Amidst the incredible landscapes of Antarctica lies Port Lockroy – a remarkable station of human history, scientific endeavour and a habitat of many penguins. Port Lockroy is located on Goudier Island in the pristine waters of the Antarctic Peninsula. Once a secret wartime base, it has transformed from a covert military station to a destination for adventurous explorers and curious visitors alike, currently housing the most southern Post Office in the world! A visit to Port Lockroy is not merely a journey to a remote location. It’s an immersion into a story of exploration, conservation, and the spirit of those who have ventured to the ends of the Earth. Join us on our visit to this stunning Antarctic destination!
Where is Port Lockroy?
Port Lockroy is situated on Goudier Island along the Antarctic Peninsula. It is a very small island on the west side of Wiencke Island on the western edge of the continent.
The Goudier Island is rocky, but covered in snow most of the year. The rocks only show through in the middle of Antarctic summer. It is often linked to Wiecke Island by ice. There are three buildings on the island:
- The Bransfield House (that houses the Penguin Post Office)
- A store hut.
- A boat shed.
The surrounding scenery is dominated by strikingly jagged ice-covered mountains on Wiencke Island, vast glaciers, and frozen expanses of sea. As in most Antarctic destinations, the landscape is mainly characterized by towering icebergs and colossal ice formations, a result of millennia of glacial activity.
Date: Morning, 14 December 2022.
Conditions: Very windy, cloudy and snowy. Also cold (-2 – 0°C).
What We Did:
Unfortunately, we were not able to land on Goudier Island, and instead, we had Port Lockroy staff come onboard the ship. However, we had an action-packed morning nonetheless, as we:
- Attended lectures presented by Port Lockroy staff.
- Port Lockroy souvenir shopping.
- Observed Gentoo penguin colonies from the Zodiac boats.
- Seabird watching.
Notable Things We Saw:
- Bransfield House that houses the post office.
- Gentoo penguins going around their day.
- Skuas stealing penguin eggs.
- Majestic icebergs on the Eastern Side of the island.
Port Lockroy: landing site on Goudier Island
Goudier Island offers two designated landing sites for visitors. The primary landing location, situated on the island’s western edge near the historic whalers’ mooring chains, serves as the most frequently used entry point. In instances where this area is inaccessible, there is an alternative landing site. It is positioned on the northern side of Goudier Island, opposite the boat shed.
Once ashore, visitors have the option to go on two well-maintained pathways leading to the base. Due to the uneven topography of the island, guests are requested to remain on these designated paths. Regardless of the chosen path, the island bustles with activity from its resident Gentoo penguins as they go about their daily routines.
Port Lockroy Post Office
Situated at the southernmost latitude, Port Lockroy offers visitors the unique opportunity to send postcards and letters stamped with the iconic Antarctic insignia. They certainly make for cherished keepsakes from this remote location. The small wooden house not only serves as a functioning post office but also contains a curated selection of souvenirs and gifts, allowing travellers to bring a piece of Antarctica back with them.
Amidst the global COVID-19 pandemic, the base was left empty from 2020 to 2022 as a precautionary measure. However, on October 4, 2022, a dedicated team of four women was selected to reoccupy the base. This meant that the post office reopened again for the summer season of 2022/23.
Unfortunately, due to fears of COVID-19, visitors from our ship were not allowed to disembark and explore the Post Office. However, two resident women came on board to give us lectures about the history and life on Goudier Island. They told us that they love coming on board these luxury ships! The facilities in Port Lockroy are basic, and here they get to enjoy a lovely meal and a hot shower! This is the way cruise ships say “thank you!”.
They also brought the gift shop with them. And of course, we were also able to send postcards! They took only 3 months to arrive in various European locations!
Port Lockroy’s conservation-oriented regulations ensure a balance between human exploration and the preservation of its delicate ecosystem. The port welcomes ships with fewer than 500 travellers, allowing for a more intimate and sustainable experience. A daily limit of three ships, irrespective of size, guarantees controlled maritime activity. On Goudier Island, a maximum of 60 explorers are permitted simultaneously, creating a harmonious coexistence between visitors and wildlife. The designated visiting hours, from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m., express environmental respect while fostering a structured schedule for the Port Lockroy staff.
