As It Happens

This Antarctic post office is hiring — and counting penguins is part of the job

An extremely remote U.K. post office is hiring, and the winning candidates will spend five months on an Antarctic island surrounded by a handful of colleagues and thousands of penguins.

The U.K. Antarctic Heritage Trust is hiring staff for its post office, museum and conservation site

The Port Lockroy post office and museum is located on Goudier Island in the Antarctic Peninsula, and his home to a colony of penguins. (Vicky Inglis)

Story Transcript

A U.K. post office is hiring, and the winning candidates will spend five months on an Antarctic island surrounded by a handful of colleagues and thousands of penguins.

For the first time since the start of the pandemic, the U.K. Antarctic Trust is hiring a seasonal team to staff its Port Lockroy post office, museum and gift shop on Goudier Island in the Antarctic Peninsula.

Vicky Inglis, one of the station's previous postmasters, says the gig is an opportunity of a lifetime — though not for the faint of heart.

"We did have to dig our way [through the snow] to get access for the first time when we arrived," Inglis, who worked at Port Lockroy during the 2019-2020 summer season, told As It Happens guest host Dave Seglins. 

"We've got no flush toilets and nothing like that — none of the modern luxuries that we're used to."

Why is there a post office on an Antarctic island?

Port Lockroy was the first permanent British scientific research base established on the Antarctic Peninsula, and originally operated between 1944 and 1962.

The U.K. Antarctic Trust, a British charity, took it over in 2006 and has been running it as a conservation and tourist site ever since. 

Today, Goudier Island is home to a small post office, an Antarctic museum and a gift shop, all run by a rotating staff of four to five people. 

While it remained closed last year due to pandemic health measures, it's usually open to the public during the Antarctic summer between November and March, when it welcomes thousands of tourists who arrive by cruise ship. 

"They're able to come ashore and learn something a little bit different," Inglis said. "So rather than the wildlife in the landscape that most Antarctic landings will offer, it's an insight into the human history down in Antarctica."

Vicky Inglis snaps a selfie with an iceberg in Antarctica. (Vicky Inglis )

The U.K. Antarctic Trust says it receives hundreds of applications every year from all around the world. 

The charity says it's currently hiring three to four people to work as base leader, shop manager and general assistant, with a monthly salary of between £1,250 ($2,041 Cdn) and £1,800 ($2,939 Cdn) per calendar month.

Applications from outside the U.K. are welcome, though the charity warns candidates "will be asked to provide documentation at the interview stage to prove your right to work [in the U.K.], which may include passports, indefinite leave to remain, visas, or any other supporting documents."

An employee at the Port Lockroy base in Antarctica collects ice for drinking water. (Vicky Inglis)

Inglis — who lives in Ballater, Scotland — says she first learned about the job while listening to an interview on the radio in her car. 

She says she was immediately intrigued, as she'd always wanted to spend time in Antarctica, but since she's not a scientist, opportunities were limited. 

"For me, it was an opportunity … to get down and to do something that was just so different," she said.

No running water, and plenty of penguin poop 

Keeping the site up and running is no easy feat, says Inglis. There are very few amenities, and water is brought in on boats. If the ice is too thick for the ships to come ashore, then the staff have to melt water from chunks of ice and boil it to drink.

What's more, the workers share the island with thousands of Gentoo penguins.

"They're all around all the buildings on the site. They're building their nests just outside the doors and windows," Inglis said. 

"So we have to be very careful that when visitors are coming on, we're doing as much as we can to really minimize the impact that we're having on the penguins that are living there."

The view from the window at the Port Lockroy base on Goudier Island in the Antarctic Peninsula. (Vicky Inglis)

Part of Inglis's job on the island was to count the penguins and their eggs, contributing to a long-running population monitoring program. 

The workers also have to clean up after the birds.

"A lot of scrubbing guano [penguin feces] off rocks to make sure that it doesn't get taken into the museum and the shop and the post office," she said.

Must be a team player

Her advice to potential applicants? Be willing to work hard, and be a team player. She says she got hired because she's had experience working as a sailor with small crews for long periods of time.

"You're going to be living in very close confines with each other and working with each other every day," she said. "So you really need to be someone who can get on and work with other people and just sort of take things in your stride and find, you know, where you can help and contribute to the team."

But she urges whoever gets hired to slow down every now and again.

"Take the opportunity to just stop and look at what's going on around you in terms of ice, the weather, the wildlife, and just enjoy those sort of moments of being in that place," she said. 

Written by Sheena Goodyear. Interview with Vicky Inglis produced by Chloe Shantz-Hilkes.

Add some “good” to your morning and evening.

Get the CBC Radio newsletter. We'll send you a weekly roundup of the best CBC Radio programming every Friday.


The next issue of Radio One newsletter will soon be in your inbox.

Discover all CBC newsletters in the Subscription Centre.opens new window