antarctic gateway new zealand september 2009
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Antarctic Gateway New Zealand September 2009

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Antarctic Gateway New Zealand September 2009. The invitation to Christchurch was an initiative of the Christchurch City to launch their 2009 Antarctic Season.

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The invitation to Christchurch was an initiative of the Christchurch City to launch their 2009 Antarctic Season.
The flight to Christchurch was a long one, delayed by a storm which was the worst Sydney had experienced in 70 years. The dust created a visibility of approximately 60m and all flights into and out of Sydney were cancelled for a day!

Christchurch were phoning home looking for me as I had failed to arrive on time…

Eventually the family tracked me down to Melbourne.

The program started with a gathering of the Mayors from Gateway Cities, or their representatives, at the Christchurch Mayor’s Lounge.

Gifts were exchanged and the details of the four days were presented.

We were taken to the University of Canterbury, to the official opening of the CONAP secretariat at the University.

At the University there is a National Institute for Professor Brian Storey, Director of the Gateway Antarctic and Research on Antarctica. The hosts were Professor Brain Storey, Director of the Gateway Antarctic and Michelle Rogan Linnemore, the COMNAP Executive Secretary.

This was followed by a dinner hosted by the Events Office.

On the following day we were taken to the University again, to the Gateway Antarctica Programme. We were given lectures by Professor Storey on the activities in Antarctica that the New Zealand base is busy with, such as the Andril Project and geological and metrological projects. It included consequences of the ice melting and climate change as well as the changes in the ozone layer.

It was pointed out that each year every class in a New Zealand school does a curriculum around Antarctica, including Grade R. The university offers a whole series of Antarctic studies and every undergraduate course has to take a number of modules on Antarctic studies.

They also have a post graduate course and doctorates, and an internet-based correspondence post graduate degree for the USA. The City of Christchurch offers a bursary for one student to study Antarctic studies each year.

Each student in the post graduate course gets the opportunity to visit their base.

This was an extremely interesting morning and when exposed to this sort of information you realise how little we know.

Education is one field that the COMNAP are very keen to expand. The

importance of Antarctica in terms of the global warming impact is known

by every New Zealander, and it is promoted everywhere.

All visitors to Antarctica, past and present, are invited to their functions. This is to reinforce its importance and that of all who go there.

Afterwards there were press interviews with each of us and radio interviews. Each signatory had to make a speech around our country’s Antarctic programmes and the benefit they bring to our cities and their economics, as well as the expected benefits of signing the Statement of Intent.

We visited Attica New Zealand – a tourist attraction – the biggest in New Zealand, which gives you a synopsis of life in Antarctica and the NZ operations there.

A presentation by the leader of the Antarctic New Zealand Programme was given, describing a brief history of Antarctica, from Scott’s first trip until today. The main areas of study are climate change, the cryosphere change, geology of rocks and glaciers’ biology.

The Antarctic Centre was built in 1992 at a cost of $8 million NZ. It is in the heart of a working campus where Antarctic missions are organised. It gives a powerful and memorable experience of Antarctica to all visitors in a fun, exciting and informative way. It is hugely successful and The Science Centre in Cape Town is keen to replicate this experience at its new home.

As well as entertaining it conveys the global significance of “the frozen continent” to audiences of all ages.

There is a 7 minute sound and light show depicting the four seasons of Antarctica. There is a replica of Scott. The Polar Room has real snow and ice made on site, and you can slide around on the ice, shelter in an ice cave and experience the wind chill machine and a snow storm with all its sound effects. Warm jackets and overshoes are provided but your hands and face freezes!

It includes an aquarium for penguins. The little blue penguin is the smallest penguin and most nocturnal of all. It stands about 40cm tall. They have four types of penguins, five species of seals, baleen and toothed whales, birds and 125 species of fish as well as plankton and zoo plankton. All wildlife relies on Antarctic krill directly or indirectly for their existence, of which there is about 500 million tonnes.

The whales that visit Cape Town in the winter months rely directly on krill to survive. Therefore the significance of maintaining the Antarctic in an environmentally pristine way is crucial to these marine giants.

They also give a 15 minute Hagglund Ride just to end off the experience. These are the all terrain vehicles which are amphibian. It can float and be steered in the water at 3.5 knots but move on ice on steep terrain at about 55 km/ph at temperatures of -40 degrees. There is an outdoor adventure course and it is so rough that you have to buckle up and are still thrown around up slopesover crevices and through ponds.

There is a tourist shop within the complex to buy souvenirs, and other branches at the airport. The venue is also used for functions and dinners. Although started by Christchurch Municipality it now, after four years, runs as a very successful tourist attraction. In fact it is the most visited attraction in New Zealand.

