Planes, penguins and Land Rovers: Travelling in the Falkland Islands
Before I moved to London, I spent most of my childhood in the Falkland Islands, a British archipelago in the South Atlantic, almost 8,000 miles away from the UK.
This Christmas I went back to the islands for a visit, and I got in plenty of travelling around while I was there.
I thought some of you might be interested in how people get around there, and in what kind of vehicles.
First, some geography: the Falklands are made up of more than 700 islands, but less than 15 are inhabited or farmed, the rest being too small to support anything other than wildlife.
Most of the Islands’ 3,300 population lives in the capital, Stanley, but plenty live out on more remote farms, or on smaller islands.
A network of mostly single track unsurfaced roads links these settlements to Stanley. The roads, which have been built over the past 20 years, have revolutionised transport in the Falklands.
Before that, rough tracks across the terrain was the only way to get from farm to farm overground, meaning Land Rovers or equally capable off-roaders were the only choice.
Many people still favour Land Rovers today, although with the Defender beginning to die out, lots of people are now driving Toyotas, Mitsubishis or other off-roaders – but very few people drive anything other than a 4x4.
I grew up being bounced around in my dad's old 110, which had no power steering, no rear view mirror and a very reluctant gearbox. I somehow learned to drive in that old thing, before I then bought myself a 90. Sadly, both are now deceased – I did try to find the wreck of my old 90 when I was back over Christmas, but despite my best efforts I couldn't see it anywhere.
Land Rovers have been part of Falklands life for a long time...
... But they aren't the only vehicles in the Islands. Somewhat bizarrely, there is also an old London bus parked down near the dock in Stanley:
But to get to the other islands, you need something other than a Land Rover. My friend Dan is a pilot for the local air service FIGAS (Falkland Islands Government Air Service).
They fly Britten-Norman BN-2 Islander aircraft, which are twin propellor, eight-seater planes – perfect workhorses for carting people, freight and even live animals around the islands.
Here is FIGAS pilot Drew Robertson coming in to land to pick us up from Bleaker Island:
Bleaker has some of the best wildlife in the Falklands, including Rockhopper penguins, which are coming up to inspect Dan on the rocks here:
And here I'm riding up front as my friend Dan takes off from Port Stephens, which is on West Falkland:
For safety, each time the Islander lands at one of the strips, it has to be met by two people trained to operate a fire trailer, which of course, is usually attached to the back of the Land Rover:
Bleaker Island 'airport' - the shed houses the fire trailer which the locals are trained to use in an emergency
And lastly on my tour of notable vehicles and equipment in the Falklands, can you guess what the contraption with the arms is?
Give up? It's a machine used as part of the on-going mine clearance programme, which began in 2009 and is part of the way through clearing the 117 minefields that were laid by the Argentine forces during the 1982 occupation.
Yorke Bay is one of the most beautiful beaches in the Falklands, but it has been out of bounds since 1982
And if there are no vehicles to hand, you can always walk...