One of the key attractions in Christchurch is the International Antarctica Visitor Centre, a cross between an amusement park and a museum. Christchurch is the home base to the New Zealand, American and Italian Antarctica teams, and houses all of the special aircraft used to fly people and stuff to the ice bases. The Visitor Centre gives an insight into what goes on down there, as well as some of the history of ice exploration.
The highlight for the girls was the freezer room – a huge room re-creating the Antarctic landscape and temperature. The walls were covered in a huge mural of the scenery, and the sides and floor were covered in snow and ice. The temperature was kept at a brisk -5 C and there were various Antarctic items strewn around – a ski-doo, an ice cave and a polar explorer’s tent. Coming into the room from outside, at a balmy +24 C, was brilliant – an immediate cooling off chance. But the girls loved it too much – every half hour the room simulated a polar storm, with the temperature dropping to -24 C. Charlotte loved this so much she stayed in for three of them. After just over an hour in the room, wearing shorts, I’d begun to wonder if it was possible to get frostbite on a sunny day!
Charlotte, of course, didn’t feel the cold at all – but she was obviously getting cold, because her nose started to turn red, followed by her cheeks, and then her fingers. It was only when she started to gather snow and throw snowballs that she began to realise that it was pretty cold. Soon, her hands were freezing, and finally we were allowed to leave. Sarah, of course, hadn’t been silly enough to enter the room, so she had plenty of time to explore the rest of the centre, and read all of the material on the walls – something that is often quite difficult to do if you’re visiting somewhere with children.
The rest of the centre was interesting too, with conventional displays of all things Antarctic, and lots of short films and models to show how things work. We even found a photograph of one of our distant New Zealand relatives in one of the displays! We eventually left the centre four hours after we’d entered. Although it wasn’t cheap (about £8 each) it turned out to be well worth it for all the time that we could spend there.