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New Zealand in Antarctica
The History and Activity of New Zealanders in Antarctica

New Zealand has a long history in Antarctica. Official involvements of expeditions and the establishing of a permanent base was slow to begin compared to other countries, though as an island nation and one of the last ones you get to before you reach Antarctica, many New Zealanders have joined ships on the way south, crewing and otherwise involved in many trips and expeditions from the earliest days. New Zealand was involved in the International Geophysical Year, IGY and has a modern scientific bases going back nearly 60 years and is currently at the forefront of modern research in Antarctica.

New Zealand was one of the very first signatory nations of the Antarctic Treaty in 1960 and is a consultative party with voting rights able to make decisions about Antarctica.

Current activity
Research Station
and position
Summer staff Winter staff Occupied Use
Scott Base, Ross Island
77°51.00'S, 166°45.77'E
85 10 1957 - present Year round

Current - Antarctica New Zealand  - 1961 - present. A Crown Entity that has the responsibility for the New Zealand Government's activities in Antarctica and the Southern Ocean.

The total annual budget is $24.7 million New Zealand dollars made up of $17 million New Zealand dollars in science support and $7.7 million New Zealand dollars from the Ministry of Science and Innovation/NZ Universities/Crown Research Institutes. Scientific research is carried out by scientists mainly from New Zealand Universities and Crown Research Institutes.

Scott Base in summer

Antarctica New Zealand is based in Christchurch.

Job opportunities

The Heroic Age 1900-1922

There were no New Zealand organized or funded expeditions to Antarctica during the Heroic Age, though New Zealanders took part in a number of expeditions often playing significant roles.

British British Antarctic Expedition 1907- 1909 Shackleton - Nimrod

Michael Thomas McGillion - trimmer - Born 1885, Dunedin, NZ

M.R. Meyrick - trimmer - Born 1880, Lyttleton, NZ

John Partridge - fireman - Born 1885, Lyttleton, NZ

G. Rooney - AB - Born 1883, Wellington, NZ

M. Vaughan - fireman - Born 1881, Lyttleton NZ

Australian Mawson - Aurora 1911-14 - Australasian Antarctic Expedition

Harold Hamilton -
Biologist - Single, born in Napier, New Zealand. Graduate of the Otago University. Besides being employed on the New Zealand Geological Survey, he acted as Entomological Collector to the Dominion Museum at Wellington. A member of the Macquarie Island Party, of which he was the Biologist for two years, H. Hamilton visited the Antarctic during the final cruise of the `Aurora' in the summer of 1913-1914. Harold Hamilton

Dr. Leslie H. Whetter -
Surgeon - A graduate of Otago University, New Zealand, joined the Expedition as Surgeon, acting in that capacity at the Main Base (Adélie Land) during 1912. He accompanied a sledging party which explored to the westward of Winter Quarters. Dr. Leslie H. Whetter

A. J. Sawyer - Wireless Operator - Single, was born in New Zealand. Having had considerable experience in wireless telegraphy, he joined the Expedition as an operator from the Australasian Wireless Company. At the Macquarie Island Station he was chief wireless until August 1913, when on account of illness he returned to New Zealand. A. J. Sawyer

Frank Worsley
British Captain - Endurance 1914 - 17 - British Trans-Antarctica Expedition
British Hydrography, sailing master - 1921 - 1922 - Quest- Ernest Shackleton
Eccentric and indispensable to the Endurance expedition, Worsley's uncanny navigational skills could hit small islands at hundreds of miles range with only occasional readings, the minimum of instruments and in the worst possible conditions. Frank Worsley

Exploration Scientific Bases and Research after 1922

British Australian expedition British, Australian and New Zealand Antarctic Research Expedition 1929-31.
BANZARE - Douglas Mawson.  The French had in 1924 laid claim to Terre Adelie or Adelie Land in the sector directly south of Australia. What became popularly known as BANZARE was an attempt by (now Sir) Douglas Mawson and others in Australia to encourage the government to file a similar claim. After a meeting in London, a joint expedition was proposed, partially privately funded, it used the RRS Discovery and had a small floatplane. The expedition didn't overwinter in Antarctica but consisted of two summer cruises in 1929-30 and 1930-31, surveying and mapping by ship and from the air. Land was claimed as British territory. It led to the establishment of the Australian Antarctic Territory.

New Zealand Cape Expeditions 1941 - 1945. Wartime operations to check for enemy activity around New Zealand's southern islands. It was thought that German raiders might be using harbours on some of the sub-Antarctic islands. Small parties of observers were placed in small hidden huts in the Aukland Islands and Campbell Island to watch for shipping and make meteorological observations. No enemy shipping was observed. Meteorological observations at Campbell Island were continued until 1995 and scientific reports by naturalists were published.

British Australian expedition Commonwealth Trans-Antarctic Expedition 1955 - 1958. Funded by the governments of Britain, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, this was an attempt to do what Shackleton had set out to do in 1914, to cross the Antarctic Continent from sea to sea via the South Pole. Led by the British Vivian Fuchs from the Weddell Sea and New Zealander Edmund Hilary from the Ross Sea. Hilary arrived at the Pole on the 4th of January 1958, Fuchs on the 19th, they both reached the Ross Sea again on the 2nd of March.

A tractor towing a load of tractor fuel at Scott Base during the Commonwealth Trans-Antarctic Expedition, 1957

Territorial Claims

There is a historical claim of the Ross Dependency dating back to 1923 when the Governor-General of New Zealand was appointed as the Governor of the Ross Dependency by an Imperial Order in Council made in London.

The region is that area of Antarctica between 150°W and 160°E and extending to the South Pole.

New Zealand is one of seven nations that made a claim to land in Antarctica before the Antarctic Treaty of 1961, these being Argentina, Chile, the United Kingdom, France, Australia, New Zealand and Norway. The UK, France, Australia, New Zealand and Norway all recognize each other's claims, these are non-overlapping.

The Antarctic Treaty, Article IV § 2 states: “No acts or activities taking place while the present Treaty is in force shall constitute a basis for asserting, supporting or denying a claim to territorial sovereignty in Antarctica. No new claim, or enlargement of an existing claim, to territorial sovereignty shall be asserted while the present Treaty is in force”.

So the Antarctic Treaty does not suspend or defer existing claims, though it does state that:
  • No activities occurring after 1961 can be the basis of a territorial claim.
  • No new claim can be made.
  • No claim can be enlarged.

Practically though territorial claims have been effectively suspended since 1961.

Image used courtesy TUBS, license via Wikimedia Commons

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