We have been talking about going to Antarctica for a few years now, it’s the only continent I haven’t yet visited and definitely on my bucket list. But until I get there, the International Antarctic Centre will have to do. The Centre is in Christchurch and is part of a large complex that was built for the administration of the New Zealand, United States and Italian Antarctic programs. It offers a glimpse into life in the Antarctic and the experiences of some of the explorers and scientists who work there.
There are museum-type exhibits with history of Antarctic exploration, short films about the explorers, and lots of Little Blue Penguins. We caught the penguins at feeding time which was cool as they are really active when diving and catching their food. At one point during the feeding, someone came out in a giant penguin costume and spread his arms open for the kids to give him a hug. None of them did so my partner obliged. The poor ‘penguin’ was taken by surprise when a 6 foot 4 kiwi walked up and bear hugged him but he recovered quickly and handled it in stride.
The center’s coolest experience is the Antarctic Storm Chamber – they suit you up in a heavy coat and provide covers for your shoes and send you into the Chamber. You wait for a few minutes and then they lower the temperature and blow cold wind into the chamber to simulate what it would be like to be in the Antarctic — you get to experience -18 degrees Celsius with the wind chill. There is an igloo in the chamber and we wound up stepping in there for part of the time to get out of the wind – the ‘storm’ only lasts a few minutes but it is seriously cold!
If you’re up for it, you can also ride on a real Hagglund – an all terrain vehicle that would make a Hummer feel insignificant. Riding the Hagglund was bumpy! I didn’t think it would be that exciting as it looks just like a tank and we thought the ‘ride’ would be on the street. But no, they have a special track for it that allows you to really see what this vehicle can do – going up hills and through water. Called the “most versative vehicle on earth”, the Hagglund is capable of going over all kinds of terrain with minimal impact on the ground beneath. They can operate in temperatures of -40 degrees Celsius! Watch one in action here.
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