Someone once told me that stepping off a plane and into Antarctica is like a punch to the senses.

And indeed it is: the whiteness, the vastness, the perfect clarity and icy pureness of all that surrounds you is nearly overwhelming.

READ MORE: Exploring Antarctica: Vast, frozen and 4000km away

That and the instant chill that slaps you in the face, like a welcome message from the frozen continent itself, reminding you that you're now in a world nowhere like you've ever been.

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It had been an eight-hour haul in the hold of a US Air Force C-130 Hercules and the drone of the engine is still humming in my airs when the cargo bay opens.

And there it is, Antractica; everything we'd dreamed about, now underfoot.

There's Mt Discovery, set against a brilliant blue sky, and Mt Erebus, so large but seemingly so close - a trick of the pristine atmosphere - rising up beyond the edge of the giant Ross Ice Shelf, itself about the size of France.

We rumble off toward base in Antarctica's beloved red tracked snow coach, Ivan the Terra Bus.

In the distance, two tiny black figures dart across the white - scientists on snowmobiles - while on the other side of the icy, flag-marked track, a set of rugby goalposts gives an early indication of New Zealand's strong presence here.

Scott Base itself pops up in the distance like a scattering of lime green blocks, tightly grouped against a gravelly slope on the edge of Ross Island, with the much larger McMurdo Station lying another three winding kilometres beyond the ridge above.

Antarctic sea ice, pictured from the air on the approach to Scott Base. Photo / Jamie Morton
Antarctic sea ice, pictured from the air on the approach to Scott Base. Photo / Jamie Morton

We lug our heavy canvas duffel bags out of the bus and are met with a handshake and friendly greeting from Mac McColl, a senior officer with Antarctica New Zealand, and whose time here stretches back to 1980.

He leads our small group around the base, a collection of rooms, storehouses, offices, shower blocks, laboratories and facilities, stretching from one end to another through a snaking series of corridors.

Photographs and posters adorning the walls speak much of Antarctic
life: the bearded faces of wintering-over crews, a diagram explaining the difference between "happy" and "angry" penguins, cleaning rosters, weather advisories, details of scientific expeditions.

The first glimpse visitors get of Antarctica, as seen from the cargo hold of a US Air Force C-130 Hercules. Photo / Jamie Morton
The first glimpse visitors get of Antarctica, as seen from the cargo hold of a US Air Force C-130 Hercules. Photo / Jamie Morton

There are countless pictures of the green New Zealand wilderness - no doubt a boost for winter-over crews pining for something besides perpetual darkness - including a large framed image of a tui and pohutukawa tree, shot by the Herald's Alan Gibson.

One base worker strolls past in a pair of stubbies and a towel slung over his shoulder: he's headed for the outdoor spa pool.

A stack of CDs in the gym cater for every taste: Meatloaf, Mariah Carey, Nirvana's Nevermind.

Upstairs, there's a movie showing at 8pm - the science fiction film Chappie - and a large assortment of DVDs to watch, though Mac admits he's only ever bothered watching two: a historical documentary and Forrest Gump.

He's more the type to enjoy a trek away from the base for a few hours, or a yarn over a can of beer at the bar, where the range spans from Tui to Garage Project craft beer.

 The view from Scott Base, looking across the vast Ross Ice Shelf. Photo / Jamie Morton
The view from Scott Base, looking across the vast Ross Ice Shelf. Photo / Jamie Morton

As recycling is a huge part of Antarctic culture - everything that's used here gets shipped away - visitors to the bar drop their cans in a rubbish bin and then crush it with a foot lever; another piece of clever Kiwi ingenuity.

Also carefully managed is human waste; pee, discharged into bottles in the field, is processed in 20-litre containers, while a sign hanging on the door to the wastewater facility, at the other end of the base, cheekily reads: "S**t happens: then it comes here."

Tonight's big event happens to be over the hill at McMurdo, where base staffers are heading to watch their engineering supervisor raise $500 for charity by shaving his beloved beard.

Mac gives us a few tips on how to avoid making ourselves an annoyance:
only put as much food on your plate as you know you can eat and remember to sign in and out as you leave base.

Some of the DVD selection in the Scott Base movie room. Photo / Jamie Morton
Some of the DVD selection in the Scott Base movie room. Photo / Jamie Morton

But for now we're not to venture any further than three minutes' walk from the base until we've completed our Antarctic Field Training, which will include a night camping on the ice.

After dinner, there's just enough time for a look around outside, where a few dozen seals are lounging on the ice nearby.

The gob-smacking beauty and white vastness of Antarctica is inescapable at Scott Base.

But there are just as many reminders around that you're not as far from home as you think.