Enigma – the world’s best pickup artist

August 12th, 2016 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

Had an amusing evening at the Cavern Club watching Alexander Sparrow play Enigma – the world’s best pickup artist.

A couple of years ago I saw Sparrow’s production of De Sade, for which the highlight was Jadis whacking him with a crop, and him not realising she is a former provincial cricketer and can whack very hard.

As Jadis was in town this week, we want along to see Enigma, along with another friend.

Enigma, who is American, is a mixture of preacher and guru in a comic combination. He is wearing a grape emblazoned shirt, and steampunk googles over his beanie. His red snakeskin shoes also stand out (they reminded me of Ted’s boots in How I Met Your Mother).

This is a show with high audience participation, but nothing uncomfortable.  It is not just for the blokes either, as the women there get tagged as Future Ex-Girlfriends.

He gives out lots of advice during the show, and has a nice twist at the end. His first piece of advice is the counter-intuitive (but probably correct) that you should never ever approach a woman if you want to pick her up!

The audience wasn’t large, which dampened the environment a bit. It’s a performance that would work best in a packed bar. However it was a week night, so I expect larger crowds at the weekend. It’s on for two more nights for those keen.

The Tickled Movie

May 20th, 2016 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar


I was one of the hundreds or thousands who helped crown fund this documentary, which has had rave reviews, and even been promoted by Rolling Stone magazine. Hollywood Reporter reviewed:

When David Farrier came across social-media notice of a “competitive endurance tickling” event in Los Angeles, he thought he’d lit upon another amusingly weird topic for his lighthearted reports on New Zealand television. But the Donkey Lady, frog-eating survivalists and Justin Bieber were nothing compared with what the pop-culture journalist would uncover.

In the captivating and jaw-dropping Tickled, he and fellow first-time director Dylan Reeve chronicle an investigation that would take them down a rabbit hole of legal threats and private investigators, leading to a mysterious deep-pocketed exploiter of young men in the name of a fetish subculture. But the erotic-torture appeal of tickling (who knew?) is only a piece of the suspenseful puzzle. In its genial, low-key way, the film, premiering at Sundance, is a chilling account of cyberbullying, perpetrated on a disturbingly wide scale over many years.

I’ll be moderating the Q+A at The Roxy after the 8 pm showing on Monday 23rd, so if you want to see it in Wellington, come along to that session.

Links to tickets are on their website here.

Float Culture

May 13th, 2016 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

A while back I got an invitation from Float Culture to try out their flotation pools where you lie in a super-saturated Epsom-salt solution.

As I finally had a spare day in Auckland last week, I headed along to them to try them out.

You fill in a quick medical form and they take you into one of their five rooms which consist of a bathroom and another room with the pool.

In the bathroom you shower and clean, remove any piercings (not an issue for me!), and put ear plugs into your ear (to block out the water).

Then you enter the pool room.


The pool has around 30 cm of water in it. It’s heated to 35.5 degrees and as there is so much salt in it, you easily float on it. The temperature means you can’t tell what parts of you are under water and on top.

You then close the door and turn out the light, and the room goes pitch black.

For the first ten minutes they play soft music, and then it stops so you have near total sensory deprivation with no light, sound or feeling for the next fifty minutes.

The aim is to remove all stimulation from you so you destress and muscles relax.

So how did it got for me?

Some people can’t handle it and freak out. That definitely wasn’t me. Enjoyed the sensory deprivation.

It took me a fairly long time to relax though. That is more due to me. Ask anyone who has ever shared a bed with me, and you’ll hear complaints about how I twist and turn and roll over. I’m not good at not moving – even when asleep!

So by the time the music ended I was still not entirely relaxed. I was enjoying it, but still fidgeting a bit. And the movement would sometimes have me brush against a wall and then you lose the effect.

But after I guess 20 or 30 minutes or so, I got there and was just not moving or thinking but totally relaxed on the water. I know this, because suddenly the music started up again which meant the hour was up.

So overall a very pleasant experience. I’m someone who actually really enjoys sensory deprivation, so loved that aspect of it. Once I fully relaxed, ended up nicely in my own little world and was sad when the time was up. Would definitely do it again at some stage.

DPF’s family tree – the Newths

May 6th, 2016 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

Over the last few years I’ve been putting together my family tree. Having now got as much info as it looks like I can gather, I thought I’d blog on my family tree, it may be a useful source of info for relatives and the like, and perhaps of some interest to others.

Basically I’m going to cover the families of my eight great grand-parents (none of whom I met/remember – they died between 1920 and 1969). The four families initially are on my mother’s aide and are:

  • Auton
  • Milne
  • Clemens
  • Newth

I’ll start with the Newths as they are the branch I can trace back the furthest.


My 12th great grand father was Thomas Newth. He was born in Horsley, Gloucestershire (England) in 1530 and died in 1583 or 1583 in Horsley or Dursley. His wife was Joan Byrde.

He has six children, and his oldest son Thomas born in 1556 is my 11th great father. Thomas lives to 74 and died in 1630 in Wootton Bassett, Wiltshire. His wife was Margaret Whitterne. They had one son called John Newth who died in 1627, before his father.

John Newth, my 10th great grand father was born in 1571 and died in 1627 in Wootton Bassett. He married Jane and had three children. The oldest, Johis, was born in 1597 in Malmesbury, baptised in Wootton Bassett and died in 1629 aged just 32. Johis was a glazier.

