Christchurch city is one of five official gateways to Antarctica. Christchurch's connection with Antarctica enriches the scientific, cultural and economic base of the city.

It has been the stepping off point for many Antarctic expeditions dating back to the early 1900s. Explorers including Robert Falcon Scott and Sir Ernest Shackleton used Lyttelton as the point of departure for their expeditions, many of which had New Zealanders on board. 

 Industry has developed to meet the needs of the scientists, artists, tourists, explorers and support personnel as they prepare for their time on the ice. 

Christchurch-based Antarctic programmes

Christchurch is home to offices of a number of Antarctic programmes.

Antarctica New Zealand

The New Zealand Antarctic Institute, known as Antarctica New Zealand(external link), was established 1 July 1996. It is the Crown Entity responsible for developing, managing and executing NZ Government activities in Antarctica and the Southern Ocean, in particular the Ross Dependency. Key activities include supporting scientific research, conserving the intrinsic values of Antarctica and the Southern Ocean and raising public awareness of the international significance of the continent. All activities are conducted so as to minimise the risks to personnel as far as is reasonable.

Scott Base
Antarctica New Zealand manages Scott Base(external link), New Zealand’s Antarctic research station and permanent base in Antarctica, since 1959 (named after Antarctic explorer Robert Falcon Scott). The base provides services and accommodation for the many research parties and groups who visit Antarctica during the summer, hosting up to 85 people.

US Antarctic Program (USAP)

The National Science Foundation (NSF), an independent US government agency, manages the US Antarctic Program (USAP)(external link). NSF’s Division of Polar Programs (POLAR) coordinates all US scientific research on the southernmost continent and aboard ships in the Southern Ocean as well as related logistics support.

Through the Lockheed-Martin Antarctic Support Contract, PAE NZ operates the USAP, commonly known as Operation Deep Freeze. Operation Deep Freeze's presence in Christchurch dates back to the 1950s.

The New York Air National Guard operates LC-130 (ski-equipped) airplanes in the Antarctic Programme. The C17 Globemaster, which flies regularly during the summer season from Christchurch International Airport to Antarctica, is operated by the US Air Force. The Coast Guard operates icebreakers in Antarctica to escort supply ships and to support science.

McMurdo Station
McMurdo Station(external link), the logistics hub of the US Antarctic program in the Ross Sea, accommodates up to 1200 people. It is just 3km from NZ's Scott Base.

The USAP also operates the Amunsden-Scott South Pole Station and Palmer Station.


The Italians have used Christchurch as their base to service their research station at Terra Nova Bay in the Ross Sea.

Zucchelli Research Station
Built in 1986, the base supports around 70 people and operates during the summer months October to February, hosting a variety of scientific projects.

The Italica has been a regular visitor to Lyttelton over the years.

Korean Antarctic Program

In 2012 the Republic of Korea and New Zealand signed an Antarctic Co-operation Agreement. The Korean Antarctic Program(external link) (KOPRI) will service its new base Jang Bogo Station, Terra Nova Bay, from Christchurch.

KOPRI’s icebreaker, Araon, frequents Lyttelton on its way to and from Antarctica over the summer months.

From Christchurch to Antarctica

Christchurch is the aerial gateway to the Antarctic with over 100 direct flights each year.

Christchurch International Airport

Christchurch is the aerial gateway to the Antarctic with over 100 direct flights each year. Christchurch International Airport's Antarctic connection(external link) began in 1955 with the arrival of eight US Air Force aircraft for Operation Deep Freeze. The aircraft left from Harewood Airfield for the 14-hour flight to McMurdo Station. Operation Deep Freeze still remains at the airport today, and with the arrival of the International Antarctic Centre in 1992, Christchurch continues to embrace its' Antarctic connection.

Every summer military aircraft from USA and Italy complete some 100 flights to the continent and move over 5,500 passengers and 1,400 tonnes of cargo. The US's McMurdo Station and New Zealand's Scott Base are approximately 3,920km by air from Christchurch.

