Patagonia c. Puerto Madryn / by ASK Design

The Patagonian Coast of Chubut Province, Argentina

The coast of Patagonia in Argentina's Chubut province is rugged, starkly beautiful and at first glance, desolate.  However a closer look reveals a landscape teeming with life both on land and at sea.  My partner Carla and I are lucky enough to be travelling through this landscape right now - in many ways it is similar to those we have in Australia, after all, it covers similar latitudes to the lower part of Australia, along with a very real, yet distant, connection through Gondwana.  Yet hundreds of millions of years of geological and evolutionary separation have resulted in a fascinatingly similar yet unique fauna and flora across a unique and breath taking landscape.  What follows will be a small pictorial snapshot of but a small corner of the Patagonian coast about halfway down the eastern coast of Argentina, namely the small city of Puerto Madryn, the world heritage listed Peninsula Valdes wildlife reserve to the north and Punta Tomba wildlife reserve to the south.  The gist of it? Patagonia is beautiful and definitely worth visiting!

Carla and I filmed a short postcard from the area, be sure to check it out below.

Puerto Madryn

Puerto Madryn is a relatively small yet rapidly growing (population c. 100k) coastal town on the Patagonian coast of Argentina.  It's surrounds are a hub for ocean wildlife, receiving Southern Right Whales in the winter months, Magellans Penguins during the summer months, while Lion Seals and Elephant Seals can be found year round.  They don’t always get along; the Orca’s are often seen hunting seals as they rest by beaching themselves (see: David Attenborough’s Frozen Planet to get an idea of this amazing behaviour).  Puerto Madryn has an interesting history in its own right, being colonised by Welsh settlers in 1865, and artefacts from settlement can be found around town.

Puerto Madryn

Puerto Madryn is a relatively small yet rapidly growing (population c. 100k) coastal town on the Patagonian coast of Argentina.  It's surrounds are a hub for ocean wildlife, receiving Southern Right Whales in the winter months, Magellans Penguins during the summer months, while Lion Seals and Elephant Seals can be found year round.  They don’t always get along; the Orca’s are often seen hunting seals as they rest by beaching themselves (see: David Attenborough’s Frozen Planet to get an idea of this amazing behaviour).  Puerto Madryn has an interesting history in its own right, being colonised by Welsh settlers in 1865, and artefacts from settlement can be found around town.

Warm currents from the north meet cool currents from the south off the coast here - the confluence produces rich waters, the black mass behind Carla are dense beds of juvenile mussels.

Peninsula Valdes

Peninsula Valdes lies to the north of Puerto Madryn and forms the northern boundary of Golfo Nuevo, the gulf which protects the bay in which Puerto Madryn lies.  Punta Ninfas, an elephant seal colony, forms the southern boundary of Golfo Nuevo.  Valdes is a large UNESCO World Heritage site where you can see most of the celebrity animals of the area, along with some pretty impressive landscapes and coastline.  

Peninsula Valdes

Peninsula Valdes lies to the north of Puerto Madryn and forms the northern boundary of Golfo Nuevo, the gulf which protects the bay in which Puerto Madryn lies.  Punta Ninfas, an elephant seal colony, forms the southern boundary of Golfo Nuevo.  Valdes is a large UNESCO World Heritage site where you can see most of the celebrity animals of the area, along with some pretty impressive landscapes and coastline.  

The area is also host to a number of other notable members of the South American fauna including pichi and hairy armadillos, guanaco (a llama-like animal), the mara (a very large rodent that looks like a rabbit) and rhea’s, much like the well known Australian Emu’s and African ostriches, in addition to a host of seabirds and even a few reptiles such as some dragon lizards, skinks, colubrid snakes and vipers.

The area is also host to a number of other notable members of the South American fauna including pichi and hairy armadillos, guanaco (a llama-like animal), the mara (a very large rodent that looks like a rabbit) and rhea’s, much like the well known Australian Emu’s and African ostriches, in addition to a host of seabirds and even a few reptiles such as some dragon lizards, skinks, colubrid snakes and vipers.

A gang of lesser Rheas.

Herds of guanaco are common on the peninsula.

We weren't the only ones documenting Peninsula Valdes.  Strangely enough, a Google street view truck drove past us in what literally felt like the middle of nowhere.  It seems you'll be able to visit Valdes virtually in the near future!

We weren't the only ones documenting Peninsula Valdes.  Strangely enough, a Google street view truck drove past us in what literally felt like the middle of nowhere.  It seems you'll be able to visit Valdes virtually in the near future!

On the Armadillo

Armadillos are truly fascinating creatures and the Americas play host to all of the c. 20 species.  Carla was lucky enough to get these snaps of a hairy armadillo going for a wander, the larger of the two species found in the area.  We later came across a dead young whale on a beach.  Our guide, a local of thirty years who has taken kayak tours internationally, including through Antarctica, and who we trusted, later told us the most incredible tale, of which we still find hard to believe.  Apparently these armadillos are also scavengers.  During whale season a number of whales will die due to natural attrition and wash up on the beach.  Shortly thereafter numerous holes will appear in the dunes around the carcass - the armadillos come and build temporary nests from which they come out to consume the whale at night.  We couldn't find any evidence of it on the internet - definitely a tale which needs to be investigated!

On the Armadillo

Armadillos are truly fascinating creatures and the Americas play host to all of the c. 20 species.  Carla was lucky enough to get these snaps of a hairy armadillo going for a wander, the larger of the two species found in the area.  We later came across a dead young whale on a beach.  Our guide, a local of thirty years who has taken kayak tours internationally, including through Antarctica, and who we trusted, later told us the most incredible tale, of which we still find hard to believe.  Apparently these armadillos are also scavengers.  During whale season a number of whales will die due to natural attrition and wash up on the beach.  Shortly thereafter numerous holes will appear in the dunes around the carcass - the armadillos come and build temporary nests from which they come out to consume the whale at night.  We couldn't find any evidence of it on the internet - definitely a tale which needs to be investigated!

Other fun facts about armadillos include:

  • Their body temperature is low, at around 34°, similar to human skin.  Thus, when europeans came to the Americas and bought with them leprosy, armadillos were one of the few animals that could actually contract it.  They are known to be carriers of the disease (but don't let this put you off, they are adorable).  
  • Only one species can curl up in a ball - while they all still use their armour for protection, some do odd things such as jump, up to three feet high, or make screaming noises when scared.
  • They can swim, quite well, but they sink.  Solution?  They can hold their breath for 4-6 minutes and also take big gulps of air that increase their buoyancy such that they can float if need be.
  • Armadillo shells were often used as the back of the charango, an andean lute.

Punta Este and Punta Loma

Punta Loma and Punta Este are easily accessible by bike to the south.  We chose to both bike to the site and kayak.

Punta Este and Punta Loma
Punta Loma and Punta Este are easily accessible by bike to the south.  We chose to both bike to the site and kayak.

There are some excellent sand dunes at Punta Este on the way there.

Lioaemus fitzingeri was a small yet colourful dragon lizard found all around Peninsula Valdes and Punta Loma.

The kayaking was an especially rewarding experience.  As we paddled down the coast line, watching shoals of rare cormorants on sheer cliffs of epic proportions, lion seals would come around the boat to within touching distance to investigate.

The kayaking was an especially rewarding experience.  As we paddled down the coast line, watching shoals of rare cormorants on sheer cliffs of epic proportions, lion seals would come around the boat to within touching distance to investigate.

Lion seal under the kayak.