Disclaimer: This post is sponsored by the IAC as they gifted us entry to their venue, however, as always all of our views are completely unbiased and our truly our own.
Antarctica: one of the last amazing natural landscapes to be fully explored. For most, it is a dream destination because of the hefty price tag. But, did you know, there is a hidden gem in the South Island of New Zealand that gives you an opportunity to experience what life is like in Antarctica. For those in the know, The International Antarctic Centre, is the one attraction in Christchurch that you just can’t miss!
For most people, a visit to New Zealand either takes in tramping across beautiful scenery or daredevil adventure sports. But New Zealand is so much more than just these two things. Across the islands there are many adventures waiting to be discovered. New Zealand is a relatively new country; however, this means it has a life and vibrancy that you cannot find elsewhere. Kiwis are very inventive people when it comes to demonstrating what New Zealand is all about, and the International Antarctic Centre (IAC) is a showcase of what they can bring to the world.
Just a 5-minute walk from Christchurch International Airport, or a comfortable 15-minute drive from the centre of Christchurch itself, and you can be at a venue that offers you so many amazing activities all centred around life on our most southern continent. From blue penguins right through to riding in Hägglund on a dedicated off-road course, the International Antarctic Centre has it all.
The venue is perfect for a family day out, but it’s not just limited to families, as my wife and I still had an amazing afternoon here. There is so much going on at the IAC that you can easily spend a whole day there, or several hours at the very least. Firstly, the centre is all about exploring the southern pole, what we have learned about the 7th continent and the animals that call it home. Amongst all of the exhibits there is an abundance of information about how animals live there, human interaction; the changes we have caused and about how countries of the world are now working together under the International Antarctic Treaty to create a positive change in how we understand and protect this natural resource.
What’s brilliant, is that in following the exhibits through the centre, you will get taken on a journey. Showing you the planes that depart from Christchurch, NZ to the Antarctic, the history of human interaction and settlement in Antarctica and the brave pioneers who originally explored the continent.
However, as with all Kiwi ingenuity, they have spread this information out amongst some truly outstanding activities. You can have breakfast with blue penguins, ride in a Hägglund, experience an Antarctic storm, 4d cinemas, and our favourite, cuddle some huskies!
What is a Hägglund, you ask? Well, it is an all-terrain, amphibious vehicle that was created to tackle the extreme landscapes found on the ice and snow. As part of your general admission ticket, you have a 15-minute ride in one of these vehicles included. Behind the IAC, there is a purpose-built assault course that will give you a real taste of the capabilities of these versatile vehicles. Taking you through water, over man made ravines, tyres and steep angles that no normal-wheeled vehicle could manage. The experienced drivers will always make sure you are safe, yet still give you that adrenaline thrill!
Important stuff: Because this is a vehicle going over all kinds of bumpy terrain and steep inclines it’s not advisable to take part in the ride if you have any back or neck pain or you are pregnant. Also, all children need to be accompanied by adults, and need to be older than three years old.
We can easily measure temperature, however, cold weather can a very subjective term. What is cold for a Singaporean could be positively roasting for a Canadian. What the IAC does, is to give you the opportunity to experience some real cold in its fantastic Storm Room!
In the heart of the centre there is a room, but not an ordinary room. It is one equipped with mounds of snow, ice, a snowmobile, and even its own usable igloo. Every hour this room is host to an Antarctic storm. It normally sits at a chilly minus 8 Celsius, but during the hourly storm, a wind chill machine kicks in taking the temperature down to an icy minus 18 Celsius.
Every day, the room is raked over with fresh snow like a carefully manicured lawn. The storm room is a proud addition to the IAC, one that all of the family can enjoy. A taste of sub-zero temperature and winds in a purpose-built room where you can choose to duck out if it gets too much for you.
Don’t worry though, the centre provides you with warm coats, trousers and overshoes. Anyone can enjoy the storm room, but it’s best to make sure that you’re not wearing open toed shoes or jandals.
Just to add even more value to your visit, the IAC boats an HD Cinema screen and a separate 4D Cinema screen. The former hosts a selection of films tailor made for the centre, and the 4D screen shows a fantastic voyage starting out on an ice breaker with realistic moving seats and water spray. The first wave will have you jumping!
