Our Introduction To Patagonia…
Our first highlight after crossing the border into Argentinian Patagonia was a tour around the UNESCO World Heritage Site ‘Peninsula Valdes’. The peninsula, aptly shaped like a ‘whale’s tail’, is home to a vast array of marine wildlife. The guide book told us this includes whales, orcas, sea lions, elephant seals, penguins and cormorants. You just have to time your visit right in order to see them all!
As a nature reserve, much of the Peninsula Valdes is off-limits to tourists so as to protect the flora and fauna and returning wildlife in the area. However after paying an entrance fee, visitors are allowed access to several viewpoints through a network of unpaved roads and cliff-top trails. During our day trip, we were taken to the most famous spots in the hope of catching a glimpse of some of the Patagonian wildlife we had read about in the guidebooks. Read on to find out what we spotted and see a selection of our favourite snapshots!
A Perfect Spot For Whale Watching
We learned that the southeastern cape, Punta Delgada, is home to communities of blubbery elephant seals, who come to fight, breed, mature and rest, before returning back to the ocean. The headland of Punta Cantor is also home to another large colony of elephant seals.
Caleta Valdes is where you are likeliest to spot sea lions and more elephant seals. We spotted these sea lions basking in the sun.
Most importantly for us, Puerto Piramides is known as an excellent base from which to see the southern right whales that come to the sheltered waters of the gulf to feed and breed during winter. We had never experienced a whale watching trip before (bad weather in Kaikoura, New Zealand on our previous RTW Trip meant a whale watching excursion had to be abandoned) so this was what we were most looking forward to!
Due to the time of year, mid-November, we didn’t know if it would be possible to see any whales on our day trip. Orcas for instance are the main attraction in March, when they patrol the waters on the hunt for seals. We were told by our tour guide that the whale watching season runs from late June to December, but towards the end of this period, only mothers and calves remain in the Golfo Nuevo, and to see them you must go a lot farther out.
Finding this out didn’t deter us. After travelling all this way (1,330km from Buenos Aires), we still had high hopes of catching at least a glimpse of a southern right whale swimming and diving in the Atlantic waters. Wayne particularly wanted to capture the famous ‘tail’ shot that is used in all of the guide books!
We weren’t lucky enough to get a shot of a whale jumping out of the water, but we did see a mother and calf who were only too happy to circle the catamaran we were sailing on. And it really was a breathtaking sight! The sheer size and scale of them is truly immense.
Up Close With Magellanic Penguins At Punta Tombo
Watching the whales was brilliant but by far the highlight of the day was seeing the Magellanic Penguins going about their daily business. The Punta Tombo rookery is home to some half a million Magellanic penguins every summer (from October to February), making it the largest penguin colony in South America. Another interesting fact about these cute little creatures is that Magellanic penguins keep the same mate for life and come ashore to the same nesting site year after year.
We observed the penguins huddling beneath bushes in their nesting holes, waddling across the sand and swimming in the blue green ocean. We were even lucky enough to snap some comical characters up close who seemed to be enjoying posing for the camera. Out of about a hundred shots, these are our favourites!
The Star Of The Show!
More Wildlife Spotting…
From the pictures, you can see that the landscape of the Peninsula Valdes is a mixture of fossil encrusted cliffs and long sandy beaches, but it’s definitely not a holiday destination. The chilly waters and blustery climate make it perfect for penguins and dolphins (but not humans!) Away from the coast, there is miles upon miles of scrubland providing the perfect living conditions for foxes, hares, guanacos (alpacas), rheas (ostriches) and we even saw a little armadillo scurry into the bushes as the truck thundered past. (Shame we just didn’t have chance to capture it on camera).
What An Introduction…
Exploring Peninsula Valdes was a fantastic introduction to Patagonia. But wildlife spotting is only a fraction of what Patagonia has to offer. Most famous for its spectacular glaciers and mountain scenery, our next installment will be trekking in Los Glaciares National Park where we plan to hike to the base of Mount Fitzroy. More of that in our next post…