Expedition South arrives in Aoraki!

The final day of Expedition South began early on the shores of lake Pukaki. Resolute on not being late for the grand finale, the team packed up our tents and hit the road while the lake was still glassy and the sky was glowing in pastels.

The road around Pukaki to Glentanner was quiet and we made great progress – we were actually running early for once! We called in at Glentanner for a coffee, and met much of the team from our Christchurch office who had come over from Christchurch. This was the end of the quiet morning for the Expedition South team!

After rolling out of Glentanner towards Mount Cook village, the number of cameras on the side of the road began to increase, and soon we had an entourage of media vehicles escorting us towards the mountains. 

A bright red Beaver aircraft appeared over a ridge to the east and circled around the valley over the tractors. The Beaver is the same model of plane that the TAE expedition took to the ice in 1957, and was piloted by John Evans who is a good friend of the Antarctic Heritage Trust, having spent a season on the ice with the conservation team. It was fantastic that John was able to bring the Beaver down from Auckland for the occasion.

The Beaver

The Beaver

The tractors rolled into Mount Cook airport as the Beaver touched down, and to top it all off, a team of huskies joined us on the runway.

We spent quite some time at the airport enjoying the perfect weather and checking out the Beaver, but soon it was time to hit the road again for the final 6km of our journey.

The huskies led the way, followed by Peter Hillary and the Expedition South team. It was slow progress as it was a hot day for the huskies. The speed the convoy was travelling was representative of the speed that Sir Ed’s team drove on the way to the South Pole (something close to jogging speed) – though we had travelled slowly during Expedition South, we were glad that we didn’t have to take it that slow the whole way!

It was a victorious feeling crossing the finish line, having driven over 2000km on 60 year old tractors. We’d made it.

The Hermitage kindly sponsored the team for a meal and accommodation after the finish. We were honoured to be accompanied by the families of original TAE members: Hillary, Ayres, Ellis and Mulgrew. It was very special to get all these people together, as they all had stories and experiences of their fathers' time on the ice to share.

Thanks very much to everyone who has supported us along the way, from our major corporate sponsors through to the people in small towns who gave us a fiver or cooked us a meal. We truly appreciate the kindness that has been shared with us everywhere we’ve been.  Our givealittle page will be open for another week, so please get online and give us a fiver so that we can top up our fundraising to reach the $1 million needed to save Sir Ed’s Antarctic legacy – the TAE hut and the artefacts within.

Al and Brian in front of the replica Fergie tractor at the Hermitage Hotel

Al and Brian in front of the replica Fergie tractor at the Hermitage Hotel

 

 

 

 

A Fairlie good day

(…and Fairlie bad puns!)

We were greeted yesterday morning by the vintage machinery club in Geraldine, and they brought along all sorts of Ferguson tractors to escort our convoy out of town. We had a small breakdown but thanks to the guys at Geraldine Auto Restorations, who donated materials and time, we were on our way.

Al thanking Wayne from the vintage machinery club for their donation

Al thanking Wayne from the vintage machinery club for their donation

We took the back roads through to Fairlie, which proved to be an interesting route through rolling hill country, and it was a beautiful day. We got our first glimpse of the mountains as we crested the hill overlooking the Fairlie basin. Finally we were drawing closer to the mountains, and the final leg of our journey.

A fairly good view over the Fairlie Basin

A fairly good view over the Fairlie Basin

Today, we were met by another entourage of tractors outside the Fairlie Vintage Machinery Museum, and once again we were given an escort out of town. We approached Tekapo via Mackenzie Pass which was a more intrepid (and much safer) alternative to the main road.

After almost a month of (supposedly) slowing down Al's tractor in the middle of the night, Brian picked his chance to strike, and victoriously pulled out and overtook him! Rather like watching tortoises race. 

After almost a month of (supposedly) slowing down Al's tractor in the middle of the night, Brian picked his chance to strike, and victoriously pulled out and overtook him! Rather like watching tortoises race. 

