Isaac Davison is a NZ Herald political reporter.

Lonely hut a monument to heroes

New Zealanders are tackling a five-year project to restore Scott's 110-year-old Antarctic home base

Scott Base hut guide Anthea Fisher inside the 110-year-old Discovery Hut, which is to be restored to conserve it and its contents as left by explorer Robert Scott. Photo / Alan Gibson
Scott Base hut guide Anthea Fisher inside the 110-year-old Discovery Hut, which is to be restored to conserve it and its contents as left by explorer Robert Scott. Photo / Alan Gibson

A lonely hut at the end of the Earth will be the focus of a major restoration project led by New Zealanders.

A group of conservators from the Antarctic Heritage Trust are beginning to tackle the restoration of the 110-year-old Discovery Hut built for explorer Robert Scott.

It was shipped to Antarctica for Scott's National Antarctic (Discovery) Expedition 1901-04, which aimed to reach the South Pole.

At the time, it was the base for the most successful attempt to travel to the pole - Scott's party reached 82 degrees 17 minutes south.

Conservator Lizzie Meek said the hut was a prized piece of heritage because all the heroic-age explorers used it for accommodation or storage at some point.

The hut had been designed to house the crew of the Discovery but was barely used for living in because it was impossible to heat.

Ms Meek said: "I would hesitate to call it a failure. We've found it had uses as a storeroom, and for explorers who returned to it after a long expedition it would have felt like a palace."

It had one of the best views in the Antarctic, she said, looking out to the Ross Sea where icebreakers entered the United States-owned McMurdo port, often with whales swimming alongside them.

Scott described the area in an early 20th century speech: "Fields of snow sparkling in the sun, the pack-ice and bergs and blue sea. Those glorious southern mountains, rearing their heads in desolate grandeur. The movements of the pack, those small mysterious movements with the hush sound that comes across the water."

But the idyllic location belied the harsh experience the explorers faced.

Ms Meek said: "The [hut] was extremely cold and dark and reminiscent of some of the difficulties that these explorers had survived in the Antarctic."

When the Herald visited yesterday, the temperature, including wind chill, was around 20C despite midsummer sunshine.

The hut had a strong musty, oily smell. Ragged trousers hung on a line near the simple stove, and the floors were crowded with rusting crates of Huntley & Palmer's biscuits and crumbling dog biscuits.

In a small side room, ice crept up through a hole in the floor, a sheep carcass hung on the wall, and emperor penguin bones were scattered around.

Ms Meek said the penguins might have been eaten, but this was not known for certain.

The square hut, made of Douglas fir and Scots pine, was transported on the Discovery from Sydney. It resembled an Australian outback house, with a veranda on three sides.

The restoration is expected to take about five years.

Despite its accessibility, the hut was one of the last explorers' buildings to be preserved because, unlike Shackleton's hut, it was in a more sheltered area and in good condition.

Conservation projects

Cape Adare huts, Northern Victoria Land
Built for the British Southern Cross Expedition 1898-1900 led by Carsten Borchgrevink.

Discovery Hut, Hut Pt, Ross Island
Built for National Antarctic (Discovery) Expedition 1901-04, led by Robert Scott.

Nimrod Hut, Cape Royds, Ross Island
British Antarctic (Nimrod) Expedition 1907-09 led by Ernest Shackleton.

Terra Nova Hut, Cape Evans, Ross Island
British Antarctic (Terra Nova) Expedition 1910-13 led by Robert Scott.

- NZ Herald

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