Round three…

Well this is a very different Antarctic experience for me…

Since we last caught up, there have been a few slight changes and course corrections life wise, but after almost 5 weeks training in Christchurch and a whirlwind tour of New Zealand in that time I’ve finally arrived this week at New Zealand’s Research Station Scott Base, Antarctica – perched precariously on the coastline of Ross Island , just a stones throw from McMurdo Station (yes ‘Merca…)  and a few miles from the southernmost active volcano on earth (Mount Erebus).

This was my first taste of New Zealand. Before now, it existed only Middle Earth and as a fairly abstract concept in my mind (much like Tasmania had) and I’d never intended to even visit ’til now. Lets just say that NZ was an extremely pleasant surprise that I actually enjoyed immensely.

Landing by commercial jet last Monday on the American ice runway after only 5 hour flight from Christchurch, was a short sharp shock. To fly over and into Antarctica this way is strange ; that transition (practically instant) from civilisation to remote wilderness area particularly jarring – nothing can prepare you for it.

I don’t particularly care for it to be honest, and would prefer my slow 2 week transition via icebreaker (ahhh I’ll miss the old orange roughy (Aurora Australis) greatly).

So what’s it like here, you ask…hmmm.

Cold and Windy is the short answer. The longer answer is slightly more complex. We’ll get into that later.

Well it’s only been a week now, and the weather has been ugly and crap so delaying our field training (that allows us to wander outside and walk about), but luckily my handover and training have included plenty of trips to the big American base next door (McMurdo), guided tours of the science facilities and even MORE cool is that my schitzophrenic Science Tech role requires access to Science, Plant and Historical buildings and equipment on base that no one else is permitted to get to….hehe!

I even get to enter and work in the ASPA (Antarctic Special Protected Area) at Arrival Heights here (which virtually NONE gets into) so I get experience a whole lot more than the average Joe…hehehehe!.

This week has been all about handovers and training, site inductions and a whole lot of weather watching and waiting but everyone here is incredibly kind and patient and luckily completely professional so I feel in good hands.

My brain has been stretched and kneeded in many different ways this week in particular, and the mental fatigue is something I haven’t had to deal with for a while now. Stepping this far out of my IT comfort zone and into a role that emcompasses so many new disciplines is amazingly satisfying but incredibly exhausting. Also they stack us two to a room here so there’s little privacy and rooming with a Comms Shiftworker (yo0u’re awesome tho Stephan) is less than conducive for good sleep – but we’re working on it!  🙂

Next week (starting tomorrow) is Fire Week. Trainers from the New Zealand Fire and Emergency Services fly in and put all of us on Fire Teams though simulated scenarios based Hell as we prep for the Winter crew departure and our roles as Station Fire Crews.

There is NOT going to be a lot of sleep over the next 3 weeks as there are various Science Program training personnel (and even our IT Manager from Christchurch) flying in to pump my poor brain full of even more information and see if it explodes.

I’m still having twinges of imposter syndrome (thanks to all those friends who’s first comments were “How the Hell did you get that job?”) but there more I see of my role the more confident I am. Plus #somuchtraining…

For example for this 5 days just gone what have I done? Hmm lets see  : water quality and wastewater testing a few days back – dip slides and water samples and growing bacteria on agar plates; I recorded daily weather observations and learnt how the equipment works,  took atmospheric ozone readings, checked on a MF radar system, got across the IT side, was a kitchen hand for a few hours, did my two days survival training out on the Ross Ice Shelf under the watchful gaze of an active volcano and camped next to a crevasse field with voids that could swallow your car. {see pic above}

Arrrgh…!!!

Luckily there’s been a weather delay of several days so the full Summer crew isn’t here yet and the station isn’t too crowded. Its not there largest station in the world, and everything is interconnected – you rarely get outside and its a bit of a maze. I’m meeting heaps of new people (both American and Kiwi) and so far everyone is incredibly competent, professional, friendly and really open. Socially this place is great.

There’s a freaking Gift Shop (!!) here you can buy outrageously priced things like Scott Base branded Icebreaker tops, undies, gloves, t-shirts, trucker caps and stickers. Also sells useful things like Personal hygiene stuff (shampoo, toothpaste, sweets, chocolate etc as they aren’t supplied, unlike Aussie stations) Gopro gear and SD cards/USB sticks but be prepared to pay through the nose for them. It’s actually quite handy to be honest.

Food wise, its pretty good as well, although its DEFINITELY not the three chef cooked breakfast every meal plus salads extravaganza with free endless chocolate and biscuit supply that I’ve unfortunately become accustomed to, but at the end of the season I’m sure my bathroom scales will thank me for the enforced change of eating habits.

No free endless chocolate box or biscuit supply? Jeez man…c’mon Kiwis, lift that game at least!

The NZ station itself is well overdue for a renovation (aren’t they all) and luckily there’s a massive modernisation program about to swing into high gear to add some spit and polish to the place. The Kiwis here are lovely, the mood is high, and theres so many rec activities to get out and about to do here that my mind is boggling.

Scott Base  – and don’t dare refer to it as “Scott” – it’s “Scott Base” – has a wonderful old school (almost retro) vibe and it’s steeped in history that practically drip from the walls  (more on that another time). It actually has a real personality here, and the Kiwis are rightly proud of this achievement.

I had someone comment to me that this a “Science Hotel” – we have Base Staff here (of which I am one) and the Scientists roll through in a few weeks during the season and leave, we support them as such during their time here. It struck me that its a very different approach to the Australian programs (this is an observation and not a criticism). It immediately flicked on the Budget Travel Writer in me, and the first thing that popped into my head was an honest TripAdvisor-style comparison :  if Davis Station is the Riviera of the Antarctic (as it is known) , Scott Base is the Backpackers down the road 🙂 🙂  – I’d never say this aloud, of course.

We all know how much I love my $10 a night Backpackers.

More to come + pics…

*the Internet here is a piddling 2Meg connection for the entire station, so pics will be  a chore but ill do what I can.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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