We were greeted in Tekapo by some friends of the Antarctic Heritage Trust, the Turley family, so we stopped by for a cuppa and enjoyed some home baking. The other night, the Turleys bought Sir Ed’s ice axe at the charity auction in Christchurch, so we were pleased to see it taking pride of place in their house.

Some of the team is staying tonight by the side of lake Pukaki, enjoying some fish and chips next to a campfire. It’s a great way to spend the final night of the expedition – the stars are out, the lake is calm, and we have no doubt Sir Ed would be glad we’re spending the last night out in the wilderness.

Lake Pukaki

Lake Pukaki

Tomorrow is the final day of Expedition South. We’re looking forward to a scenic drive from Pukaki into Mount Cook Village, and are really looking forward to our lush accommodation at the Hermitage Hotel. It will be bitter sweet for the Expedition to come to an end – it will be good to go home, but we’ve met so many hospitable, generous people along the way, and have been truly humbled by the friendliness of New Zealanders. We’re excited to say that we’ll be able to do the work on Sir Ed’s hut in Antarctica this summer, and Al is looking forward to heading further south next month to undertake the work with the rest of the Conservation team. 

 

A blizzard on the plains

The drive through mid Canterbury proved very similar to driving in Antarctica – perhaps not in terms of temperature but certainly in terms of wind. We were caught in the middle of a nor’wester which created a ‘blizzard’ of dust to navigate through. Alongside that, we were travelling along the ‘Polar Plateau’ - long, straight, flat roads on the Canterbury Plains. Driving along these roads in a tractor really puts into perspective how large the landscape is, and how slowly the tractors move. Our team only had a couple of days of driving on the plains, but Sir Ed’s team spent months driving across the plateau.

We stopped off at Mayfield and Carew Peel Forest Schools on the way through. The kids at Carew had all dressed up as explorers for the occasion, and there were some really great outfits, including Louis, who dressed as Sir Ed himself. Our team was very moved by the welcome song that the kids performed for us, and we were impressed with the well-researched questions we were asked.

Louis with his ice axe and Ed Hillary hat

Louis with his ice axe and Ed Hillary hat

Today, we’re headed to Fairlie. We’ll be taking the long way around rather than the highway, but it’s a cracker day to be out and about in the countryside on tractors.

Brian working his magic on the tractors. Every evening, he can be found tinkering with them. Al thinks Brian is making his tractor slower by a very small amount every day. Either way, the tractors haven't broken down for weeks, so we're grateful to have Brian with us.

Brian working his magic on the tractors. Every evening, he can be found tinkering with them. Al thinks Brian is making his tractor slower by a very small amount every day. Either way, the tractors haven't broken down for weeks, so we're grateful to have Brian with us.

Christchurch and beyond

We dropped by the International Antarctic Centre. The tractors are parked up next to a Hägglunds - a vehicle that is used around Scott Base. 

We dropped by the International Antarctic Centre. The tractors are parked up next to a Hägglunds - a vehicle that is used around Scott Base. 

After a successful pit stop in Christchurch, the tractors are back on the road heading south once more.

The tractors may have been parked up for a couple of days, but the team was still on the move, attending various events around town. We paid a visit to year 10 students from Burnside High School, who have been learning about Antarctica in their science class. We then trundled down the road to a BBQ lunch in Hornby at the Massey Ferguson dealer.

We had a fantastic fundraising dinner at the Commodore Hotel, and were very lucky to hear presentations from some extraordinary people, including Bill Cranfield, who was a pilot during the original TAE expedition. Bill recalled stories of flying in Antarctica, and was truly a pioneer of Antarctic exploration by air.

Bill Cranfield recalls his experiences on the TAE

Bill Cranfield recalls his experiences on the TAE

Graeme Ayres shared a story about his father Harry, who was running a dog team on the ice. The sled fell into a crevasse, and after hauling it and the dogs back to the surface, much of its load was left strewn on a snow-bridge in the crevasse. Most of the items were easily retrieved, but one important thing was very difficult to get to: a fruitcake from home. With a lot of effort, Harry returned the next day and managed to retrieve it.

