Estancia Harberton is Patagonia’s most historic estancia, an ordered assortment of whitewashed buildings on the shores of a sheltered bay. Though Harberton is assuredly scenic, it’s the historical resonance of the place that fleshes out a visit: this farmstead – or more particularly the family that settled here – played a role out of all proportion to its size in the region’s history. It was built by Reverend Thomas Bridges, the man who authored one of the two seminal Fuegian texts, the Yámana–English Dictionary, and was the inspiration for the other, Lucas Bridges’ classic, Uttermost Part of the Earth. Apart from being a place where scientists and shipwrecked sailors were assured assistance, Harberton developed into a sanctuary of refuge for groups of Yámana and Mannekenk.
Today the estancia is owned by Tommy Goodall, a great-grandson of Thomas Bridges, and is open to guided tours that take in the copse on the hill, where you learn about the island’s plant life, authentic reconstructions of Yamaná dwellings, the family cemetery and the old shearing shed. Housed in a building at the entrance to the farmstead is an impressive marine-mammal museum, Museo Acatushún (wwww.acatushun.com), which displays the remains of all the main families of such animals – whales, dolphins, seals and the like – found in the surrounding waters.
Harberton is accessed via the RCj branch road, whose turn-off is 40km northeast of Ushuaia on the RN-3. Around 25km from the turn-off, you emerge from the forested route by a delightful lagoon fringed by the skeletons of Nothofagus beeches, and can look right across the Beagle Channel to the Chilean town of Puerto Williams. A few hundred metres beyond here the road splits: take the left-hand fork heading eastwards across rolling open country and past a clump of flag trees, swept back in exaggerated quiffs by the unremitting wind. The estancia is a further 10km beyond the turn-off, 85km east of Ushuaia.