‘Four months in the middle of nowhere was absolutely paradise’

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A woman who spent four months managing the world’s most remote gift shop said the experience was “absolutely paradise”.

Natalie Corbett left her life and new husband behind for a spell in Port Lockroy, on Goudier Island in Antarctica, where there was no running water, wifi or flushing toilets, but said “every day was just incredible”.

With a background in retail, the 31-year-old joined a team of three other women who headed to the historic site to run the gift shop, post office and museum, as well as survey the population of gentoo penguins.

Ms Corbett left for Port Lockroy in November last year and had to quickly acclimatise to Antarctic conditions.

“I just remember laughing and thinking ‘Oh my God, what have I done?’ There was so much snow for miles.”

Daily routines consisted of setting up the remote site ready for cruise ship visitors, with around 140 tourists per day arriving to send postcards and buy penguin-themed gifts.

“We were working maybe 12-plus hours easily each day, and everything takes a lot longer than you think it’s going to,” she said.

“By the time you’ve put on all your layers, and then forgotten several things, it takes a good 15-20 minutes to get out the front door.”

With no running water on the island, the cruise ships brought the opportunity for warm showers, as well as topping up the women’s supply of food, which was largely tinned or dried.

“The cruise ships were so generous, we were eating really well. I think I ate fancier meals than I do at home,” she said.

Natalie Corbett
Natalie Corbett spent four months managing the world’s most remote gift shop (UK Antarctic Heritage Trust/PA)

She shared a six-bed room with the other three women – Clare Ballantyne, Mairi Hilton and Lucy Bruzzone – who were among 6,000 people who applied for the Port Lockroy roles, advertised by the UK Antarctic Heritage Trust (UKAHT) charity.

Being part of an all-female team was a source of pride for Ms Corbett, who said: “Looking back at Port Lockroy’s history, and obviously from, like, the ’40s to the ’60s when it was occupied, it was just men.

“So I would love to know what they would have thought of an all-female team being there, in their space, doing everything that they could do.”

One challenge of the remote location was communication with home, although Ms Corbett, who had been married to her husband George for just five months when she headed to Antarctica, said it was “surprisingly fine”.

The women were able to have a 10-minute phone call each week and also managed to use wifi on visiting cruise ships to keep in touch with loved ones.

“I missed him, and you end up thinking of home quite regularly, but we’ve been together 13 years, so four months apart over that period of time was fine,” she said.

Natalie Corbett
Natalie Corbett (second from right) serving customers in the shop (Maria Pia Harboure/PA)

“As a natural introvert, being stuck on an island with just four people in the middle of nowhere with no-one to bother you is absolutely paradise,” she said.

“There were no moments when I kind of stood back and was like ‘Oh God, this is awful, what am I doing here?’. Every day was just incredible.”

She added that one of the “top five moments of her whole life” was viewing the Milky Way for the first time, saying that, due to a lack of light pollution, “there were just so many stars that it almost looked like TV static”.

The biggest adjustment after leaving Antarctica came when Ms Corbett stopped off in Ushuaia, Argentina.

She said: “When we first got off the ship to go and do our first walk around Ushuaia, there were just so many weird smells and sounds and colours. We had to cross a road and none of us could figure out how fast the car was going. We all stood there for ages.”

Applications for the roles at Port Lockroy were opened for the 2023-24 season earlier this year and Ms Corbett said to anyone who succeeds in getting one: “Don’t be scared to go to Antarctica for four months because it will be the best four months of your entire life.”

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