After a dry landing on the rocky bay of the island, you will instantly spot sea-lions waddling across the salt lava rocks and snoozing under the shady saltbushes. The trail heads up a gentle incline up to a steep cliff. The vegetation belongs to the arid and littoral zones; half the island is covered with saltbush, leatherleaf (Maytenus), and thorn shrub (Scutia pauciflora). The side with the trail is treeless, but covered with a rock-garden-like mat of the endemic sea purslane whose succulent leaves turn red from May to December.
The blooming yellow flowers from the Portulaca howelli are relished by the vegetarian land iguanas. This is a good place to get started on recognition of Darwin’s finches; only the medium, small and cactus ground finches live here.
The cliff is surprisingly windy, and a great place for red-billed tropicbirds, swallow-tailed gulls, brown pelicans, and the odd frigatebird to swoop the sky and sky dive town the cliff and dodge the salty ocean milkshake down below. The trail meanders along the cliff edge for a few hundred meters. Audubon’s shearwaters and Brown noddy terns can be spotted offshore. Look out for manta rays jumping out of the water in the horizon.
The trail turns direction at a well-worn platform of polished lava rock, known to be where the “bachelor sea-lion colony”, a diverse collection of mainly elderly male sea-lions who have lost their territories to younger, stronger males. Sea-lions have the ability to climb up the cliff via some rocky steps. Many wear battle scars and shark bites.
Heading back down to the channel between the two Plaza islands, the trail runs behind one of the most concentrated sea lion colonies in the islands. About 1000 shift around as males continually compete for “harems” of about 20 females. The pups are endearing and will often approach you, but it is essential that you keep a distance of 2 meters from them. Keep your eye out for migratory waders like sanderlings, knots, plovers and kelp gull.