The city of Christchurch, halfway down the South Island of New Zealand, has an intimate acquaintence with both earthquakes and the continent of Antarctica. I have learned some enormous lessons since I came to this city. One of the most personal is how to be a survivor and literally, dig yourself out of the rubble and start all over again. Of course, my lessons were easy and one step removed from the actual, awful experience. I went to the new museum just opened here about the tragic earthshaking that brought a whole lot of the city down within only a few minutes. Two years ago today, a massive earthquake struck at the center of Christchurch, on a weekday lunchtime, and many city center buildings fell down. One-hundred-eighty-five people died instantly and thousands were injured. Homes, shops, familiar landscapes and landmarks all disappeared in a matter of moments. Devastating effects radiated outward, destroying foundations and roofs of homes; ripping up bridges and roads; permanently disfiguring life for many years to come.
Now, what could all this possibly have to do with that frigid, white Antarctic Continent directly south of all other continents on the planet? And what do the nations of those continents have to do with New Zealand’s interest in the South Pole? Everything!
- Christchurch, New Zealand is the jumping off point for most of the scientific expeditions sent to Antarctica by the Antarctic Treaty Partners. France, Italy, The United States and Australia are very active in the work done right here in Christchurch and the flights leaving regularly from a special airport which seems to have escaped damage.
- The world is in a race against time to prevent catastrophic events from occurring with even greater frequency due to global warming and the effects of civilization upon the planet. The ice which covers the frozen continent has been melting and, consequently, the oceans have been rising everywhere. No scientific expedition can prevent this reality; but they can keep mankind informed about the changes in the hopes that we can back off from our bad habits. All agree that Global Warning is a reality and that it is caused by our modern living habits. Their certainty is now 90% supported by recent research. New Zealand is all coastline. If the ocean rises here, many, many, many cities will be immersed and gone forever. They have a real urgency in preventing the human factor in what is causing all that ice to melt. The Earth represents a double-edged sword to residents of this long, skinny island country.
- Earthquakes are not being blamed on global warming. It’s the active fault lines that run under many of New Zealand’s cities, so this country is, perhaps, more sensitive than others about what can happen when forces of nature suddenly go out of control. Prevention is the only protection and Christchurch is rebuilding itself to be much stronger and much more colorful and even zanier….trying to find the upbeat note in a terrifying situation exactly two years ago. What else can one do?
Things are lots of fun at Christchurch’s International Antarctic Center. It’s a wonderful place to spend the day because they’ve created the World’s Best Antarctic Attraction with fun and educational things for the whole family. I found out how it actually feels to visit that forbidding continent….by standing in a room mimicing the Antarctic landscape at way below zero with a strong wind blowing in an Antarctic Storm…..I rode in a Hagglund transporter, the authentic Antarctic all-terrain vehicle….I even experienced the four seasons of Antarctica as if I were standing on the icy yard of Base Camp…. I even felt all sorts of spray hitting my face in the 4-D movie theatre: waves, pigeon poop, icicles dripping and seals barfing. Pretty realistic! The water coming from the ceiling was the 4th dimension.
The biggest stars are the 26 Little Blue Penguins who carry on a normal life with human eyes upon them at all times because their living area is surrounded by glass windows, even enabling us to peep into their burrows and underwater as they swim and feed. Each one has been rescued due to a disability… a paralyzed flipper, a deformed beak or foot….and could not make it in the wild. Here, they are all movie stars. This particular penguin is the world’s smallest and is a chalky grey-blue color. For an extra fee, you can go backstage and learn much more in a direct encounter. In fact, the ultimate visit would include a hands-on learning experience and a group sleepover beside the aquarium to see what penguins do when the lights go out. Groups of school children have some memorable nights here.
It’s an enormous, fact-filled exhibit; really a theme park under one roof and very reasonably priced. I paid $55 in New Zealand dollars, which is around US$47 and I could have stayed for hours longer to truly do justice to it. The only alternative is to pay US$5000 for a National Geographic Cruise to Antarctica, itself; and that’s way out of my budget and much chillier.
Oh yes, for that pittance, I was even able to simultaneously stand upon the North Pole and the South Pole for a photo-op. There’s a box with a test tube of melted ice from each of the poles and you stand upon the painted boot prints. Now, I can claim, forevermore, to have actually stood upon the represented Pole. Works for me!