He had three children before he died with Joan Bungne. The youngest was called Robert Filius Johis Newth. He was born in 1625 and in Malmesbury and is my 8th great grand father. He died in 1676 aged around 51 and had one child with Margaret Bosse. He was also a glazier/

Mark Newth was born in 1663 and died in 1729, aged 66. His second marriage to Eleanor White produced four children, and the third oldest Thomas was born in 1707. He lived until 1776 in Malmesbury.

Malmesbury incidentally was prominent in the Middle Ages as a centre of learning due to Malmesbury Abbey.

Thomas married Alice Hawkins in 1730 and they had six children. Thomas was in a trade as he was a master who had an apprentice – a Jas Holden. His 4th oldest son John was my 5th great grand father, born in 1737 and died in 1797. He married Jane Ogbourne in 1762 and they had five children.

The oldest, Thomas Newth, is my 4th great grand father. Thomas Newth was born in 1762 in Wootton Bassett, Wiltshire, his father, John, was 25 and his mother, Jane, was 22. He married Elizabeth Horsell and they had seven children together. He then married Mary Brain and they had one daughter together. He died in August 1852 in Crickdale, Wiltshire, at the impressive age of 90.

Their sixth oldest son Mark Newth in my 3rd great grand father. He was born in 1802 in Wootton Bassett and emigrated out to New Zealand in 1842. He was the foreman of the NZ Company’s preliminary expedition to Nelson under Captain Wakefield.


He married Ann Nancy Bye on February 24, 1825, in Wootton Bassett, Wiltshire. They had 11 children in 12 years. In 1873 he had his 48th wedding anniversary with 57 children, grand children and great grand children. Their marriage lasted 60 years until Ann Nancy died in 1886.

He died on July 19, 1888, in Nelson of bronchitis having lived a long life of 86 years, and was buried at the Waimea West cemetery.

His oldest son was Mark Daniel Newth, born in 1827 when his father was 25 and mother 19. He came to NZ as a 15 year old boy with his family and married Harriet Norris in 1848 in Nelson. Two of his sisters died in 1842 on the same day. Mark and Harriet were married 51 years, had 11 children and she died in 1900. After her death he moved to Foxton where he died in 1911.


In Waimea West, Mark worked as labourer and then took on farming, owning a freehold property. During his time in Waimea he was one of the appointed trustees of the Waimea East Churchyard. After he moved north to Foxton he was employed as a labourer then flax miller/cutter.

Mark’s second oldest son was called John Newth and he is my great grand father. He was born in Nelson in 1850 and married Elizabeth Ann Clemens in 1883 in Picton. They had eleven children.

His early years were in Marlborough where he was the publican for the Empire Hotel and also a miner at Wairau. He played cricket for the Blenheim Cricket Club.

John Newth was a member of the first Waihi Borough Council, formed in 1902. Six years later he was elected Mayor, which office he held for four consecutive terms. He was a labourer and inaugural president of the Waihi Miners’ Union serving for five years until 1907. He was elected Mayor in 1908.

He died just seven years after his father in November 1918 as a victim of the influenza epidemic.

My grand father, Mark Edward (called Ted) Newth was born in Waihi in 1901 and died in 1975 when I was eight. He had two children with my grandmother, Kathleen (Kath) Milne – my mother Kay and uncle Mark.  Ted was born in Auckland and lived and died in Pukerua Bay.He married Kath in 1934.

Ted worked for the Railways as a line erector.

So on my mother’s father’s father’s side of the family the Newths come from the Cotswalds in England and were there from the 1500s or earlier. They emigrated to NZ in 1842 and so on their side of the family I am a sixth generation New Zealanders. And my great grand father was both a Mayor and a union president!

The BMW i3

April 1st, 2016 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar


Earlier this month BMW lent me an i3 to try out for a week.

The BMW i3 won the AA New Zealand Motoring Writers Guild Car of the Year title in 2015 – the first electric car to do so. It has also won the World Car Design of the Year Award and the World Green Car Award.

The first thing you notice driving the i3 is you don’t need brakes. It is effectively a one pedal car. Unless you need to stop very suddenly, you just release the accelerator and within a couple of seconds you’ve stopped. When you release the accelerator, the i3’s kinetic energy is regenerated by the vehicle to recharge the battery., which slows the car down.

It takes a while to get used to the inertial pull, but once you do it is more relaxing than a normal car.

The acceleration is rather wicked. You can reach 100 km/hr in 7.2 seconds and you almost bounce out of traffic lights.

The car can go for around 200 kms before needing charging (takes around four hours). So not a car for cross country travelling, but great for around cities. It also has a small two nine litre fuel tank as an emergency backup which recharges the battery.


Like all BMWs, it is more a computer on wheels than a car. It even has automated parallel parking. You just pull up next to a car, hit a button and it will reverse into the park for you. Superb. It has all the normal built in GPS, bluetooth etc.


The doors open in opposition directions giving a nice view of the interior. The dashboard and video unit are all quite low down, so that you get an enhanced view through the windscreen.

The i3 costs around $80,000. However the cost of the electricity is around one fifth of the cost of petrol (my estimate), so over time it becomes more cost effective. Also there are no road user charges for electric vehicles (for now).

I have little doubt electric cars are the way of the future, especially as the technology gets better. As a get around town car, I loved it. Beautiful design and smooth driving. Not having to brake all the time was a real plus.

Kepler Track Day 4

March 14th, 2016 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar


Sunday morning and a great sunrise over Lake Manapouri.


Farewell to Moturau Hut.


