Robert’s Adventures Down Under

By Robert Zill

(Undergraduate DuPage College and NIU)

Well, it’s about time for me to get a post on here so here it is!

It has been a very long, exciting and nerve-wrecking trip for me. When I left O’Hare airport in Chicago, they made me check my carry-on bag at the last minute because they ran out of overhead space on the airplane. Although the flight attendant assured me that this bag would only go to LAX, I arrived there to find that it did not come down the carousel and after waiting to talk to a baggage personnel, I found that they had sent the bag all the way to Christchurch. This would have been no big deal, except for the fact that my visa paperwork for New Zealand was in there! So I then proceeded to scour the whole airport trying to find someone who would let me use a printer to print out new copies of my papers. When I was unsuccessful in that mission, it was recommended to me that I should leave the airport to find a FedEx print and ship location, so that is what I did. The taxi cab driver told me that I could take the free Mariott shuttle since the FedEx was right next door. So after getting off the shuttle and discovering that the FedEx was closed for the holiday and that the next nearest one was also closed, I proceeded to panic. However, after going door to door I found a hotel with a computer and printer I could use in the lobby. What a relief! After printing my papers and power-walking back to the airport to go through security for the third time that day, I could finally relax and have a drink and vent the day’s troubles to the very kind bartender from New York. From here on out it would a much smoother ride.

Arriving in Sydney on the most massive plane I have ever been on, I was relieved to see Dr. Madsen waiting for me outside baggage claim. Laura had already gone down to the harbor to get her sight-seeing started. So we hopped on a train down to Circular Quay (pronounced like ‘key’) so that we could walk up the Sydney Harbour Bridge and get a bird’s eye view of the Opera House. The roof was not, however, a pure white color as depicted in the movie “Finding Nemo.” It was actually made of a mix of white and beige ceramic tiling which looked predominantly beige from the bridge. We then met Laura at the oldest bar in Sydney where I had my first kangaroo steak of my life which was delicious. After checking out some of the local vendors, we then separated again so that Dr. Madsen and I could go to the Botanical Gardens while Laura checked out the bridge. Unfortunately it began to downpour on our way so we took shelter in the Museum of Modern Art. After the rain stopped, we had enough time to go get up close and personal with the Opera House before getting back on the train to the airport and heading to New Zealand.

Opera House in Sydney
Opera House in Sydney
Kangaroo Sirloin
Kangaroo Sirloin

Upon arriving in New Zealand at night, I was happy to leave the interpreting to Dr. Madsen as the many flights had really taken it out of me. After fitting our ECW in the morning it was interesting to walk around Christchurch and see the remaining damage from the earthquakes. It gave the town a very eerie feel to it. The graffiti art around town was very interesting and visually appealing for the most part. The next day when our flight got cancelled, I was not very upset to have to go down to Sumner beach at the recommendation of Suruj. I was the only one out of the four of us (we met up with James, an IceCube technician on his way back home from the ice) to be brave enough to jump in the water and take a swim, which was extremely refreshing. I had never been in the Pacific Ocean before that. Walking back along the beach we ventured into Cave Rock which was about what the name implies. The scenery was very beautiful. And all the Kiwis (people of New Zealand) are all so nice! It is definitely not like the States. After a very long walk and a bus ride we eventually made it to a place called The Brewers Arms where I had pork, ostrich, kangaroo, and venison served raw on a 400 degree stone for the customer to cut up and cook themselves to their liking. That was my first ostrich and first venison as well. I’ve already had several firsts on this trip and we haven’t even made it to the ice yet!

Cathedral in the Square. The Cathedral was severely damaged in the earthquake in 2010.
Christchurch Graffiti Art.
Christchurch Graffiti Art.
Turf war with seagull on Sumner Beach.
Turf war with seagull on Sumner Beach.

Finally stepping off the LC-130 onto Antarctica was like stepping onto a different planet. There was white in every direction as far as you could see. It felt surreal. As with the whole trip up to this point, I had to fight the urge to constantly take pictures so that I could just take it all in. We hopped on Ivan the Terra Bus and took about a 20 minute ride to drop the Kiwis off at Scott Base and then another 10 minutes to McMurdo. We had a little debriefing session with the station manager and NSF representative before we got our room keys and key cards for the lab. We stopped at the coffee house for a bottle of wine before heading to sleep for the night. It is a very strange thing to walk outside at 11pm to go to your room when it is still completely bright out! I’m not sure I will get used to that, though it is actually kind of cool. There is a window in our room (I am bunking with Dr. Madsen) but they make it so that you can block out the light completely which is nice.

Laura and I boarding Ivan the Terra Bus!
Laura and I boarding Ivan the Terra Bus!

We had some tough work to do on one of the tubes of the neutron monitor that was acting up and the work was made even tougher by the cold, but Dr. Madsen, Laura and I made a good team to get the job done. Now we are working on figuring out the logistics and planning for next year which hopefully will involve moving two neutron monitor set-ups so that they can get shipped over to the Korean base and get set up again there. We took the scenic route back from Cos-Ray one day and got to see some skuas and some seals as well. It is really amazing to see wildlife in such a remote place.

Several skuas flying around while a seal swims in the water.
Several skuas flying around while a seal swims in the water.
The water has such a blue color, it is amazing.
The water has such a blue color, it is amazing.

If all goes to plan we will be headed down to the South Pole on Wednesday (1/13/16). I am so excited about that! I still can hardly believe that I am going to get to travel to geographical bottom of the earth! It is really amazing and I can’t thank the people involved enough for making this opportunity happen for me. I have also decided that on the way back home I will stay in New Zealand for a while and check out the south island as much as I can before heading home. I have to take the spring semester off because even if I came back right away I would be missing a good portion of the beginning of the semester anyway. I would like to point out that this decision was not made in haste and my home institutions support my decision and are willing to work with me to make this happen. I am already planning on doing some student outreach when I return, especially to “non-traditional” students like myself. I know it is going to be hard to leave New Zealand when the time comes, but I am sure I will be missing home very much by that point as well.

Well, stay tuned until next time and I’ll have an update from the South Pole!