The International Antarctic Centre isn’t strictly a museum, but does contain exhibitions and offers visitors a variety of experiences. These include the snow storm, penguin feeding/VIP experience, meeting huskies and the Hägglund Field Trip. My absolute favourite was meeting the huskies so there will be lots of photographs of adorable dogs in this post. I’m going to save the best for last and cover some of the other experiences first.
The main exhibition space is the Antarctic Gallery located at the exit of the Centre. Personally, I think it might be more suited to the beginning so visitors can learn about Antarctica in more depth before all the experiences. However, I have to keep in mind that the Centre isn’t solely a museum and having this exhibition space is at least something. The exhibition is quite small and requires some upgrading. Some of the touch screens are broken and there are quite a few large labels peeling off the wall. There are a lot of interactive elements to the exhibition so it has great potential and could really be an informative and hands-on space. For example, you can walk around a base camp and try on Antarctic Extreme Cold Weather clothing.
The kid’s penguin labels are also quite fun, catering to really young visitors. The labels are on the floor and ask kids to work out shapes of animals and what food certain animals eat.
One topic I was really hoping they would cover was climate change. There are bits and pieces throughout the exhibition, but the issue seems to be pushed aside. Considering it is such a perfect place to address the effects of climate change, I was quite disappointed.
If you have zero knowledge about Antarctica and want to learn about some explorers and how it is divided today, you could spend some time in the exhibition reading through the labels. Right at the end of the exhibition there is a film by Mark Single that runs for 17 minutes showing the landscape of Antarctica. It is a perfect opportunity to rest your feet and see some beautiful sweeping shots of the continent. There is even some imagery of penguins, a personal highlight.
Hägglund Field Trip
The Hägglund Field Trip was one of our first experiences. The Hägglund is an all-terrain amphibious Antarctic vehicle. Rather than just drive around a car park in one, you actually get to experience this vehicle over multiple terrains on a purpose-built obstacle course.
You learn pretty quickly that there is no suspension. The Hägglund goes up and down hills, over logs, through water and over gaps as wide as 2m. It is definitely a bumpy ride and provides you with a great insight into the terrain that has to be navigated in Antarctica. As well as how comfortable/uncomfortable it must be for those on the journey. We spent 10 minutes in total on the Hägglund and I would probably say my absolute limit would have been 15 minutes.
We were really hoping to experience the snow storm. However, when we arrived the next one wasn’t scheduled for another 80 minutes. This was because penguin feeding was about to begin. Considering it was incredibly busy and not everyone would have wanted to see the penguin feeding, it was probably worth running the storm more frequently.
Fortunately, we were still able to go inside the room set at -8 degrees celsius. I am someone who loves the cold so this was a pleasant temperature. Especially since we were wearing appropriate clothing. Inside there is a wind machine you can operate in between snow storms to have the same -18 degrees feeling.
We tried to see the penguin feeding but it was just too crowded and the space for viewing is extremely limited. It didn’t help that a very tall group stood right at the front blocking basically everyone’s view. Although we couldn’t see anything, it was interesting to learn about the penguins they have in the Centre – rescue penguins – and all their little personalities. We left after a few minutes.
The husky experience opens 9.30am-5pm daily with the huskies on break from 12.30pm – 1.30pm. If you are like me and love dogs, I would strongly recommend being there when it opens. We were the only two in the pen for 10 minutes so had quality cuddle time with the dogs. There were four in the pen, Shackleton, Mufasa, Max and Mukiro. All were good boys. Before entering the pen you hear a little about huskies and are shown a chart of where it is ok and not ok to pet. Basically a 101 on how to approach a dog that’s unfamiliar with you.
I didn’t want to choose favourites, but Mufasa was so lively and wanted all the pets. Shackleton is a good lead sled dog but doesn’t like wearing the sled gear. Instead, he just runs alongside the sled. It’s the effort that counts Shackleton. Mukiro was also a bit of a lively cheeky character. Finally, Max just wanted to sleep. I felt that Max and I were on the same wavelength. Here are some photographs. In the first photograph at the back is Mufasa then Mukiro, Max and finally, at the front, Shackleton.
The Centre has partnered with Husky Rescue NZ in order for these beautiful dogs to be available for pets.
I recommend the Centre if you are after some hands-on experiences and not one that is too in-depth or contemporary. The Centre is open from 9am to 5.30pm every day of the year. It is mostly accessible, however the Hägglund is not. The Centre is located directly opposite the airport with free luggage storage available.