Scott and Shackleton chose the Port of Lyttelton as the New Zealand base for their Discovery, Nimrod and Terra Nova expeditions. Scott was reportedly given two choices of base for his first expedition: Melbourne and Christchurch - each of which had a magnetic observatory. He may have chosen Christchurch simply because it was closer to the Antarctic, but the presence of his cousin, R.J. Scott, a Professor of Engineering at the University of Canterbury, may also have had an influence. As in Port Chalmers, there were generous offers of goods and services from the Harbour Board and local businesses. Scott and Shackleton were rewarded with similar generosity on their subsequent expeditions, as was the Australasian Antarctic Expedition when its ship the Aurora called at Lyttelton in 1912.
Harewood Airport, now Christchurch International Airport, was the base for 14 of the aircraft involved in the first flights between New Zealand and the Antarctic in December 1955 (four others were based at Taieri Airport, near Dunedin), while Lyttelton was the base for seven supporting United States Navy vessels. Operation Deep Freeze was subsequently supported by many New Zealand ports, but its New Zealand base remained in Christchurch. Regular support missions continue to be flown from the airport, while the port is used to refuel and replenish supply vessels.
Christchurch is now the aerial gateway to the Antarctic with over 100 direct flights each year.
Christchurch International Airport's Antarctic connection 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.
A 2007 study carried out by Lincoln University estimated that Antarctic-related activities directly contribute $88 million each year to the Canterbury region, with an indirect benefit of $155 million. They directly contribute $133 million to the New Zealand economy, with an indirect benefit of $282 million.
Did you know?
- The Antarctic air logistics operations of the US, Italy and New Zealand are staged through Christchurch Airport to McMurdo Sound.
- Every summer the military aircraft of these nations 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.
- The flight to the Antarctic from Christchurch takes about five hours in a US Air Force C-17 Globemaster or seven hours in an RNZAF C-130 Hercules.
- Weather disruptions are common and during the 2005/06 summer season nearly one-quarter of all flights were delayed. In the same season the re-supply ship was stranded for three weeks in some of the worst sea-ice conditions in over 20 years.