During the evening, a fruitcake made to the exact same recipe was auctioned to help raise funds for the project. Bet it was good!

We also heard Peter Hillary speak about his own adventures as well as his father’s.

Yesterday, we were back on the road heading south out of Christchurch. After an obligatory pie and coffee in Hororata, we crossed through the Rakaia Gorge and visited Lauriston School. Our team were pretty amused at our newfound celebrity status!

Just around the corner from the school is a man with an impressive collection of vintage tractors, so naturally we spent the evening in his shed – checking out the tractors, eating good food and spinning yarns.  

Al with Anthony Hampton in his shed

Al with Anthony Hampton in his shed

Today, we’re headed to Mayfield School and Carew Peel Forest School as we make our way down the inland route towards Mount Cook. With the long straight roads, we liken our current route to crossing the Polar Plateau. We’ll stop for the night in Geraldine, and are looking forward to having an escort out of town in the morning with the Geraldine Vintage Machinery Club. We’ll be outside the Heritage Museum in the morning from 9-10am.

 

Back to the backcountry

After a brief encounter with civilization in Hanmer, Expedition South ventured back into the hills for two more days. The tractors headed south on State Highway 7 as far as Hurunui, which was more than enough main road for one day.  We swung inland and were welcomed into the small town of Hawarden by a big group of locals - surely must have been half the town!

From Hawarden, we headed onto MacDonald Downs farm, where we followed a farm road through the foothills, over the Lees Pass and Okuku Saddle and into the Lees Valley. The drive was really pleasant in the late afternoon light, made particularly scenic by the dusting of snow on the hills.

Fording a river on the farm

Fording a river on the farm

Snowy hills in the Lees Valley

Snowy hills in the Lees Valley

Coming into the head of the Lees Valley, we bumped into Grant, the farmer up there. Upon hearing that we were planning to camp out in the valley, he invited us back to a lodge on the farm. Rather than roughing it, as we were expecting to, we ended up having some of the most luxurious accommodation of the trip – thanks Grant! This is but another example of the generosity and hospitality that has been extended to our team time and time again on the expedition.

Lizzie, who is in charge of conserving artefacts for the Antarctic Heritage Trust joined us on the tractors today for the spectacular ride through the Ashley Gorge and down onto the Canterbury Plains.  It was great to have both our on-ice managers driving the two Fergies. We called by a farmhouse on the way and had a cup of tea with a lovely family and their lamb, before we continued on to a raucous welcome at View Hill School.

Lizzie arrives at View Hill School

Lizzie arrives at View Hill School

Bill Cranfield, the pilot and only surviving member of the TAE joined us there, and helped give a presentation to the students. After hearing about how school kids in the North Island had pulled the TE-20s out of a ‘crevasse’ the View Hill kids decided to go one better, and pull Ant2 out instead. Turns out that 30 or so kids are plenty strong enough to pull a 5 tonne tractor!

Al tried to add some extra weight to the tractor!

Al tried to add some extra weight to the tractor!

Testing out some Antarctic clothing

Testing out some Antarctic clothing

After an obligatory stop at the Sheffield Pie Shop, we hit the long, straight road into Christchurch.

Time for a rest stop for a couple of days!

Time for a rest stop for a couple of days!

The tractors are now parked at the Commodore Hotel outside the foyer where one of the original TAE tractors sits.

Tomorrow, we’ll be heading along to Burnside High School in the morning, before a BBQ lunch at the Massey Ferguson dealer JJs in Hornby. If you’re in Christchurch, please come along to JJs between 12 -3pm to say hi. We'll be in Christchurch for the next two days before we hit the road south again. 

 

Made it through the Molesworth

Expedition South truly lived up to the ‘expedition’ name over the past two days, as it ventured into the highcountry in the upper South Island. The Molesworth Station is between Blenheim and Hanmer, and travelling through this area allowed us to avoid main highways and really put the tractors to the test.

The journey began with a picturesque drive up the Awatere Valley. The tractors chugged reliably through wine country, which gradually grew wilder as we climbed in altitude, eventually giving way to high country scrub. The recent southerly storm had dusted the tops of the hills, giving us some idea of what was to come.