The final day is an easy six km walk on the flat to Rainbow Reach. You can go further to the Lake Te Anau Control Gates, but as I had an afternoon flight back to Wellington, we got picked up at Rainbow Reach.


The sun starting to come through the trees.


Out in the open.


A walkway to a great viewing platform.


This waterway is hidden away – most people would have no idea it is there.


The penultimate bridge.


Great views looking back.


The Waiau River.


And the final bridge over to the Rainbow Reach Carpark.

Very different to other other Great Walks. The views of the lakes from high up are spectacular.  Was more challenging than most of the other Great Walks (on a par with Heaphy) but nothing too bad. Great to have completed my 7th Great Walk.

Kepler Track Day 3

March 13th, 2016 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar


Saturday sees an early departure from Iris Burn at 8 am. Forecast was for rain so wanted to avoid it, if possible. It did rain for most of the day, but only lightly in the morning. Enough to put a rain cover on the pack, but not on myself!


Start off with a walk through the bush.


Then next to the river.


And across the river.


This is the scene of the Big Slip in January 1984 that wiped out a huge section of the landscape. It is slowly regenerating.


Due to the Big Slip, you spend a couple of kms in the open.


Then back into wonderful forest.


A bridge to help with a crossing.


Around halfway along is a shelter – Rocky Point. But it is infested by sandflies, so we didn’t stop there.


We did stop here and this robin took a liking to my poles.


The nice thing about rain is it makes the forest even greener.


This is near the end, getting close to Lake Manapouri.


And finally hit Lake Manapouri.


A final walk along the coast of Lake Manapouri.


And we make it to Moturau Hut. Took five hours (guidebook says six) so got there at 1 pm for lunch.


Beautiful views of Lake Manapouri from the Hut. We were glad to be there early as later in the day it started to rain quite heavily. But overall still only around 1 cm on rain compared to 15 cm on the Mildford Track that day!

Sunday is the final day, with a short walk out. Today was long, but fairly flat and easy. However legs were pretty sore from the day before, so was glad for the lack of big hills.

Kepler Track Day 2

March 11th, 2016 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar


Started the day with a trek up from Luxmore Hut. What an amazing view behind.


Today was a day for walking in the open.


A great view of the Southern Fjord.


Very pretty greenery.


In the first two hours you climb another 400 metres or so.


After the climb then you descend 200 metres to Forest Burn Shelter. Very welcome to have morning tea.


Once again more great views of the Southern Fjord.


The path moves along


And then up again.

The second day was harder than the first day, something the maps didn’t indicate.

The day is 400 m up, 200 m down, 400 m up, then 900 m down.


It lightly rained during the day, giving us a nice rainbow.


Along the ridgeline, rather windy.


And then we get to Hanging Valley Shelter. A nice place for lunch.


Then it is down the ridgeline.


You then leave the ridgeline and get some beautiful enchanted forest.


The bad part though is it is a giant zig-zag down. You drop almost a km through 48 ziz-zags. The legs are in constant braking mode and were sore form days afterwards.


But very beautiful.


You then hit a river.


Across the bridge.


Now down in the valley.


Around half an hour through the forest (and another dozen zig-zags or so)


And finally at Iris Burn Hut. We started at 8.45 am and got there around 3.30 pm.


Around the front of the hut.

Nice place to sleep but very cramped in the dining room.

Kepler Track Day 1

March 10th, 2016 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar


Flew to Queenstown Thursday (last week) morning and then we drove to Te Anau. As by then it was around midday, we took a short cut and had the water taxi take us Brod Bay.


From here up to four and a half hours to Luxmore Hut. We did it in a bit over three hours which was a pretty good pace as it involves an 1,100 metre climb. However the fastest time for it, as part of the Kepler Challenge, is 65 minutes! Mind you I imagine they don’t have heavy packs!


Despite the total climb being 1,100 metres the track is not that steep in most places – just winds up the mountain.


Halfway up or so you get this nice view back of Te Anau and Lake Te Anau.


After around two and a half hours you come out of the bush and start to get the great scenic views.


Then it is track like this.



A zoom photo back of Te Anau.


More track through the tussock.


Lots of tarns about.


The start of the Southern Fjord. You see a lot of this on Day 2.


Finally the very welcome Luxmore Hut.


Luxmore was the best of the three huts as it had a huge common area with room for all 56 trampers who can sleep there. Some of the others only had four or so tables for the same number.


Nearby is the Luxmore Cave. It is pitch black at the bottom so you have to take two torches in case one stops working. It was very very slippery going down. Almost had a nasty accident.


The pool down the bottom.


And a great view walking back from Luxmore Cave.

A great first day. The views from 1,100 metres up are just spectacular and you see the Southern Fjord from the hut common room.

Abel Tasman Coastal Track Day 5

February 13th, 2016 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar


Only a two hour tramp to the end today so we left at 9.30 am – a much more sociable time. Will must the hut – such a good idea to use an old homestead for it.


One of the local weka having a drink.


The track starts at the back of the hut.


A nice green path at first.


Today is the biggest climb, but still only 200 metres. You can see the hut we left behind.


More traditional tramping path higher up.


And a weka crossing the path.


Then we get our first glimpse of Wainui Bay from the top.


The final 45 minutes is heading down the cliffside track.


The Wainui Inlet.


And finally the track out to the Wainui car park where we got picked up by Trek Express and back to the airport.

Previously my favourite Great Walk has been the Heaphy. But it is now the Abel Tasman. The sheer beauty of the bays, beaches and bush is stunning. Can’t wait to return there.

