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A couple of weeks ago, 52 Kiwis hopped on board Russian icebreaker, The Spirit of Enderby, and sailed south from Bluff, headed to Antarctica.
There was a big build up to this trip, with a nationwide search for scientists, educators, writers, photographers and film makers to fill the berths – not just to go on a journey of a lifetime, but to pool their talents and expertise, and make sure the story and issues of the region between New Zealand and the South Pole reaches and somehow touches all New Zealanders.
It would have been easy to wave them goodbye and forget about them for a month while they had a winter holiday. But that’s not what this trip is about.
The whole point of the Our Far South expedition is to raise all New Zealanders’ awareness of that vast, fragile and super important ocean to our South. But with only 52 berths, and a hefty price tag on each one, how could a trip like this be relevant to the average Kiwi?
It’s really all about communication, and this expedition takes armchair travelling to a whole new level. Sure, after they’re home the crew will be publishing books and scientific papers, releasing documentaries, speaking at public meetings, and lecturing in the country’s schools and universities. But if you thought you would have to wait to share in the fun, you’d be wrong. What they are broadcasting right now, while they are on the boat, is as good as it gets.
Every person on the boat has a responsibility to bring the story and the issues of the Southern Ocean to Kiwis, and it’s evident by the sheer volume of blog posts, articles, photos and videos being transmitted from the boat every day that they are taking that job very seriously.
The Our Far South home team in Wellington is inundated with stories, articles and anecdotes from the crew. They publish a selection of science, technology, environment, adventure and lifestyle stories on the Our Far South website every day.
There’s a daily photo competition running on board, and the winning shots are posted on the website. Video is a bit more problematic to transmit because of the file size, but there is still a steady trickle getting through. The boat’s progress is tracked on an interactive map, so we can see they’ve been, where they are right now, where’re they’ve had stop-offs.
This isn’t just an adults-only trip. Classrooms around the country are following trip mascot Shackleton Bear through his own rather rivetting blog. School children have got the ear of Te Radar, Judith McKendry the ship’s school teacher, and the rest of the crew who are on standby to answer their questions about what animals they’ve seen, the size of the icebergs, the likelihood of crashing into one, and serious issues of how the crew is getting along, and how cold everyone’s feeling.
They may be out of sight, but the Our Far South crew are certainly not out of mind. They are right there for those of us who want to join in from our armchairs or our desks.
Here are some armchair travel highlights so far:
It’s not exactly being there, but it’s as close as most of us will get.