Antarctic Mail and Care Packages

I’ve debated writing this post for a bit – while this blog is primarily intended as an efficient means of communicating with my friends and family, I recognize that it is available to anyone with internet access so I have tried to keep most topics appropriate and interesting to both friends and family as well as the general public that may contain some future Antarcticans. That said, I have received some queries lately regarding care packages. So I will start this post will general information about the way our mail works and then the last part will really only apply to those people close to me.

Our mail service is provided by the different planes that bring people down during the Summer. C-17s are able to carry a lot of cargo, so when those are flying, packages will get delivered but personal packages in boxes take a backseat to scientific equipment so there is never a guarantee that we will receive personal boxes: it all depends on if there’s room on the plane. I heard that for this summer there will be more Airbuses and Boeing 757s used in place of 17s to save money and while they may be able to bring some packages, their capacity is much less than the 17s. Hercules LC-130s, which fly during the big cargo gap of November to February, have MUCH less space so that’s why there are no Freshies and no boxes delivered during that time (except for essential science equipment, of course). Letter mail, on the other hand, will always make it down while the planes are flying. However, in the Winter, no planes fly. So no mail for the Winterovers. 😦 Interestingly enough, the Post Office at McMurdo will let me know when I have boxes but not when I have letter mail so if you send letter mail, let the recipient know to check every couple weeks or else it will sit there until the end of the season when the Post Office does send one email saying “The Post Office is closing for Winter! You have mail, come get it!”

Obviously, we all LOVE getting fun things in the mail; it can turn a downswing around and it makes us feel less isolated. And, as some friends have mentioned lately, it can be fun for the sender for the sheer novelty of walking into a post office with something addressed to The South Pole. Thankfully, we have an APO address, so it’s not at all expensive either – you’re essentially paying to send something to California. The concern some of my friends and family have expressed is that they’re unsure what makes a good care package. So at the risk of sounding like a “Greedy Guts”, I would like to make the following suggestions:

Padded envelopes over boxes. Available cargo space for nonessential, non-science equipment is scarce. Padded envelopes like these, even large ones, will almost definitely make it to me.


Whereas the window to send boxes with even just the potential to get to me will close on October 15, 2013, regardless of size or weight. And even if you send a box before the 15th, there is no guarantee it will get to me.

No styrofoam peanuts. Ever. Seriously, do not put these in envelopes or boxes (but don’t send boxes). One or two will always escape and kill wildlife and then I’ll get fined $10,000, sent home, and put in jail. No bueno. If you want to stuff the envelope so things don’t move around, use newspaper. Particularly if it has the crossword pages – then we’ll also have stuff to do on lunch breaks!

Don’t send stuff after January. Unfortunately, there is absolutely NO mail delivered during Winter because there are no planes flying to and from the continent during Winter. So send stuff early. If don’t want me to open it until later, just mark that on the envelope and I give you my word I’ll honor it.

No freshies. No sharps. No breakables. All the packages have to clear NZ customs so use some common sense  – nothing alive or growing, nothing that might have bugs or insects attached, nothing sharp, flammable, liquid, or fragile. If you have questions, ask at your Post Office, they’re pretty good at telling you what will and won’t be accepted.

Things to send. Up till now, the suggestions have been applicable to any USAP personnel down there. Here’s where it gets personal.

  • Candy. Candy canes for Christmas!! Also, I love gummy bears (particularly Haribo), Red Vines,  Jelly Belly jellybeans, unusually flavoured popcorn, Trader Joe’s Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups, and See’s Candy (particularly the dark butterchew and dark bordeaux) but honestly, I would love to receive anything silly and/or interesting. Things with chocolate may not survive all that well as they might have to sit in a warehouse in Christchurch for a bit and it does get warm there during the austral summer but I’m just spitballing here. I’m sure KC Sr’s Christmas almond roca would make it though… *wink*wink*
  • Accessories & Cosmetics. Fun or silly hair accessories, eyeshadow, temporary tattoos, face paint, etc. These small things can brighten a grueling day or let me feel just a teeny bit pampered, even on the harshest of continents. (Aha! I bet you were waiting to see how long I could go without referring to it as such!)
  • Menus. I’m not kidding – if you go out to eat and the food just blows your mind, get a copy and mark it up with your comments on what you had and why you loved it, then fold it up, pop it in a regular letter envelope, and send it along. You’ll be keeping me connected to food trends and providing inspiration for menus.
  • Small toys. Last year, Tiffany sent me a packet of four miniature water guns and it was awesome. This year, my parents gave me a set of jacks shaped like penguins. However, avoid anything like water balloons, that might leave little bits strewn about that would be pretty impossible to clean up completely and could result in the death of wildlife.
  • Movies and Books and Music. These can all be shared via Dropbox or Google Drive which work pretty well at McMurdo. I’m not sure what the internet will be like at Pole.

That’s really all I can think of – if you want to send something but you’re unsure about its suitability, just shoot me an email and ask. And in return, you’ll probably get a thank you postcard (as long as your address is included on the envelope), which comes with an Antarctica stamp.


3 responses to “Antarctic Mail and Care Packages

    • The mailing addresses for both stations are now on the right side, underneath the archives. Thank you, KC! Something to make me look forward to Christmas!

  1. Hi Jess,
    I hope you have gotten your ride by now. Here the Gov’t is STILL down!!
    I have to ask if a couple of my friends from UNLV could receive your blog “Cooking On Ice” ? They are so interested in my relating your previous experiences at McMurdo!
    Also , any chance that you have those archived and available ? I’d didn’t keep them on my laptop and would love to share them with my
    OLLI group at UNLV??

    Be safe and know I live vicariously through YOU!! 🙂

    My Love.

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