What is more, with a commitment to staff well-being, the daily cap of 350 visitors ensures that the Port Lockroy team can carry out their essential responsibilities without undue strain. Inside the base, the number of concurrent visitors is capped at 35, allowing for an enriching experience while preventing overcrowding.
Port Lockroy, nestled along the Antarctic Peninsula, boasts a history as intriguing as its frigid landscapes. Originally established as a secret British base during World War II under the code name “Operation Tabarin,” its secret purpose was to monitor enemy activities.
After the war, it transformed into a research station, contributing to scientific understanding of the region. The iconic red-roofed building that now houses the post office served as the starting point for what later evolved into the renowned British Antarctic Survey.
Abandoned in 1962, the base regained attention as a historic site in the late 20th century. In 1996, it was carefully restored and reopened, now hosting visitors from all over the world. Today, Port Lockroy stands not only as a testament to human exploration in Antarctica but also as a bridge between the past and the enduring curiosity that continues to draw people to this remote spot.
Have a look at the informative but fun video provided by the UK Antarctic Heritage Trust to learn more.
Wildlife on Goudier Island
Wildlife thrives in the pristine surroundings of Port Lockroy on Goudier Island. We were treated with sightings of an array of creatures that have adapted to the harsh polar environment.
- Gentoo Penguins. These charismatic penguins are a common sight, bustling around the island in their distinctive waddle, nesting in colonies, and providing endearing displays of parenting. It’s a perfect location to take plenty of up-close photos of penguins. The island is small and penguins are plentiful!
- Southern Giant Petrels. With their impressive wingspans, they soar over the seas, scavenging for food and offering an elegant spectacle.
- Snow Petrels. These small, pure-white birds are often seen gliding gracefully over snow-covered landscapes.
- Blue-eyed Shags. Nesting on cliffs and rock ledges, these striking birds add a burst of colour to the icy scenery.
- Antarctic Terns. Graceful and agile, these birds are skilled hunters, diving into the icy waters to catch fish and krill.
- Brown Skuas. These predatory birds patrol the skies, preying on penguin eggs and chicks, playing a crucial role in the ecosystem’s balance. Keen to capture these birds on your camera? Head to our guide on Seabird photography in Antarctica.
- Weddell Seals. Often spotted lounging on ice floes or hauled out on the shore, these seals are a delight to observe, displaying their distinct patterned coats.
- Leopard Seals. As feared Antarctic predators, they occasionally make appearances, showcasing their powerful physiques and remarkable hunting abilities.
Visiting Port Lockroy in Antarctica is a photographer’s dream, offering a plethora of captivating subjects amidst an awe-inspiring backdrop of icy landscapes.
The iconic Port Lockroy Post Office, with its vivid hue that boldly contrasts against the pristine white expanse, is a must-capture sight. Frame shots that highlight its vibrant red exterior against the whiteness, emphasising the location’s historical significance and its fusion of human presence with the natural world. Don’t hesitate to explore various angles and perspectives, capturing the play of light and shadow on this charming structure.
Gentoo penguins, bustling with activity, offer endless opportunities for heartwarming and dynamic shots. Their playful interactions, from courtship rituals to nurturing their chicks, provide endearing moments to capture. Zoom in to capture the intricate details of their tuxedo-like plumage and expressive eyes, or take wider shots to showcase their colonies against the backdrop of icy landscapes. Head to our Penguin Photography Guide to read all the tips we picked up along the way!
Don’t overlook the avian inhabitants – brown skuas, Antarctic terns, and southern giant petrels soaring above the icy waters – capturing their grace in flight.
The sculpture-like icebergs also deserve your lens’ attention, their captivating shapes and glacial hues contrasting against the cerulean skies.
That’s it for Pork Lockroy! We are next off on a Zodiac cruise around Jougla Point, a place known for its whaling history and massive Gentoo Penguin colony!
If you are embarking on a trip of a lifetime to the Antarctic Peninsula, these may be the locations that you come to visit on your expedition: