Visit a typical estancia in Tierra del Fuego: Harberton Ranch

Visit Harberton Ranch in Ushuaia

The Estancia Harberton, or Harberton Ranch in english, holds historical significance as the first settlement in the region and offers visitors insights into the area’s pioneer heritage through guided tours and cultural experiences. Today, it serves as a hub for eco-tourism, conservation efforts, and research initiatives in Patagonia.

Harberton Ranch, a bit of history

Harberton is the oldest estancia in the Argentine sector of Tierra del Fuego. Its founder, Thomas Bridges, was an orphan found on a bridge somewhere in England and later adopted by an Anglican missionary, the Rev. G.P. Despard. In 1856, at the age of 13, he was taken with his adoptive family to Keppel (Vigía) Island in the Islas Malvinas, where an agricultural mission station was being established. There he learned Yahgan, the language of the Yámana canoe people from TF, who were taken there for training. By his first trip to Tierra del Fuego, in 1863, he was able to speak with the Fuegians and explain what the Mission wanted to do. He founded the Anglican Mission at Ushuaia in 1870, establishing there permanently with his wife, Mary Ann Varder, and their small daughter Mary, in 1871.

In 1884, he received the first Argentine expedition to Tierra del Fuego, which set up the subprefecture at Ushuaia. Two years later, after thirty years with the Keppel and Ushuaia missions, Bridges received Argentine citizenship and a donation of land from the Argentine National Congress under Julio A. Roca in acknowledgment for his work with the natives and with shipwrecked sailors of the Cape Horn area. The estancia he founded, at first called Downeast is located 40 nautical miles (60 km) east of Ushuaia. It was named Harberton after his wife’s birthplace in Devon, England and was the first productive enterprise in Tierra del Fuego (earlier enterprises, such as sealing, whaling and gold-digging, were all exploitive).

Harberton now belongs to the grandchildren of Thomas Bridges’ sons Will and Lucas. Its manager, Thomas D. Goodall, is a fourth-generation great-grandson of the founder, and lives at the estancia in the original 1887 house with his family, members of the fifth and sixth generations. Harberton has been open to the public since the early 1980s. The best way of getting to know the farm is by taking the hour-long guided homestead tour.

Visiting Harberton Ranch from Ushuaia

Harberton Ranch: the visit

The tour includes excellent views of the bay, mountains, and islands to the southeast, then a stroll through The Park, TF’s oldest Nature Reserve (fenced in the 1890s) to view the five kinds of native trees, other local flora, replicas of two types of the native wigwam and learn family history. Coming down the hill, you enter some of the old buildings: the shearing shed, carpenter shop and boathouse, walking step by step through history to end in the family garden with its 1894 terraces.

What to see at Harberton Ranch?

Explore the rich history of Harberton Ranch with a guided hike through its National Historic Landmark. Discover the Bridges family’s legacy and their interactions with indigenous peoples, while visiting the park, family cemetery, Yámana hut replicas, and historic buildings like the old shearing shed and carpentry workshop.

Delve into the depths of marine life at the Acatushun Museum, boasting an impressive collection of over 2,800 mammal specimens and 2,300 bird specimens. Marvel at life-size representations and skeletal displays, curated by Dr. Natalie Goodall, offering a fascinating glimpse into Fuegian coastal ecosystems.

Immerse yourself in the past at the newly established Historical Museum, housed in the west wing of the Original Main House. Take a journey through time as you explore artifacts and relics from the Bridges family, including antique tools and personal belongings, providing insights into pioneer life in Tierra del Fuego.

After some free time in Harberton Ranch, we will return by land, along J Route plenty of great views of mountains, rivers, valleys and peat bogs, beaver dams, and flag trees. We will arrive in Ushuaia in the afternoon.

Excursion to Harberton Ranch and the penguin colony of Martillo Island. Navigate the Beagle Channel

It´s combined activity, starting with boat navigation and return from Harberton Ranch is in a vehicle by land. We sail from the local tourist dock and go along the wide Ushuaia Bay until we reach the Beagle Channel through Paso Chico. You have a chance to take great photos of Ushuaia city and Olivia Mount from the channel now. We continue sailing around the Isla de los Pájaros where we will spot different species of birds such as Skuas, the black-browed albatross, steam ducks, cauquenes, kelp seagulls, and gray seagulls. We continue to sail around the Isla de Los Lobos, where we can see a colony of sea lions and fur sea lions. Both islands belong to the Bridges archipelago with a rich history too.

After that, we continue to the famous Les Eclaireurs Lighthouse see some birds, and learn about the history of the sinking of the SS Cervantes in 1930. This is another typical photography of the end of the world, with the red and white lighthouse.  We will then continue sailing to the east, enjoying the unique sceneries of the channel and the surrounding mountains. These coats are plenty of histories about aborigins in the area, that lived there until the arrival of the Europeans.  There we will see Puerto Almanza on the Argentinean coast, and Puerto Williams Navy Base on the Chilean coast. The Chilean town could be in the future the southernmost city in the world, but it´s just a small village now. Once in Martillo Island, we will spot a colony of Magellan Penguins and some Papua penguins


Estancia Harberton map

Harberton Ranch: where is located?

This estancia is located in Tierra del Fuego Island. To access Estancia Harberton from Ushuaia, take National Route 3 north to the detour with Route J. Although it is a gravel road, the state is very good. It is one of the most beautiful roads that we have in this remote area, bordering the sea, between forests, with some very sharp curves, small elevations and unique landscapes. The vision alternates between sea and mountains. At times you can see both. It looks more like a country road than a complementary route.

Finally you reach the gate of the ranch, where after paying the entrance, you access the parking lot.


Penguins in the Beagle Channel: Martillo Island Penguin Rookery

The island hosts a colony of 3000 pairs of Magellanic penguins (Spheniscus magellanicus), along with 16 pairs of gentoo penguins (Pygoscelis papua) – the sole rookery in continental Argentina – and 155 pairs of rock cormorants (Phalacrocorax magellanicus) nesting on the southern cliffs. This penguin colony, the only accessible one from Ushuaia, experiences gradual growth each year. Yécapasela, the island’s original name, offers an ideal habitat for these penguins due to minimal predators, plentiful food, and suitable ground and vegetation for nesting and raising chicks.

Penguins typically arrive on the island in early October to commence their annual breeding season, caring for their offspring and undergoing molting. By late March and early April, they depart for their northward migration, spending over 6 months feeding at sea until the onset of winter prompts their return to breed on land during spring.


Penguins in the Beagle Channel. Martillo Island Penguin Rookery

Picture of Ramiro Rodriguez

Ramiro Rodriguez

25 years working in travel market, as Sales & Marketing Manager in RipioTurismo, Marketing Manager in Nuevas Ideas Travel Consulting Group. Writer and travel lover.

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