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. Continue reading “Christchurch has long history with the Antarctic”

penguins and the award winning International Antarctic Centre

‘It’s like living in a soap opera’ says the woman feeding the penguins: she had just described how CC ‘doesn’t like water’ and had recently ‘left her old boyfriend for Elvis’, her new one.Prince Edward meets an little blue penguin

CC had been found in Napier by Napier City Council workers (hence the CC) who were digging a storm water drain in West Quay when a digger hit the chicks’ obscured nest and that’s how she came to be rescued and end up living in Christchurch at the New Zealand Penguin Encounter in the International Antarctic Centre.

This is New Zealand’s first combined indoor and outdoor penguin viewing area and it can hold up to 26 Little Blue penguins in its Banks Peninsula natural-themed environment and 80,000 litre pool.  We visitors can see the ‘Little Blues’ above and below water.

All the penguins are birds that have been rescued and with physical disabilities that have left them defenceless, many would not have survived in the wild. Interestingly some of the bird have to wear little blue boots: living in captivity they spend more time on land and get sore feet!

After hand-feeding many of the disabled birds in the water a few who cannot feed in water yet are hand fed. A couple of them climb on Vicky’s lap.

“Climbing in my knee has nothing to do with being friendly or tame, it’s purely wanting the fish” she tells us – despite that, I would love to be so up close and personal with them. It seems that even wild penguins have food preferences, with one of them turning away whenever the ‘wrong variety’ of fish was offered! Continue reading “penguins and the award winning International Antarctic Centre”

family fun in Christchurch

Family fun: Christchurch is great for both the visitor and local alike. Why? Because Christchurch caters for children with fabulous kids-fest events in the school holidays and has heaps of activities for them during the rest of the year too: many of them free, or for a donation, and I’m lucky enough to have a grandson that I can do these things with.

Museums and art galleries are great but need to be done on small doses with young ones: perhaps concentrate on one specialist area with each visit. The fabulous Christchurch Art Gallery always has special events during the school holidays – as does the long established museum.

Right beside the museum and Arts Centre are the Botanic Gardens, which has lots of space for running, picnic spots and of course a kid’s playground with a paddling pool. Still on the water theme is the Avon River and its iconic boatsheds – a trip to Christchurch without boating on the Avon seems unthinkable and its been a tradition for many families over generations to learn to row boats and paddle canoes on this stretch of river.

Remember to bring extra clothing when indulging in water sports – last time we went on the river we regretted not having dry clothes.

The Antarctic Centre is another must on this list of kid’s fun things. Twice voted New Zealand’s best attraction it’s appropriate it’s in Christchurch, long the jumping off place for Antarctic exploration and adventures.P4180002

P4180012 Young ones, and sometimes us not-so-young-ones, are often greeted with a hug from a large penguin. When exploring the frozen spaces in the building you will be supplied with the thick warm coats and boots for all the family and they are certainly needed – especially if you brave the blast of cold air that lets you experience the frozen continents wind-chill factor. Children, adults, and spectators alike love the ice slide so give it a go.

After exploring the centre, it’s almost compulsory to finish off with a ride on the Hagglund. For fifteen mins you will enjoy, or scream, as you race around in doughnut style, swimming through water, over a crevasse, and up and down hills – just as vehicles like this do daily in the Antarctic.

Unless you have a fear of heights, another place on your list should be the Gondola. It will take to the top of the Port Hills – near the bridle path that many of our ancestors walked over in the 1800s.

Once at the top, after admiring the views all the way up I walk with my grandson through the time tunnel and see how the twin volcanoes shaped this area.

Another place that I believe visitors and locals alike need to visit is Willowbank Wildlife Reserve: the only place in New Zealand that you will see live kiwi – of the flightless bird variety – not behind glass. It’s also the place to experience KoTane, the fabulous Maori show that both informs and entertains people from all over the world as well as locals.

What else can you do in Christchurch? Ride the tram ( save by getting a combined ticket for it and the Gondola) ; visit Orana Park, the Air force museum; go ice-skating or roller-blading; see how quick you are at Laser Strike; and have fun as well as learning at Science Alive.

www.iceberg.co.nz

www.gondola.co.nz

www.tram.co.nz

www.willowbank.co.nz

NOTE This is a reprint of an article in the Christchurch Citizen newspaper and still valid! (http://www.kiwitravelwriter.com/pdf/family_fun_in_christchurch.pdf )

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