Travel Log: Or, how does one get to the South Pole, anyway? (Part 1)

A century ago, getting to the South Pole was an arduous process only attempted by the most determined explorers. It took weeks or months to get to the coast via ship, and then days or weeks to trek from there to the actual Pole in the middle of the Antarctic ice cap. Today, getting to the South Pole is much less difficult, but it’s still a long trip for someone used to the marvels of modern air travel. I’m posting this one week after I left Boston, and I’m still in transit!

In my case, my trip to Pole began with a commercial flight from Boston to Los Angeles. It was just like any other normal domestic flight, except that I arrived at the airport with a bit more luggage than usual…

All of my baggage: one backpack, one personal bag, and three boxes of telescope equipment.

All of my baggage: one backpack, one personal bag, and three boxes of telescope equipment. Luckily I didn’t break the luggage cart.

After my first flight, I flew from Los Angeles to Sydney, Australia and then from Sydney to Christchurch, New Zealand. (Fortunately, I was able to check my bags all the way through.) I had a nine hour layover in Sydney, so I had time to leave the airport and explore the city. The weather was perfect, so I wandered along the waterfront, walked over the harbor bridge (which had excellent views), ate a tasty lunch while listening to some free music that was part of a music and arts festival that happened to be on for the weekend, took way too many touristy pictures of the opera house, and took a tour of the royal botanic gardens on the “choo choo express” (I couldn’t resist). The gardens were beautiful; I wish I’d had more time to wander through them. Sydney has lots of parks everywhere and they had put up Christmas decorations already, which I found to be an odd contrast with the very summer-y weather. (Santa is popular, but I saw no snow or reindeer.) I hope I have a chance to come back and explore more of Australia sometime.

Harbor bridge selfie, the opera house and the harbor bridge from the royal botanic gardens, the "choo choo express" to take lazy or pressed-for-time visitors around the gardens.

IMG_0907 IMG_0879Top: harbor bridge selfie. Middle: the opera house and the harbor bridge from the royal botanic gardens. Bottom: the “choo choo express” to take lazy or pressed-for-time visitors around the gardens.

After my brief visit to Australia and one more short flight, I arrived in Christchurch, New Zealand at 1am local time. I didn’t have much time to catch up on my sleep though, because I had to be back at the airport at 9am the next morning to get my Extreme Cold Weather gear. Christchurch is the staging area for the United States Antarctic Program (USAP), which takes care of logistics and support for most of the scientific research happening here. The Antarctic Center contains a kid-friendly interactive exhibit (which I didn’t see) and administrative offices where the day-to-day activities of the program get done. One of these offices is the Clothing Distribution Center, where program participants pick up their official cold weather gear. In my case, this includes the trademark red parka (personalized with my name), waterproof wind pants, “bunny” boots, leather work gloves, two pairs of liner gloves, two pairs of long underwear (lightweight and medium weight), a fleece layer (shirt, pants, and a jacket), a wind jacket, a hat, a balaclava, a neck warmer, and polarized goggles. All of this will be necessary to work outside at Pole, where the temperatures have hovered around -35F for the past week. (Fortunately, I’ll be spending most of my time indoors.)

Decked out in (some of) my Extreme Cold Weather gear, or ECW. Pictured: parka (or "Big Red"), wind pants, bunny boots.

Decked out in (some of) my Extreme Cold Weather gear, or ECW. Pictured: parka (or “Big Red”), wind pants, bunny boots.

After I got my clothing issued, made sure everything fit, and repacked my bags, I came back into town, had lunch, and then wandered around the area around my hotel. There was a big earthquake in Christchurch in 2011 and they are still rebuilding, so even though my hotel was right in the middle of downtown the area was an odd mix of condemned empty buildings, a few new trendy hotspots, and construction everywhere. There was also a lot of new, colorful public art (including, oddly, a series of painted giraffes). I had lunch at a new mall called re:START, which consists entirely of stores built out of shipping containers. There was a middle school band playing songs in the middle of an outdoor walkway lined with stalls and it was quite lively. Like Sydney, Christchurch had also started to decorate for the Christmas season. I then wandered over to the Christchurch botanic gardens, which may be even nicer than the Sydney ones. I ended up hanging out there for the rest of the afternoon, wandering around and eventually stopping for awhile to read a book on one of the many secluded benches. While Sydney felt like the beginning of summer, Christchurch was very much still in the middle of spring — it was maybe 65 and sunny, and the gardens were still full of flowers. It was very nice to surround myself with so many green, growing things before leaving for ice-covered Antarctica.

Scenes of Christchurch. The re:START shipping container mall, the cathedral (partially destroyed by the earthquake and now closed), the botanic gardens, giraffe sculpture with little kid and construction crane in the background.

IMG_0929 IMG_0971 IMG_0924
Scenes of Christchurch. From top to bottom: the re:START shipping container mall, the cathedral (partially destroyed by the earthquake and now closed), the botanic gardens, giraffe sculpture with little kid and construction crane in the background.

After my wanderings, I had time for an early dinner and then went straight to sleep, as my flight to Antarctica was scheduled to leave at 3am to beat incoming weather. More about that in the next post…

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