Thursday, February 19, 2009

Back in Christchurch

I'm back in Christchurch. I've been meeting Ice People coming off the Ice. Some are staying in Chch for a few days before going off on vacation. Others are here just overnight before taking the next available plane home.

Mostly we get together in the evenings at restaurants or pubs. Last evening I went with my friend Patrick to Cafe Valentino. It was his first time there and, as you know from my earlier post, my second. This time I had Fettuccine Valentino, a delightfully cheesy fettuccine with panceta and mushrooms. From there it was off to Bailie's for a Guinness. Already there were large numbers of people from the Ice indoors and outdoors. Patrick and I sat and visited with them for hours.

Tonight a number of the folks from McMurdo Medical will meet at Holy Grail, a local sports pub. There are only three more flights coming to Chch from the Ice: today, Saturday, and Sunday. About 80 – 100 persons will be on each flight. At that point, McMurdo station will close for the winter with a final population around 140 - 150 persons.

Since returning to Chch, I have enjoyed Sushi twice. It was never served on the Ice....unless you count the few times we had lox.

Thanks for following along. I'll keep you posted on my travels as they unfold.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Queenstown and Wanaka

Greetings, faithful reader. Today I drove from Te Anau to Queenstown, a tony lakeside town that reminds me of Jackson Hole. It is very tourist oriented with numbers of high end restaurants and stores. The lodging was high end too, so I decided to drive a bit further to Wanaka. There is a lake here also, and a smaller, less trendy, town. I got a cheap motel that reminds me of the Peaks of Otter Lodge in Virginia: no phone, TV or internet in the room. I am making this posting from the lobby where they have wireless internet for a fee.

I will hang here tomorrow and spend the night again before deciding whether to return to Christchurch Wednesday or go further up the west coast of NZ to Greymouth before returning to Christchurch on Friday or Saturday. It's nice to be free to choose.

Speaking of freedom, although I haven't gotten the absolute final word, it is looking more and more like I will not have to return to the Ice for winter. The South Pole station is fulled staffed and the last provider for McMurdo is scheduled to arrive today into Christchurch. Assuming all goes well and that provider makes it to McMurdo without a hitch, I will probably be taken off call on Wednesday.

I left my camera's charger in Christchurch (oops!) so my photos from here on will probably be very limited. My camera does not take replaceable batteries, opting instead for a built-in battery that needs periodic recharging. I've currently got a half-charge on it. Speaking of that, I want to assure you that Troublemaker, a rollerskate of a car, is still performing well after its repair in Dunedin.

That's it for today. I'll keep you posted on what I see and do tomorrow in Wanaka.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

After getting a couple of good night's rest in Christchurch, it was time to begin exploring New Zealand's south island. An internet search revealed a real bargain – about $22 day. 
I got a Mazda Dimeo, a small four-seater with a hamster-powered engine. He picked me up, just like Enterprise, and whisked me to his office. To call it a hole in the wall is to exaggerate it's good points. With the car signed, sealed and delivered, it was putt-putting my way to the USAP NZ offices. There I checked in with Leeann and got the latest update on the two providers, one for South Pole, the other for McMurdo, and checked my USAP email.

Back on the road I pointed south toward Dunedin. After a quick stop at a small town along the way for lunch and to pick up a disposable mobile phone, I continued on what ended up to be about a six hour journey. Once in Dunedin, I went to the Otago Albatross Center, a recommendation from Steve and Carol Jones. As usual, they were spot on. It was very interesting to learn about a fascinating bird that heretofore had only been known to me as something worn about one's neck.

After a nice fish dinner, it was off to sleep at a cheap motel. In the morning I awoke to find a puddle of antifreeze below the car. After a series of back and forth phone calls (thank goodness I got that cellphone), the car was off to the repair shop and I was on foot. Fortunately, Dunedin was having a huge street festival in the center of town, about a fifteen minute walk. There were musical performers, arts, crafts, clothing, games, and food. I also walked down to the Farmer's Market where local growers sold fresh foods. I bought lamb-on-a-stick. Wow, was it ever delicious. 

By five o'clock p.m. the Troublemaker was fixed and I was back on the road headed to Te Anau, a small tourist town at the gateway to the Fiordlands. After a night's rest at yet another cheap motel, I took off in the morning for Milford Sound. This is a very special, almost magical, place. Tall mountains jut abruptly up from fiords. Fresh water lakes wind along to reach the ocean between New Zealand and Australia. There are waterfalls and clouds that cloak the mountain tops in a misty lace. A nature boat cruise up and down the fiord gave an appreciation of that special place.

There were fur seals sunning themselves on rocks.

Back into Troublemaker and back to Te Anau for a quick dinner and a pricey internet connection I went.

Tomorrow I am off for my next destination, Queenstown.

Thursday, February 12, 2009


The C-17 lifted off from Pegasus White Ice Runway yesterday with about seventy passengers headed north for Christchurch. When we arrived 5 1/2 hours later it was night and raining. We have not seen darkness in five months. We have not seen rain since before we deployed to Antarctica.  It's hard to describe to those who have not experienced it the sense of wonder at revisiting these familiar but distant events. I have written here before of the curious nature of walking out of a building in Antarctica at midnight and being blasted between the eyes by bright sunlight. I've also talked about the lack of any humidity. To get on a jet and travel a mere five hours and be thrust suddenly into these most normal events of night and rain after having not experienced either for months is quite jarring.

The next morning brought other reminders: city noise, green plants, and familiar scents. What a surprise to the senses. I rode a bus.  I ate at two different establishments. Lunch was at Subway where I had a delicious roasted lamb sub. Dinner was at an Italian restaurant (Valentinos) where I enjoyed a delightful Canterbury Lamb dinner. The exchange rate is favorable now. One US dollar buys about two New Zealand dollars. When I deployed one US dollar only bought about $1.25NZD. Occasionally I would bump into Ice People (as ones returning from Antarctica are known). A stop by Bailie's after dinner for a Guinness topped off a relaxing first day.

Tomorrow I will rent a car and begin a brief driving trip south of Christchurch. First destination: Dunedin, a city recommended  by many who have been here before me. I need to stay in contact with McMurdo, though, because there is a scant possibility that I may be needed back on the ice for the winter.  The station is attempting to fill the remaining medical provider vacancy and if they are successful I will not be needed. However, if there is any glitch in getting that provider, then I can be recalled. You, faithful reader will be kept posted on the events, experiences and photos as I begin exploring New Zealand's spectacular south island.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Cartoon of the Week

Matt Davidson, our resident cartoonist, reminds us in this week's installment that the ice over the Ross Sea is breaking up and penguins are arriving.