We seem to be in the middle of nowhere as we sail out of the Antarctic Peninsula, with gigantic icebergs floating and snow-covered peaks protruding.
But when we go around the corner, a small wooden hut comes into the picture. We have reached the southernmost post office in the world.
The Port Lockroy post station is on the island of Goudier, which is about the size of a soccer field. There is no running water or internet and food supplies must be stored.
The Port Lockroy Post Station is located on the island of Goudier in front of the Antarctic Peninsula. It is the southernmost post office in the world. The small island can be seen on the photo above with a mountain looming behind
The site began as the first permanent British base in Antarctica during the Second World War, set up so that the UK could assert a territorial claim.
Stamps are a legal form of currency, so the secret base was partially run as a post office to reinforce the sovereignty claims across the continent, to underline how the British had established a bona fide part of the official territory on it.
Port Lockroy, or ‘Base A’ as it was initially known, was closed in 1962 when Britain established larger and more modern bases on the continent.
But after a nature conservation study in 1994, Port Lockroy was recognized for its historical importance and restored by the UK Antarctic Heritage Trust in a working post office, gift shop, and museum.
Port Lockroy started as the first permanent British base in Antarctica during the Second World War, so that the UK could assert a territorial claim
After a nature conservation study in 1994, Port Lockroy was recognized for its historical importance and restored by the UK Antarctic Heritage Trust. More than 80,000 pieces of mail are sent from the post office in the four months or so that it is open
More than 3,000 historical artifacts, including unopened cans of ‘luncheon’ and mashed potatoes, were recovered.
Today, every summer season – which runs from November to March in Antarctica – a team of postal workers are employed. Applications are currently open for this year.
So what does it take to get a job at this remote post office where the temperature regularly drops far below zero and the neighbors include more than 2000 penguins?
The current basic leader, Lucy Dorman, reveals during our stop that someone with a ‘resilient and positive attitude’ is needed.
The main visitors to the post office are cruise ship passengers and more than 18,000 passengers stop sending mail every year.
A location map that shows where the external post office is located
The original radio room in Port Lockroy, which is open to visitors. The base dates from 1944
A tin bath can be seen in the original bathroom that was used by Port Lockroy’s employees when it worked as a secret British base
Lucy – who carries out dog sledding expeditions in Canada when she is not in the south – adds that because of this high pace, a “folk person” is another plus.
She tells me that the most important tasks in Port Lockroy are: talking with guests, scraping the penguin off the paths and franking by hand.
More than 80,000 letters and postcards are sent from the post office in the four months or so that it is open.
The mail is taken by ship to the Falklands, where it is loaded onto a military aircraft and flown to the UK. Once landed, the mail returns to the British postal system.
The current Port Lockroy team from left to right: Vicky Inglis, Lucy Dorman, Heidi Ahvenainen, Kit Adams and Lauren Elliott
The five employees share a bunk bed room (photographed in the curved structure), take turns cooking and the toilet consists of a bucket with a lid on it
THE DISCOVERY OF ANTARCTICA
It was the ancient Greeks who first raised the idea of a mysterious land in the deep south – Terra Australis Incognita (unknown southern land) – but it was not until 1820 that Antarctica was first observed. In January of that year by Edward Bransfield and William Smith – who saw the Antarctic Peninsula – and by the Russian Thaddeus von Bellingshausen. And in November of that year by the American sealer Nathaniel Palmer. According to the UK Antarctic Heritage Trust, the American sealer John Davis is the first to land on the Antarctic continent. It is thought that he landed on February 7, 1821 in Hughes Bay on the Antarctic Peninsula.
The five employees share a bunk bed room for cooking and the toilet consists of a bucket with a lid on it.
There is no internet, but there is a satellite phone that can be used occasionally to call home.
The staff is given a day off every 14 days, but Lucy points out that ‘there is nowhere to go if you get some free time’.
She adds: ‘One thing the staff are certainly looking forward to is a weekly shower. The ships are very generous to us and let us take turns to wash or wash.
“They also give us fresh fruit and vegetables from time to time, which is a big plus.”
Food supplies are sent by ship to Port Lockroy before the staff arrives for the season, with different boxes of chocolate as prize money. Most goods are canned or dried.
Summarizing her work on the island before I jump back to my ship on an inflatable zodiac, Lucy muses: ‘Port Lockroy is a very important place and I feel very happy to share it with others. It is important to keep this piece of British history alive. ”