Christchurch has long history with the Antarctic

leading the way from the airport

Christchurch is home to the Antarctic research offices of New Zealand, United States and Italy’s Antarctic programmes, and artists, tourists and explorers have all prepared for their challenges in the city. This means the city’s rich heritage is reflected in museums, walkways, statues and even an Indian Totem Pole of friendship.

The International Antarctic Centre has a rich introduction to the continent and an acknowledgment of the explorers who, over three centuries, have been spellbound by the awe-inspiring, frozen land, starting with Abel Tasman and James Cook who both found New Zealand while looking for Terra Australis Incognita (Antarctica).

[Read more about my trip to  the Antarctic Centre here]

Adventurers associated with both Christchurch and Antarctica include Robert Falcon Scott who left from the port of Lyttelton to again try to reach the South Pole after his earlier attempt had failed. Terra Nova returned to the port in 1913 bringing news of the death of Scott and his four companions on their way back from the South Pole.

Norwegian explorer, Roald Amundsen was the first to reach the South Pole in 1911 and later gave a popular public lecture in Christchurch. In gratitude to the Canterbury Museum for their help, he donated the penknife used to cut the flagstaff marking the South Pole; and Irishman Ernest Shackleton who first travelled to Antarctica with Scott but was invalided out and later tried again with his own expedition on Nimrod.

For people bought up in Christchurch during the 50s and 60s – a period of intense activity in the Antarctic  –  ‘Operation Deep Freeze’ and the early morning sound of DC3s heading ‘to the ice’ are part of our imbedded personal history and its seems highly appropriate the International Antarctic Centre should be sited here.

It’s not often that a tourist facility covers science, technology, fun-rides, history, ecology, nature, conservation, and the rescue of penguins, but this one does. It is a modern shop window for Antarctica and a fun, exciting and hands-on experience for all: no wonder it has won so many awards and international acclaim.

Other Antarctic sites to visit in Christchurch, New Zealand include:

  • Ferrymead Heritage Park

Contains a huge collection of working machines, including a restored DC3 plane used for US Antarctic supply missions in the 1960s.

  • Air Force Museum

Brings together a collection of historic aircraft, including original Beaver and Auster aircraft used in early Antarctic aviation.

  • University of Canterbury

The Macmillan Brown Library houses an extensive collection of Antarctic archives. Many of them describe original scientific expeditions to Antarctica and New Zealand’s sub-Antarctic Islands. The University’s central library is also home to the Antarctic Collection.

  • Lyttelton

Lyttelton is the port that has serviced Christchurch since the days of early European settlement. It was the last port of call for many of the early expeditions. It is estimated that 50,000 people gathered here on New Years Day 1908 to farewell Nimrod on her journey to Antarctica. Lyttelton continues to be a busy working port and is a refuelling station for several Antarctic supply vessels.

  • Christchurch International Airport The Indian Totem Pole of friendship at the entrance to the airport complex was given to Canterbury by the Oregon Centennial Commission and Portland Zoological Society in appreciation of hospitality given to personnel of Operation Deep Freeze. The totem was carved by Chief Lelooska of Oregon in 1959.
  • Canterbury Museum

An essential place  to call in the Christchurch Antarctic trail – Check out Amundsen’s nose: it well polished by years of visitors rubbing it!

By its very nature, Antarctica holds great fascination for scientists all over the world. Many countries have bases there from which extensive research is carried out, these include  . . .

New Zealand
Antarctica New Zealand operates this country’s Antarctic Programme at Scott Base, which in 1959 became a permanent base. Antarctica New Zealand’s focus is on initiating, managing and delivering high quality scientific, environmental programmes related to Antarctica.

United States
The United States Antarctic Program has had a close association with Canterbury, since 1928 when Admiral Richard Byrd made his first visit.

In 1955 Byrd assembled seven ships in Lyttelton to support his fifth and last expedition to Antarctica, leaving on 10 December aboard Glacier. Six vessels were spread out across the Southern Ocean between Lyttelton and McMurdo to act as weather stations and rescue vessels for the first flight to Antarctica.
In 1958 the Commonwealth Trans Antarctic Expedition, led by Vivian Fuchs, with Sir Edmund Hillary, achieved Sir Ernest Shackleton’s goal of crossing the entire Antarctic continent. Hillary’s tractor and Fuch’s snow cat are displayed at the Canterbury Museum.

Italy established its Antarctic base in Terra Nova Bay, in the Ross Sea, in 1986. The Terra Nova base supports up to 70 people. Italy’s Antarctic Research Programme operates out of the International Antarctic Centre.

Author: Heather - the kiwi travel writer

Nomadic travel-writer, photographer, author & blogger. See more on and Amazon for my books (heather hapeta)

%d bloggers like this: