Herald science reporter Jamie Morton is visiting Antarctica this month. He gives an insight into life at New Zealand's research station on the ice, Scott Base.

At first glance, New Zealand's lime-green Antarctic outpost can seem a little like a space station.

But rather than floating in orbit, Scott Base hugs a volcanic headland at the southern end of Antarctica's Ross Island, some 3500km south of Dunedin.

It's a cleverly-connected series of blocks, laboratories and hangars that allows you to comfortably stroll from one end to the other amid the kind of alien mega-blizzard you expect from the coldest, driest, windiest place on Earth.

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Over summer, however, typical conditions aren't much different from that of a Kiwi skifield.

With the sun overhead day and night, you get a clear view at the world's southern-most active volcano, Mt Erebus.

Straight ahead is the vast Ross Ice Shelf – and its waves of ice are constantly ramming against the land to create the folded "pressure ridges" in front of the base.

Out to the west, in McMurdo Sound, is the boundary between the ice shelf and the sea ice that forms every winter.

Beyond the sea ice, 90km away, is the jagged white outline of the Royal Society Range, with Mt Lister looming 4km-high through crystal clear air.

It's a breathtakingly beautiful world overwhelming to the senses.

Once inside the base, you come to think of this little village of corridors and cosy communal spaces as a school camp.

There are bunks, shower blocks, dining rooms and camp mothers and fathers who show
you the ropes and make sure you follow the rules.

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Arriving at midnight, one of the first rules I have to learn is creeping as quietly as a ninja into the base's main sleeping quarters, Q Hut.

I tiptoe through a darkened corridor, find my room number and name marked on a whiteboard, then gently slide open the door and climb into bed, trying not to wake the three others inside.

Scott Base looks out over the vast Ross Ice Shelf. Photo / Jamie Morton
Scott Base looks out over the vast Ross Ice Shelf. Photo / Jamie Morton

The last thing a sleeping shift-worker needs is you stepping on their face while trying to hoist yourself up on to the top bunk.

Another rule is pulling your weight around the dining room.

If you find yourself standing in front of a full tray of dishes – or being "trayed", in base terminology - the quickest way to get off-side with full-timers is to just add your plate to it and walk away.

The expectation is that when one tray is filled with dishes, you slide it under the steriliser, lower it and press the button.

"Bloody hell, I've been trayed" is a common thing to hear in the dining room.

If you can't do dishes duty on your rostered day – a requirement for visitors just as much as it is for staffers – you find someone else to swap with.

Base personnel load two months' worth of frozen goods into the back of a container. Photo / Jamie Morton
Base personnel load two months' worth of frozen goods into the back of a container. Photo / Jamie Morton

You don't put more food on your plate than you can eat, or shower for longer than three minutes, or use the drier when a perfectly good drying room will ready your socks and fleeces inside half a day.

You don't saunter around in your poly-prop underwear or leave your toiletries in the bathroom.

You say "gidday" to people you pass in the hallway and you offer to help out where you can.

After every Saturday base meeting, mechanics, chefs, scientists, communications
operators, firefighters and New Zealand Defence Force personnel all stick their hands up for whatever needs doing.

In this weekend's case, the odd jobs were cleaning the dining room, or helping the kitchen staff load two months' worth of food.

In the back of a container, a handful of us form a human chain, passing boxes of vanilla ice cream and frozen butter from a fully-laden ute.

Everyone on Scott Base is required to attend regular Saturday meetings. Photo / Jamie Morton
Everyone on Scott Base is required to attend regular Saturday meetings. Photo / Jamie Morton

I counted among our chain-gang a chef, an engineer, a microbiologist and a journalist.

Being in one of the harshest climates in the world means health and safety is part of everything you do – even if that's reporting something that looks slightly dodgy.

Heading off base for a walk requires signing out, taking a radio and checking the weather.

For the most part of an Antarctic summer, it's what's called Condition Three – or normal weather, when you're free to go for a hike over the hill to US-operated McMurdo Station.

But if it drops down to Condition Two – where visibility drops to just a few hundred metres – leaving the base area is prohibited.

Condition One storms are some of the fiercest on the planet and to experience one is to witness nature in its fullest fury.

A typical corridor inside Scott Base. Photo / Jamie Morton
A typical corridor inside Scott Base. Photo / Jamie Morton

Temperatures will drop below minus 73C and winds reach well over 100km/h.

Any movement outside base, save for Search and Rescue parties, is banned.

While this is a rare occurrence over the summer season, such storms did prevent planes from landing in Antarctica for weeks at the start of the season.

Going further away from base, by helicopter or Hagglund carrier, requires planning down to the last detail.

The sheer remoteness here means whatever can go wrong, simply mustn't.

Yet that isolation can also be liberation: the internet speed is famously slow and there's zero cellphone reception.

The main corridor at Scott Base boasts the group picture of every team that's spent winter on the ice since the late 1950s. Photo / Jamie Morton
The main corridor at Scott Base boasts the group picture of every team that's spent winter on the ice since the late 1950s. Photo / Jamie Morton

You find more social things to do: having a yarn in the bar, going for a hike, or trying out Scott Base's new disc golf course.

Over at US-operated McMurdo Station, about a five-minute ute ride over the hill, there's a softball game on and plenty of barbecued meat on offer.

Resembling something halfway between a mining town and a supply depot, "Mac-town" is huge and its 1200-strong population dwarfs Scott Base's meagre 80.

Still, the chirpy Americans love walking the road over to Scott Base to shop at the gift store.

Some of the DVD selection at Scott Base - which has its own movie room. Photo / Jamie Morton
Some of the DVD selection at Scott Base - which has its own movie room. Photo / Jamie Morton

They're also grateful for a ride if you're passing by.

Down here, you learn to slow down, take it easier, and enjoy being part of this happy little whānau, all mucking in together at the bottom of the planet.

Jamie Morton is hosted at Scott Base by Antarctica New Zealand.