All stamped and de­liv­ered

More than 70,000 post­cards were sent from the Pen­guin Post Of­fice in Antarc­tica last sum­mer. Amanda Woods pops hers in the red box

Sunday Mail - Travel/Escape - - FRONT PAGE -

HE snow is swirling as we queue among the pen­guins on a small is­land in Antarc­tica and watch the wind gen­tly play with the Union Jack on the flag­pole.

As a des­ig­nated His­toric Site and Mon­u­ment un­der the Antarc­tic Treaty, Goudier Is­land is only al­lowed 60 visi­tors at one time, so we must be bro­ken into smaller groups be­fore step­ping into the Pen­guin Post Of­fice.

Part mu­seum, part gift shop, part post of­fice, the aban­doned Bri­tish base Port Lock­roy was ren­o­vated by the Bri­tish Antarc­tic Sur­vey in 1996 and has been open to visi­tors dur­ing the Antarc­tic sum­mer ever since.

With one or two ships com­ing past ev­ery day, about 18,000 peo­ple visit the Pen­guin Post Of­fice be­tween Novem­ber and March, and most em­brace the un­usual post­card op­por­tu­nity. Last sum­mer, more than 70,000 post­cards were sent to more than 100 coun­tries. That’s up from 50,000 the year be­fore.

Af­ter hav­ing Antarc­tic stamps stuck on them and then slipped into the red Bri­tish let­ter­box on the wall, the post­cards are re­moved and franked with their spe­cial Bri­tish Antarc­tic Ter­ri­tory mark. Then the jour­ney be­gins.

While many of the peo­ple who posted them will fin­ish their Antarc­tic jour­ney in Ushuaia, on the south­ern tip of Ar­gentina, the post­cards need to hitch a ride on ships that are head­ing to the Falk­land Is­lands. From the Falk­lands they are ei­ther loaded on to an RAF mil­i­tary plane or a com­mer­cial cargo plane and flown to RAF Brize Nor­ton in the UK. At this point, they en­ter the Bri­tish postal sys­tem and start to make their way around the world.

It may be a round­about jour­ney from Antarc­tica to Aus­tralia, but the well-trav­elled post­cards I sent ar­rived ex­actly seven weeks later.

The Pen­guin Post Of­fice is also packed with sou­venirs, in­clud­ing an Antarc­tic tar­tan com­prised of the colours of the snow, sea, ice, rocks and wildlife. I couldn’t leave with­out a cro­cheted snowflake, paid for with my credit card so that I could smile when Antarc­tica ap­peared on my state­ment.

Only four peo­ple work at Port Lock­roy and this year saw a huge surge in job ap­pli­ca­tions. More than 2400 peo­ple from 75 coun­tries ap­plied for the chance to spend five months on an is­land the size of a football pitch in Antarc­tica. That’s com­pared with 82 ap­pli­cants last year. While the job may be de­mand­ing, with long hours in the post of­fice com­bined with mon­i­tor­ing the im­pact visi­tors are hav­ing on pen­guins and other wildlife, em­ploy­ees say they feel hon­oured to have had the ex­pe­ri­ence.

To live in a his­toric site and dis­cover your own strength and char­ac­ter among harsh con­di­tions in a beau­ti­ful en­vi­ron­ment? That’s more than a post­card mo­ment. The writer trav­elled as a guest of One Ocean Ex­pe­di­tions.

OUT­POST: (clock­wise from main) Sarah Aufrett and post­mas­ter Stephen Skin­ner serve a cus­tomer in Pen­guin Post Of­fice in Port Lock­roy, Antarc­tic; the of­fi­cial stamp; and a post­card gets ready for a jour­ney around the world. Pic­tures: Alamy, Amanda Woods

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