John Key's South Pole trip put on ice

DEIDRE MUSSEN IN SCOTT BASE
Last updated 11:56 19/01/2013
KARL DRURY/Fairfax NZ

John Key still hopes to make it to the South Pole during his Antarctic visit.

John Key Faints

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The Prime Minister's planned trip to the South Pole has been cancelled because snow has grounded aircraft from making the six-hour return flight.

John Key arrived in Antarctica yesterday evening and said his South Pole journey would be the highlight of his three-day trip to the frozen continent because he had never visited there before and it was such a remarkable place.

The rejig of his schedule means he will spend today closer to Scott Base, including visiting a windfarm providing energy for New Zealand and United States' bases on Ross Island.

He was also to visit the US McMurdo Station, only a couple of kilometres from New Zealand's Scott Base.

There, he will check out polar explorer Captain Robert Falcon Scott's historic Discovery Hut.

New Zealand's Antarctic Heritage Trust has been working hard to conserve the heroic era huts in the region, which Key said yesterday he was eager to experience.

Scott's hut was the largest of three on his first National Antarctic Expedition in 1901-1904 and was intended as a wintering over base for the 47-man team but the prefabricated wooden structure proved too hard to heat.

Instead, the men ended up living on the Discovery ship and only used the hut for scientific work, to care for equipment and as an entertainment venue.

The hut was used by other expeditions as the furthest south of the heroic-era huts, including again by Scott as a staging post on his doomed British Antarctic Expedition in 1910-13.

Surviving expedition members used the hut before leaving Antarctica in 1913 aboard the Terra Nova, which arrived at the frozen continent to collect them 100 years ago today.

Originally, Key and wife Bronagh, accompanied by Antarctica New Zealand chairman Rob Fenwick and diplomatic protection officers, were to visit the US' Amundsen-Scott South Pole Base to learn about its scientific projects.

Unfortunately for Key, Sunday is a no-fly day for the US to give ground personnel a day-off each week so his hopes to step in Scott's historic footprints will remain on ice, leaving Helen Clark as the only New Zealand Prime Minister to reach the South Pole.

Key's planned four days in Antarctica was thrown into disarray after predicted fog at the Pegasus ice runway, 35km from New Zealand's Scott Base, delayed his original departure on Thursday evening and then he collapsed that evening while at dinner.

He was rushed to Christchurch Hospital's emergency department but doctors decided that night he had only fainted and cleared him for his Antarctica travels. Ironically, the predicted fog failed to eventuate on Thursday night.

Key will still host a dinner for US guests at Scott Base tonight as part of his promotion of the strong bond between New Zealand and the US in Antarctica, which has been tested in recent months after the two nations disagreed over toothfishing in the Southern Oceans.

While his itinerary has been shortened to three days, he is still hoping to venture to the Dry Valleys tomorrow on a New Zealand helicopter to promote scientific research into climate change by the newly-created public-private partnership New Zealand Antarctic Research Institute, which he launched last August.

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