Abel Tasman Coastal Track Day 4

February 12th, 2016 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar


So we managed to get up at 4 am to start the inlet crossing at 4.30 am. We had to be across by 5.15 am or wait until 2.15 pm.


A small crescent moon in the sky.


Just after 6 am light on the horizon.


And then through the trees.  We spent around 90 minutes tramping in darkness with head lamps, and it was very cool to see the stars so clearly. Also saw a possum on the track which was a bit startling as suddenly there are red eyes gleaming at you.


Then a hill climb.


Then Totaranui Beach ahead of us.


Now around 6.30 am.


A nice trail down to the beach.


And a walk through the camping grounds there. As there is vehicle access, this is the largest campsite – up to 1,000 people camping there.


We stopped here for breakfast and cooked ourselves some porridge.


Then headed off on the high tide track.


A historic house now used as an education centre.


And up another hill of course.


Lots of trees like this.


Anapai Bay.


A wood pigeon in a tree.


This little beach was stuck between two rock formations – very isolated and private.


Looking down to Mutton Cove.


We had a stop at Mutton Cove. If I was tenting I’d camp here. A very small but beautiful area with trees, grass and beach access.


A great view of Whariwharangi Bay.


A grass track heading down and then to the hut which unlike the others is not on the beach but 500 metres inland.


Finally the hut in sight. We got there before midday but as we started at 4.30 am it took us seven hours or so, with breakfast and rest stops. The longest day of the tramp.


The hut is a restored homestead and absolutely lovely. We got an upstairs room. Only sleeps 20. Lots of grass around it, so spent afternoon reading books on the lawn and swimming down at the beach.

Tramp almost done now. Just a two hour walk out on Monday to Wainui Bay.

Abel Tasman Coastal Track Day 3

February 11th, 2016 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar


Woke up on Saturday and the estuary is at high tide so once again it is the high tide route. However this time that is only an extra 1 km or so.


So around the coast we go.


A nice track next to the water.


Then over the bridge.


A great view of where we were from above.


Then further uphill.


Then a great view of Tonga Bay as we approach it.


Then some tramping down at sea level.


And eventually you tramp across the beach itself. This is my least favourite part as you move very slowly on sand, it is very hot, and there is no shade. But the views make up for it.


At the end of the beach a bridge leads inland.


A nice view of Tonga Bay as we leave it.


Then some nice track to go along.


Then you cross over for your first view of Awaroa, and you can see the (private) Awaroa Lodge in the bush. We were not staying there ($400/night!) but at the $32/night DOC Hut.


A stunning view of Awaroa from a look out on the track. The green strip is an air strip.


Then it is head down to the beach and around a 20 minute walk along the beach and estuary.


After around four hours we hit the Awaroa Hut around 1 pm. A very hot day so glad to be there.


The lovely view outside the hut.


The Awaroa Inlet at low tide. Despite the tide, we managed to go swimming for an hour or so, and caught some more pipis for supper!


The Awaroa Inlet at high tide. You are advised to only try crossing it within two hours of low tide yet a moron couple (who had been at the lodge and lost track of time) tried to cross it at an hour before high tide. The entire hut was having bets on how long until they turned back. Eventually the two of them had their day packs over their heads and the water up to their arm pits before the DOC ranger rescued them in his boat.

There is no low tide track at Awaroa which means on Sunday we had to cross either before 5.15 am or after 2.15 pm.  We decided to go for the early crossing so set the alarms for 4 am and had an early night.

Abel Tasman Coastal Track Day 2

February 10th, 2016 at 11:00 am by David Farrar


Friday morning starts off with a short trek along the Anchorage beach.


There is a low tide and high tide track. We had to use the high tide track which is an extra 3 kms and an hour longer. A climb at the beginning.


You loop around the inlet.


Some kayakers having a rest.


Then cross the water on the bridge.


This is just next to the bridge, and where we had morning tea. A lovely isolated swimming hole.


The low tide track across the Torrent Bay Estuary.


There’s a couple of dozen houses at Torrent Bay, and this is the main road through the settlement.


The beach at Torrent Bay.


You then climb up steeply after Torrent Bay, giving you this view. The track has no major climbs, but lots of minor ones of 100 metres or so.


A couple of paddle boarders.


The track goes inland and gets a bit narrow.


Over the large swing bridge.


Falls River.


As we drop down towards Bark Bay, we see a weka.


The beach at Bark Bay.


I went for a swim and discovered lots of pipis in the sea. So threw them in the water to spit out the sand and then boiled them, so we had pipis for afternoon tea.


The Bark Bay Hut. Two rooms inside the hut that sleep 14 each communally, and another room on the side which we were lucky enough to score that has just six individual bunks.


The Bark Bay Estuary at low tide. The campsite is in the trees between the estuary and the sea.


And as the tide comes in.

A fairly gentle four hour day with 13 kms or so.

Abel Tasman Coast Track Day 1

February 9th, 2016 at 11:34 am by David Farrar


We set off on Thursday, with an early flight to Nelson and then Trek Express to Marahau where the Abel Tasman Coastal track starts.  Happy to find The Park Cafe in Marahau so we had a decent lunch before five days of tramping food!


You start off crossing the Marahau River in the open.


Then you hit the bush.


And then into canopy cover, which in 26 degree heat is very welcome.


Every so often the canopy clears to give you stunning views of the water and beaches.


The first day is around four hours tramping.


The view above Stilwell Bay.


And off memory this is Cyathea Cove.


Despite being a coastal track, quite a variety of bush.


