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On Walkabout At: The International Antarctic Centre

The Drive Back to Christchurch

After finishing up our tour of the Milford Sound area of New Zealand’s South Island, my wife and I had officially ended our holiday in New Zealand and only needed to drive back to Christchurch to turn in our campervan.  From Te Anau it took one full day of driving to get back to Christchurch.

We first drove directly East through a large agricultural area before reaching the city of Dunedin.  Dunedin is suposed to be one of the main college areas for New Zealand students.  While driving through Dunedin some areas of the town looked nice while others looked extremely run down.  We ate lunch in Dunedin and weren’t really all that impressed with the town.  We continued driving North on Highway 1 to Christchurch and the scenery was nice in some areas but mostly just farms.  The East Coast of New Zealand just does not compare to the incredible scenery we had already seen on our tour.  On the outskirts of Christchurch we found a caravan park to spend our last night in New Zealand at.

Walking to the International Antarctic Centre

The next morning we turned in our campervan at around 8:30 in the morning with no hassles.  Britz campervan rentals in Christchurch was much better then any of the Britz businesses in Australia.  I literally turned in my campervan in less then 30 minutes.  This is unheard of in Australia.  I had budgeted 2 hours to turn in the campervan, but now we suddenly had a big chunk of time to waste until our flight left at 14:00 to Melbourne.  The guy at Britz told us to go check out the International Antarctic Centre if we wanted to waste some time before our flight.  So my wife and I walked over there to go check it out.

With a big totem pole like this near the Centre, it is extremely easy to find:

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Plus there are plenty of painted penguin footprints on the ground as well signs that lead you in the right direction as well:

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Eventually the International Antarctic Centre came into view:

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The US Antarctic Program

Located adjacent to the centre is a large facility that houses the United States Antarctic Program:

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From here the US Air Force conducts regular flights to Antarctica from Christchurch using these specially modified planes that are fitted with skis to land on the ice there:

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Here is the mission of the United States Antarctic Program:

USAP station locations in Antarctica.

Without interruption since 1956, Americans have been studying the Antarctic and its interactions with the rest of the planet. These investigators and supporting personnel make up the U.S. Antarctic Program, which carries forward the Nation’s goals of supporting the Antarctic Treaty, fostering cooperative research with other nations, protecting the Antarctic environment, and developing measures to ensure only equitable and wise use of resources. The program comprises research by scientists selected from universities and other research institutions and operations and support by a contractor and other agencies of the U.S. Government. The National Science Foundation (the U.S. Government agency that promotes the progress of science) funds and manages the program. Approximately, 3,000 Americans are involved each year.

The research has three goals: to understand the region and its ecosystems; to understand its effects on (and responses to) global processes such as climate; and to use the region as a platform to study the upper atmosphere and space. Antarctica’s remoteness and extreme climate make field science more expensive than in most places. Research is done in the Antarctic only when it cannot be performed at more convenient locations.

The program has three year-round research stations. In summer (the period of extensive sunlight and comparative warmth that lasts roughly October through February) additional camps are established for glaciologists, earth scientists, biologists, and others. Large, ski-equipped LC-130 airplanes, which only the United States has, provide air logistics. Air National Guard crews operate these planes. Helicopters, flown by a contractor, provide close support for many research teams. Tracked or wheeled vehicles provide transport over land and snow; small boats are used in coastal areas.  [USAP]

Exploring the International Antarctic Centre

After taking a look at the USAP building and reading a plaque decribing the program, my wife and I then went inside and bought tickets for the International Antarctic Centre.  There are different ticket options ranging from $20 to $48.  The various ticket options allow visitors to access additional displays at the Centre such as driving around in a snow cat.

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We bought the cheapest tickets available since we would not be staying there long due to our flight time. That meant no snow cat ride for us, but we were fine with that.  By this point the only thing we wanted to ride, was our airplane back to Melbourne.

At the Centre there are a number of displays on New Zealand’s role in Antarctica and the history of the frozen continent. There is even a room that visitors can go into where they turn on large fans and drop the temperature to extremely low temperatures to replicate what people who visit Antarctica experience.

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Here I am after coming out of the Antarctic chamber:

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The displays and what not was interesting, but without a doubt the stars of the Centre are the penguins:

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The Centre has a large penguin colony kept in an aquarium that allows visitors to view the penguins both above and below the water. Often times the penguins would swim right up to the edge of the aquarium to check out the visitors who had came to see them:

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Some of the penguins were extremely cute, especially this one which had quickly become a crowd favorite:

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The people that work at the Centre put on a show where they feed the penguins and provide an educational briefing about them that was actually quite well done:

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That was really all there was to the Centre.  We spent nearly three hours before heading over to the airport to catch our flight.  It was a good diversion for a few hours and beat hanging out in the airport, so we felt we got our money’s worth in visiting the Centre. However, no matter how good the Centre was there was no way we were going to miss our flight because by now my wife and I were ready to go back home to Victoria.

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