From the ends of the Earth: a postcard's journey
This season, UKAHT was part of a postcard’s extraordinary journey from Port Lockroy, the world’s southernmost post office, to Ny-Ålesund, the world’s northernmost post office.
Gerhard Freund is a keen philatelist from South Tyrol in northern Italy with a special interest in pushing the boundaries of postal services around the world. In 2020, UKAHT worked with him to send a postcard from Port Lockroy to the International Space Station (ISS), the artificial satellite circling 408km (250 miles) above the Earth. The ISS has been permanently inhabited since 2000 and is able to receive mail, albeit occasionally. As such, it’s fair to say the ISS is the planet’s highest post office.
Gerhard is a keen philatelist (Credit: Gerhard Freund)
The feat represented the first time letters had been sent from Antarctica to space and the first time that polar and space philately had been united on an envelope.
Last year, Gerhard went one further and organised for another letter to be sent to the ISS, this time from the Himalayan mountain village of Hikkim in India. At an elevation of 4,440m (14,400ft), the tiny post office in Hikkim is the highest post office on Earth.
Gerhard's next challenge (Credit: UKAHT)
This season, we again worked with Gerhard to send a postcard from the world’s southernmost post office at Port Lockroy to the world’s northernmost post office at Ny-Ålesund, a small town in Svalbard, Norway, located well inside the Arctic Circle at 78°56′N.
Ny-Ålesund is the world’s northernmost permanent settlement as well as the world’s northernmost year-round research station. While there may be research stations further north in Canada, Russia and Greenland, these are either unoccupied for part of the year or occupied by rotating teams of researchers. Ny-Ålesund, however, has a permanent population: 35 year-round and 114 in the summer.
Ny-Ålesund is the world’s northernmost permanent settlement (Credit: Shutterstock)
Ny-Ålesund’s residents are predominantly hardy scientists and researchers. Its location in the High Arctic makes it an ideal place to monitor climate change. The experts here, cover all sorts of scientific research including atmospheric physics, biology and geology to glaciology and oceanography.
Ny-Ålesund wasn’t always a doyen of Arctic science. The settlement was founded in 1917 by the mining company Kings Bay Kull Comp, which operated until 1929. The company was nationalised in 1933 but mining continued periodically until a major accident killed 21 miners in 1962. Mining was subsequently permanently terminated and Ny-Ålesund gradually evolved into an Arctic research station. Today, it’s used by 18 institutions (plus four observers) from 11 countries around the world.
Ny-Ålesund also has a pedigree in polar exploration. It was here where legendary Norwegian polar explorer Roald Amundsen launched his 1926 expedition to the North Pole aboard the airship Norge. Amundsen reached the Pole and flew on to Teller in Alaska. It was the first verified trip of any kind to reach the North Pole and the first crossing of the Arctic Ocean.
The journey from 64º49’S to 78°56′N
The postcard began its journey at Port Lockroy where the UKAHT team stamped a postcard with the base cachet. This printed design features the date, location (Goudier Island, Antarctica, 64°49'S 63°29'W), HSM no. 61 – referencing the Historic Site or Monument designation under the Antarctic Treaty, UKAHT web address, and, of course, the Port Lockroy penguin logo. They then wrote out a short message to their counterparts in Ny-Ålesund and all signed their names.
“Greetings from the most southerly public post office to the northernmost post office on Earth! We hope this finds you well.”
The team's message (Credit: Gerhard Freund)
The postcard was then put inside an envelope with the registered number 004138 along with four British Antarctic Territory stamps that were hand-cancelled by applying the Port Lockroy postmark with the date 11 February 2023.
The stamps had different themes: Icebergs, the RRS James Clark Ross, Emperor Penguins, and Bransfield House. The latter two stamps – which respectively read 'Protecting Wildlife' and 'Protecting Historic Sites’ – were released in 2021 to mark the 30th Anniversary of the Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty.
First, they were collected by Hans Hansson, a 26m Quixote Expeditions motor yacht that kindly transported 41.6kg of mail (approximately 8,400 postcards!) from Port Lockroy to the Falkland Islands, a British Overseas Territory.
About to begin its journey (Credit: Clare Ballantyne)
Eleven days later, the letter was handed over to Sulivan Shipping which dropped off the mail bags at Stanley Post Office in the islands’ capital. There, the mail was hand-sorted by country before boarding the twice-weekly plane to RAF Brize Norton in the UK.
The mail was forwarded on to its destination via Royal Mail and then onto Norway to Longyearbyen, the de facto capital of the archipelago of Svalbard and the world’s northernmost town.
Eventually, on 14 April 2023, the letter arrived at the world’s northernmost post office in the world in Ny-Ålesund. En route, the postcard had picked up some unusual stamps and postmarks including polar bears, seals and even polar bear warning signs – all typically found in Svalbard.
Norway's stamps and postmarks (Credit: Gerhard Freund)
The post is not distributed in Ny-Ålesund, which means postmaster Bodil Haugvik had to collect the mail in person. She then added Ny-Ålesund’s postmark along with her signature to both the envelope and postcard, thus completing the postcard’s remarkable 16,698km (10,376 miles) journey from one end of the earth to the other.
UKAHT would like to thank Gerhard Freund for his hard work in getting this unique project off the ground, Ny-Ålesun postmaster Bodil Haugvik and of course, our incredible team at Port Lockroy.
At the world's northernmost post office (Credit: Bodil Haugvik)
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