Christchurch’s connection with Antarctica began with famous explorers Robert Falcon Scott and Ernest Shackleton who spent time in our city in the early 1900s before leaving for the continent. The echoes of their time spent here preparing for their voyages are imprinted throughout our city, Lyttelton and Akaroa. In the 1950s US Operation Deep Freeze operated from our city.
Current programmes based in Christchurch
Christchurch’s importance to the Antarctic is reflected in the diversity of its Antarctic-related activity. A number of important Antarctic institutions are based in Christchurch as well as the National Antarctic Programmes of New Zealand, United States, Korea and Italy. The port of Lyttelton hosts supply and research vessels headed south and Heritage Expedition’s cruise vessels.
There are five National Antarctic (science) Programmes that use Christchurch as a support base: USA, Korea, Italy and the New Zealand programme, Antarctica New Zealand. Christchurch hosts the Council of Managers of National Antarctic Programs (COMNAP) secretariat.
- There are over 100 departures every season from Christchurch International Airport carrying 1,400 tonnes of cargo and the 2,600 scientists and staff involved in the National Antarctic Programmes.
- The US Antarctic Program has been flying out of Christchurch since 1955 – the first flight to the Ice from Christchurch was 20 December 1955.
- The journey south takes 5-8 hours depending on whether you are flying on a USA C-17 Globemaster or an American or New Zealand Hercules. Christchurch to McMurdo Sound is a 4,000 kms distance.
- Lyttelton Port Company provides services for scientific research or supply ships (icebreakers) bound for or returning from Antarctica. The port has hosted the Araon (Korea), Nathanial B Palmer (USA), Italica (Italy) and USCGC Polar Star (USA).
- Christchurch is one of only five gateway cities in the world. The other gateway cities are Cape Town (South Africa), Hobart (Australia), Punta Arenas (Chile) and Ushuaia (Argentina).
Explore Christchurch’s historic connections to Antarctica located throughout the city.
Photo credits: Sea ice and penguin image supplied by Maddy Bellcroft © Antarctica New Zealand (2016). Ernest Shackleton's Cape Royds Hut by Anthony Powell for The Antarctic Office. C-17 arrival to Ross Seas from Christchurch by Anthony Powell for The Antarctic Office.