10th - 11th January 2004
Today we wanted to get as far as the Reserva Provincial Punta Tombo, with all the penguins.
Rather than take the RN3 most of the way, we drove off to the right along the RP1 via Cabo Dos Bahias. You should be able to see penguins, guanacos and rheas here, but we didn't see much as we carried on driving along the desolate but scenic road. It was incredibly windy and as we began to think about finding somewhere to camp, all we could see were signs everywhere forbidding wild camping. Not that this had put us off before as we don't leave any traces behind, but there was nowhere to camp where we would not be seen from the road.
Eventually, as we neared Punta Tombo, we came across a gravel pit just off the main road. With our lights out, it would be difficult to see us from the road. It wasn't until later, when we were cooking up some dinner that Sue got a bit spooked - the milometre was reading 666km for that day. Not a good omen?
Fortunately we had an uneventful night, and after a quick breakfast we drove the short distance to Punta Tombo, hoping to have the place largely to ourselves as it was still early.
Punta Tombo is the biggest continental reserve of Magelleanic penguins (Spheniscus magallanicus). We were approaching it from the south, along the RP1, but you can also get there via Puerto Madryn. If you head south out of Puerto Madryn, take the RN3, after 70km of paved road and going past Trelew, you transfer to the RP1, a rubble road, which after 107km, will take you to Punta Tombo.
Punta Tombo is a protected area - definitely no camping allowed - and extends to 210 hectares. It was created in 1979 to protect local fauna, flora and bird species that gather there to breed. This includes kelp, dolphin gulls, South American terns, skuas, oystercatchers, cormorants, not forgetting the penguins. Also protected are guanacos, maras (Patagonian hare), foxes and armadillos.
If you have time to visit only one penguin colony, come here. It is huge and as you arrive you travel along a gravel road and there are signs to give way to the penguins. No zebra crossings here - they just step out into the road and waddle across, virtually oblivious to the slow, oncoming vehicles.
You have to pay as you enter, and this contributes to the research into their biology, behaviour and preservation (undertaken by the New York Zoological Society and the Organismo Provincial del Chubut).
Once you have parked up, there are designated paths to follow, and whilst people cannot wander off the paths, the penguins can - and do- wander onto the paths. You could spend hours here just watching the penguins and their habits - take lots of film with you. We eventually tore ourselves away and headed on to Gaiman, where we hoped to camp that night.