5.30 am – I received a text from Jana to say we had a two hour delay .. here we go again, I thought. At 7.30 I got up and got ready, unsure of what to think about the delay and the likelihood (or not) of reaching Antarctica today.
8.25 am – I reached the Antarctica New Zealand offices and it all looked promising. There were uniformed people checking our departure cards and issuing boarding passes – all very official. Coffee in the tea room was the next stop, followed by a toilet stop, a safety briefing, another toilet stop, gearing up with all of the EWC either on or close at hand, and finally boarding the aircraft.
All geared up and ready to board the plane
Getting on the bus that takes us from the 'departure lounge' to the plane
11.10 am – sitting on board the C17 air craft (a much quicker option than the Hercules) we had approximately 40 minutes on board before the plane took off. This allowed time for the plane to be pressurised, for the ‘flight attendant’ to give his safety briefing (he was hilarious too .. lots of personality) and then for the plane to get into position for take off. During that time I introduced myself to the American guy sitting next to me – Jim from North Hampton who is doing his Masters in electrical engineering. He was great and we had lots to chat about .. I always love meeting interesting people on planes! And then it was time for take off! That must be one of my most favourite things .. that feeling of speeding up, being pushed backwards (or in our case today – sideways) and leaving everything else behind always gives me such a buzz.
The crates of gear between us and the guys seated along the right wall of the plane
The interior of the C17 - definately not First Class, but an experience of a lifetime!
3.30 pm – our descent had begun. As the stage of our journey was announced over the loud speaker, we were also provided with other clues that we were descending, including the change in pitch of the planes engine as well as the rolling forward of the big crates that lined the centre of the plane. Although they didn’t move far, the movement was enough to give me a bit of a fright the first time they slid forward.
In the half hour or so prior to descent we had been flying over part of the Antarctic continent and were lucky enough to have the opportunity to go right up into the cockpit to check out the view. It was just amazing! Although it was white almost everywhere it was also possible to see the peaks of mountains pointing out above the sea of ice. Just as incredible was the way that you could see that the ice actually flows around the mountains, just like a river flowing through a valley. Fascinating!
My first glimpse of Antarctica
It's no wonder that people describe it as 'going to The Ice'
A view from the cockpit
frozen rivers; flowing glaciers
Jana and I ready to disembark
disembarking the C17. Note the crates being unloaded from the rear of the the plane
Boarding Ivan the Terra bus - our shuttle to Scott Base
Once we had landed at the Pegasus airfield, which is situated way out on the Ross Ice Shelf, we were picked up by the American operated bus-thing ‘Ivan’ the Terra Bus, on which we travelled the 45 minute journey to Ross Island, where the Americans dropped 17 of us Kiwi’s off at Scott Base (before they proceeded up and over the hill to McMurdo Station – the much larger American base) – en route to the base we even passed three Emperor Penguins which is apparently a rarity around Scott Base, so that was pretty cool! Unfortunately the bus was going quite fast, so they really did just flash by, but I’m hoping that they will stick around for a bit longer so that I get the chance to see them a bit closer!
Proof that am actually here!
On arrival at Scott Base we were met by one of the friendly Antarctica New Zealand staff members, given a series of briefings about safety and the day to day running’s of the base and then it was dinner time (braised beef, rice, peas, cauliflower in a cheese sauce, and a vegetarian mix of tofu, capsicum and courgette, followed by fruit salad and ice cream .. delicious! – you’ll get used to me and the rundown I provide of the meals .. one phrase that is often recited in my family is ‘it’s all about the food!’ And so I’ll be letting them down if I don’t recall every detail of every meal!! – I will try to keep it brief though :) ). After dinner we were taken on a tour of the base, and, since then we were left to our own devices.
It is now midnight and I am sitting on the top level of Q block (or something like that – I haven’t quite got a handle on the layout and names of all of the buildings yet .. but that’ll come I’m sure :) ) in one of the office work stations (corrals). It is (obviously) light outside, and although I knew to expect that, it is still a strange feeling. Jana, Jo and I went for a walk all around the outside of the base after our post-dinner tour on inside the base. (Jo is the Antarctica New Zealand receptionist who is down here on a familiarisation (fam) trip – they have an acronym for absolutely everything here!!!
Although we have been on the ground for over six hours now, it wasn’t until we were wandering around outside that it really sunk in that I was actually here in Antarctica. Before that the whole experience of today had just been so surreal. But now, having been outside and seen the seals lounging around on the sea ice off in the distance, the pressure ridges that have formed as a result of sea ice movement and the permanent tide crack that exists in the ice due to the rising and falling of the water underneath with the tides, the reality that I am actually here in Antarctica is really starting to sink in!!
A view of the wind farm at midnight
For now though, I must go and get some sleep (I am sharing a bunk room with Jana, Jo and Tanya O’Neill (a PhD student working under the supervision of Dr. Megan Balks (Waikato University) who was also my MSc supervisor). Tomorrow will be another big, and exciting day .. Antarctic Field Training is plan .. and I can’t wait!