The proposal for a New Zealand base in Antarctica was put to the New Zealand Government by the Antarctic Society in 1953. The building of the base began in 1956 to support the Trans-Antarctic Expedition and International Geophysical Year of 1956-1959. A complex of six separate buildings was designed to form Scott Base; each connected by a covered way and each building being no less than 7.6 metres apart. Four of the buildings came from Australia and were similar to those built at Mawson Base, which had proved easy to erect. The buildings comprised standard size panels (2430 mm x 1210 mm), which interlocked and were secured by horizontal steel rods. Once the materials were assembled, eight men led by Randal Heke, of the Ministry of Works, erected the buildings at Rongotai, Wellington where every component to be used in the Antarctic was fitted, numbered and coded.
The central 'A’ Hut was planned to include the mess hut, radio room and leader’s office so was considered the most important building of the base. The President Range, the snowmelter, water tank and the three radio transmitters were all placed in position. Public viewing was encouraged for a small fee. Each of the buildings was then systematically dismantled and packed in reverse order to assist in its reconstruction at Scott Base. Two ships, the HMNZS Endeavour and the US Navy’s Private John R Towle were used to transport the materials south.
On 10 January 1957, a D8 bulldozer from McMurdo station and a party of Seabees levelled the site where Scott Base now stands. The following day, the construction team comprising the eight men who had assembled the buildings in Wellington set up tents on the site. On January 12, the assembling of ‘A’ Hut began and railway sleepers and a raft of Oregon pine formed the platform on which the building stood. As each panel was fitted, the joins were sealed with tape. Before the final panel was placed the heavy stove, radio transmitters, the water tank and snowmelter were positioned inside as the doorway, when assembled, would not allow these items through. When ‘A’ Hut was completed on 20 January 1957 it was the first building of the first base built by New Zealand in Antarctica. The first men to use it were the builders who slept in it as they erected the rest of the base.
Replacing the original base with a larger more permanent base began in 1976/77 and today only three buildings of the original Scott Base remain: the TAE/IGY Hut, which contains material recording New Zealand's involvement in Antarctica since 1957, and two science huts built for the IGY and still in use.
Antarctica New Zealand also manages several other research facilities in the McMurdo Sound region. These include the Arrival Heights laboratory, where atmospheric research is carried out, and scientific huts at Cape Bird, Bratina Island and several sites in the McMurdo Dry Valleys.
In 2005 Antarctica New Zealand commissioned a two-storey, 1800 square metre heated Warm Store at Scott Base, the largest single construction project undertaken since the original commissioning of Scott Base in 1957. The Hillary Field Centre became operational for the 2005/06 Antarctic season. Before construction of the centre Scott Base staff worked in temperatures as low as -45 degrees in an aircraft hangar built in 1960. The Hillary Field Centre provides: cargo receipt and issue, field party preparation, general stores storage, refrigerated stores including a -30 degree freezer, drying room for field gear, offices, briefing and training rooms, gymn, field equipment maintenance and storage areas.
Antarctica New Zealand launched a website as part of the celebrations to mark 50 years since the building of Scott Base, the Trans-Antarctic Expedition, and New Zealand's scientific programme in Antarctica. Visit the site via the link below.
Hillary Field Centre Poster (pdf, 769kb)