The Secret Diary of Adrian Petford Aged 39¾

The big freeze – International Antarctic Centre

Posted in Christchurch,New Zealand 2009 by Adrian Petford on August 28th, 2009

I’ve been quite surprised by how many people seem to be reading my blog. Calling home I was amused when my Mum told me my cousin had said she would print off the blog so Mum could read it!

I have always had an interest in heroic feats of exploration, particularly from history and so Christchurch’s International Antarctic Centre was a must see this time. On my last visit it was too far out from the city centre to get to and so I went to the very good Antarctic section of Canterbury Museum instead but this time I had the opportunity to spend the whole day at the centre if I wished.

International Antarctic Centre, Christchurch – 20-Aug-2009
International Antarctic Centre, Christchurch – 20-Aug-2009

Adjacent to Christchurch airport, the International Antarctic Centre is in a very unusual and striking looking building. It’s not just for show or the tourists either; Christchurch has a pre-eminent role in scientific and exploration work in Antarctica and servicing the various international bases, so much so that it’s known as “the gateway to the Antarctic.”

I was amused to see the pay stations in the car park had penguins on top of them! Pay being the operative word in the case of the Antarctic Centre, as I discovered. As well as a very high ticket price you have to pay a premium to park. Oh well, if it’s being used for the research the centre does and their penguin colony I don’t begrudge it too much.

I’d arrived about 11.30am and paid to park up to 5.00pm which would, I hoped give me more than enough time to see everything. I went for the full works ticket which gives you a ride in a Hagglund Antarctic vehicle and unlimited access to everything inside the centre plus a half hour behind the scenes tour of the penguin attraction. I also booked an electronic information guide to take around with me. Walking right in I was impressed, the first section was all about the challenges of flying to Antarctica!

Replica of Scott Base, New Zealand's station in Antarctica – 20-Aug-2009
Replica of Scott Base, New Zealand’s station in Antarctica – 20-Aug-2009

Then it was into a section called The Four Seasons which contained replicas of Captain Scott’s hut and the entrance to New Zealand’s Scott Base. This section was fascinating. I loved seeing the information about how the new base had been built, the daily photos sent in from Antarctica and a look at the base’s notice board! Although a lot of the science they do goes over my head, I’m enthralled at how people manage to live and work on the bases there for up to six months at a time.

An authentic Antarctic storm is recreated at the International Antarctic Centre – 20-Aug-2009
An authentic Antarctic storm is recreated at the International Antarctic Centre – 20-Aug-2009

There was a countdown clock in the next section and the attendant was calling people in saying “the next storm is due in five minutes”! So we had to don rubber overshoes and heavy winter jackets before going into a chamber full of genuine snow and ice in which an Antarctic storm would be simulated! This was really well done and I’m glad I experienced it, although it was so cold and unsettling I don’t think I’d go through it again! There are viewing ports into this part for the faint-hearted to watch from outside! Then no sooner was that over than it was time to go and watch the penguins (which are mostly little blue penguins, the same as at Oamaru) being fed at 1.30pm. This was really entertaining and fun. The guide gave a good commentary as the penguins waddled over and had the fish handed out to them. I was impressed that a lot of these penguins are being looked after in captivity because they are injured or disabled and wouldn’t be able to survive in the wild.

Feeding the penguins, International Antarctic Centre – 20-Aug-2009
Feeding the penguins, International Antarctic Centre – 20-Aug-2009
Little blue penguins, International Antarctic Centre – 20-Aug-2009
Little blue penguins, International Antarctic Centre – 20-Aug-2009

The feeding took place until 2.00pm when, conveniently it was time for me to go on my behind the scenes penguin tour. This was brilliant and taken by the same guide as we’d just seen feed them. We went down into the lab and had a chance to see the penguins in action from close up. A couple of them seemed very interested in our group and the children there got to feed them. It was fascinating to hear about their work raising the penguins at the centre.

Little blue penguin, International Antarctic Centre. The penguins here are injured or disabled and cannot survive in the wild – 20-Aug-2009
Little blue penguin, International Antarctic Centre. The penguins here are injured or disabled and cannot survive in the wild – 20-Aug-2009
Behind the scenes at the penguin colony, International Antarctic Centre – 20-Aug-2009
Behind the scenes at the penguin colony, International Antarctic Centre – 20-Aug-2009

After this it was into another hall where I saw part of a documentary about life through Antarctica’s long winter season where the sun never rises and also some of the satellite equipment being used on the bases. There was so much information to digest at the Antarctic Centre I’d pretty much reached information overload by now so didn’t take much more in, but it is somewhere I’ll definitely go again so not really a problem. I only used my electronic guide twice. The rest of this hall was devoted to science and natural history in Antarctica. Then the next section was an overhead screen with a video presentation detailing the natural history of the continent. This I did take in as it was well presented and snappy. Then, finally it was into a screening room where a massive screen was showing seventeen minutes of footage from Antarctica set to music. This was very spectacular. It featured Captain Scott’s grave and I was also surprised to see how much of Antarctica isn’t actually snow covered.

Hagglund Antarctic vehicle, International Antarctic Centre – 20-Aug-2009
Hagglund Antarctic vehicle, International Antarctic Centre – 20-Aug-2009

By 4.30pm I’d finished. What a brilliant attraction. I knew it was highly regarded but it was much better than even I’d expected and well worth the high admission price. The only thing that remained was the Hagglund ride. In the end I was tired and put off by the fact it said you had to be physically capable of getting in and out of the vehicle quickly, plus it looked like I was the only one waiting to go on the ride. Next time, I think. On the way out I saw the Hagglund depart absolutely packed with people. Oh well, at least I got a photo of it. You always have to leave something to do next time!

I said goodbye to Lynne and Robert the next morning. They have been very hospitable and I’ve really enjoyed staying at the 306 on Riccarton motel. It’s probably the best motel I’ve ever stayed in over here and I’ll definitely try to come back next time I’m in Christchurch.

On the flight back up to Auckland I got some great photos of the Southern Alps, Marlborough Sounds, Kapiti Island and the middle of the North Island from the air.

The flight north. The Southern Alps from the air – 21-Aug-2009
The flight north. The Southern Alps from the air – 21-Aug-2009
The flight north. Marlborough Sounds from the air – 21-Aug-2009
The flight north. Marlborough Sounds from the air – 21-Aug-2009

With the long road trip over, I was looking forward to spending my last weekend back on familiar ground in Auckland and enjoying some home comforts again!

Leave a Reply