Torrent Bay in the distance.


Heading down to Anchorage.


And the final stretch along the beach at The Anchorage. Unlike most tramps where you only see other trampers, the Abel Tasman is like a motorway. There are hundreds of day walkers, kayakers and beach goers who just come in by water taxi. As you lug your 16 kg pack you envy the day walkers with their tiny bags.


Anchorage Hut which was only built a few years ago. Possibly the best DOC Hut I have stayed in. They have five separate bunkrooms and flush toilets under the same balcony so you don’t have to navigate a field in the dark when you need to go.


Our bunkroom. Having storage for packs makes a huge difference.


And the view from the hut with some nice tables on the lawn just in front of the beach.

We got there around 4 pm, so had time to go for a late afternoon swim. Not many tramps in NZ in which I’ve gone swimming. Normally you’re so high up the water is freezing!

DPF away

February 4th, 2016 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

From today until late Monday the 8th I’m going to be tramping the Abel Tasman Track.

This means by coincidence I miss the TPP protests and the Waitangi Day protests. Oh dear, how sad.

This will be the fifth Great Walk in recent years. In March I’m also doing the Kepler Track.

After that need to schedule Whanganui River, Lake Waikaremoana and the Routeburn.

I’ve got a small number of posts pre-set to appear, but generally won’t be up with current events so just use general debate for them.

US and NZ in Antarctica

January 26th, 2016 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

The relationship between New Zealand and the United States when it comes to Antarctica is as co-operative and helpful as one can get. While McMurdo and Scott Base are run separately, there is a huge amount of assistance and co-operation between the NZ and US Antarctic teams.


One major area is transport. We flew on a US Hercules. They provide most of the transport to Antarctica for us. But the RNZAF also flies Hercules down, and sometimes US staff will ride on these.

The US provides overall air traffic control and co-ordination and maintains the three landing fields.


New Zealand built and constructed three wind turbines a few years ago, to reduce the use of generators. The wind farm now provides 30% of the total energy to both McMurdo and Scott Base.


McMurdo has the port where once a year an icebreaker will come in, followed by a fuel ship and a cargo ship. It costs around $2.50 a kg to ship gear to Antarctica and $16 a kg to fly it, so the port is a huge cost saving.


You can see McMurdo here. It has around 1,100 people in summer and 90 in winter. Unlike Scott Base which has all major buildings joined up, McMurdo has no linkages. This means that if the weather hits condition one, staff may be stranded in the building they were  in. It also means you constantly need to change clothing to go to another building.

I much prefer the way Scott Base has been constructed.


McMurdo looks a lot like an old mining town. There are huge piles of dirt, fuel tanks and timber yards everywhere.


This is one of the most popular places in McMurdo – the second hand exchange shop. A huge amount of gear here that people donate when leaving for others to use. Some people even get their own gear back a few years later by chance!


And of course they have lots of communications stations.

New Zealand would not be able to achieve a lot of what it does, without the relationship with the United States. Antarctica NZ works with the National Science Foundation’ US Antarctic Programme and the RNZAF works with US Air Force. But the relationship is deeper than institutional.

You often get staff transfer between different bases in Antarctica – some Scott Base staff have worked at McMurdo, the Australian base and the Italian base (they have the best coffee).

An example of the helpful nature of the US team is from one of the science teams I was at Scott Base with. Their GPS unit (cost around $250) wasn’t working, so McMurdo lent them a $30,000 GPS unit they had for their field work.

Science in Antarctica

January 22nd, 2016 at 3:47 pm by David Farrar

As fascinating as Scott Base is, and the old huts etc, the important stuff in Antarctica is the science. As the Antarctic Treaty basically turns the entire continent over to science, that is not surprising.

The plan was for me to go out into the field with one or two of the sciences teams so I could do first hand reports of what they do scattered around Antarctica. However the weather got in the way of this. This is not uncommon. Antarctica is a dangerous and wild continent, so it is more usual than not to have delays. Scientists may be planning for five weeks in the field, and only end up with three.

So my reporting on the science will be more second hand, than first hand, but I did get to chat to them all first hand.


This is Gary Wilson out in the field. If Antarctica had a NZ Chief Scientist, Gary would be it. He has been to Antarctica 25 times and his first visit in 1988 was for his thesis mapping the glacial and lake deposits in the Miers Valley.

His current project is working on being able to more specifically define what temperature increases are critical to effecting change in Antarctica, its ice sheets, oceans, biota and links between Antarctic systems, southern ocean systems and further north.

Antarctica is of critical interest to scientists in terms of the climate for two reasons. The first is that it is a frozen time machine into the past. If you want to know what the world was like three million years ago, you drill down a few hundred metres and can establish what the temperature was, was the land under water, what was the level of certain gases in the atmosphere etc.

The second reason is that the extent of sea level rise due to rising temperatures will be massively affected by what is happening in Antarctica, especially the West Antarctic Ice Sheet.

Now regardless of your views on the causes of climate change, and how to respond to it, you should be very supportive of bettering our understanding of what is happening in Antarctica. If sea level rises are far less than projected then hundreds of billions of dollars may be spent inappropriately, but likewise is the sea level rises match or exceed what is projected, then the economic costs are huge, and more money needs to be spent on mitigation and adaptation.

So regardless of your views on the policy issues, the need for better scientific understanding is paramount.


This is the AUT Antarctica drones teams. I was lucky enough to share field training with them, so got to hear lots about their project.

