Since the earliest days of Antarctic exploration, Christchurch has served as the main jumping-off point for expeditions to the great southern continent. This isn't really a surprise when you consider Christchurch's location: Christchurch is one of the closest cities in the world to the South Pole, and pretty much the closest major city to the region around the Ross Ice Shelf, which is roughly speaking the closest the coast of Antarctica gets to the South Pole itself.
But still, nowhere is really all that close to Antarctica - we're still talking thousands of miles, meaning that any staging area would need some hefty transportation infrastructure to be able to supply and coordinate missions over such huge distances.
Thus in Christchurch the International Antarctic Center was born. Representing the combined efforts of the American, New Zealand, and Italian Antarctic research programs, the International Antarctic Center is a huge research and logistics facility that supports those nations' bases in the area around the Ross Ice Shelf and at the South Pole. The Center, which was thankfully unaffected by the recent earthquakes, is also one of Christchurch's most popular tourist attractions, doubling as a hands-on museum of all things Antarctic.
In addition to the Center's penguin rescue program, which Nana touched on in a previous post, I especially loved the wealth of exhibits that tried to capture what it's actually like to live and work on the Antarctic bases. There was even a winter storm simulator - though disappointingly, the storm simulator didn't really get any stormier than a typical Midwestern winter blow.
The two big takeaways? Emperor penguins are ENORMOUS.
|That's a life-sized profile. Seriously. They're some of the biggest birds in the world.|
|Granted, it may have been in liquid form at the time. And thousands of miles from the source.|