The landscape in this part of the country is truly spectacular – wide valleys giving way to high peaks. One of these peaks, Tapuae-o-uenuku is the highest mountain in New Zealand outside of the Southern Alps. This was the first ‘real mountain’ that Ed Hillary climbed, while he was in the area on military placement. He completed this remarkable feat in a weekend, and put to test his determination and resilience that would make him one of the world’s best mountaineers.

There have been all sorts of good folks who have gone out of their way to contribute to the success of Expedition South. Jim, the farm manager of Molesworth Station is a prime example of one of these people. When he could have easily denied us access to the road due to the snow on the ground, Jim instead took the grader through ahead of us to ensure the safe passage of our “dinky toys” through the station. As well as this, he (and the other station staff) opened one of the buildings for us to stay in and cranked up the heating to make sure we were comfortable and the water pipes were unfrozen.

Oh Deere!

Oh Deere!

The tractors were certainly put to the test during the past two days (as were the drivers). Even Ant2 had instances of loss of traction on the snow, but we were glad to have her to tow out the wee Fergies from a few tight spots.

We all feel very lucky to have been given the opportunity to travel through the Molesworth in winter. This section was a real highlight for the team, and we think Sir Ed would have enjoyed it if he had been with us too.

Tonight, we’re headed back out into the backcountry, as we travel through Lees Valley on the way to Christchurch. We’ll be camping in the valley, so we’re in for a frosty night.

 

 

A southerly storm to welcome us to the South Island

In light of recent news stories regarding the weather, we’ve been exceedingly fortunate to have only caught the edge of it. Our ferry sailing was smooth, yet all sailings following ours were cancelled for the next two days, with huge swells developing in the strait. Lucky!

We arrived into Picton very relieved to have made it to the South Island, and headed straight to Marina Cove retirement village to be welcomed by the residents. We saw a great presentation from some fellow Antarcticans, and were once again treated to some kind kiwi hospitality down at the pub.

The road around Port Underwood to Blenheim is a winding, up-and-down alternative to the busy but straight state highway run. It was an absolutely beautiful drive around the bays, but heading into sleet for much of the day left the drivers slightly blue around the lips. Thankfully we were invited to Allan Scott winery to thaw out by the open fire.

It was sleeting on the beach at Rarangi

It was sleeting on the beach at Rarangi

The sun was out by the time we arrived at Allan Scott Winery

The sun was out by the time we arrived at Allan Scott Winery

The good people at TRS tractors put on a BBQ for us in conjunction with the winery, and the vintage machinery club had an impressive entourage of vintage Fergies on show.

The tractor on the trailer is a replica of the machines Sir Ed took to the pole. 

The tractor on the trailer is a replica of the machines Sir Ed took to the pole. 

Thanks to Allan Scott for hosting us for dinner in the winery restaurant – it certainly made a nice change from our usual diet of sausages, pies and lamingtons!

Today, the real challenge begins. We’re heading into the Molesworth Station for the next two days, to take the highcountry route through to Hanmer Springs. We’ve carefully considered whether or not to proceed, as the southerly storm dumped a bit of snow on the ground. We’ve made the decision to go for it, with the support of the guys from TRS tractors and the farmers on the station (and because we think it’s what Sir Ed would have done!).

We’re confident we’ll make it through to the huts at Molesworth Station tonight, but there is a possibility that we’ll face deep spindrifts tomorrow as we come over the high passes. If that’s the case, we’ll have a long journey heading back out the way we came. The forecast for the next few days is spectacular though, so no more snow is likely to fall and we’re looking forward to some crisp, clear days up there.

So with that, we’ll be heading into the wilderness for the next two days. The next update will be from Hanmer, where we’ll undoubtedly all be in need of a good soak in the hot pools to thaw out.

 

 

Across to the mainland

Last evening, we brought the tractors down to an event hosted by the Antarctic Society to celebrate the expedition reaching the halfway point. It was particularly special to hear a presentation by Randal Heke, who oversaw the construction of the original buildings at Scott Base. We feel very lucky to have met a person who has contributed so much to New Zealand’s heritage.

