Need a Weekend Getaway? Go Puffin Watching on the Saltee Islands!

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What better way to spend a sunny weekend than puffin watching? Visit the Saltee Islands, where puffin colonies offer an incredible wildlife spectacle this time of year.

Where Are the Saltee Islands?

Located off the southeastern coast of Ireland, the Saltee Islands consist of two main islands: Great Saltee and Little Saltee. These privately-owned islands are renowned for their rich biodiversity and are particularly famous for their bird populations, with puffins being the star attraction. The islands are situated about 5 kilometers from Kilmore Quay in Wexford, making them easily accessible for a weekend trip.

Getting There

To reach the Saltee Islands, head to Kilmore Quay, a charming fishing village where you can catch a boat to Great Saltee. Boat trips are typically available from April to September, with the best puffin watching season spanning from late April to early August. Peak months are July and August, so be sure to book your boat trip in advance, as this popular excursion can fill up quickly, especially on weekends. To book, visit salteeferry.com.

The trip takes about 20 minutes, and while the ferry will transport you most of the way, it’s important to note that to actually go ashore on the Great Saltee Island, passengers are transferred from the ferry to a dinghy, with a lifejacket provided. There is no dock or pier. Conditions at the landing point are subject to weather and tides.

On arriving at the shore, you will step out of the dinghy on to, at best, the sandy shore. Depending on the tide, you may need to step into the waters edge. There could also be seaweed, or loose slippery stones along the shore. Conditions vary on a daily basis depending on weather and tide, and so this excursion is suited to those who are physically fit.

There are also no bathrooms on the Islands, as they are both nature reserves, so make sure to go before the boat!

What to Expect

When you arrive, you’ll be greeted by the stunning scenery of Great Saltee – cliffs, meadows, and truly pristine beaches. On a sunny day, the water here is very clear and turquoise. In early summer, the fields bloom with bluebells, adding to the charm! It takes about 10 minutes to get from shore to top, up some rocky steps.

The island is home to a variety of seabirds, but puffins are undoubtedly the main attraction. These birds, with their colorful beaks and comical expressions, are a delight to observe and photograph.

Puffins nest in burrows on the island’s cliffs, and you can watch them as they go about their daily routines—fishing, flying, and socializing, at a recommended distance of 6 metres. Early morning or late afternoon visits offer the best light for photography and a higher chance of seeing the puffins as they return from their fishing expeditions.

Exploring the Island

Great Saltee is relatively small, making it easy to explore on foot. There are no facilities on the island, so it’s important to come prepared with essentials like water, snacks, and suitable clothing for the weather. The island’s terrain is varied, with grassy areas, rocky shores, and steep cliffs, so sturdy walking shoes are recommended, and ones that you don’t mind getting wet when getting off the dinghy.

In addition to puffins, you might spot other seabirds such as gannets, razorbills, and guillemots. The island is also home to grey seals, which can often be seen lounging on the rocks or swimming in the surrounding waters.

Tips for a Memorable Visit

  1. Bring Binoculars and a Camera: To fully appreciate the puffins and other wildlife, binoculars are a must. A good camera with a zoom lens will help you capture close-up shots of these birds.
  2. Dress Appropriately: The weather on the Saltee Islands can be unpredictable, so wear layers and bring a waterproof jacket. Comfortable walking shoes are essential for exploring the terrain.
  3. Respect the Wildlife: While it’s exciting to see puffins up close, it’s important to keep a respectful distance to avoid disturbing them. Stick to designated paths and observe quietly.
  4. Pack a Picnic: Since there are no facilities on the islands, bringing a picnic allows you to enjoy a meal amidst the beautiful natural surroundings. Remember to take all your rubbish with you to keep the islands pristine.
  5. Check the Weather and Tides: Boat trips are weather-dependent, so check the forecast and confirm with your boat operator before setting out. Tides can also affect boat schedules, so plan accordingly.

Additional Information & Pricing

A trip to the Saltee Islands promises to be a highlight of your summer! To get to know more about the Islands, and to plan your visit, see salteeislands.ie.

The cost of the Saltee Ferry is €30 for Adults and €15 for under 12’s. To book, visit salteeferry.com.

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Julia Labedz
Julia Labedz
Julia has several years of experience as a writer and editor, working with independent clients as well as larger organizations. Prior to working for ITTN she was a marketing executive. She has both a BA and MFA in English with Creative Writing, with an extensive professional and creative portfolio. In her free time, Julia works on her novel.

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