They’re going to three different sites (Taylor Valley, Botany Bay and Cape Evans) in the Antarctic (all specially protected areas) to fly drones to photograph the areas using both normal and infrared photography. And in case you think it sounds a fun jaunt, they’ll be camping out for two weeks in sub-zero temperatures not just having to operate their equipment, but also maintaining their camp. And as the areas they are in are protected, they need to have a minimal impact on the area.


This is one of their drones. They’re not like the ones you can buy as toys, but have serious grunt so they can go up and photograph several square kms at a time.

The main purpose of the research is establish the past and cumulative effects of human impacts on these vulnerable ecosystems so that they can be better safeguarded in future. They’re also working on a crowd sourcing tool where staff and scientists in Antarctica can easily report areas they has seen of environmental concern.


Photo: Len Gillman

This is a photo of some of them out last year in Antarctica.

Other projects include:

  • Richard Levy and Tim Naish (and team) are uncovering an ancient beach (now 300 metres above sea level) teeming with fossilised remains of sea life that lived when the waters around Antarctica were warmer, to learn more about how our coastal environment may change if temperatures rise.
  • Regina Eisert is studying Ross Sea killer whales to provide the scientific information needed to support the proposal for a Ross Sea Marine Protected Area. This includes information on whale abundance, diet, foraging habitat, and movements. As toothfish predators, killer whales are among the species most likely to be affected by fishing for toothfish, if the fishery reduces the availability of toothfish in areas where the whales feed.
  • Graeme Hill is  imaging the Mt Erebus magmatic system from source to surface to in investigate the role of geofluids in both volcanic and tectonics studies

The full list of the science projects in 2015/16 in Antarctica, supported by Antarctica NZ, is here.

While scientists obviously choose to come to Antarctica, it is worth remembering most of them spend relatively little time at Scott Base. They mainly are camped out around Antarctica in tents, cooking their own meals, running their experiments, and their only contact with the outside world is a radio which can communicate with Scott Base and McMurdo. It is I am sure an amazing experience, but not an easy one.

As I said, the plan was to be able to report first hand on some of the science, but the weather got in the way.

Discovery Hut

January 22nd, 2016 at 10:00 am by David Farrar


This is Discovery Hut, the second oldest building on the continent. It was built by Robert Scott in 1901 and is on Ross Island, near McMurdo Base.

It was pre-fabricated in Sydney.


The hut wasn’t very well designed. It was colder in the hut than in a tent, and so it got used more for storage than sleeping. Each subsequent hut learnt from the one before and got progressively better.


The hut is under the care of the NZ Antarctic Heritage Trust who look after five historic huts. Some of their conservators spend all winter in darkness on the continent working at Scott Base, restoring and preserving the artifacts in the huts.




This is the view out one of the windows of Discovery Hut.


As I said, almost as cold inside as out!


You can see McMurdo from Discovery Hut plus the Polar Star icebreaker in port, having just cleared the way for the supplies and fuel ships to enter later this month.


A memorial to George Vince who died in 1904. He may be the first person to have died in Antarctica. However there had been earlier deaths in the seas around Antarctica.

The Hillary Field Centre

January 21st, 2016 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

The largest part of Scott Base is the Hillary Field Centre. It is where people are equipped to go out into the field, and also to be supported when they return if they need to work on their experiments immediately.

It is just over halfway through a major $6 million upgrade.


This is the general lab area.


These are the cages. Each group going out into the field gets a cage where all the gear they need to survive and do their science is stored. it can take several days to get everything organised. Some gear may be late getting in from Christchurch, and sometimes McMurdo will lend gear out also.


They have scores of tents, including these polar tents.


This is the drying room, where after you return the tents and sleeping bags etc get dried.



One of the other labs.


A useful guide on penguin behaviour.


The boiler room.


The food store is almost like a supermarket. But there is no quartermaster issuing you the food. Each group decides for itself what food they want to take, and take it. The training is for people to make good decisions themselves.


This is the Scott Base webcam, which you can check out here.


The important (for me) server room.


And the computer lab.


I mentioned that there was a major renovation on. Contractors are working throughout summer and winter to do a major expansion. It will make for far easier loading of gear, departures and logistics.


More of the expansion work.


This structure was a long way away from the other buildings. I asked why, and the reasons is it is where the explosives are stored. I then told a Dad joke “Knock knock … Who’s there … Basil …. Basil Who …. Basil Brush, Boom Boom.” – sadly some of the younger staffers did not know who Basil Brush was!

Arrival Heights Laboratory

January 21st, 2016 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

Arrival Heights is around 2 km from McMurdo and it is an Antarctic Specially Protected Area as its height and horizon make it ideal as an area with minimal electromagnetic interference to do atmospheric studies.

There are no lights up at Arrival Heights. If driving up at night you must have your lights turned off, and use moonlight. If at night you need to go from one building to another, there is rope joining them up so you can navigate in the dark.


NZ has an atmospheric research laboratory as Arrival Heights. It was built in 2007, but a previous one was there from 1959.



Most of the experiments and monitoring being done there are for NIWA, and include the upper atmosphere, trace gas monitoring, geomagnetic studies and air quality surveys.


This is the oldest running monitoring experiment. It has been going since the 1980s. You may note the computer is running DOS and the PC has a floppy disk drive!


The roof of the labatory has multiple egresses to allow monitoring.


This equipment was made in 1937 but still performs its function well – to monitor the ozone layer.

In case people wonder the value of such science, well it was the discovery of the hold in the ozone layer around Antarctica that led to the Montreal Protocol which phased out production of many substances that deplete the ozone layer. As a result the hole in the layer around Antarctica is recovering and it is projected to be back to “normal” by around 2050. The Montreal Protocol has been called the most single most successful international agreement to date.