That evening there was an opening function for all the new groups going to the Antarctic base, including the USA and Italian groups. The statement of in-tent was on display together with a brief exhibition showing all the Gateway Cities National Base Stations i.e. SANAE. There were about 350 people. It was held at the Robert McDougall Art Gallery.

On the Saturday morning I went to the city centre and the botanical gardens for lunch and then we went by bus to the port of Lyttleton. This is the port that has served Christchurch since its settlement and was the last port of call for many of the early expeditions. Huge parades were held here in the streets, to wish the expeditions well on their way.

The excursion included a boat trip to Quail Island which was a former quaran-tine station for the dogs and ponies of Scott’s and Shackelton’s expeditions. The island is in the plug of an ancient volcano which forms Lytteleton Har-bour.

The CEO of Lyttleton Port Company in which Christchurch Council owns a majority share then took us to where the cruise liners depart from and the container shipping area. We then returned to the city.

On Sunday the church service in the Christchurch Cathedral was held as a farewell blessing for the New Zealand, Italian and United States staff going south for the 2009/2010 season.

A silver chalice is passed from the Dean, Reverend Peter Beck to the Ame-rican Air Force Chaplain who would spend the summer down there and at the close of the season it is brought back and returned to the Cathedral for safe keeping until the next season

This was followed by a wreath laying ceremony in memory of Sir Edmund Hillary, who was the former patron of the New Zealand Antarctic Society and members of the Commonwealth Trans Antarctic Expedition from 1955-1958, at the Scott site. After that there was a lunch hosted by the US National Science Foundation for the Mayors, or their representatives, and the international diplomats.

We then flew out.

Since retuning to Cape Town I have corresponded with 5 Gateway City Re-presentatives and our own Director of The South African Antarctic Programme, Mr Henry Valentine. South Arica is keen to develop the tourist aspects of Antarctica and wished to learn how the other countries are making best use of the options. South Africa has a new ship being commissioned in 2012 which will enable us to accommodate more tourists.

Already about 24 000 visitors visit the continent via the Ushuaia and Punta Arenas Gateways. Being further south they have the advantage as they are closest to the Antarctic Peninsula which is open for about ten months of the year. Most of their tourists are on cruise liners. They have a cultural festival to help promote their programmes, whilst Hobart also has an educational Adventure Park.

A further option is the flight south which adds another opportunity for tourists to visit Antarctica.

South Africa’s interest (SANAE) Base is are centred on the Dronning Maud Land and it is on the same tine zone as western Europe. Cape Town tends to be used by most participating European Countries as a gateway. However we also support the Russian and Indian programs. The distance from Cape Town to the Continent is 4500km. Polar vessels calling in Cape Town are generally spending in excess of R7.5m per visit and DEAT spend R1.5 m on repairs to machinery coming back from Antarctica per annum. The new SANAE base and the new Marion Island base have put us in the forefront of this technology.

A South African Consortium was awarded the contract to build the new British Base at Halley. The contract’s value is in excess of R260m and is being built in Paarden Eiland.

Talks have already been set up for a sharing of information from Canterbury University with CHEC (The Cape Higher Education Consortium), as well as the MTN Sciencentre around modelling an exhibition on the Antarctic Centre. Unfortunately due to the late arrival of the invitation to Christchurch, DEAT could not get the required formalities compiled with and were therefore unable to attend. I therefore not only represented Cape Town but was able to represent them in a small way too.

DEAT is anxious to develop more of an industry and acknowledgement of the work that goes on in Antarctica especially at SANAE. They have hosted an open week at their offices with scientific displays available to school children as well as having the SA Agullas on show. It is our intention to turn this programme into a tourist attraction with welcoming and departure activities on the quays when the ships arrive at and depart from Cape Town.

Cape Town Tourism is assisting us with this and the first opportunity will be on the 9th December when the Ship leaves once again for the Antarctic. The Mayor will formally wish them well on their trip.

Argentina has indicated their wish to host a festival next year to celebrate their Antarctic Programme for the Gateway Cities. DEAT and the High Commission have indicated a desire to also have one in the coming years but have not yet any idea when this would be, but provisionally in 2012 when the new ship is launched.

As we are already known Internationally as the Gateway to Africa we are now increasingly becoming the Gateway into Antarctica.

Cape Town the Gateway to Two Continents.

The signing ceremony of the Statement of Intent between the Southern Rim Gateway Cities to the Antarctic was attended by the Mayors, or their Representatives, from all the cities. They include Christchurch, New Zealand; Hobart, Australia; Ushuaia, Argentina; Punta Arenas, Chile and Cape Town, South Africa. The Ambassadors or High Commissioners from each of these countries attended the event too.

It took place at Riccarton House, a prime heritage site in Christchurch.