Christchurch, New Zealand
Greetings from Christchurch, New Zealand, the anteroom to Antarctica. My colleagues and I have been here for several days now, running last minute errands, getting equipped with cold weather gear, and waiting for a flight south to McMurdo Station. The flight here was remarkable only in it's length: Los Angeles to Sydney is a 14 hour flight, followed by a 3 hour transfer to Christchurch. During the flight I think I read everything within arms reach, and now have the Quantas system map completely committed to memory. We lost a day when we crossed the International Date Line, but we also seem to have lost a season or two: when we crossed the equator, we traded our California autumn for a brilliant New Zealand spring. Christchurch has a temperate climate, and I don't recall being in a place with more rhododendron and azalea in bloom.
Yesterday Jeff and I reported to the U.S. Antarctic Programs operation base at the Christchurch Airport and were outfitted with the clothes we will need for Antarctic field work in. At the facility there is a giant display of the types of gear available for check out. Some of the gear is mandatory, and I'm not sure who would turn it down: this includes the bright red expedition parkas and insulated overalls, as well as bunny boots, heavily insulated rubber boots for working on the snow. Other gear is available depending on the particulars of your project, and since Jeff Hoffman and I will be working with cold seawater, we picked up a bunch of rubberized insulated gloves with polypropylene liners.
Once you have your list of gear items you take it to the supply window of the clothing warehouse, where they issue the correct size and allow you to try everything. It is a bonus not to have to purchase all of this gear for a relatively short trip. After we assembled all of our gear, we were instructed to pack a boomerang bag: the weather in Antarctica changes frequently, and often a flight will have to return back to New Zealand without landing. A boomerang bag is all of the gear you will need in case the flight returns and you can't access your luggage. The bag contains your survival gear, as well as a spare change of clothes and the all-essential toothbrush.
So now we wait for a flight. The weather has been particularly bad at the South Pole, and so flights to ferry scientists from McMurdo to the Amundsen-Scott base at the South Pole are backed up while the weather clears. Because there are only a limited number of rooms at McMurdo Station, we have to wait until everyone can fly onward to the South Pole before we head down. In the meantime we keep an ear to the ground and wait.