Friday, 10 December 2010


Ok. I apologise, I've been a bit slack. I got to Antarctica and I
didn't post up a blog.
I really apologise. But I've been having a whale of a good time.
Here's what has happened...The C-17 from Christchurch to McMurdo was supposed to be postponed for
a few more days. Then we were called into a meeting on Monday evening
to say it would go the next morning. Cue frenzied packing!The next day a group of NZ military ground crew ran an seeemingly
absurdly standard check-in system, except that my boarding pass was on
a chain around my neck. All 120 passengers were wearing down suits
that would insulate us at minus 60, in twelve degrees above, and in
drizzling rain. Safety, of course. In case the plane makes an
emergency landing in the middle of Antarctica nowhere. It wasn't very
comfortable though.Then, after checking in we were allowed back to the hotel for
breakfast. Very civilised.
At 9am we boarded the plane for a 5 hour flight to McMurdo. Smoothest
flight ever!
And as we poured out onto Antarctica's surface I have to admit it
seemed a bit anticlimatic. The ice is still just ice, the hills in to
distance look just like other snow covered hills. And as we were so
well kitted out, it wasn't the least bit cold. But the image of that
huge plane sitting on the ice, with two other hercules aircraft nearby
was seriously impressive.Instead of going to Concordia, we were to go to Mario Zuccelli base, a
coastal base the other side of the McMurdo Sound, part of the Ross ice shelf from McMurdo station
(McMurdo station stands where Scott of the Antarctic established his first
base in 1920). And I got pretty lucky for the next step.Whilst some got straight in a twin otter to go to MZ, I and a few
others had to wait a few hours and so we were taken into McMurdo for a
quick visit. It's a big base, essentially a town. But it looks like
a factory complex that would stand in a very industrial area of town.
It ain't pretty. Quite a few 2- and 3- storey buildings. Pipes and
cables run as far as the eye could see. It stands on the steep-ish
slopes of a rocky outcrop on the edge of the ice shelf, and has a
spectacular view all the way over the ice to some very graceful,
pointy mountains the other side. From the town we could see where
Scott's hut stands, but we didn't have time to go down to it.The runway is on the ice, which they tell me is around 3metres thick.
And can land a C-17, that's stronger than I thought ice could be.
The control tower and the outbuildings to service the planes are out
on the ice too. They are all mounted on skis so they can be moved
when the ice thins later in the summer.Myself and four others made the two hour flight to MZ in a five seater
helicopter. We flew over the ice very low to avoid the worst of the
katabatic winds that roll down from Antarctica's high plateaus and can
get very fierce. Even staying low we got batted about a bit. Fun fun
We flew over thin sea ice, thick glacier ice, hills and right at the
very edge where the ice broke off into floes. Often you would see
thick bergs that had been trapped by sea ice and were stuck as if
struggling toward the edge where they would be free to drift and be
what they were meant to be.And all too soon that magical flight was over, as Mario Zuccelli base
came into view.Sorry to have to stop now folks, but I've just been given notice of a
last minute change of plans, I am to replace one of the others
travelling up to Concordia tomorrow - no explanation why. I'll have
to tell you about Mario Zuccelli base when I get there. At last, at
last I'm going to get there.Radio silence will probably resume for a couple of days...
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