Ever since I turned ardent for travel and commenced travelling to various pockets of the world, I had imagined heading to almost everywhere but Antarctica –the coldest, driest and windiest continent on earth, never oscillated in my mind.
Though I had read about it during school days, like children across the globe, but it was in New Zealand’s Christchurch where I surprisingly stumbled upon the world of this unique continent: ‘International Antarctic Centre’ that daily enthralls curious visitors of all age groups, sitting right next to the airport.
Thanks to many locals who kept mentioning about it, including an immigration officer who stamped my passport on landing. Initially, I pondered why Antarctica is being promoted by Kiwi land but my visit to the centre where I reached with all my zeal and inquisitiveness, I got all the answers.
It’s all because Christchurch being very close to Antarctica is one of the five cities in the world known as ‘gateway to Antarctica’ and its airport which has always been a core base for several important flights to Antarctica and handling its several projects and programmes. But it was in 1990 when the airport authorities decided to come up with such a complex that could not only introduce public to this continent but also Christchurch’s connection and importance towards it. Finally, it opened its doors in 1992.
With a map of the centre in hand, I weaved my way straight towards the Antarctic storm room –the indoor polar room, chilled to minus 8 degrees - packed with real snow and buffeted by -18 degrees chill machine. Running experience sessions all day in groups for ten minutes, I wondered how will I face it but thankfully they offer warm jackets with caps and even shoe covers. The moment the storm takes over; even before the New York minute one is in Antarctica. Interestingly, it was famous son of New Zealand –Edmund Hillary who too has experienced the storm when he inaugurated the same room in September 2003.
Coming out we broke ice with each other asking personal experiences of it and soon learnt that most of the staff here (many volunteers) had worked in several research stations in Antarctica which was loud and clear for the power behind their erudite knowledge and passion. One of them also pointed us towards the live web cams from Antarctica which intrigued us deeply.
Next was ride on Hagglund –an Antarctica vehicle that handles all kind of terrain and so was the scene as the ride was in action. Seemed like a mini tank, we were going up and down, sometimes in water and exposed along to live commentary from our driver who at the end suggested ‘don’t forget the penguins.’ I did spend some time watching them diving, sun bathing and even the feeding by a young staffer who rolled out so many facts about the cute birds from Antarctica.
There were also husky dogs just next to the centre’s entrance that were so friendly but today they are no more used in that cold continent as they have been replaced by motor vehicles. I did catch these motor vehicles, helicopters and breathtaking icy sceneries in two different documentaries, one 4 D in special theatres there that unfolded so much about life in Antarctica.
I also adored being in the Antarctica aircraft feel zone where one gets chance to feel being on the Antarctica flight. Just keep your eyes glued on the cockpit and in between close your eyes and listen to the sound of the plane.
Finally, before bidding adieu I strolled through Antarctica gallery –an engaging exhibition zone that also has several real samples from the continent including the rocks and some vehicles. Most importantly, I also learnt that it is tied to an Antarctic treaty –a legal agreement that ensures use of Antarctica for peaceful and scientific purposes through international cooperation. More than 40 countries are part of it, including India, and there are over 60 research stations operated by scientists from 24 nations who work here to save it from the hues of ‘global warming.’ Here in Christchurch, the centre is home to research projects of not just New Zealand but also of the USA and Italy.
Few days later, flying with Qantas Airways to Brisbane, I came across an advertisement in its inflight magazine. It read: “Take the world’s most scenic flight to experience Antarctica in a day from the air. Taking off in November from different Australian cities (in a Boeing 747); limited seats, book now.” I smiled thinking, I should plan for sure and instantly shared the advertisement on my instagram, labeling it as one of the musts, at least once in a lifetime!
- Location: Orchard Road, Christchurch Airport; Phone: 05087364846
- Open on all 365 days from 9 am -5:30 pm
- Admission is ticketed: Adult NZ$59; Child (5-15 years) NZ$29; Senior/Student (60+with ID) NZ$45 (Online one can fetch discounted prices)
- While can reach by taxi or public buses, the centre also operates free shuttle service every hour from the city centre (outside Canterbury Museum/Botanic Gardens on Rolleston Avenue).
- For more visit: www.iceberg.co.nz; www.antarcticaflights.com.au