Today, Bluebridge are helping us continue our journey south across Cook Strait. It's exciting to be beginning the southern half of Expedition South, and we're very glad to have made it this far. 

Minister Peter Dunn and Rt. Hon. Paul East farewelled us onto the ferry

Minister Peter Dunn and Rt. Hon. Paul East farewelled us onto the ferry

We’ll call in at the marina in Picton from 5.30 – 6.30pm, so please drop by if you’re in the area. 

Winding into windy Wellington

We were hoping to approach Wellington via a farm track around the South Coast. This is a very wild section of coast, with nothing but ocean between the rugged shore and Antarctica, but as an area frequently battered by severe weather, the track had suffered a sand slip that made it impassable, even for tractors. The only alternative was to tackle the Rimutaka hill, a road that is notorious for being steep, winding and busy, and on top of this a roaring gale was blowing in from the south. Most of us had never been through this road before, so as we approached the hill a feeling of apprehension loomed over us all. This was to our team what a crevasse field must have been to Sir Ed’s.

We stopped at an aptly named cafe before beginning our ascent up Rimutaka Hill

We stopped at an aptly named cafe before beginning our ascent up Rimutaka Hill

There was nothing for it but to forge on, and as a matter of fact we ended up being pleasantly surprised. There were far more pullover spots than we’d anticipated, and traffic was very light. 

At the top of the hill we visited the memorial to the 35,000 soldiers who walked over this route from training camps in the Wairarapa through to Wellington during WWI. It must have been a remarkable sight, seeing a line of marching soldiers snaking through the winding road as far as the eye can see.

Made it to the top!

Made it to the top!

With a sense of accomplishment for having reached the bottom of the North Island, we parked the tractors down on the marina in Wellington for the night, ready to head onto the ferry.

Good yarns, good people

Over the past two weeks, all of the Expedition South team have had far more media interviews than we’re used to (even Al, the poster child for the Antarctic Heritage Trust!). We're often asked what the best of the trip has been, and all of us agree that meeting locals, and chatting about Antarctica, tractors or adventures has been a real highlight. A constant theme of the expedition has been the hospitality offered to the team, and last night was no exception - we were treated to a BBQ, accommodation, dinner and a campfire with the good folks at Eketahuna Camp Ground – cheers guys.

It turns out we weren’t the only interesting group passing through town. We met the Loop Crew, who are a family travelling around in their bus which is powered by biodiesel. Their mission is to educate people about sustainability. We swapped vehicles for a while and had a cruise in their electric car - it’s certainly a smoother ride than the Fergies.

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We also had a visit from the friendly local police officer, who dropped by to say hi. Brian was concerned she'd arrived to give him a speeding ticket - as if!

We wound our way through to Masterton this morning, and were met by an entourage of Fergies, in all sorts of conditions – from immaculately restored through to those with a ‘patina of age’ (ie. Rust buckets!) – which escorted our tractors to the BBQ at the local Massey Ferguson dealer.

Thanks to the Wairarapa locals for all of the generous donations. A special mention must go to Sarah from Dalefield School, who organized a fundraising event at her school, especially for Expedition South. We hugely appreciate the effort that Sarah and others have gone to, to help us save Sir Ed’s hut at Scott Base.

It’s amazing the mementos and artefacts that people have kept that relate to the TAE expedition – today we had a look at an original share certificate from Sir Ed’s fundraising tour to NZ schools in 1956, and also an original bound copy of Ed’s report on the Ferguson tractors following the expedition. 

The report on the Ferguson tractors

The report on the Ferguson tractors

We were hoping to travel around the south coast into Wellington tomorrow, but unfortunately recent weather has left the track impassable. A combination of sand slips, tractors and cliff tops would undoubtedly be off-putting, even to the likes of Sir Ed. We’ll be taking the contingency route over the Rimutaka Hill instead, which is still a daunting prospect. Hopefully we’ll be able to negotiate the traffic as well as the TAE team negotiated crevasse fields.