Christchurch has had a special connection with Antarctica for over a hundred years. Early explorers of that vast, inhospitable continent sailed from the port of Lyttelton. Today, New Zealand, American and Italian Antarctic scientists and explorers all use Christchurch as a base. Best-known of those early explorers are Robert Falcon Scott and Ernest Shackleton. Both wanted to be the first to reach the South Geographic Pole. Shackleton didn’t attain his goal, but his 1907 expedition pioneered a route later used by Scott. Scott made two expeditions to Antarctica, the first between 1901 and 1904 in the ship, ‘Discovery’. His second, ill-fated expedition in the ‘Terra Nova’ left Lyttelton in 1910. Scott and his men hauled sledges in an epic trip across glaciers and the polar plateau. They succeeded in reaching the South Pole in January, 1912, only to discover that the Norwegian, Roald Amundsen, had beaten them by a month. Exhausted and lacking food, they perished in a blizzard on the return journey. Christchurch has not forgotten its connections with this heroic period of Antarctic exploration. The small Lyttelton Museum has relics from the ships and an Antarctic Display, and Canterbury Museum is known internationally for its special wing devoted to Antarctic exploration. As you walk up Worcester Boulevard from the Square towards Canterbury Museum, you pass, on your left, the imposing statue of Captain Scott, sculpted by his wife, Kathleen, from Carrara marble. Ships leaving for the ice still use the port of Lyttelton, but in recent years, Christchurch International Airport has been the gateway to the south. Over 135 flights make the 3,832-kilometre trip each year. In 1955, the United States established Operation Deep Freeze in Christchurch. The United States now shares the International Antarctic Centre with the New Zealand and Italian programmes. Alongside this building is the Visitors’ Centre, one of Christchurch’s most popular tourist attractions. It’s a great place to learn all about Antarctica, and adults and children alike have fun dressing in polar clothes to experience Antarctic temperatures and windchill, and they enjoy riding in a Haaglund vehicle used on the ice. Also at the airport is an Indian totem pole of friendship, presented to Christchurch in gratitude for the city’s hospitality to navy personnel of Operation Deep Freeze.
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