This south polar continent is on many people’s bucket list and rightly so. It’s the only continent we haven’t visited yet, and it’s high on our list. It’s also an extremely expensive visit, so it’s going to be a while before we can make it happen. With the expense of travel and its extremely remote location, it isn’t exactly a hot family destination spot, but there is a way to experience Antarctica for kids and their families.
While we were on the south island of New Zealand, we were staying with a friend. She happened to know someone who works at the International Antarctic Centre, and they were nice enough to give our group tickets so we could experience everything.
I had absolutely no idea that this center existed. Likewise, I didn’t know that the USA and other countries had their Antarctic bases here. Almost every research team and supporting crew member that goes to the continent leaves from this New Zealand base!
This center is designed to give visitors an education they aren’t likely to forget, and they are big on experiential learning.
The first experience we had involved entering a room that is chilled to –5 degrees Celsius. Thankfully, the center provides jackets and overshoes. Here you can experience an ice cave, go down a slide made from ice, and see what a minor wind storm with 40 km/h winds feels like as the wind chill brings the temperature down to –35 Celsius (-31F).
There is a penguin encounter, and it’s quite fun to watch the staff feed the penguins. You can really see some of their personalities.
The center offers a 4D movie experience (included in the XTREME pass) that is pretty fun. You will get a little spray of water to the face, but it isn’t that bad.
For the more restless kids, there are plenty of things to climb on.
One of the more interesting offerings is the Hagglund ride (also in the XTREME pass, or an extra fee for the XPRESS pass holders). These are the vehicles that take new arrivals from the airstrip to the research center. They are designed for virtually any terrain and can pass over crevasses and go through water. They have built a varied course on the property so you get a bit of a realistic experience of what riding in these things in Antarctica would be like. If you are prone to motion sickness, either take something, slap on a patch, or skip this ride. I usually do pretty well, and I got a bit nauseated from all the banging around.
The ride lasts for about 10 minutes. The scientists and crew get to endure it for 2-1/2 hours or longer. I can’t even imagine.
The center is open from 9 AM to 5:30 PM every day of the year, including Christmas. Prices are not cheap. The XTREME pass provides the best experience, and it’s also the most expensive ticket. Adults will pay $59 NZD (about $49 USD) and children 5-15 are $29 NZD. If you have 2 adults and 3 children, you can get the family rate which is $147 NZD total. If you buy your tickets online, it will reduce the fees a bit.
Whenever we receive something for free or at a discount, I always have to ask myself would I have felt like it was worth it had I paid full price. While this is a really cool place, and some of the experiences are very unique, I’m not sure I would have felt like I got my money’s worth. It is a great way to experience Antarctica for kids, but with New Zealand already being so expensive for everything else, I’m just not sure I can honestly say this is a must-do.
Do you have any desire to go to Antarctica?