Experiencing Antarctica in New Zealand

Now, here is something you might not know about Christchurch! Because New Zealand is one of the closest places most of us will every get to Antarctica, Christchurch is actually a hub for Antarctica activity. Christchurch is many researchers’ and Antarctic explorers’ last connection with the civilised world before making their final flight to Antarctica. The Antarctic air operations of the US, Italy and New Zealand are operated through Christchurch Airport. To celebrate the fact, the International Antarctic Centre, a hands-on (and we mean hands-on) museum, is situated just across the road from the United States Antarctic Program’s base at Christchurch Airport. Just like any Antarctic explorer (yep, we are definitely in the same league), it’s also going to be our last port of call before leaving the Christchurch area…

The perfect rainy day activity in Christchurch

Coming from a land of little blue penguins and New Zealand fur seals in Akaroa, New Zealand’s very own version of Antarctic marine life, we make our way back over the hill to Christchurch. It’s a miserable day, and when we are looking for Day 233’s activity to break up the journey between Akaroa and Hanmer Springs and stay out of the rain, the International Antarctic Centre seems like the perfect option!

Penguins lead the way

Arriving at the Antarctic Centre, “Turn in at the massive penguins!” Laura cries as she sees the penguin-painted building from kilometres away, the receptionist at the ticket counter starts circling all these things to do and times to go see them on a map. Jeepers!

Map in Robin’s hand and an audio-guide around Laura’s neck (such a nerd!), we walk into the attraction to pulled to the side for some green screen photos.

“Point at the penguins!” The photographer enthuses. We point at the empty space on the floor starting to really understand how the actors felt when making The Hobbit.

Despite what the sign suggests, there were no giant penguins to hold our hands Despite what the sign suggests, there were no giant penguins to hold our hands
Robin comes out of his igloo after the storm Robin comes out of his igloo after the storm
Starting our Hagglund ride Starting our Hagglund ride
The piercing eyes of the husky The piercing eyes of the husky

Walking in a winter wonderland

Now that we have virtually been to Antarctica and back, we walk into a dimly-lit room with holograms giving accounts on early Antarctic exploration. Their stories are accompanied by the swirling light displays of Aurora Australis and even fake snow falling from the ceiling! We have walked into a winter wonderland!

A storm is brewing

A red timer on the wall in the next room counts down to the next “Antarctic Storm”. Only five minutes left until the storm hits. Museum staff show us to some gumboots and give us a large coat each before opening the door to a snow-filled room currently sitting at 8 degrees Celsius. There’s a snowmobile, a snow shelter, and just, you know, a real life husky! It’s trainer is getting the cute-as-hell husky to sit with adoring tourists for photos and we are no exception. Before the storm hits, the trainer takes the dog outside the freezer room and tells us we can go see the huskies outside later.

Experiencing an Antarctic Storm

As the timer counts down the last couple of seconds, the lights in the freezer room go dim and the “wind” starts to pick up and the temperature drops down…

“Shit, it’s actually cold,” Robin says blowing on his fingers. The temperature has dropped to -18 degrees Celsius and with that wind… It’s perhaps only a minute that the experience occurs, but it feels a hell of a lot longer at -18!

A bumpy ride on the Hagglund course

Riding in the Hagglund

According to our map, our Hagglund Ride should be coming up soon, so we make our way back out through the exhibitions and back outside to where the Hagglund rides depart. The bright red US Antarctic Program Hagglund sits in the museum drop-off area with its driver and passenger cabin and a separate passenger cabin, both with caterpillar tracks. Our driver shows us where to sit and where the handles are to hold on, before telling us to put on our headsets so we can listen to his commentary.

We momentarily take to the roads of Christchurch, before turning off into what looks like an obstacle course. Yep, we are about to see what these babies can do. Without revealing too much, all we can say is there hills no vehicle should be able to go up, make-shift crevasses, random logs to get over, and the bottom of a pond. Now we can see why the driver was so keen for us to know where the handles were!

A moment with the huskies

Shaking our way off the Hagglund, we hobble over to stroke the huskies lying on a grassed area outside the Antarctic Centre. The trainer is happy to answer all our questions about this fascinating bread of dog used to pull sleds in Antarctica.

We don't know who feels more like they're in heaven right now? We don't know who feels more like they're in heaven right now?
Robin gets educated about flying to Antactica Robin gets educated about flying to Antactica
A unique perspective of the little blue penguins A unique perspective of the little blue penguins

4D theatre and photo ops

From watching little blue penguins swimming in an observation area to watching (and feeling) what it’s like to be on a voyage to Antarctica in the 4D Theatre, we make our way to more museum-type displays. Scott’s Hut gives an insight into some of the supplies used by early Antarctic explorers, and a mock-up of the US Antarctic Program plane is the perfect setting to watch a quick documentary about flying to Antarctica.

The linear setup on the museum takes us into a dark room showing a video on the floor about how the continent of Antarctica came to be, before the next room offers informative displays of Antarctica’s fascinating wildlife. A fun photo opportunity complete with coats to wear is set up around the setting of an Antarctic explorer’s camp. All we can say is that we’ll never complain about rainy nights in a Department of Conservation campsite again!

An ice cave leading to the HD Theatre is the final journey before emerging at the gift shop. There you have it, an experience in Antarctica! Now, we can go to Hanmer Springs.

Next stop, Hanmer Springs

The journey is a dark and dreary one through the Canterbury Plains, but whatever the weather, you can’t deny the beauty of delving into the mountains as we get closer to the resort village of Hanmer Springs. Mountain biking, quad biking, hikes and, most famously, the hot springs resort: that’s what awaits us in Hanmer! It’s made better with the cosy feeling of walking into Jack in the Green Backpackers with the fire lit – much needed after we experienced -18 degrees today! Join us tomorrow when our Hanmer Springs adventure begins!

Laura and Robin

We can't resist A cheesy token-tourist pic for the end of our Antarctic visit
We can't resist A cheesy token-tourist pic for the end of our Antarctic visit Spherical Image - RICOH THETA

Want more?

Have you read the yesterday’s post? How about these articles?

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See you tomorrow!

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