Lyttelton Port Company

Lyttelton Port Company(external link) annually hosts icebreakers bound for and returning from the Antarctic. Many Antarctic expeditions used the port as their base. The Discovery, Morning, Nimrod and Terra Nova expeditions all used the Graving Dock, which is still in operation today. The port continues to provide services for Antarctic scientific and supply vessels. Recent ships visits include Araon (South Korea), Nathaniel B Palmer (US), Italica (Italy), Xue Long (China) Janas (NZ) and Kapitan Klevnikov (Russia).

Heritage Expeditions(external link), a local, family owned business formed in 1985, operates its own Polar Research Vessel, Spirit of Enderby, on expeditions to Antarctica and the Subantarctic, departing from Lyttelton.

Christchurch-based Antarctic organisations

A number of Antarctic organisations are based in Christchurch.

The Council of Managers of National Antarctic Programs (COMNAP)

Secretariat has been located in Christchurch since 2009. COMNAP(external link), the international association formed in 1988, brings together its Members, who are the National Antarctic Programs.

National Antarctic Programs are those organisations that have responsibility for delivering and supporting scientific research in the Antarctic Treaty Area on behalf of their respective governments and in the spirit of the Antarctic Treaty​.

COMNAP’s purpose is to “develop and promote best practice in managing the support of scientific research in Antarctica".

Gateway Antarctica

Gateway Antarctica(external link) is the centre for Antarctic studies and research at the University of Canterbury, established 1 January 1999.

Gateway Antarctica plays a leading role in the quest for knowledge in a diverse range of national and international Antarctic research projects.

This includes areas such as engineering in extreme environments, Antarctica as driver of (and responder to) climate change, connections between Antarctica and New Zealand, and human influences in and on Antarctica.

Antarctic Heritage Trust

The Antarctic Heritage Trust(external link) is a not-for-profit organisation responsible for the conservation of five historic sites in the Ross Sea region of Antarctica including Ernest Shackleton’s, Robert Falcon Scott’s and Edmund Hillary’s expedition bases.

The Trust is currently implementing the Ross Sea Heritage Restoration Project. This multi-year, multi-site conservation programme is the largest heritage project ever undertaken in the Polar Regions.

The Trust employs teams of international heritage and conservation specialists year-round in Antarctica and has meticulously conserved two iconic buildings (Scott’s 1911 expedition base and Shackleton’s 1908 base) while caring for 17,000 objects.

Work is underway to conserve Scott’s 1902 expedition base.

Antarctic Link Canterbury

Antarctic Link Canterbury is a group of key organisations in the city whose focus is Antarctica or who have an interest in Antarctica and who come together quarterly to share information.

The group is chaired by the Civic & International Relations Manager, Christchurch City Council.

New Zealand Antarctic Society

New Zealand Antarctic Society(external link) was formed in 1933 and has branches in Christchurch, Auckland, Wellington, Dunedin and overseas.

The Society publishes the ‘Antarctic’ journal four times a year. With a worldwide circulation, it is the only periodical which provides regular and up to date news of the activities of all nations working in the Antarctic and sub-Antarctic.

The Society organises an annual wreath laying ceremony at the time of the Antarctic Season Opening, to commemorate all those who have lost their lives in Antarctica.

The Antarctic Office

The Antarctic Office(external link) nurtures New Zealand’s connection to the Antarctic.

Our mission is for Christchurch to be the world’s Antarctic city, and for New Zealand to take a lead on Antarctic issues. The Antarctic Office supports Antarctic-related activity across New Zealand, creating alignment, fostering innovation and celebrating our Antarctic connection.

The Office also delivers a calendar of Antarctic-related events and workshops, creating an engaged city and nation of Antarctic advocates.

Exploring Antarctica – the next best thing

There are some great ways to explore Antarctica without leaving Christchurch.

Canterbury Museum

Canterbury Museum(external link) houses one of the world's greatest collections of artefacts from the heroic age of discovery in Antarctica. In 1958 the Commonwealth Trans Antarctic Expedition, led by Vivian Fuchs, with Sir Edmund Hillary, achieved Sir Ernest Shackleton’s goal of crossing the entire Antarctic continent. Hillary’s tractor and Fuch’s snow cat are displayed at the Canterbury Museum.

