Having limited myself to two full days in Tierra del Fuego I quickly decided that the National Park was a must-visit during my second day. Admittedly, it was a difficult decision given it was the park or traveling via a day trip out to the lighthouse which would have presented the opportunity to witness elephant seals and more time spent boating the Beagle Channel. In retrospect I’m glad I made the choice I did as the weather was beautiful, the flowers in bloom, butterflies out and about, and the hike was absolutely gorgeous.
The morning of I stumbled down to the front desk, checked my watch, and was able to walk on the shuttle out to the national park. While technically a tour, it was basically an organized bus to/from the park and cost (if memory serves) around 50 Pesos. The park is about 11KM outside of Ushuaia which makes for a fairly short trip. En route we paused at the entrance gate to pay the park’s admittance fee of around 50 Pesos (for international travelers) before identifying which of the four walking paths we were interested in hiking. The bus driver strongly recommended the seaside path and eventually convinced the majority of us to opt for it.
As the bus pulled away I took in my surroundings. I was along a coastal channel, had beautiful partly cloudy skies, and quickly noticed a small dock/hut offering the ever popular and terribly gimmicky tourist passport stamp. Seldom one to indulge, I made an exception and paid the $2 for a massive “Fin del Mundo” or end of the world stamp complete with several stamps, dates and a large sticker. As I went through the process, I continued to strike up a conversation with several American guys my age and a gal who they had already befriended. Before long we’d joined up for the hike and merged into one cohesive group. In retrospect it worked out beautifully, as it might have been a somewhat lonely/long hike otherwise despite the incredible beauty. the path was, after all, some 8km long.
As we made our way along the coast I was once again struck by the natural richness of the region. It’s easy to forget that you’re near the southern most tip of the worlds major continents and in a region and climate which is brutally cold, barren and harsh the majority of the year.
The path was awash in life. From a plethora of flowers in bloom, small butterflies and rich green moss the air hung with the fresh scent of perfect, clean air lightly salted and flavored by the ocean’s gentle kiss.
As the path wound along the channel it was constantly framed by a beautiful winding maze of tree branches. Fighting for sunlight and similarly growing to stand against the region’s violent storms they snake upwards, outwards and at times sideways in their pursuit of the perfect position.
As our group wound along the gently used earthen path we found ourselves pausing regularly in our stories to take in our surroundings. The distractions varied, but usually consisted of flowers in bloom, odd branches, or old gnarled trees. All the while we worked to combine our collective knowledge to identify what little we could manage.
When I say that nearly everything was in bloom, I’m barely exaggerating. Of the multitude of plant species we ran across, I’d guess that at least 10-20 species were either in bloom or bearing berries of some sort.
Throughout the first half of the walk we had an excellent view of a beautiful, snow capped mountain range across the channel. The mountains and far half of the channel are actually in Chile and for those interested, near the end of the hike one can make their way up to/along the border.
As the path continued on and along the vegetation thinned slightly as it wound down onto and among the narrow stone and rock beaches that lined the channel.
From there it was back in along a small stream which then wound up a steep embankment and eventually spilled us out on top of a small cliff which offered a beautiful overlook back along the way we’d hiked. The view also made it easy to see just how clear, rich and clean the water was. Crystal clear with blue hues to it, it had the look of cold near arctic water but still felt alive and awash in sealife.
The colors weren’t just limited to the flowers in bloom. Many of the trees offered their own fanciful display, mixing together different species and various parasitic vines for brightly colored combination’s.
The tidal zone served as home to a mixture of different creatures. Most prolific, however, were huge colonies of miniature horseshoe mussels and limpets. Covered in small barnacles they decorated the region’s blue green rocks in massive blanket-like clusters.
Though mostly disguised by moss and lush foliage we’d periodically stumble on evidence winter’s harsh hand. The left over skeletal remains of shattered trees, cracked trunks, and splintered branches created beautiful portals full of contrast and depth.
Where there was sunlight there was life. The above image highlights how even among a bed of dead leaves flowers flourished and small sprouts had begun to take hold.
Others harbored a more alien appearance with long finger-like blooms that looked extraterrestrial in nature. Some stood alone, others combined with large bushes to create whole walls of vibrantly colored, red spear-esque flowers.
And then there were the odd circular parasitic/fungal growths which decorated many of the trees. Grown out of gnarled knots in the trees, these silver dollar sized orange balls had a spore-like nature to them, were squishy, and seemed more like some sort of delicious candy than wild growth. Most decorated the trees, but some had fallen to the ground. Note the deep black color of the soil in the image above.
In some areas the balls were so common and brightly colored that they gave the illusion of some sort of odd Fae colony hiding a bustling ferry civilization from prying human eyes.
Shortly after taking the above photo we all paused at a large tree which had naked branches running out parallel to the ground. Once there we climbed into it, and spent a good 30 minutes monkeying around. Literally. From hanging and posing on tree branches, to using them as swings we had a good go of it before pausing for a final “hear no evil, see no evil, say no evil” photo op.
As the path prepared to head inland for the final 1/3 of the hike we paused briefly for a snack and to rest our legs. The wind had begun to pick up and the temperature was dropping, but still generally pleasant. As we sat and played with our cameras a large hawk landed near by. Fairly tame and familiar with tourists he allowed us within 3 feet of him, all the while turning a wary eye to us. With a stout body and beautiful coloring he was a an impressive creature.
Even as we sat and relaxed I turned to the left, only to notice a small plant in bloom. Sandwiched into little more than a tiny crack in the rocks, it embodied the balance between rugged climate and the beauty of life.
From there it was up a steep embankment and then through several thick stands of trees which were decorated by thick moss and delicate white blossoms.
The forest would break periodically for small bog-like areas. These were mossy and looked like tundra with small streams flowing through them. Most were broken periodically by the sun bleached, skeletal fingers of long dead trees.
As we made our way across one such marsh, I was surprised to see the beige and brown grasses give way to a beautiful set of lily-esque leaves set just beneath a gorgeous old wooden walkway.
Tired, footsore, hungry and cold we eventually reached the end of what had been a spectacular hike. While Tierra del Fuegno National Park may not be as impressive as what you’ll find in Patagonia and Southern Chile it is a fantastic introduction to the region and one which I thoroughly enjoyed. Just make sure you’ve got the time and weather to enjoy it properly!