Oamaru’s strong links to the Antarctic have caught the attention of the Christchurch-based Antarctic Office, which hopes to incorporate the town’s association with the continent into its work.
Four staff members from the office, including director Eric Assendelft, visited Oamaru last week and were guided around the town’s Antarctic links by author and historian David Harrowfield, who has visited the frozen continent several times.
The Antarctic Office was established by the Christchurch City Council in 2014 with the aim of establishing the city as an Antarctic and Southern Ocean “gateway city”.
Four other cities – Cape Town, Hobart, Punta Arenas (Chile) and Ushuaia (Argentina) – are recognised as the main international points of departure to and from the Antarctic region.
In Oamaru, Dr Harrowfield showed the group an Arun St memorial dedicated to Captain team who lost their lives during their trek to the South Pole in 1912; the watchman’s hut at Oamaru Harbour where the news of Capt Scott’s death was telegraphed to Christchurch and London; and the area where Capt Scott’s ship, the Terra Nova, was believed to have anchored off Oamaru Harbour before crew members came ashore to deliver the news.
They viewed a pipe and uniform buttons owned by Capt Scott which are displayed at Waitaki Boys’ High School, and flags presented to the school by Richard Byrd, an American naval rear admiral and explorer, which are displayed in the Hall of Memories.
The group visited a former Antarctic hut, which once accommodated Sir Edmund Hillary, in Waterfront Rd, which was transported to Oamaru in 2012 to mark the 100-year anniversary of Capt Scott’s death.
They also saw a collection of rocks from the Antarctic which were given to Oamaru Prehistoric World by Dr Harrowfield.
“They didn’t know all of this existed,” he said.
“They’re very interested in what we’ve got here. The Antarctic link is just part of what Oamaru has to offer, so there’s tremendous benefits for the office here.”
Mr Assendelft said the Oamaru visit was “extremely worthwhile”.
“Oamaru has such an important part to play in the historical story about New Zealand’s link to the Antarctic and as such is part of our thinking in terms of an Antarctic trail. Anecdotally, we know that there are some international visitors that come to Christchurch to learn more about New Zealand’s Antarctic history. Over this year, we plan to work with local tourism agencies and potential guides to create a visitor package that would allow these visitors a more structured and valuable experience.
“With the history and attractions in Oamaru, we will also be working to ensure that the Antarctic trail extends to Oamaru.”
He praised Dr Harrowfield for his work to promote Oamaru’s historical links with the Antarctic, and also his upkeep of the hut and willingness to share his geological collection, which Mr Assendelft described as rivalling that of McMurdo Station’s Crary Lab.
He was particularly interested in the “intrigue and mystery” that surround the reporting of Capt Scott’s demise.
“At that point in time, it must have been fascinating for the locals involved to be part of something that had global significance.”
He also believed Capt Scott’s pipe and buttons would be “worthy exhibits at any major museum”.
The office plans to work closely with Dr Harrowfield and Waitaki Mayor Gary Kircher on the Antarctic trail project.