Wild Patagonian coast beckons - The Singular Patagonia
GLACIAL LAKES, GUANACOS AND CONDORS AWAIT YOUR ARRIVAL
A scenic lake at Torres del Paine National Park; the view from The Singular hotel; grazing guanacos. Pictures: Neale Maynard
Charles Darwin did it tough during the voyage of the Beagle around the wild, wind-ravaged coastline of Patagonia in 1833. Supply shortages meant shore excursions, with Darwin combining hunting expeditions and scientific research to ensure his crew didn’t starve.
In Charles Darwin And The Mystery Of Mysteries, author Susan Pearson explains how Darwin shot a guanaco (a cousin of the alpaca) to provide a Christmas dinner with a difference for his crew.
When I visited the southern extremities of South America more than 180 years later, guanaco was also on the menu. But unlike Darwin, my guanaco arrived pre-sliced and served with smoked salmon, cheeses, crackers and Chilean wines and beers as part of a tasty lunch during an excur- sion into Torres del Paine National Park organised by Patagonia’s The Singular hotel in remote Puerto Bories.
To get there, you fly the Pacific from Sydney, turn right at Chile and stop just before you reach Antarctica.
After reaching end-of-theworld Punta Arenas, drive north for about 2.5 hours and you’ll arrive at Puerto Natales, Puerto Bories’ larger (but not large) next-door neighbour.
The Singular, a couple of minutes up the road, is unique when it comes to five-star hotels. Most posh pubs don’t start out life as cold storage plants processing Chilean lamb for export.
After the cold-store business closed down in 1971, the property was vacant for many years before being declared a national historic monument.
But a lot of vision — and a great deal of money — finally led to it being redeveloped into an establishment that manages to embrace its heritage while delivering an extraordinary visitor experience.
Guests ride a restored fu- nicular railway from the car park down to the hotel, and walk through a historic “tunnel” housing original coldstore machinery to get to the hotel’s restaurant, where delicious Patagonian king crab, guanaco, lamb and other local produce are on the menu.
The hotel rooms feature huge (6m) windows with views out to Last Hope Sound (Ultima Esperanza), kingsize bed, Wi-Fi, bathtub and minibar.
Stay for four nights (twinshare) and the full-board package provides airport pick-up and drop-off from Punta Arenas, all meals, most wines, a spa session, and a series of halfday and full-day excursions.
They cater for a range of fitness levels — there’s an easy hike visiting nearby caves where the skin and skeleton of milodon (an extinct herbivore) was found in 1895.
There are mountain bikes, and kayaks for more energetic visitors, but we decided on a walk through private property to see condors — an experi- ence worth every steep step of the 3.5km journey.
The condor site overlooks scenic Laguna Sofia, which borders a picturesque estancia (ranch) where Singular guests can go horse riding.
The horseriding trip (suitable for beginners) runs along the shores of the lagoon, before climbing into forest and crossing a couple of shallow streams.
An absolute must-do is a half-day cruise up Last Hope Sound to see two local glaciers, Balmaceda (which runs almost into the Sound) and Serrano — which is a 30-minute hike from a boat ramp in Bernardo O’Higgins National Park.
Access to the glaciers depends on the weather — the waters of Last Hope Sound are broad (and calmer) closer to Puerto Bories, but as the sound narrows into a fjord, Patagonia’s wild winds can make the water too rough and sometimes the boat is forced to turn back.
Great weather (and calm winds) coincided with our visit and when we visited Serrano glacier, our guides collected floating pieces of glacial ice — which they used to chill glasses of Glenfiddich whisky on the return journey.
The Balmaceda, like glaciers everywhere, is suffering from climate change, and a Google search of historic images shows how it once flowed almost into the sound.
Today, it falls sadly short of connecting with the waters of Ultima Esperanza.
There are great rivers of ice elsewhere in Patagonia, and some truly astounding scenery.
A full-day trip to the Torres del Paine National Park is another must-do, with massive, snow-capped granite towers reaching into the clouds, roaring waterfalls, and spectacular lakes.
In terms of wildlife, there are plenty of guanaco that do their best to guarantee the survival of their species by appointing lookouts to stand high on hilltops and keep watch for pumas.
Our four-night all-inclusive package to The Singular was $US600 per person per night. All restaurant meals — they were superb — a wide selection of wines, beers and some spirits, all excursions, airport pick-up and dropoff and top hotel staff made for a terrific visit. We flew Qantas from Sydney to Santiago (the flight time is about the same as Sydney-Los Angeles), and their One World partner LAN Chile within South America.
Hotel webiste: thesingular.com/patagonia
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