Today, I wanted to surprise Kylie, so I took her on an impromptu date to the Antarctic.
Well, as close to the Antarctic as I’m likely to get – for the foreseeable future, anyways. Christchurch is actually only about 1,800km from one of the main Antarctic base camps – not all that far, really. We visited the International Antarctic Centre which, aside from providing tours and a range of activities, is actually the gateway for people venturing to the coldest, windiest, and driest continent in the world.
Kylie was quite a good sport about it; I sprung the fact that we were going on a date on her late Friday night, while we were waiting for a bus to take us to see Maleficent– which was very good, by the way – and that she wouldn’t be able to sleep in on her Saturday. Although I refused to tell her where we were going, she agreed, and we left for the bus stop around 10:10 Saturday morning.
She didn’t know where were going until we got off the bus and saw this:
We checked in at the main counter, and one of my fears was relieved; I had thought I’d have to plan out our order of activities, but that wasn’t the case. A nice lady at the counter gave us a little map and wrote times beside when we should go to specific activities. First up: a ride in a Hagglund.
The Hagglund is an amphibious Antarctic vehicle – and these were authentic ones. We boarded for the ride – but first we took a selfie.
The ride consisted of a trip around a unique course designed to recreate conditions of traversing the Antarctic tundra. Contrary to what you might believe, the ride wouldn’t be smooth; blowing winds spread dirt, gravel, and ice chunks over the surface, making it a bumpy ride, which we experienced. We also went up some steep inclines and plummeted down – the jostling had us gripping our handholds for dear life – and finally went through a small pond that was three metres deep. The Hagglund handled it with ease.
After our ride, we entered the Explorers’ Legacy room. It had lots of props, like a cabin, flags, penguins, and more, and also had changing lights and weather conditions, including a sunrise and “snow” (bubbles).
Next up, we went into the “snow and ice experience” – a room kept at -8 degrees Celsius, with snow and an ice slide and some cool props like an igloo and snowmobile. We put on authentic Antarctic coats, even though -8 is a warm spring day in Canada.
Every half hour, an “Antarctic storm” would sweep through the room, gusting up to a terrifying 35kph and dropping the room’s temperature to -18.4 degrees Celsius with wind chill. This was a neat experience, as the lights went out and a voice crackled over a radio warning of an incoming storm. It reminded me of the day in April when I left home, except not quite as cold.
After we escaped from the Antarctic storm, we went to see a cool 4D movie about journeying to the Antarctic. The seats moved, we felt the cold spray of the ocean – and some seagull poop that hit us in the face – and saw some stunning cinematography.
After that neat little experience, we went to a gallery of Antarctic memorabilia, including rocks and fossils, equipment, food samples, and much more. There was a station where you could dress up in authentic gear again – we didn’t bother with the pants, gloves, boots, hats etc., but I tried on a jacket that looked a lot like a Western University official Canada Goose jacket.
Finally, we wandered into the Little Blue Penguin exhibit. These guys are the smallest species of penguin, and, as you’d expect, are adorable.
It’s actually quite a touching story – each of the penguins (there are about 12 I think) were rescued. They all have some sort of disability which would have made it highly unlikely that they survived in the wild, and were brought to the IAC to live their lives. One, named Marty, was born with her left leg paralyzed, and so swims in a peculiar fashion; she also has her own spot near the corner of their enclosure.
Another one is missing a leg, a few are blind in one eye, and one, named Toto, is 23 years old and has cataracts and Alzheimer’s. Only two per cent of penguins live to age 20 – most last six or seven years – so she’s truly remarkable. We stayed around for feeding time, and then visited the gift shop to pick up some swag. Kylie got some shirts and kindly purchased me a coffee travel mug.
All in all it was quite a fun day, with immersive experiences and a bit of education thrown in to boot. It almost makes me want to visit the Antarctic…although I’ll probably settle for just going home.