Biannually Antarctica comes to the city of Christchurch, New Zealand, in form of the Icefest which celebrates Christchurch’s close linkages with Antarctica. This year it was held from 27 September to 12 October 2014.

A colourful welcome at the Icefest in Christchurch. (all photos: Katja Riedel)
A colourful welcome at the Icefest in Christchurch. (all photos: Katja Riedel)

The Icefest “brings Antarctica to the general public, the Antarctic community and international visitors” Icefest director Chloë Dear says. It features a range of Antarctic-themed activities, seminars, exhibitions and educational programmes, all aimed at educating and celebrating the icy continent.

Christchurch’s connection with Antarctica started already in the early 1900s when explorers like Robert Falcon Scott and Sir Ernest Shackleton left from here and used nearby Lyttelton as departure port for their Antarctic expeditions.

Today Christchurch is one of the five gateway towns to Antarctica (the others are Cape Town, Hobart, Ushuaia and Punta Arenas). From here personal of the U.S., Italian, Korean and New Zealand national Antarctic science programs leave for their respective bases in the Ross Sea Region on over 100 direct flights each year.

The date of the Icefest coincided with the beginning of the Antarctic research season and the first flights to Antarctica at the end of September/beginning of October. The Icefest featured over 100 speakers on very diverse topics like ice diving, women in Antarctica, Shackleton’s whisky, space weather and epic climbing adventures in Antarctica. Shackleton’s whisky for example was found during renovations of the hut at Cape Royds in 2007. Three cases of Rare Old Highland Malt Whisky purchased by Shackleton lain embedded in ice for 100 years were finally discovered.

Another highlight was the interactive Antarctic Time Travel exhibition where visitors could zap through geological times from 50 Million years into the future. From early warm times during the Eocene, when carbon dioxide levels were high and the vegetation was not too dissimilar to today’s vegetation in New Zealand, to the present and future climate of Antarctica. Interactive screens and interviews with New Zealand researchers explained what drives climatic changes and how they affected Antarctica. The exhibition was all hands on. Rising carbon dioxide levels in the air today for example were made visible by cranking a handle and bringing LED lamps to glow.

Visitors explore the Antarctic Time Travel exhibition. Climate change made interesting and accessible. (all photos: Katja Riedel)
Visitors explore the Antarctic Time Travel exhibition. Climate change made interesting and accessible. (all photos: Katja Riedel)
Current concentrations of carbon dioxide levels in the air can be explored by turning the handle providing enough energy to make LED lamps glow. (all photos: Katja Riedel)
Current concentrations of carbon dioxide levels in the air can be explored by turning the handle providing enough energy to make LED lamps glow. (all photos: Katja Riedel)

During the U.S. Antarctic Air Day visitors could step aboard Antarctic planes at Christchurch airport, take a look into the cockpit and marvel at these planes, which are totally bare inside since any cladding that normally hide cables and leavers was stripped.  The entrance way to the Icefest was designed as the open hatch of a plane that is used to ferry cargo and people to Antarctica.

Outside the festival area street art by artist BMD featured a mural of melting penguins, a bit further a sculpture installation called Inland Ice by Gabby O’Conner stretched for 20m in form of a wall of icy shapes made from recycled and recyclable materials. Small visitors could dress up in bulky Antarctic clothing and explore two Scott tents that were set up complete with cooking shelves and food boxes. The tent design did not changed since Scott’s days and is still used today for Antarctic field work. A Hägglund, a tracked vehicle designed for travel on sea ice could also be admired. While large scale photo boards show casted pictures taken by scientist during their work assignments in Antarctica.

A yellow Hägglund is parked at the Icefest. (all photos: Katja Riedel)
A yellow Hägglund is parked at the Icefest. (all photos: Katja Riedel)
Photo exhibition of Antarctic pictures taken by scientists while working in Antarctica. (all photos: Katja Riedel)
Photo exhibition of Antarctic pictures taken by scientists while working in Antarctica. (all photos: Katja Riedel)
Street art by BMD of melting penguins as social commentary to climate change. (all photos: Katja Riedel)
Street art by BMD of melting penguins as social commentary to climate change. (all photos: Katja Riedel)

After two weeks full with presentations and activities the Icefest closed its doors on Sunday 12 October, but it will back in 2016 when Antarctic once again returns to Christchurch.