Five. That's how many cities hold Antarctic gateway status in the world, and Ōtautahi Christchurch is one of them.
The garden city, along with Chile's Punta Arenas, Hobart, Cape Town and Argentina's Ushuaia play host to national Antarctic programmes from around the world. From there, they all travel to the white continent, which is preserved for environmental protection, science and peace.
We often forget how rare and important the gateway status is for this city and Aotearoa in general.
The influx of people who come to Christchurch as a stepping stone to Antarctica is something which can slip under the radar.
You only need to look to the summer sky and see the United States C-17 Globemaster III flying overhead to understand something special happens here in Ōtautahi.
Before COVID-19 impacted travel across the globe, the direct economic contribution of Antarctic-related activities to both the Canterbury and national economies was steadily growing year on year.
In 2019, we estimate these activities directly contributed $142 million to Canterbury and $208m for New Zealand as a whole. With this economic contribution comes employment opportunities, with estimates it contributed 3945 jobs to Canterbury in 2019, and 7891 to New Zealand.
As we move into our new normal of living with the virus, and Antarctic science ramps back up, we look forward to more economic growth.
Christchurch has long had a connection to Antarctica. You don't have to venture far to see traces of Antarctic exploration.
Robert Falcon Scott's statue, the bronze husky in Lyttelton, and Godley Head's Terra Nova Hut are all reminders of the explorers who made Christchurch their last stop before heading into the icy unknown.
A century later, Christchurch still acts as an important gateway, but it does look a little different.
These days, Antarctica New Zealand is based next to Christchurch International Airport, which as many avid plane-spotters will know, is a hive of activity during the summer science season.
From August to March scientists and personnel come in and out of Scott Base, where we provide logistics support so they can conduct their research.
Most of this work looks at climate change and the impact it will have on Antarctica's ice mass, atmosphere, ecosystems and ocean circulation.
Holding about 70 per cent of the world's freshwater as ice, it's no surprise studying change in Antarctica is critical to understanding how a warming world will affect the globe.
As one of the 12 original signatories of the Antarctic Treaty, New Zealand plays a key leadership role in preserving the continent for peace and science, bringing to life our notion of kaitiakitanga.
One of the incredible things about this role is the meaningful relationships we have with a number of organisations and countries.
We share our precinct with the International Antarctic Centre, along with the United States, Korean and Italian Antarctic programs. At times, Germany, France and China also use Christchurch as their gateway to the Ross Sea region.
The New Zealand Defence Force plays an extremely important part providing air transport via RNZAF C-130 Hercules' and Boeing 757 aircraft, along with logistics support and taking personnel out of the city.
These resources feed into the joint logistics pool we share with the United States and collaborative activities with Italy. In return, we're able to use their resources, including the US C-17, which comes to Christchurch every summer season with its crew.
During the 2021-22 season, Christchurch saw 110 flights come in and out of McMurdo Sound with 936,942 kilograms of cargo and 2295 passengers moved.
It's always great to see these visitors out exploring our new city while they're in town, and we see many stay on for tourism.
We also benefit from having Lyttelton Port Company on our doorstep. Last season the HMNZS Aotearoa docked there on her maiden voyage to Ross Island. She, along with the MV Ocean Giant, carried important supplies, equipment and science buildings bound for Scott Base.
There are only five cities in the world that deliver this capability and commitment to science and stewardship in Antarctica. We're privileged to operate out of the garden city and the wider Canterbury region.
As our growing team embarks on the biggest project we've ever undertaken – redeveloping Scott Base – Canterbury will play an even more important role in that success.
Christchurch will continue to strengthen its gateway city status. Meanwhile, Timaru will play home to the construction site of the redevelopment before it's shipped to Antarctica in modules in the 2026-27 season. We estimate this will generate up to 700 jobs for the region over the four-year life of the project.
So next time you hear the mighty C-17 flying overhead, think of our connection to Antarctica and the contribution Christchurch makes to science on the ice.
The discoveries made at Scott Base will help us plan for the future both here in Aotearoa and around the world.