International Antarctic Attraction

The International Antarctic Attraction(external link) is one of NZ's best tourist attractions', visitors can enjoy an interactive experience of Antarctica. 

Air Force Museum

The Wigram Air Force Museum(external link) brings together a collection of historic aircraft, including original Beaver and Auster aircraft used in Antarctic aviation. The WE563 was brought for the NZ Antarctic Expedition 1955-1959.

Ferrymead Historic Park

Ferrymead Historic Park(external link) houses a DC3 used for US supply missions to and within Antarctica during the 1960s. A R4D5 is currently being renovated.

University of Canterbury’s Macmillan Brown Library

University of Canterbury’s Macmillan Brown Library houses an extensive collection of Antarctic archives. Many of them describe original scientific expeditions to Antarctica and New Zealand's sub-Antarctic Islands. The University’s central library is also home to the Antarctic Collection.

An Antarctic Trail

Based in central Christchurch, travels past locations with connections to early expeditions, scientific research and community support for Antarctic exploration. This and further details of sites of historic interest can be accessed from link).

Akaroa’s Antarctic Trail

A pamphlet is available from the Akaroa Information Centre.

Ross Dependency stamps and franking

Ross Dependency stamps and franking are supplied by the Real Aoteroa(external link) shop, part of the Riccarton Post Shop at the Bush Inn Centre, They are the philatelic bureau for Christchurch and the Ross Dependency Agency (all the mail from the Ross Sea area comes through here for franking).

Celebrating the city’s Antarctic status

Celebrations mark the start of the Antarctic season each year, usually coinciding with the first flights to Antarctica at the end of September/beginning of October.

New Zealand IceFest

In 2012 the city launched the New Zealand IceFest(external link) – Bringing Antarctica to the World to coincide with the annual celebrations for the Antarctic Season Opening.

Antarctic Season Opening

Every year the city celebrates its Antarctic Gateway status and recognises the importance of the city’s Antarctic partnerships and connections – diplomatic, scientific, historical and cultural. The Antarctic Season Opening celebrations usually coincide with the first flights to Antarctica at the end of September/beginning of October.

Christchurch Cathedral

Antarcticans have worshipped in the Christchurch Cathedral(external link) since 1901 when Scott’s Discovery expedition sailed south. The annual South to Antarctica Service, at the opening of the Antarctic Season, is held in conjunction with Antarctica New Zealand and the United States Antarctic Program. The Erebus Chalice which has been housed in the Cathedral over the winter is returned in the Chapel of the Snows at McMurdo Station for the summer.

Heroic explorers and adventurers

Read about some of the famous Antarctic explorers and their connections to Christchurch.

Robert Falcon Scott

The British explorer Robert Falcon Scott, on board his ship Discovery, sailed for Antarctica in December 1901. In 1910 he left Christchurch’s port, Lyttelton, aboard Terra Nova to try once again to reach the South Pole. Terra Nova returned to Christchurch in 1913 bringing news of the death of Scott and his four companions on their way back from the South Pole in March 1912.

Roald Amundsen

The great Norwegian explorer, Roald Amundsen, and his party were the first to reach the South Pole in December 1911. Amundsen gave a public lecture in Christchurch in December 1912 and, in gratitude to Canterbury Museum for the help he had received, he donated the penknife used to cut the flagstaff marking the South Pole.

Sir Ernest Shackleton

Irishman Ernest Shackleton first travelled to Antarctica with Scott but had suffered badly on the expedition and was invalided out. In September 1907 he was back to try again with his own expedition on Nimrod.

Frank Worsley

Antarctic Adventurer Frank Worsley, Shackleton’s Captain and navigator during the 1914-1917 Trans-Antarctic Expedition, was born in Akaroa in 1872. His remarkable skill brought the 22.5’ James Caird safely to South Georgia across 800 miles of Southern Ocean, saving the lives of all Shackleton’s men. Memorabilia is preserved in the Akaroa Museum (currently closed).