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The Antarctic experience

Royal New Zealand Navy Maritime Logistics Officer Sub Lieutenant Henry Cunningham shares his experience on deployment to the icy continent at the bottom of the planet.

26 March, 2024

Since arriving in Antarctica on October 16th, I’ve had a multitude of once-in-a-lifetime experiences and had the pleasure of meeting some truly fascinating individuals during my six-month deployment.

The initial week tested my resilience with wind chill temperatures plummeting to as low as -30 degrees, prompting me to recognise the importance of having an abundance of Extreme Cold Weather (ECW) gear at the ready. Despite the harsh conditions, I’ve explored pressure ridges outside Scott Base, sped across the sea ice on a snowmobile, paid a visit to Shackleton’s Hut, and marvelled at seals navigating the icy terrain while penguins waddled nearby.

McMurdo’s doorstep is home to Observation Hill, which showcases a 360-degree view of Mt Erebus, the Ross Island Sea, and the neighbouring Scott Base, creating a breathtaking backdrop for the local hikes, including Castle Rock Loop and the Armitage Trail.


Embracing the unique culture at McMurdo has been a highlight, resembling life on ship with a shared purpose of supporting science and upholding the Antarctic Treaty, and participating in activities like the USAP Mass Casualty Incident (MCI) team and the Ross Island Yacht Club’s engaging presentations. The absence of Wi-Fi in most areas has unexpectedly become a blessing, freeing us from the grip of our phones and fostering a vibrant atmosphere of social interaction, from lively karaoke nights to competitive pool tournaments, and entertaining station-hosted events and social clubs. Weekly science talks have been enlightening, unveiling the remarkable discoveries happening in Antarctica, spanning from climate change studies to NASA’s exploration of the life cycle of interstellar gas in our Milky Way and the examination of sea ice nearly a million years old.

The recent arrival of the icebreaker vessel USCGC Polar Star in our Antarctic backyard signals a crucial phase in our deployment, enabling the berthing of our resupply vessel and a tanker ship at the ice pier in the upcoming weeks. The supply department, bolstered by a fifty-person strong Ship Off-load team, is poised for round-the-clock operations in two shifts, ensuring seamless supply chain movements while the resupply vessel is alongside.

Undoubtedly, this deployment stands as the highlight of my Naval career thus far, and the anticipation for what lies ahead only intensifies as the team navigates through this unique and extraordinary experience in Antarctica.