A quick trip to New Zealand (sort of)

Last Wednesday, a group of friends and I were invited to Scott Base (the New Zealand presence on Ross Island) for dinner.

We were picked up by the chef at Scott Base — our Kiwi contact — and driven two miles over Fuels Pass (the ridge at the nose of the peninsula separating the bases) and down to the east side of Hut Point Peninsula.

Scott Base is much smaller than McMurdo. The summer population is about 100 people (versus 1,000 people at McMurdo). The buildings have green metal exteriors, and all the buildings are connected through tunnels. That way, in winter especially, no one has to go outside to move between facilities.

First we went to the base’s bar called The Tatty Flag, which is a colloquial name for New Zealand’s flag. The bar has a lovely view of the sea ice and the pressure ridges. All along the ridges, Weddell seals were lounging in the sun.

Next came dinner. Chef Keith made the base venison from New Zealand (the country has a rampant deer population (as well as opossums, but we didn’t eat any of that)). For Richard and I, Keith made roasted vegetables and cheese wrapped in philo dough. He also made red wine braised cabbage, roasted beets, cheesey cauliflower and delicious bread. For dessert, Keith made a date and chocolate mush that was lovely and came with REAL ice cream! REAL ICE CREAM!

The ice cream at McMurdo is soft serve and is made from a powder. It works to satiate a craving in a pinch, but CANNOT replace REAL ICE CREAM.

After dinner we hung out in the lounge. It also serves as the base’s fiction library (the non-fiction library is upstairs, Keith said). I spent about an hour looking through the telescope at the seals. They remind me of dogs laying in the sun. They occasionally yawn, or scratch themselves with a flipper, but mostly they just lie there. So cute.

The Weddell seals have no land-based predators in the Ross Sea (after hunting them became illegal after the Antarctic Treaty), so they will sit on the ice surface for hours. A couple of times I got to see one or two lope across the ice. It wasn’t an efficient movement, but they made enough progress to get from water to ice or vice versa.

The group sat together and talked about how we all came to Antarctica, what made us try to come, and how we like it here. It’s always interesting to learn the different back stories that all brought us to the same spot, for now. Two in our group, Bret and Melissa, left on Saturday, so it was nice to get some calm, chatting time with them. The dentist, Dr. Bob, has been coming down to McMurdo for a few years. But he knew about the opportunity long before he made it down here. He found the job posting when his daughter was four. But his wife made him promise he wouldn’t apply until their daughter was in college. And fourteen years later, with not a moment to spare, he applied, got the job and finally made it to McMurdo. When he first stated coming down, the dentist stayed for the whole summer season. Now, there’s only funding for a dentist for three weeks in January. He comes down to check the teeth of the people staying over winter and to take care of whatever discomforts may have occurred to the summer folk in the last few months.

Most people on base only have another four weeks or so before the summer is over. It still sounds like a long time to me, as I have only been here about a month. But I know it will move quickly. Int he meantime, though, Richard and I need to get our after-Antarctica travel plans in order, and quickly!

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