These screens play at set times, so it’s always worth checking what times the showings are on the day to help you plan your visit around all of the activities that you want to do.
New Zealand is famous as a place to see lots of penguins in the wild, here at the IAC they provide rehabilitation and care for the smallest of the penguin species found in New Zealand: little blue penguins. Through protective glass, you can get up close and see the penguins in their nests, swimming around under water and at the daily scheduled feeding times.
For those who absolutely adore penguins (I mean, who doesn’t?!), you can book extra tours, such as the backstage VIP pass that gives you further access to the penguin programme, time with the penguin careers, and seeing the little blue fellas up close.
If you really want to go for an ultimate experience, then definitely book to have a breakfast with the penguins. Please note, this experience is for larger groups, so it’s worth organising and booking ahead.
Our favourite activity whilst we were there, was the husky cuddle zone. The International Antarctic Centre has teamed with Husky Rescue NZ to let you get up close and personal with these amazingly well-tempered and photogenic dogs. Huskies have been the literal work horses of polar exploration right up until 1994, they are well suited to the cold climate and are still extensively used around Scandinavia and Russia.
All of the ones at the Centre are from Husky Rescue NZ which means they are all retired and rescued. They now have a comfy life coming out in rotation to be spoilt and loved by all of the visitors to the centre. There is always a guide on hand to help you get used to being around the dogs and to show you the safe way to approach and fuss them.
It’s the perfect way to finish your visit, relaxing and unwinding with some of the most photogenic and cuddly dogs alive.
The International Antarctic Centre was a brilliant day out for us, we enjoyed all of the activities and the information provided in the exhibits. How realistic the 4D ice voyage was, the shaking of the seats and the sprays of water at the crest of every wave. Watching the penguins snacking away on the fish at feeding time, seeing some of their cheeky personalities come out. (We wish we had of taken one of the backstage penguin tours – they would really be worth the money to spend more time up close with the blue penguins).
It was the little touches around that really made it for me. There was a stand with two tubes of water, one from the ice of each pole, set up in a way that you could stand on it, effectively standing on both poles at the same time! Tucked away in one corner there was also a small den full of life-size stuffed penguins, a rotating planet earth to show you how long the days are at the pole and a full round up of all of the countries that have signed up to the Antarctic Treaty.
Overall, I loved the time that we spent at the International Antarctic Centre. I honestly wish we could’ve spent more time there. It is a place where you can easily spend all day and find something new to do all of the time.
There is enough variety in the different activities and exhibits to have something for everyone in the family to enjoy. It also brings a welcome change to pass to what else is available in Christchurch.
Would you like to read more about our New Zealand adventures?
I would suggest at least 4-5 hours to be able to properly take in everything, but in reality, with the onsite café, and souvenir shop, you could spend the entire day there. A day at the International Antarctic Centre would complement a great weekend spent in Christchurch, if you would like some help in putting your itinerary together you can always contact us to help and advise you.
But with regards to the International Antarctic Centre:
Clothing: Make sure you wear comfortable clothes for the weather, as you can always layer up with jackets provided for the storm room. The important thing is to ensure you wear closed toed footwear.
How to get there: 38 Orchard Road (between Memorial Ave and Wairakei Rd), Christchurch Airport. It is right near the airport, in easy walking distance, but if you happen to be driving, there is ample parking on site with large enough areas to take campervans and buses.
Failing that, for paying guests there is a penguin express shuttle bus that runs to and from Christchurch, from the Canterbury museum on Rolleston Avenue.
Cost: Like any place, prices are always subject to change (so it’s best to check their website here) , so please refer to the website for the most up to date prices (especially those of the extra penguin tours), but at the time of writing the prices are as follows:
Child (5-15yrs) $29.00
Under 5s FREE
Senior/Student (60+/With ID) $45.00
Family (2 Adults + 3 Children) $149.00
Or, if you are interested in an Annual pass:
Senior/Student (60+/With ID) $70.00
Family (2 Adults 2 Children) $199.00
Family (2 Adults 3 Children) $199.00
Disclaimer: Access to the International Antarctic Centre was gifted to us by the International Antarctic Centre, although all opinions are our own unbiased thoughts.