I first learned about Port Lockroy when I watched a doco on Netflix called ‘Penguin Post Office’ (no longer available, at least not on Aussie Netflix) which heavily featured this unique Antarctic base.
Port Lockroy was first discovered by humans in 1904. It was used as a site for whaling between 1911 and 1931 before being converted to a research station by the British during WWII. This research station was then closed in 1962 and remained uninhabited for many years – falling into disrepair.
Some 34 years later the base was renovated and restored before being converted into a museum and post office owned by the United Kingdom Antarctic Heritage Trust.
It is especially popular with visitors to Antarctica because this post office is the southernmost one in the world, and provides those who visit with a unique opportunity to send themselves, and others, postcards and mail from Antarctica.
Oh, and the place is absolutely flooded with Gentoo penguins!
The ice surrounding Port Lockroy had been particularly heavy during the first weeks of summer, and as a result, we were actually the first ship of the season to successfully land there!
Once I arrived, I had three priorities.
1. Send myself a postcard.
2. Get a passport stamp.
3. Enjoy the penguins!
I took the time to sit down and write myself a relatively heartfelt postcard. I wanted it to be something that I could keep as a reminder of the goals I’d accomplished, and something I could be proud of enough to keep on display.
Next up, I made sure to make the most of the two souvenir passport stamps on offer, and I plonked them right next to my stamp from Ushuaia – where we had boarded the vessel.
After excitedly stamping the crap out of my passport, it was time to take a little meandering stroll through the small museum. It may have been little, but it was certainly interesting to see what life was like for those living in Antarctica many decades ago.
In the kitchen I found a rather… interesting recipe. I guess people didn’t exactly have access to other proteins back in the day!
…I personally wouldn’t want to eat a pinguino, but I gotta admit, if you were in dire straits it wouldn’t exactly be hard to catch one. Immediately after walking out of the museum – this was the sight that was waiting for me!
This was easily the closest I’d been able to get to penguins on the entire expedition. They seemed completely unphased by the presence of humans, and went about their business whilst paying us absolutely no mind at all.
After doing something I almost never do (buy souvenirs) it was time to exit the museum and see a little bit more of Port Lockroy.
There are four women who staff this base, and in addition to running the shop, processing the mail and performing maintenance on the buildings, they also keep thorough records and documentation of the number of Gentoos who breed their babies at Port Lockroy.
This number would not exactly be small, and as such, this would certainly not be an easy task! Check out how many penguins occupy each bit of exposed rock.
These penguins even liked setting up their nests right next to the front door!
I definitely realised on this trip that I have nowhere near enough pictures of my Dad and I. There are a tonne of us together when I was a little munchkin, but very few taken in recent years. So when the opportunity came up to get a father-daughter picture at snowy Port Lockroy, you better believe that it was utilised.
What made this especially special, was that it was the final day that we would spend in Antarctica. Due to bad weather predicted on the Drake, we were forced to set sail back towards Ushuaia a little bit earlier than normal.
So, this would be our final Antarctic landing as a duo (for now at least) so it definitely needed to be commemorated with a happy snap.
After we were done at Port Lockroy, we had the option to go ahead with another landing – one in which we were planning to proceed with a polar plunge. Papa Burne did not join me on this landing due to his progressively worsening knee, but to be honest, he didn’t miss much!
As it turned out, our polar plunge was not to be.
It was incredibly wild and windy when we landed, and although I remember saying it felt colder than normal, I didn’t actually think that would put a stop to our plunging. However, once we actually started trying to land the zodiacs ashore I got my first inkling that maybe this weather was getting just a little too out of hand.
Once everyone had arrived ashore, we stood around for a little bit waiting for the wind to hopefully die down. We did a little hike along the coast to kill time too, but the wind just became progressively worse and worse.
After a while, one of the more memorable expedition guides (the extremely Scottish Bill) started rounding everyone up and getting us prepared to get back into zodiacs.
I went up to him and asked if we would still be doing a polar plunge, to which he responded “are you bloody crazy?!”
With the wind chill, it had gotten down to feeling like about -30 degrees centigrade, and the wind had gotten so wild that the guides were concerned that we would have trouble getting back onto the ship!
So instead of a crazy polar plunge (which probably would have been hypothermia inducing to be honest) we had to very quickly get our butts into zodiacs and then back onto the vessel.
Not being able to do a polar plunge was a little disappointing (it’s on the bucket list and everything) but despite our final landing being not quite so successful, I couldn’t bring myself to be too blue about it.
I had made it to bloody Antarctica!
It truly was the adventure of a lifetime, and I can only hope that I will return again one day, preferably with Papa Burne in tow once more.
Getting to Ushuaia: Ushuaia is well connected to Buenos Aires and El Calafate
Oceanwide Expeditions: An 11 night Basecamp Ortelius voyage starts at around $9650 USD
Camera: Images captured with an Olympus OM-D E-M1 in conjunction with M.Zuiko 7-14mm f/2.8 and M.Zuiko 12-40mm f/2.8 lenses
Remember: A trip to Antarctica comes with no guarantees, but the lack of predictability is what Antarctic exploring is all about!