Picture this. The sun has returned after three months of darkness, auroras will be replaced with nacreous clouds, the average temperature is sitting at -32 deg C and excitement is building for summer.
Welcome to spring at Scott Base.
At home, our team in Ōtautahi Christchurch gets to enjoy a different type of spring. The days are getting longer, the blossoms are out along Hagley Park and daffodils have popped up around the city.
But one thing remains the same. For the national Antarctic programmes that operate out of our Gateway City during summer, spring means preparation and training.
The United States Globemaster C-17 has again taken up residence on the tarmac at Christchurch International Airport.
It has completed the first flights into Ross Island after winter, known as WINFLY, carrying supplies, equipment and personnel bound for Scott Base and McMurdo Station.
Among the cargo were 20 lettuces, 8kg of pears, 10kg of apples, 30kg of carrots, 3kg of fennel, 10kg of mandarins, 8kg of broccoli, 10kg of tomatoes, 180 free-range eggs and bulk portions of other local produce.
For our 16-strong team working at Scott Base over winter, it was the first time in months they had eaten fresh produce.
It's impressive how our winter chefs get creative in the kitchen using what's available to keep meals exciting. But after a winter of tasty comfort meals like lasagne, roasts and SBFC (Scott Base Fried Chicken), the team was excited to sit down to a fresh garden salad when the delivery arrived.
Planning a science season is done years in advance. There are bed nights, aircraft movements, procurement, environmental monitoring, transportation, supporting science technology and getting equipment into the field.
This time of year is when it all comes together.
Over the last month, our new Scott Base team has gathered in Christchurch and completed the Antarctica New Zealand Awareness Programme and role-specific training.
The programme teaches our staff how the organisation operates, prepares them for their roles and readies them for the unique living and working environment that is Scott Base.
Tasked with making sure science runs smoothly and safely in Antarctica, our field team spends time at Mt Cook completing search and rescue and helicopter training.
Antarctica is the driest place on the planet, so fire is a risk. Before deployment, staff receive Fire and Emergency New Zealand training to form a fire brigade while on the ice.
It's been special meeting our new Antarctica New Zealand whānau and watching them come together as a team with a common goal to support Antarctic science.
Last season, all personnel heading south were required to do two weeks of pre-departure isolation in Methven to keep Covid-19 out of Antarctica.
While we're not isolating this year, rigorous testing and precautions are still in place to prevent Covid from reaching Scott Base, but if it does, we have processes to manage it there.
Next week, the group will board the RNZAF Boeing 757 and fly across the Southern Ocean to their new home – if the weather plays ball. Some of the 42 will stay there for three to six months, while others will stay on for a year.
From cleaners, to field trainers, chefs, mechanics, electricians and carpenters, everyone has an important part to play in running New Zealand's Antarctic research station.
Stepping off the plane and onto the ice for the first time is a feeling like no other. Vast, white, quiet and, unlike an Aotearoa spring, there's no colour and nothing to smell.
I'm excited for our new staff to experience this for the first time. I'm also looking forward to Christchurch's Days of Ice festival, which will celebrate the beginning of the season and give people their own Antarctic experience.
Soon, the scientists will start to arrive, and their research will begin in earnest. This year, we're supporting a busy season of science investigating everything from marine habitats to Ross Ice Shelf melt, and permafrost to penguin populations.
We're also looking forward to preparing for the Scott Base Redevelopment construction work. We'll modify the current buildings so they can sustain construction, while still hosting staff, scientists and those working on the project.
Our winter-over team will return to New Zealand next month.
So, if you see a handful of shaggy-looking individuals enjoying the grass barefoot and immersing themselves in the daffodils, they will be our Scott Base returnees fresh back from a year in Antarctica!