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Getting to Antarctica


Most people travel to Antarctica by plane but some go by ship.

Most people visit Antarctica by plane but tourists usually travel by ship.

There are over 40 airfields for 30 Antarctic Stations. Some airfields are set up to support field camps.

Flights to Antarctica leave from one of five official 'gateways' to Antarctica: 

  • Cape Town, South Africa
  • Christchurch, New Zealand
  • Hobart, Australia
  • Punta Arenas, Chile
  • Ushuaia, Argentina.

Flights from Christchurch are run by the US Air Force and land at one of three airfields near Scott Base: 

  1. The annual sea-ice runway is for wheeled aircraft and is made at the start of each season. It is used until early December when the sea ice begins to break up. The sea ice is only 2m thick but it can safely handle large wheeled aircraft, such as the Starlifter and the Galaxy.
  2. Pegasus Air Field is built on blue glacier ice and can take wheeled aircraft. It is to be replaced in 2017 by the Phoenix Air Field, built on snow nearby.
  3. Williams (Willies) Field is built on snow and used for planes with skis such as the C131 Hercules.

The flight time from Christchurch to one of the three airstrips near Scott Base depends on the aircraft and the weather.

  • C-17 Globemaster usually takes 5 hours
  • C-130 Hercules usually takes about 7 hours

The distance is 3,920km by air from Christchurch. What’s the average speed of these aircraft?

The C-17 Globemaster:

    • has jet engines
    • is run by the military
    • has wheels
    • is 53m long and 52m wide.
    • can carry 75 tonnes of cargo
    • can fly 5,200km without refueling.

The C-130 Hercules: 

  • is a turboprop plane
  • run by the military
  • can be fitted with skis which can be lowered for landing on snow
  • was first built in the 1960s.

Ready for a quiz?

Audio Māori keywords: 

If you could travel to Antarctica what mode of transport would you use and why?

On the flight south you are issued with ear plugs and a cut lunch and required to carry your ECW (Extreme Cold Weather) gear. Image: LEARNZ.

The C17 is designed to safely carry large objects like this helicopter, as well as people. Image: LEARNZ.

There are only 4 small windows to view the glaciers and mountains of Northern Victoria Land, as they go by. Image: LEARNZ.

As you approach Antarctica, you can spot sea ice floating on the sea. Image: LEARNZ.

After 5 hours flying, the C17 lands on the Pegasus ice runaway. Image: LEARNZ.

The journey from Pegasus airfield to Scott Base is in this monstrous all-terrain vehicle that can safely cross the sea ice. Image: LEARNZ.

The first view of Scott Base, with the wind turbines up on the hill. Image: LEARNZ.