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Ranching in Patagonia: A different way to experience the mountains of Patagonia

Time:2018-12-11 03:20Turbochargers information Click:

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The guest accommodation at Estanca Cristina.

The guest accommodation at Estanca Cristina. 

It's a sparkling spring morning and I'm zipping across the vast Lake Argentina in a high-speed catamaran, heading for Estancia Cristina, a remote ranch deep in the mountains of Patagonia. My cat has twin-turbo diesel motors and can move like a racing car if its skipper wants it to.

The founders of the ranch were a British couple, John Masters and Jessie Waring. They had sail and steam to push their timber boat through the wind tunnels and over the wind shadows that lurk on the lake. But that was over a century ago, in 1914, when Patagonia was a promised land for pioneering pastoralists.

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They must have had a phenomenal capacity for work, along with the tenacity to overcome the transport and other challenges, bringing all their supplies in over the lake and shipping all the produce out again. But if ever they had time to stop and contemplate their surroundings, they must have been pleased with their choice.

Walkers in Fossil Canyon.

Walkers in Fossil Canyon. 

Estancia Cristina is a vast land holding in a natural Shangri La, with the lake shore the boundary at one edge, massive mountain ranges enclosing it on all the other sides and glacier-fed streams and rivers flowing through the pastures.

They most likely counted their journey in days. Ours takes around three hours from Punta Banderas and we use a third of that time admiring the Upsala Glacier and the icebergs it spills from its wall into the lake. The boats' crew grapple some of the ice on board, delighting some children from parts warmer than this who handle it as though it was a piece of another planet.

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When they had the 22,000-hectare ranch running at full speed, Masters, Waring and company had a flock of 12,000 sheep for wool, as well as herds of cattle and horses. They started out living in tents, eventually building the homestead and outbuildings required to run the enterprise.

It is no longer a working ranch, but those buildings now form the heart of the tourism venture that is Estancia Cristina, within Argentina's vast Los Glaciers National Park.

THE HOMESTEAD

Most of my fellow passengers are day visitors, here to explore the ranch and understand its history and maybe have a look at the glaciers above. I am taken to one side with the few other overnight guests, put aboard a massive four-wheel-drive and driven the short distance to the Octagon.

This building hosts the reception, dining, lounge and bar areas and has that warm, creaking-timber feel you always find in a friendly rural homestead.

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A little way beyond the main homestead are the lodges that house the guest accommodation; mine is called Montana and from my room, I look out big bay windows over the ranch lands to Col Norte (Mount North) a 2616-metre massif with a sharp peak and hanging glaciers clinging to its sides like candle wax.

The food, while simple enough, is very good. This is, after all, an area of abundance, with plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables, fish, beef and, naturally, lamb. Patagonia loves its lamb.

At breakfast they steered me towards Patagonia's war on Nutella – Dulce de Leche – the outrageously sweet caramel spread made from condensed milk. A little less sugary was the calafate jam (calafate is a local berry, indigenous to Patagonia, hence the town El Calafate).

Riding the ridges with gaucho Agustin Pereyra.

Riding the ridges with gaucho Agustin Pereyra. 

For overnight guests, guided hiking, fishing, horse riding and 4WD tours are included. The surroundings are so good, the atmosphere so relaxed and the views so absorbing, it is the perfect place to sit back, read and reflect, but the outdoors beckon ...

THE HORSES

When they were going strong in the conquering and colonising business, the Spanish shipped horses to their South American outposts and from those Andalusian and Arabian ancestors, the stocky and stoic Criollo breed emerged.

"They're the tough ones from the pampa, they are very rustic and very good for this life; their temperament is perfect for this," says Lucia Cataldi, my ride guide for the day.

Travelling on the track to the glaciers.

Travelling on the track to the glaciers. Photo: Supplied

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