) Beagle Channel and mountains

Eat a ham and cheese toastie en-route. Just before we reach our ultimate destination, the Haberton Estancia, we pass to the right of a large island with curious rock formations on the cliffs that look like gables on a house.

On the far side of the island is a penguin colony. The skipper takes us in close to the shingle beach. The penguins seem quite unconcerned apart from the odd one that torpedos away from the boat under the surface to avoid being mown down. The beach is crowded with mostly magellanic penguins, with a few gentoo penguins (recognisable by their slightly larger size and orange feet and beaks) scattered among them.

(magnify) Magellanic penguins
(magnify) Gentoo penguins

Shortly after, we put in at the Haberton Estancia, where the first Christian mission in Tierra del Fuego was set up. We are given a guided tour in English by a very bubbly young woman in a hat. The tour is a triumph of presentation over content – there is little to see besides few trees, a small graveyard, a sheep shearing shed, a garden of European shrubs and two rather moth-eaten stuffed condors. But there is a lot of laughter and we give our guide ten out of ten for entertainment value.

(magnify) Windswept tree

The sixty or so kilometres back to Usuaia along the channel go past slowly. I hadn’t realised quite how much distance we had covered.

Dinner at the hotel again, since no one else is very keen on heading back into town tonight.