Northern Ireland

'Christmas with the penguins will be bliss'

Penguins Image copyright UKAHT
Image caption Is this the best place in the whole wide world to spend Christmas?

Sub-zero temperatures, dinner from a tin, an icy shower for emergency use only - Kit Adams is all set for Christmas in Antarctica.

Forget chestnuts roasting by an open fire. Not for him hot water or mains electricity.

But Kit, 26, from Newcastle, County Down, cannot believe his luck.

Spending Christmas in a hut thousands of miles from home is bliss...even when top of the chores is scrubbing penguin poo from the doorstep.

Image copyright UKAHT
Image caption Adventurer by nature: Kit Adams is spending Christmas with Gentoo penguins

The County Down man and his friends are overwintering in remote snowy wastes on an island the size of a football field.

But when that remote piece of earth is home to a colony of Gentoo penguins, it's paradise.

They have a hut with an exclusive view and Kit brushes off any hint of hard times.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption What a view... Kit Adams wakes up to a true winter wonderland

"I'm not finding the lifestyle harsh at all. It really is very comfortable with the Nissen hut being warm and comfy, despite lacking running water and mains electricity," he said.

Still, he and his friends are grateful for the fresh fruit and vegetables dropped off by visiting cruise ships.

Kit is one of a team of five - two Britons, an Irishman; a Scot and a Finn - from the UK Antarctic Heritage Trust (UKAHT) who are spending five months at Port Lockroy on Goudier Island, Antarctica.

Image copyright Port Lockroy
Image caption Hut life... one icy shower and a tin of dinner coming up!

He is a mountaineer and adventurer by inclination but in Port Lockroy, he is also a postmaster.

He, Lucy Dorman, Lauren Elliott, Vicky Inglis and Heidi Ahvenainen are running Bransfield House - lovingly nicknamed The Penguin Post Office.

They process thousands of postcards bought by visitors on Antarctic cruises who visit the tiny island when the ice melts in the Antarctic summer.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Mod cons? The web about here is between a penguin's toes

For the team, it's worth seven days without a shower just for the experience.

As well as stamp duties, the intrepid volunteers are also observing the penguins, how they meet; find a mate; build a nest, hatch and dispatch their chicks.

They will make an important contribution to a long-term scientific study of the penguin colony to better understand the impact of environmental changes on the site.

Guidelines state they must stay five metres from the penguins, but Kit said: "On an island the size of a football pitch this isn't always possible."

Image copyright UKAHT
Image caption Watching them, watching us, watching them ... and they're playing sardines!

The penguins are very funny.

"We could spend many a countless hour just watching them, whether they be stealing stones from their neighbours, waddling to and from the sea or gliding effortlessly through the water only to porpoise out," he said.

As summer comes to the Antarctic and the snow is melting, it's a challenge for the birds.

Image copyright UKAHT
Image caption The glamour of it all... the team digs out the path to their hut

"Some of the days are cold and it can be particularly windy, but over the past number of days it has been warm enough to wear shorts and a T-shirt," he said.

"The penguins have been struggling with the heat and have been panting and increasing blood flow to their underside of their wings to cool themselves down."

There's another down side, too.

Image copyright UKAHT
Image caption Penguin patrol ... they're on the march

"Now that a lot of the snow has started to melt, there is a lot more rock that is being exposed which is meaning that we have to scrub more penguin guano," he says.

The postcards are a way of getting the message out about the work of UKAHT and raising funds to continue that work.

For more than a century, Port Lockroy has been a home for explorers, whalers, scientists and sailors.

It is the cornerstone of UKAHT's efforts to conserve and preserve British Antarctic heritage for future generations.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The Christmas of a lifetime... in Antarctica with the penguins

The team's journey to their hut through the Drake passage was a tough one.

"Imagine you're around five or six years old, under a blanket, off from school with a sickness bug, being fed soul-warming soup and litres of Lucozade; let the nostalgia wrap you in security and comfort," wrote Vicky in the team blog.

"Now, take everything away except overwhelming nausea and weakness. Welcome friends, to the beginning of the Drake Passage."

But the next day dawned and suddenly it was all worth it.

Image copyright UKAHT
Image caption What a gift... it's summer in Antarctica

"Surrounded by crisp, snow-dusted mountains, a sparkling sea and the chorus of these incredible birds, the experience of the Drake, not even twenty-four hours before, was carried off in the breeze to become a memory far into the distance."

When they arrived at the hut they would call home for five months, they were met with a few challenges.

Setting up power and communications was like being in an escape room, Lucy wrote on her blog.

The joys of Antarctica include standing outside in sub-zero temperatures waiting for a satellite signal.

Image copyright UKAHT
Image caption The UKAHT team spending Christmas in Port Lockroy: (from left) Lauren Elliott; Lucy Dorman; Heidi Ahvenainen; Vicky Inglis and Kit Adams

Although the team has four degrees, three masters and one PhD between them, it was challenging to run a shop and deal with technology in Antarctica.

Things can go wrong and there is no 24-hour IT helpline.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Baby, it's cold outside

But the team have become close, the hut has become home and Kit Adams is looking forward to Christmas, even if it is far from family and friends.

He talks about the wonderful people he has met at the Post Office at the bottom of the world including a woman from Northern Ireland who, on her return, called in to say hello to his family and give them news of their globe-trotting son.

In Antarctica, there are, says Kit, "small moments of bliss".

"Watching penguins; glaciers calving or stamping postcards at an historic bar listening to music from that time period.

"There have been many wonderful moments I have been fortunate enough to share with the lovely people I am living with.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Did you hear the one about that lot up in the penguin post office?

"I will also come away with an acute awareness of the amount of water I use on a daily basis, and try to alter my habits when I return," he added.

For Kit, it's a Christmas dream come true.

His December blog is filled with the joys of "a surreal experience".

One of those joys was the arrival of personal post and the long-awaited internet hub.

"I feel very fortunate being able to experience this fragile environment at the bottom of our world, that many will never get to see," he said.