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
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