Kurt Bayer is a Herald reporter based in Christchurch

Fundraising drive to save Sir Ed's Hut raises $680,000, with finish line in sight

Expedition South sets off from Auckland's One Tree Hill. The expedition is setting off to try and raise money to save Hillary's Hut in Antarctica, an important part of Edmund Hillary history.
Expedition South sets off from Auckland's One Tree Hill. The expedition is setting off to try and raise money to save Hillary's Hut in Antarctica, an important part of Edmund Hillary history.

A 2012km tractor drive down New Zealand to help raise $1 million to save Sir Edmund Hillary's hut in Antarctica will reach its Aoraki Mount Cook destination on Monday.

Twenty-seven days after leaving from one of Sir Ed's favourite places, Piha Beach, the convoy of three tractors - two of them similar Ferguson TE-20 model tractors that went on the famous Trans-Antarctic Expedition of 1957-58 - 'Expedition South' will cross the finish line, in sight of the Hillary Ridge, at about 2pm Monday.

A team of huskies will lead the convoy on the final stage, as will Sir Ed's son Peter Hillary, and family of Peter Mulgrew, Murray Ellis and Harry Ayres who were on the same South Pole expedition. An historic Beaver plane, like the one Sir Ed's expedition took to Antarctica, will also be doing a flyover.

Antarctic Heritage Trust Executive Director Nigel Watson says the expedition has been a huge success with more than $90,000 collected from New Zealanders on the road, through Givealittle, and at events along the way.

"Other donations mean we have now raised around $680,000 to save the hut," he said.

"We still need around $320,000 so are calling on New Zealanders to join us with one final push to save this iconic slice of Kiwi history."

Expedition leader Al Fastier says it has been an epic journey.

"The reception we have had the whole way has been amazing - we've had mayoral welcomes, afternoon teas, campfires and many unforgettable yarns," he said.

"The journey itself has been breathtaking in parts and difficult in others - we've battled mechanical failure, snow and storms."

The fundraising campaign was launched to try to save Hillary's Hut - the first building at Scott Base - and which was a starting point for the Trans-Antarctic Expedition.

The coast-to-coast crossing of Antarctica, using the now legendary Ferguson TE-20 tractors, was the first overland expedition to reach the Pole since Captain Robert Falcon Scott's ill-fated voyage in 1912.

But over the past 60 years, the hut - one of Antarctica's most precious heritage sites - has slowly fallen into a state of disrepair.

It has a leaking roof, asbestos that needs removing, melt-pools forming under its floorboards, while unique and historically-important memorabilia inside it are showing signs of damage or corrosion.

Watson says the money could keep the hut alive for the next 25 years.

He believes the hut, which was used by Scott Base staff until the 1980s, and its artefacts can be saved.

"We have put together a comprehensive conservation plan that details how the hut and artefacts can be conserved and maintained for 25 years," he said.

Sir Ed's son Peter, who himself has skied from Scott Base to the South Pole, says Antarctica and the hut were very important to his father.

"He spent a lot of time in that hut - it was where his office was and where his bunk bed was. I know he'd want it saved."

• For more information Expedition South or to donate, visit expeditionsouth.nz

- NZ Herald

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