Wednesday, November 21, 2007

In Antarctica at last!

The sound of an incoming text message wakes me from my slumber. I roll over and reach for my cell phone, taking note of the time on the alarm clock, its 5am.

The message on the phone reads “Flight delayed 3hrs, 9am pickup”. I jump out of bed and check the webcam at Scott Base on my laptop. The image loads slowly and I stare squinting at it, still half asleep. With no blue sky in sight I return to my bed convinced that today, like yesterday would present a further delay in our departure.

At 8am I pull myself out of bed and start gathering my things in the hope that I might at least make it to the airport today before being “boomeranged” back to my hotel to wait for the weather to improve.

I snatch another look at the webcam, but it’s much the same as it was earlier.

I drag my bags down to the driveway and a few minutes later Paul Woodgate appears in the big Antartica New Zealand van.

He jumps out and tells me, “today’s a flying day mate”, when I ask about the webcam he informs that it will improve over the course of the flight. With heightened spirits we drive off to the International Antarctic Centre to begin the check-in process before a scheduled departure at noon. On arrival at the centre a mass of other eager Antarctic travellers are gathering.

We then board a bus that takes us to the side of the giant, grey bird known as the US Airforce C-17 cargo plane.

It’s carrying two 13-tonne helium gas tanks, approximately 30 people and another 20 odd tonnes of baggage. This massive payload makes me hold my breath during takeoff.

Thirty minutes later and we are at cruising altitude. Midway through the five-hour flight the cabin engineer calls out over the speaker that we are welcome to go up to the cockpit and meet the pilots. I jump at the opportunity and join the queue to get a glimpse out the front window. It’s not every day you get to go to the cockpit of a C-17, especially since 9/11.

The hours pass by until finally some mountains appear on the distant horizon. As we get closer I notice that the mountains extend into the distance for as far as the eye can see.

Glaciers stretch in every direction, the great frozen continent is now below us and our destination is now in site. I return to my seat and fasten my seatbelt. The plane banks hard and begins the descent.

The plane touches down with a thud and a roar. After a long drawn out taxi the engines come to a stop and the cabin door opens.

I rise from my seat and fit my cold weather jacket, hats and gloves. I walk towards the door and look out across the Ross Sea and Ross Island. At last I have arrived. ANTARCTICA HERE I AM!

Check out my slideshow of the flight and a video.



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