Spotlight on Port Lockroy: A Living Museum & Haven for Gentoo Penguins

September 8, 2014

Tucked away in a natural harbour on Goudier Island, on the western shores of Wiencke Island, Port Lockroy is a popular stop on our Antarctic Explorer voyages as well as Antarctic Express: Cruise South, Fly North and other Antarctic expeditions.

Home to an abandoned British naval base-turned-museum, Port Lockroy is designated a Historic Site and Monument under the Antarctic Treaty, located off the west coast of the Antarctic Peninsula. Visitors are invited to explore the low-lying, rocky island and 'Base A,' the museum operated by the UK Antarctic Heritage Trust.

Port Lockroy is also a great place to see whaling artifacts. Discovered in 1904 by Jean Baptiste Charcot during the first French Antarctic expedition, the port was named after a French politician who helped fund the trip. Its status as a safe harbour with a good supply of fresh glacier water attracted the attention of whalers, who used the harbour from 1911 to 1931.

British 'Base A' at the Port Lockroy Historic Monument

Port Lockroy

Built on Goudier Island in 1944, 'Base A' at Port Lockroy was constructed as part of Britain's secret Operation Tabarin during the Second World War as part of their efforts to establish bases on the Antarctic Peninsula. Lt. Commander James Marr led a group of eight men through the winter. No stranger to the Antarctic, Marr had visited Antarctica first as a young Boy Scout, under the leadership of famed explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton.

Bransfield House, the main base building, was the first permanent British building on the Antarctic Peninsula. In 1956, crews added a boathouse, then a generator building in 1958. Post-WWII, the base was transferred to the Falkland Island Dependencies Survey, who carried out research activities including surveying, geology, meteorology, botany and ionospherics.

 

Inside 'Base A' Gift shop inside 'Base A'

After the closure of the Port Lockroy facility in 1962, it fell into disrepair. In 1996, the British Antarctic Territory Government provided funding to see it restored to the condition it had been in when abandoned.

Today, Port Lockroy is one of six abandoned bases on the Antarctic Peninsula recognized as a Historic Monument and 'Base A' is a living museum with a gift shop and the southernmost post office, where you can mail a postcard to your friends and family. In 2010, a previously destroyed building called the Nissen Hut was rebuilt to accommodate staff, freeing up the Bransfield House to become part of the museum experience.

Port Lockroy Flora & Fauna

Port Lockroy Photo by Quark passenger Shapiro.

Visitor space on Goudier Island is restricted to the 'Base A' site and the two paths leading to it from shore. The Base Leader may allow visitors to roam freely under close supervision in approved areas, but consideration and respect for the animals that call Port Lockroy home comes first.

Friendly Gentoo penguins roam freely here, with colonies located around the island. Scientists believe penguins first established their colony on Goudier Island in 1985 – they were not present before the 1962 closure of the Base. Snowy sheathbills also breed here and you may catch sight of the Subantarctic skuas and Dominican gulls that nest on nearby Bills Island. Crabeater seals breed in Port Lockroy and visitors may see Weddell seals, as well.

Largely barren, Goudier Island has very little flora, but is home to Verruccaria serpuloides, the only marine lichen in the world. You may see it from the low tide mark to as it continues out in to the sea to the 10-metre depth mark.

Port Lockroy visitors might also recognize Prasiola crispa – a type of green algae – along the shoreline.

Port Lockroy

Port Lockroy Travel Tips

If you're heading to Port Lockroy, remember:

  • Dress in layers for walking and visiting the base buildings.
  • Take caution to avoid disturbing the wildlife.
  • Bring your favorite camera equipment or smartphone to capture shots of the historically significant site and whaling artifacts around the island – and don't forget about the abundance of Gentoos!
  • Be sure to buy a postcard and mail a note to friends (or yourself!) from Antarctica
  • Take time to explore the buildings. Interpretation posters are posted throughout the museum area and the Port Lockroy team are there to answer any questions.

Port Lockroy is always a popular stop for Quark Expeditions passengers. There's something for everyone, from the penguin lover to the history buff. Talk to one of our Polar Travel Advisers to learn more about Port Lockroy and the expedition options available!

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