One of the final “Antarctic” places to visit before we left Christchurch, the New Zealand gateway to the south, was the city’s Botanic Gardens. And on a beautiful, very hot and sunny Sunday afternoon we picnicked on the lawn with family and friends before heading into an adjoining gallery of the Canterbury Museum to view a remarkable touring exhibition of pioneer photographs from what is known simply as the Royal Collection.
First off though, the gardens housed a Magnetic Observatory established in 1901 to assist Captain Robert Falcon Scott with his magnetic surveys in Antarctica. It was used by other early explorers and operated at the Gardens until 1969 when it was moved further outside the city. Since the 1957-58 International Geophysical Year this observatory as well as observatories at Scott Base and Apia, Samoa, (now operated by the Samoan government) provide real-time magnetic data to International Data Centres.
The Royal Exhibition, known as the Heart of the Great Alone, was magnificent.Lois and I toured around the photographic displays of works by Herbert Ponting from the Scott’s British Antarctic Expedition of 1910-1913 and the Frank Hurley photographs from Ernest Shackleton’s 1914-1917 Imperial Transantarctic Expedition. There was also lots of memorabilia on display too. It was an interesting piece of time travel for me, having walked in a few of their footsteps around McMurdo Sound. At first I thought it was a bit ho-hum and I was a little disappointed until I realized I have been close to these pictures, stories and records for a number of years and had seen or read pretty well all of it. For Lois though, and others, it was a very focussed look at the trials and tribulations of early Antarctic explorers and the legacy they left for those that followed in the latter part of last century to today.
We missed the adjoining Antarctic Museum within the Canterbury Museum this visit having made a thorough tour just two years ago. The city has deep relationships with all disciplines in Antarctica and this had added to the cultural and economic wealth.
Before leaving New Zealand we visited with Old Antarctic Explorers and families in Auckland including Robin Foubister (pictured) leader of my 1968-69 New Zealand Antarctic Research Program.
To cap the whole New Zealand trip off Robin took us out to a gannet colony at Muriwai. Like the gannets, we too are migratory– they go to Australia after the breeding season while we headed back to our home in winter Canada.
Ooops! Yesterday I ended my blog with ‘Next: Back to Antarctica‘. I realized somewhere in the middle of the night that this could be misconstrued as meaning I was actually heading back down to the ice. How I wish! The line only meant that I was heading back to the book I am pulling together of my little adventures the summer of 1968-69. As far as the writing is concerned I am what you might say finished — some 70,000 words. Now the hard part is happening, following on the suggestions and amendments by my terrific editor (Sheila Bender of www.writingitreal.com).
But, back to my trip to New Zealand last month. We headed down to Christchurch which is the seat of all things Antarctic as far as I am concerned for it is there where Antarctic history has lived for more than 100 years, from Captain Robert Scott’s Discovery expedition of 1901. Both Scott and Ernest Shackleton used the adjoining Port of Lyttelton as their final staging point before heading south to the Ross Sea and McMurdo Sound. In 2008 the fellows I had the privilege to be with for the New Zealand Antarctic Research Programme in 1968-69 held a first ever 40th reunion in Christchurch. It was a grand event and many of us have maintained contact ever since. We were certainly a merry band of intrepid explorers. Having reached my present stage in writing my book I wanted to catch up with the folks at Antarctica New Zealand, the government entity that looks after the country’s south polar activities. In my day this used to be known as the Antarctic Division of the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research and was located in Wellington.
Lois meets up with a "scientist" in a Visitor Centre display.
Since the early 70s the group has been located in Christchurch at the International Antarctic Centre close to the airport, the departure and logistics point for all US, Italian and NZ flights to McMurdo Sound. Next door is the fascinating Antarctic Visitors Centre, dubbed the modern shop window for Antarctica (www.iceberg.co.nz). It sports an Antarctic storm (clothing provided), offers educational programmes, live penguins and polar research displays. It is a fun and informative place to visit (and the cafeteria sells great coffee!). So while I was over at the offices, Lois, her twin brother and sister-in-law enjoyed the attractions. I had the experience of a small earthquake while they had the experience of 4-D extreme theatre.
The Visitor Centre Hagglund tourist thrill
Lois and her sister in law Robin had a thrilling ride in a Hagglund snow vehicle. Her summary was one of excitement but she was glad she didn’t know where or what the driver would do. “It was like a roller coaster,” she said. “We went up and up and then o-o-ver.” It was just as well she sat up front and enjoyed the front seat excitement as the vehicle splashed into a water hazard and floated!
My feet are back in boots. Once again I tread the ice, snow and slush with sealed up feet. Its what happens when winter is all around. Yet, just two weeks ago my bare tootsies felt the wonderful (ouch) heat of ironsands beaches and the delightful rush of seawater smoothing over them as the waves rippled up the shore. I could gently wiggles my toes and feel my feet sink into the sand. Ahhh, that has to be something close to bliss.
Lois and I have just returned to our Canada home after 16 glorious days in New Zealand, the land of our birth and early life. For me, most of the journey was about business, to catch up with Antarctic contacts and friends to get this book of mine completed. In between and along the way we delighted in the company of family and friends. The bonus in all this was ample sunshine, sunburn, the beach, little clothing, semi-shod feet and a neato tan which is slowly slipping down the drain now. In the time we were there we only struck one bad day of very high winds and rain which caused a bit of destruction in some parts of the country known to us as Aotearoa –the land of the long white cloud.
Before we headed to Christchurch and the International Antarctic Centre we explored our old hometown of New Plymouth, a deep sea port on the west coast of the North Island. What a delightful place this old colonial settlement has become. We have been back many times over the years but this is the first time in more than a decade that we have ventured south in their mid-summer. Great ingenuity, foresight, creativity and initiative have transformed our town into one of the nicest places you could hope to visit. Trees and color have replaced tramlines and powerlines. Walkways, open green space, gardens and bridges have replaced the railway yards in the centre downtown. The changes over the past 40 odd years are dramatic. I wanted to spend a lot more time there but airline scheduling around aeropoints at this time of the year meant they were in charge of the dates. Still, in coming months we will amass another round for another summertime visit.
The first thing we did was to shed travelling clothing from minus 30 here to the plus 25 or so there. In shorts, a tee and runners we headed to the coastal walkway which stretches a magnificent 14 kilometres or so from the port through suburbs and the centre of town to beaches on the northern side of the district. The city has truly capitalized on this mostly rocky seaside frontage. The nice thing is the concrete walkway follows the terrain up down and around. It is open to the sea for the full enjoyment of being close to the waves. It is truly a walkers, joggers, cyclists, paradise. And it is accessible from almost anywhere along its length.
Now this is what I call a bridge. The Te Rewa Rewa bridge along the coastal walkway. Reminiscent of a breaking wave or even a whale skeleton, this fantastic structure was, designed, built and funded by local contractors and fabricators in conjunction with the District Council. Like the walkway, it is an award winner. And in the background, Mt Taranaki, at 8260 ft it crowns and majestically rules the province.