Day 7 - We arrived at Ushuaia at 6am. The city sits in spectacular scenery. A group of about 8 of the Spanish speaking passengers were removed from the ship at Ushuaia, apparently to find their own way home. Their suitcases were lying on the dock when the ship left.


The spectacular setting of Ushuaia

In the late 19th century, the land that is now called Ushuaia was inhabited entirely by Yamana Indians and a handful of missionaries. By now both the Indians and the missionaries no longer exist. An excellent book on the history of the Yamana is The Uttermost Part of the Earth by E. Lucas Bridges, the son of one of the early missionaries. His father, Thomas Bridges, wrote a dictionary of Yamana language. Darwin, who sailed through the Beagle Channel, thought that the Yamana, were "the missing link".

The Uttermost part of the earth

Bridges owned, and his descendants still own Harberton Estancia, which we visited

Today the town is growing fast as a result of tourism. The government has encouraged this growth by designating Tierra del Fuego a virtually tax-free zone to encourage people to settle. We dock on the Commercial Quay, but the ship has to move off-shore during the morning, and return is by tender.

Ushuaia Ushuaia
Ushuaia Ushuaia

Ushuaia is warmer than you might think; and although the southernmost city in the world, it is actually no further south than Belfast is north, and temperatures rarely drop below -10°C. It should be remembered that the British Isles are warmed by the Gulf Stream, whereas Ushuaia is chilled by the Southern Ocean. Summers do not get much more than +12°C and, as everywhere in Patagonia, strong winds add a wind chill factor.

The Uttermost Part of the Earth

Estancia Halberton map

Estancia Harberton was established in 1886, when the missionary pioneer Thomas Bridges (1842-1898) resigned from the Anglican mission at Ushuaia. The estancia was named after Harberton, Devon, the home of his wife, Mary Ann Varder (1842-1922). His son, Lucas Bridges, was the author of The Uttermost Part of the Earth about his boyhood, the Yamana, and getting his father's dictionary published in Europe. We read the book some years ago, and wanted to see the estancia for that reason.

Harberton's present manager and part-owner, Tommy Goodall (born 1933), is Thomas Bridges’s great-grandson They have stopped farming cattle and sheep, and today their main source of income is tourism. Nearby is the Museo Acatushún de Aves y Mamíferos Marinos Australes about the natural history of the region’s marine mammals and birds, set up and run by Thomas Goodall's biologist wife.

We rented a car and drove the 85 km to the west via paved and gravel roads, the trip taking less than 90 minutes of easy driving. You reach the estancia by following National Route 3 (40 km, paved) to where it starts up over the mountain at Rancho Hambre, then taking the hilly, winding, unpaved Provincial Route J (now called Ruta 33), for 45 kms more.  You reach the Beagle Channel at Bahía Almirante Brown and across the bay and channel you can see Puerto Williams, the small town on the north coast of Isla Navarino.

The road runs through beautiful landscape, with views over mountains, dense Nothofagus forests, extensive Sphagnum peat-bog valleys and later, along the coast, the “flag trees” formed by the strong west winds.  There are also beaver dams along the way - the beavers have damaged the landscape by flooding large areas with their dams, with the result that trees have died in large numbers.

Estancia Harberton Estancia Harberton
Estancia Harberton Estancia Harberton

The Estancia has a magical setting on the edge of the Beagle Channel. This is the original 1868 house, built in England by Mary Ann Varder's carpenter father, then dismantled, shipped to Tierra del Fuego, and reconstructed as a flat pack on site here. Over the gate is a whale-bone arch.

Estancia Harberton Estancia Harberton
Estancia Harberton Estancia Harberton

The climate here is sheltered from the winds, trees do grow, and lupins were in abundance. We took the one hour tour of the estancia which gives excellent views of the bay, mountains and islands to the southeast. They take you through "The Park", Tierra del Fuego's oldest Nature Reserve (fenced in the 1890s) to view the five kinds of native trees, other local flora, replicas of two types of native wigwam and learn family history.  Coming down the hill, you enter some of the old buildings: the shearing shed, carpenter shop and boat house, walking step by step through history to end in the family garden with its 1894 terraces.  After the tour we enjoyed a bowl of soup and a cake in the Tea Rooms, part of the old house, where there are posters illustrating the native groups and the history of the Bridges, Lawrence and Goodall families And a trip to their whale museum on the way out.

Estancia Harberton tea room Estancia Harberton museum
Tea Rooms
Whale Museum

We drove back to Ushuaia for a brief walk round town and then back to the ship for the usual early departure. As we drove along the dirt road, I stopped to photograph one of the approach bridges, one can see that this is indeed the uttermost part of the earth!. By the time we got back to Ushuaia, the sun had gone in and the rain started to descend as we waited in the queue for a ship's tender.

road to Estancia Harberton road to Estancia Harberton
A road bridge on the way to the Uttermost Part of the Earth
Roadside poster about the topography

The ship had had to move to an anchored position, after dropping passengers on the quay, as this was not our booked day in port, and others had prior bookings for quay space. This meant less time in town as we had to return in time for a tender trip back to the Infinity. I have not yet been able to find out why we only had a few hours at each port, and had to leave by 5pm.

We sail on from Ushuaia to Antarctica