For me the whole experience of travelling to Antarctica felt more like travelling to another planet. Luckily I had Lizzie, Nicola and Martin – the seasoned and awesome AHT conservation crew I’ll be working with over the next six weeks – to shepherd me through this foreign process.
We began at the United States Antarctica Programme (USAP) departure lounge, a whole separate terminal at Christchurch International Airport, where our bags were weighed and checked, followed by a quick video from the head of the USAP. We then hopped on a very old American school bus. We were shuttled across the road, and directed to board the US Airforce’s C-17; this in itself was an amazing experience.
It was totally different to boarding a regular international commercial flight. Think very loud, lunch in paper bags, basic, and military green. The flight took about five hours. When we were approaching McMurdo there was a muffled announcement over the planes intercom, and then a mad flurry of passenger activity. All of the passengers were throwing on their ECW (extreme cold weather) gear. Me as a newbie followed suit, sitting in the C-17 sweating, but prepared and ready to face whatever Antarctica had to throw at me when the plane landed.
Maybe I was ready for the weather, but what I wasn’t prepared for was the Antarctic’s onslaught on my senses. Upon landing I walked down the gangway, and then – smack! I was instantly overwhelmed… that first breath of Antarctic air is unlike anything imaginable… extremely cold and dry, but the most pure air ever. Then the overwhelming visuals… vast ice fields as far as the eye can see; mountains which seem so close you could touch them but are miles away; Mt Erebus puffing away in the background; and the whole time these behemoth red American dinosaurs (think ski field shuttles on steroids) are carting people and gear around, to and from the airfield to McMurdo. Where on earth am I…?
Written by Conservation Ambassador Mike Gillies