A 2015 report by the U. S. EPA estimated that the protection of the ozone layer under the Montreal Protocol will prevent over 280 million cases of skin cancer and 1.5 million skin cancer deaths.

Many of the experiments are automated and need no human interaction. But some of them, including this one, require a technician to make selections and operate the equipment. Antarctica NZ has two technicians who operate the gear at Arrival Heights, year round.

The NZ Antarctic entities

January 20th, 2016 at 4:30 pm by David Farrar

There are three main organisations involved with Antarctica. They are:

On top of that you have involvement of other organisations such as the NZ Defence Force, MFAT, NIWA, most universities etc.

So what does each organisation do?

Antarctica New Zealand

Antarctica New Zealand is the government agency charged with carrying out New Zealand’s activities in Antarctica. They manage NZ’s presence in Antarctica, run Scott Base, support the world leading science and help protect the environment of Antarctica.

They have a seven member board appointed by the Foreign Affairs Minister.  They have 27 staff based in Christchurch and from 10 to 50 staff at Scott Base.

However many staff work in both Christchurch and Scott Base. You may be an HR manager most of the year in Christchurch but also spend two to three months at Scott Base helping with operations.

The Scott Base staff are in three teams – base services, engineering, and programme support. People can do multiple roles. For example the Winter Base Leader was also the domestic staffer (cleaner/chef’s assistant). She has a PhD but there isn’t much science over winter so she takes up the domestic role.

Their budget is $16 million a year of which most goes on operating costs such as $900,000 on flying within Antarctica, $680,000 on fuel, $435,000 on data/comms link and $202,000 on food.

New Zealand Antarctic Research Institute

NZARI is a charitable trust that partners with research agencies to support science in Antarctica, the Southern Ocean and the Sub-Antarctic.

Funding for NZARI is sought from organisations concerned with global scale connections to Antarctica and consequences of its changing environment.

There are multiple sources of funding for science projects in Antarctica – Marsden Fund, NIWA, universities, overseas Governments. None of them have a dedicated focus though on Antarctica, which is where NZARI comes in. Their aim is to:

  • Bring new money into the Antarctic Research sector
  • Help to grow the linked up research effort so that research teams can address more challenging scientific questions
  • Work in partnership with research organisations to facilitate the development of core scientific questions

Their Director is Gary Wilson who is the sort of head (in an informal sense) of the Antarctica scientific community. He’s been to Antarctica 25 times and a further 12 times to the Sub-antarctic.

They have an international science panel with members from the US, Australia, UK, South Korea, and Norway.

Their budget is $1.5 million a year plus they get support in kind of $1 million a year from Antarctica NZ. Major funders include the Aotearoa Foundation (set up by Julian Robertson) and Air New Zealand.

Antarctic Heritage Trust

The Antarctic Heritage Trust is also a registered charity. The trustees include the Ambassadors or High Commissioners from the US, Ireland and the UK.

They do an amazing job preserving and restoring five historic huts in Antarctica. These huts are not just reminders of the great age of exploration but they are also the first human habitations on the continent. And the only remaining first habitations on any of the continent. Until they were built there was nothing here.

The five huts they preserve and restore are:

  • Carsten Borchgrevink’s Hut, Cape Adare (the first building on Antarctica)
  • Robert Falcon Scott’s Hut, Hut Point
  • Ernest Shackleton’s Hut, Cape Royds
  • Robert Falcon Scott’s Hut, Cape Evans
  • Hillary’s Hut, Scott Base

They get funding from the NZ Government, but also from four museums, the Norwegian Government, Christchurch Airport and the UK Antarctic Heritage Trust.

Their budget is around $3 million a year.

The care and skill that goes into preserving the old artifacts is amazing. Professionals have restored thousands and thousands of artifacts with huge skill.

Hillary’s Hut

January 20th, 2016 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

Yesterday we got a tour around Hillary’s Hut. Due to asbestos it is closed for general use, but you can be guided through it.


The hut is being preserved and restored by the NZ Antarctic Heritage Trust. They give the background:

In December 1956 HMNZS Endeavour left New Zealand for Antarctica to support both the Commonwealth Trans-Antarctic Expedition (TAE) 1955–1958 and the International Geophysical Year (IGY) 1957–1958 with a major programme of science.

Fresh from conquering Mount Everest in 1953, Edmund Hillary was enlisted to lead the New Zealand party that would lay supply depots from the Ross Sea towards the South Pole for the first trans-Antarctic crossing. Led by the then Dr Vivian Fuchs, the expedition planned to cross the continent from the Weddell Sea.

Pram Point, on the edge of the McMurdo ice shelf and four kilometres from the United States’ McMurdo Station, was chosen as the site for Scott Base. In January 1957 the team completed the buildings (six interconnecting units and three detached science buildings) that would form the antecedents of the modern-day Scott Base. A party of 23 men wintered over at the newly formed base.

This team basically founded Scott Base. Hillary of course also got fame for making it to the South Pole on a tractor. His job was to lay out depots for the British explorers. But after he had done that, and as he was only 80 miles from the South Pole, he decided to head on down there and beat them to it 🙂


I love the address.


The main room in the hut.


A very old beater.


And even older phone.


I like how they say “Today’s Guess” instead of “Today’s Forecast”. The weather here can be quite variable.


This is the emergency exit in case of fire.


And with the exit open. Would not be great fun crawling out through that!

