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Next stop: the icy south

Christchurch is the world’s main gateway to Antarctica. Around 100 direct flights a year leave from our airport, carrying more than 5,500 passengers and 1,400 tonnes of cargo, including fresh food.  

Our Antarctic connection began in 1955 with Operation Deep Freeze, when eight US Air Force aircraft made the 14-hour flight from Harewood Airfield to McMurdo Station. Operation Deep Freeze continues today, and with the arrival of the International Antarctic Centre in 1992, Christchurch continues to embrace its Antarctic connection.  

Did you know?  

  • Christchurch has been the starting point for Antarctic missions for more than 55 years. Over those years, the city has regularly hosted explorers, scientists and support staff from the United States, Italy, South Korea and New Zealand, along with other Antarctic treaty signatories.  
  • Antarctica is the only continent without a time zone.  
  • Antarctica is considered desert but contains 90% of the world’s ice.  
  • Activity related to Antarctica makes an annual economic contribution to Christchurch of more than $200 million.
  • Not only did Sir Edmund Hillary, one of our most famous and most loved New Zealanders, conquer Mt Everest, he also led the New Zealand component of the Commonwealth Trans-Antarctic Expedition in 1955-58, under the overall command of a British explorer.  
  • New Zealand's only Antarctic research station, Scott Base, is at the southern end of Ross Island, 1,350km from the South Pole. Between October and February it’s a bustling hub of science researchers.   
  • Scott Base and McMurdo Station (the US research station) are about 3,920km by air from Christchurch. It takes five hours to fly in a US Air Force C-17 Globemaster or seven hours in a US Air Force Hercules LC-130.
  • Every summer, up to two C-17 Globemasters and six Hercules LC-130 head to the ice from Christchurch. When they arrive at Antarctica they land on the Phoenix Runway, also known as the “Ice Runway”.
  • The Phoenix Runway is constructed at the start of each season. Rollers weighing more than 70 tonnes compress snow into dense layers which are nearly as hard as concrete.
  • The US Air Force has a special cargo plane called the Hercules LC-130 designed specifically to take off and land in the icy conditions of Antarctica. It has unique ski-equipped landing gear which allows it to land on snow and ice.  
  • The C-17 Globemaster is the biggest aircraft to fly from Christchurch to Antarctica. The 53 metre plane has a wingspan of 51.75 metres and can carry 80,000kg worth of cargo, or up to 189 passengers, on its voyages to the ice.  
  • Nobody owns Antarctica. The Antarctic treaty was signed on 1 December 1959 by 12 countries (now 49 nations) designating the continent as a natural resource devoted to peace and science.