A trip of a lifetime into Our Far South

‘Our Far South’ is the land and ocean south of Stewart Island that either belongs to or has a strong connection to New Zealand. Gareth Morgan instigated the project to help make more Kiwis aware of the treasures on their back doorstep—our subantarctic islands and the Ross Dependency in Antarctica itself. His vision was to take 50 New Zealanders to see it all, prepare them with a series of lectures from experts on board, then let them loose to tell their friends and communities about everything.I was welcomed onto the team as a science communicator and joined by others including business people, engineers, environmentalists, a fisher, a diplomat, a regional council enforcement officer, a pilot and scientists. We travelled by sea on a Heritage Expeditions trip from Bluff to McMurdo Sound and back, stopping off at five subantarctic island groups. It took 30 days.

I made contact with Jane from Earth Sea Sky after purchasing some essential gear from Bivouac, who supported the trip with a generous discount to the crew. At Earth Sea Sky, from family members Jane, David and Michael Ellis,  I learned told me about the family connection with Antarctica.

McMurdo Sound with Mts Erebus (left) and Terror (right) in the background

“David’s father Murray was part of the team that built the original Scott Base and helped keep the tractors going on the way to the South Pole in the 1957-58 Commonwealth Trans-Antarctic Expedition.”

The expedition was a commonwealth effort and New Zealand was supporting the British team (led by Dr Vivian Fuchs, head of the British Antarctic Survey) who left from Shackleton Base on the Weddell Sea. Fuchs planned to travel across the continent via the South Pole and end up at Scott Base on the Ross Sea side of the continent. The kiwis put in supply depots for them from Scott Base to the polar plateau and were never meant to go to the pole, but Sir Edmund Hillary, the leader of the New Zealand party, decided to make a ‘dash for the pole’, despite being warned off by Fuchs and beat them to it.

Interior of Scott’s Terra Nova Hut – Scott’s cubicle

Personal highlights were visits to three of the historic huts erected by Scott and Shackleton more than 100 years ago, experiencing McMurdo Sound and Mt Erebus in silent icy beauty at 4 am and sitting on a beach surrounded by curious king penguins. Such moments have increased my sense of wonder for the natural world south of Stewart Island and why it deserves all our efforts to protect it.

My Earth Sea Sky gear was great. Of course, the Hydrophobia performed brilliantly when I got a good dousing on a zodiac boat, and the trousers allowed comfortably for an expanded waistline from the delicious cooked breakfasts and three-course dinners on board. Their garments made for Antarctica New Zealand kept many others of the crew warm and comfortable and was doing a great job keeping the staff at Scott Base toasty warm and looking good in the distinctive orange and black colours.

Sarah’s trip blog can be found at www.descipher.co.nz/ourfarsouth