Despite being over 2,000 miles from New Zealand’s capital Wellington, the country has decided to unveil a bizarrely placed Maori statue in the depths of Antarctica, celebrating with a present of whisky from a 100-year-old frozen hoard.
Prime Minister John Key and Ngai Tahu tribal leader Sir Mark Solomon both unveiled the Maori artifact as part of celebrations in New Zealand surrounding the 56th anniversary of Antarctic research facility Scott Base.
A rare, century-old bottle of whisky from the lost stash of explorer Ernest Henry Shackleton was also presented as a gift amid the festivities. However, it remained unopened.
The statue, engraved from two west-coast totara trees, was created by members of the ancient Ngai Tahu tribe, who were thought to have migrated from New Zealand's North Island to the South Island prior to the arrival of European settlers, which resulted in their collective impoverishment.
The sculpture was christened ‘The Navigator of the Heavens’ amid jokes that the native New Zealanders were not laying claim to a chunk of the polar region.
The leader of the tribe said that the totem represents all Maori and demonstrates their vital place at the heart of New Zealand, and is “about the Maori culture of New Zealand.”
Antarctic-New Zealand symbols are scattered across the carving, such as ocean currents, and whales that navigated the ocean between the two shores. The totara tree wood is thought to be resilient to Antarctica’s difficult climate, despite having already developed some cracks.
Having taken half a year to create, it took a further two weeks to effectively secure the monument in place, facing extreme weather conditions and temperatures that dropped as low as -10⁰C.
The unveiling was accompanied by a similar reveal of two wooden tukutuku (lattice) panels, which the Scott Base staff helped create. One depicted Maori ancestors alongside their fellow New Zealanders who had died in Antarctica, including those from the 1979 Mount Erebus plane crash. The other honored ongoing scientific investigations in the region.
The statue was erected next to the New Zealand flagpole that Sir Edmund Hillary put up in 1957 to mark the opening of the base.
Scott Base is named after British Captain Robert Falcon Scott, who led two expeditions to Antarctica in the first 15 years of the 20th century. He and his crew died on the way back from their final journey, after being beaten to the South Pole in January 1912 by a Norwegian expedition unit led by Roald Amundsen.
Celebrations of the facility’s momentous anniversary continued when John Key presented the Antarctic Heritage Trust with a century-old bottle of whisky. The bottle was part of Ernest Henry Shackleton’s 1909 reserve, who had to abandon them on a separate exploration of Antarctica. It was part of a crate discovered under two feet of polar ice beneath Shackleton’s hut in 2007, found to be in perfect condition.