Wednesday, January 18, 2012
18 January 2012: International Antarctic Centre and a summer farewell to New Zealand
Today would be our final full-day in New Zealand, as tomorrow we begin our long migration back to the United States. We began the day with Brittany Farron (Biology) Skyping with Mrs. Campbell-Defoe’s 3rd grade class at the Balmville School (Newburgh, NY). The Balmville School students have been excellent pen-pals during our trip and the Mount students have risen to the occasion and acted as knowledgeable docents who relish in the opportunity to talk about their experiences. Brittany chatted with the students about some of the animals we’ve seen on our trip, including the Rowi kiwi in Franz Josef, the glow-worms in Hokitika, and the Yellow-eyed Penguins in Dunedin. The students also asked about the other neat experiences we’ve had, and were keen to know about the non-avifauna that we had seen. Brittany spoke with the students about the Tuatara (Sphenodon punctatus) that we saw at the Karori Sanctuary (Wellington) and the fact that we haven’t seen very many insects (besides the sandflies in Abel Tasman National Park!) during our trip. Although our short interactions with the Balmville students has been great, we’re all looking forward to sharing more of our experiences and pictures with the students following our arrival back home!
Our main attraction today was our visit to the International Antarctic Centre in Christchurch. Jane Porter, director of education at the Centre, coordinated our visit today (despite having only returned from vacation just today!) and led us through the exhibits like she had been working straight through the holidays! Our visit today would include an introduction to the continent of Antarctica, a viewing of one group of birds that inhabits the continent, an opportunity to try-on and view some of the gear used during the exploration of the continent, and the chance to experience a Class 1 storm at New Zealand’s Antarctic research station.
We were first introduced to the continent of Antarctica and the major research bases that are found on the land mass. Antaractica is nearly 1.5x the size of the United States, but is not owned by any one country; instead, it is governed by over a dozen countries from around the world. Next, Ms. Porter guided us to see the stars of today’s visit, the Little Blue Penguins (Eudyptula minor). Although these birds are not found in Antarctica, the 20+ live penguins on display gave us a glimpse into the characteristics of other penguins living on the coldest, driest, and highest (in altitude) continent on the planet. We watched as Mel, one of the caretakers of the penguins, fed the penguins and described the basic life history features of the Little Blues: they can live an average of six years in the wild (some are 23 years old in captivity), they use burrows as nest sites rather than create a nest of pebbles like many other penguin species, and can dive for 1.5 minutes. Our visual and audio introduction to the penguins was only the beginning: Mel brought out to our group one of the ‘oldie but goodie’ Little Blue Penguins, a half-blind male called ‘Pedro’! Sitting in a circle on the floor with our crossed-legs touching knee-to-knee, Pedro was released and allowed to explore our ‘circle’, touching several of us and coming within six inches of other folks! Pedro was very curious to investigate us and even escaped from the circle for a moment and explored around Brittany Farron for a moment or two! This was an experience none of us will soon forget and we extend heaps and heaps of gratitude to Ms. Porter for making this opportunity available to us!
Our visit to the Antarctic Centre also included a visit to the ‘storm room,’ where we experienced conditions similar to those found around the Scott Base, New Zealand’s research station on Antarctica. We stepped into a large room that, complete with snow cover, was set at 17 degrees F, a temperature that was rather mild for the station, but much chillier than the 70 degrees F outside the Centre. After a minute inside the room, the ‘wind’ picked up, and the deafening wind that was blowing at 30mph dropped the perceived temperature to -1 degree F! Only one student decided to wear a heavy jacket through the ‘storm’; most of us braved the elements in our shorts and short-sleeved shirts, although many of us had regretted doing so four minutes into the five-minute session! Chilled from the experience, we soon called it a day at the Centre, ate some lunch, and then moved onto some real summer fun!
With lunch completed, we drove to the coastal town of Sumner, located on the Banks Peninsula due east of Christchurch. Bright sun and 75+ degrees F temperatures greeted us upon arrival and we quickly took to changing into our ‘togs’ (swimsuits) and made our way onto the beach! Most of us took a dip in the cool Pacific Ocean water, but many lounged in what would be our last taste of New Zealand sun on our trip. A few hours at the beach was enough to soothe our travel-weary souls, so we packed-up, hit the local ice cream stand for a summer treat, and then hopped into our van to head back to our railway cars awaiting us in Waipara. We finished the evening by cooking the remains of our groceries and then packed for our long haul back to the United States tomorrow (19 January). We’ve had a great trip and today seemed to be an excellent way to conclude our awesome journey!
Our students testing the integrity of a dogsled used for transporting goods in Antarctica.
Dr. Moran and Joe Santangelo (Business) checking out 'Pedro' the Little Blue Penguin.
Jenn Szknolnicki (Psychology Physical Therapy) looks on as 'Pedro' visits with our group.
Peter Kelleher (Psychology) and the Balmville Bee cruising on a snowmobile at the International Antarctic Centre in Christchurch.