Icy tales from the Pole

17:00, Jul 12 2012
NEW YEAR: From left: Ken Sullivan, Barry Waterhouse, Gary Brehaut and David Skinner at the summit of Mt Cocks in Antarctica at 2am on January 1, 1976.

Expeditions to Antarctica are not for the faint-hearted – even with modern technology.

Geologist Barry Waterhouse, 82, says the trips he made in the 1960s and 70s were an experience like no other.

There were no GPS systems or polypropylene clothing so keeping warm was more difficult and being lost in a white-out was a very real danger.

ANTARTIC ADVENTURE: Retired geologist Barry Waterhouse has written a book about his Antarctic exploits in the 1960s and 70s.

"It really was a boy's own adventure but of course some of us never grow up," he says.

The Glendowie resident has had a remarkable life – he grew up on a tobacco planation in Rotorua and spent much of his career developing fresh water supplies in the Pacific Islands.

But it is the tales from his three Antarctic expeditions that warranted the creation of the book, Antarctic Adventures: Icy Tales with a Geological Twist.


Mr Waterhouse lived in Howick and Whitford for almost 40 years. He decided it was time to do something with all his old notes and photos when he and his wife shifted to Glendowie four years ago.

His daughter typed out his notes and his niece Susan Nemec helped him turn the tales into a book over the last two years.

Mr Waterhouse's first trip to the frozen land was a two-month expedition around the Balleny Islands while en route from McMurdo Sound, Antarctica to Christchurch on a US Navy icebreaker ship.

The purpose was to collect rock samples, profile and trawl the ocean floor and to document the flora and fauna.

Mr Waterhouse began his second Antarctic expedition in mid-November of 1969.

He spent two months on the Robert Scott Glacier looking at rock formations, structure and tectonics to understand the geological history of the area.

Mr Waterhouse spent almost three months on his final trip mapping and studying rock formations on the Skelton-Koettlitz glaciers.

He has written many scientific papers about the expeditions during which they found proof of iron, coal and copper deposits as well as a forest.

"We found evidence of a verdant forest that existed 500 million years ago when the climate there was probably the same as it is in New Zealand now, and that was on the edge of the polar plateau," he says.

But more memorable were the ups and downs of daily life on the ice.

The Christmas of 1969 is one he remembers vividly.

His team was looking forward to its Christmas supply drop which did not go as planned.

"Our Christmas drop was shot from a Hercules but the parachute never opened. The food was stacked around fuel drums and the drums burst on impact so the fuel destroyed the food."

The group was on half-rations and had only a few cans of beer to celebrate on Christmas Day.

It was the camaraderie Mr Waterhouse enjoyed most.

"You must be tolerant because we're not all the same. If you're intolerant you're not going to last long," he says.

"You rely on each other completely for survival. You rely on your partner on the other end of the rope to belay you if you have a fall or a slide."

The book is $25 from Susan Nemec, email nemecedgar@clear.net.nz for more information.

East And Bays Courier