Antarctic Heritage Trust is delighted to officially launch a unique virtual reality (VR) experience of Sir Edmund Hillary’s Antarctic hut. Developed in partnership with Auckland University of Technology (AUT) the VR was recently launched in person by New Zealand’s Prime Minister Rt Hon Jacinda Ardern, who described the experience as “deeply moving”.
Donning a headset, people are invited to step inside Hillary’s Hut and to explore the first building at what is now New Zealand’s Scott Base. A fully immersive experience, which includes a guided tour through ‘A’ hut, it celebrates New Zealand’s first presence in Antarctica as part of the Trans-Antarctic Expedition and International Geophysical Year.
During the 1955-58 Commonwealth Trans- Antarctic Expedition Sir Ed led the first overland journey to reach the South Pole since Captain Scott in 1912, and laid supply depots to support the efforts of British explorer Sir Vivian Fuchs who led the party that completed the first overland crossing of the Antarctic continent. Both parties gathered useful scientific information, and completed important mapping work.
As part of our commitment to sharing the world’s greatest polar exploration stories the Trust is utilising virtual reality. It is a powerful medium to allow people to access Antarctica’s remarkable history of exploration and the legacy of the expedition bases, which the Trust cares for on behalf of the international community.
Trust General Manager Operations and Communications Francesca Eathorne, who oversaw the project development, hopes people around the world will take up the opportunity to explore the hut virtually and to learn what life ‘on the Ice’ was like for Hillary’s 23 man team.
“Virtual reality allows people to visit these important sites without travelling there, which is expensive and difficult to do. This fully immersive experience will be the closest thing possible to exploring the expedition’s base hut without actually going to the hut itself.”
It is a ground-breaking project in terms of its scale and approach with more than a dozen AUT students and staff contributing over 4000 hours to the project.
Associate Professor Barbara Bollard from AUT, who helped collect the data to build the virtual reality says: “This opportunity is unique in that it allows you to experience this special place without leaving a footprint. It opens up a long and rich history of Antarctic exploration to a wide audience who may never have the opportunity to visit in person.
“It’s one thing to read about a place or see photos, but to interactively walk around and experience it as if you are there, really cements the connection. It creates a greater awareness and appreciation of the importance and value of these places.”
At the virtual reality launch, held at Sir Edmund Hillary Collegiate in South Auckland, New Zealand, one of the first people to experience the VR was Sir Ed’s grandson Alexander Hillary. Alexander visited the Antarctic Peninsula as part of the Trust’s 2019 Inspiring ExplorersTM Expedition, but has never visited Ross Island and his grandfather’s hut.
Alexander says, “It’s pretty cool to experience the hut in VR. It feels so lifelike and the details are incredible. It was nice to think about what it must have been like for him down there, just to see a bit of his history and what he was doing down there with his expedition was really special to me.”
People globally can download a version of the experience for free from Antarctic Heritage Trust’s app or access the full version on gaming platform Steam. The Trust plans to tour the virtual reality experience around New Zealand schools and a number of public exhibitors will also host the experience.
The Trust would like to acknowledge project partner Auckland University of Technology, principal sponsor Ryman Healthcare, Antarctica New Zealand (logistics), and Staples VR for making this project possible.
How to view the VR
- To view the virtual experience at home on your mobile device visit the app store and download the Antarctic Heritage Trust VR app for free (best viewed with a cardboard headset).
- To experience the fully immersive and interactive version, download it for free from Steam and watch it on your HTC Vive headset.
- Visit Antarctic Heritage Trust’s website to see who is hosting the fully immersive and interactive version around New Zealand.