Guide to Patagonia's Monsters & Mysterious beings

I have written a book on this intriguing subject which has just been published.
In this blog I will post excerpts and other interesting texts on this fascinating subject.

Austin Whittall

Monday, October 18, 2010

Huemul (Huenul) island some more information

Huemul Island, was the site of a secret nuclear laboratory during the late 1940's and early 1950's. Here nuclear fusion experiments were undertaken and later proven fake. The facilities were abandoned and, as we saw in my previous post on Nahuelito as a possible radioactive mutation, the secret plant did not cause any radioactive contamination or mutations.

However, the article led me to read more on this island, and I came across an interesting bit of news: the name is Huenul not Huemul.

Huemul Island

In my previous post I wrote:

The island itself, has a surface area of 75 hectares (188 acres) of which only 10% will be used for touristic purposes. [1] The remaining part of the island is covered by forests. It is located just off the coast between Playa Bonita and Puerto Moreno. In the map above you can see how close it is to the current Centro Atomico Bariloche facilities.

Today I will add to this information:

The official National Parks Lake Nahuel Huapi map (1972),[2] correctly calls the island "Isla Huenul", yes, Huenul with an "N" and not Huemul with an "M" as it often appears on maps.

It describes the island as located 1,300 m from Playa Bonita beach (0.8 mi.), with an altitude of 100 m (328 ft.) above lake level. Its length in a NNW-SSE direction is 1.300 m (0.8 mi.) and its width is about 850 m (0.5 mi.). [2]

Its exact location is 41°06'S, 71°24'W [3].

Huemul or Huenul?

But why is it named Huenul (with "N"). In most maps it figures as Huemul (with "M").

The huemul (Hippocamelus bisulcus) is a stocky Patagonian deer that is about 1 m (3.3 feet) tall and 1.65 m (5.4 ft.) long, and weighs between 40 and 100 kg. (88—220 lb.). Like all deer, males have antlers about 30 cm (1 ft.) long.

Its habitat ranged from 34°S to the Strait of Magellan and from the Pacific Ocean to the edge of the steppe. But now, its limited and endangered population of less than 1,000 individuals lives in isolated pockets within the Chilean and Argentine Andean mountain forests.

So, map makers mistakenly took the island as named after this lovely deer. But, as we will see below, they were mistaken. The island is named after a Mapuche native who used to live there!, his name was Huenul.


Bernardino Huenul lived there circa 1919, and his name in Mapuche language means "above": [3]

"Huenu" means "held high", and "len" means "to be" so, both combined mean: "above". [3]

I checked out the above in Father de Augusta's Mapuche - Spanish language dictionary. His entry under "wenu" (note he does not have words starting with "H", instead he places them unde "W", because "H" does not have a sound in Spanish) includes besides, "high" and "above" the word "heaven", and wenulen means "to be above, to be high". [5] So it seams to mean high in the sense of "raised to heaven".

No explanation give on why "len" turns into "l".

However its first and original name was Isla General Villegas. Which was given to it by the first Argentine naval boat to explore and chart the lake, on December 23, 1883. The ship led by the then lieutenant Eduardo O'Connor sailed up the Limay River and explored the lake during the summer of 188-84. His ship was a tiny steamer, the "Modesta Victoria".[3][4]

Conrado Excelso Villegas (1841-1884) took part of the Argentine military campaigns against the natives in Northern Patagonia, but took ill with tuberculosis, and traveled to Europe seeking a cure. He died in Paris.

O'Connor's team discovered the island, and after raising the Argentine flag on its "highest point", left a board inscribed with the island's name.


[1] Breve Historia del Proyecto Isla Huemul. Bariloche Municipality.
[2] Derrotero del Lago Nahuel Huapi. 1a Ed. 1972. Servicio Nacional de Parques Nacionales. pp. 23
[3] Biedma, Juan Martín, (2004). Toponimia del Parque Nacional Nahuel Huapi. Ed. Caleuche. pp. 109.
[4] La navegación del Modesta Victoria (1883-1884). La Angostura Digital.
[5] de Augusta, Felix, (1916). Diccionario araucano-español y español-araucano. vol 1. pp. 273.

Patagonian Monsters - Cryptozoology, Myths & legends in Patagonia
2010 International Year of Biodiversity Copyright 2009-2010 by Austin Whittall © 

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