NZ History has more details of the Commonwealth Trans-Antarctic Expedition.

Hillary was the first person since 1912 to reach the South Pole overland.

Scott Base

January 20th, 2016 at 10:00 am by David Farrar


Scott Base is the home of the New Zealand presence in Antarctica. It is where everyone starts and ends their activities in Antarctica. It is where you get equipped to go into the field, and is home to the base staff who support the scientists.

However it is not where most NZers in Antarctica spend their time. Most science projects are not done from Scott Base. They are done throughout the continent. In fact the scientists get grumpy when they end up at Scott Base for too long, as their purpose in being here is not to live at Scott Base, but to do their work in the field.

So while Scott Base is a critical part of what New Zealand does in Antarctica, it is not an end in itself – more a means to an end.

But without Scott Base, none of the science could be supported.


The atmosphere is very dry here so you need to drink constantly. Almost everyone walks around with their drink bottle and you are recommended to drink four litres a day of water. The bottle even helpfully tells you how to stay hydrated with sarcastic instructions about how you open the lid, pour water in, close the lid, drink the water and repeat four times 🙂


This is the kitchen and mess. Meal times are easy to remember – 6 am, 12 pm and 6 pm. The food here is great, and done by a very small team.


This is my favourite place – the lounge. You see right out over the ice sheet from here and a beautifully serene place to just take in the views, chat or read.


The biggest risk to Scott Base is fire. Most staff are trained firefighters – they spend a week being trained before they get deployed.


Because of the dry atmosphere there is a lot of static electricity. They have these metal plates everywhere so you can ground yourself. If you touch a phone or computer or camera before grounding, you may break it.


This has been my temporary office.


They have a small room for movie watching and a pretty good DVD collection. I’ve not seen it used much in summer (rather go outside) but I imagine in winter gets a lot of use.


Having a quiet drink in the bar. It’s a good area to socialise and unwind. As Antarctica is not part of any country, the drinks are quite inexpensive due to the lack of tax. However no one I’ve seen has had more than a few social drinks. You get up way too early in the morning for that. Plus there is a huge emphasis on health and safety. Over indulgence would not go down well with others.


A small gym.


And you can go mountain biking. There are also running trails and a small ski area. Important to keep fit down here.


A good sense of humour as seen by various office notices.


And also by this sign.


This sign is not a joke. Some staff and scientists work night shifts, and sleep during the day. Being noisy inside the sleeping areas is a cardinal sin. They are for sleeping, not talking, and you even get taught to gently close the doors, rather than let them make noise shutting automatically.

A major part of Scott Base is the Hillary Field Centre which is halfway through a major renovation. I’ll cover that in a separate post.

Setting up our Antarctic Field Kitchen

January 19th, 2016 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar


It is a very very very bad idea to cook inside your tent, which means you are cooking outside on the snow.

In case you are rather stupid, the reason you do not cook inside your tent is two-fold. The first is you may burn it down with yourself inside it. The second is carbon monoxide poisoning.

So you need to construct a field kitchen. You use saws to cut out blocks, and then shovel them out.


There’s three things you are doing. First you cut out one row of blocks to create rows to sit on. Then you cut out two rows of blocks next to that, so you can put your feet down there. and you create a wall with the blocks to help shelter from the wind.

It was snowing the entire time we were out there building the kitchen, and cooking.


And the kitchen is complete.


Out comes the cookers and food.


And dehydrated meals have never tasted so good!


As I said, it snowed a lot.


This is the infamous P bottle.


And the toilet is a bucket with two plastic bags inside it and a very cold lid.


This is getting ready to boil water the next morning. The mat is to soak up any fuel, and you remove before cooking.


And then the fun part of demolishing the field kitchen. I took the direct approach of running into the walls several times!

We then headed back to Scott Base around midday Monday.

Setting up our Antarctic Field Camp

January 19th, 2016 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

Your first two days in Antarctica, if a newbie, are spent doing Antarctic Field Training. Basically you get taught how to operate out in the field. There is a huge emphasis on health and safety, but their approach is not not so much rules based as teaching people how to make good decisions. Once you are out in the field, you need to decide a lot of stuff on the spot.


After an initial hour inside, you go out for a walk on the sea ice. There are hundreds of sea lions lazing about.


You really do not want to fall into the water!


On average we have two metres of ice over the Ross Sea, but less in some areas.


Then we spend a few more hours inside learning how to use the cookers, selecting tents and gear and then outside into a Haglund.


We travel around 5 kms away from Scott Base to set up camp.


The first tent up (and was already there) is the toilet tent. Antarctica NZ is passionate about leaving minimal impact on the environment so all human waste is collected, including urine. You all have a pee bottle to use also.  There is no going behind the rocks.


Time to start setting up the tents.


First you smooth out the area you want to pitch the tent. Then you pitch the tent, and finally weigh it down by covering the sides with snow.


This is the tent I was in. You have to basically crawl into the tent through a small tunnel, so there were lots of jokes about it being a birthing chamber 🙂


One of the other tents our groups had. The three media type people did field training with a group of four from AUT who are down to map sensitive areas of Antarctica using drones. I’ll cover their work in a later post.


And finally we have the tents all set up.

The entire time it was snowing. Lightly at first, but then more heavily. 99% of the time the snow is dry (Antarctica generally is extremely dry) but that night it was wet snow, so by the end of the night (well it is never night but you know what I mean) we were a bit wet.

After the tents were done, we then had to make our field kitchen which I’ll blog about later also.