A Chinese icebreaker has made a New Zealand stopover to stock up on supplies en route to Antarctica.

The 167m-long research vessel Xuelong arrived at Christchurch's Lyttelton Port yesterday morning.

It's bound for China's Zhongshan research station in Antarctica, reports China's state broadcaster CCTV.

Xuelong, also known as the Snow Dragon, was today a hive of activity as workers load nearly 1250 tonnes of fuel and around 1000 tonnes of fresh water, vegetables and other food supplies.

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Dozens of the ship's Chinese researchers are also making some last-minute supply runs around a bustling Lyttelton township.

The research team aboard the Xuelong set for sail from China's major port city of Shanghai on November 2, launching the world's most populous nation's 35th Antarctic expedition.

The journey is expected to last 162 days and cover 68,500km.

Xuelong was built in 1993 in Ukraine and converted from an Arctic cargo ship to a polar research and resupply vessel a few years later.