Antarctica and New Zealand share a long and rich history. New Zealanders took part in Antarctic exploration from the mid-19th century, initially as members of other nations' expeditions. The first was probably Tuati, who sailed on a United States-led voyage in 1839-40. Another New Zealander, Alexander Von Tunzelmann, possibly became the first man to set foot on the Antarctic mainland with a Norwegian-led expedition in 1895.
In the 20th century overseas explorers on their way to the Antarctic – including Robert Falcon Scott, Ernest Shackleton and Richard E. Byrd – regularly visited New Zealand. They used local ports and quarantine islands, and gratefully accepted other offers of assistance. They also took on New Zealanders like Clarence Hare, Frank Worsley and Louis Potaka as expedition members.
In the mid-20th century, New Zealand became involved in Antarctica in its own right. Scott Base was established as part of the country's commitment to the Commonwealth Trans-Antarctic Expedition (1955-58) and the International Geophysical Year (1957-58). Edmund Hillary made his memorable ‘dash to the pole’, while New Zealand geologists explored 103,600 km² of uncharted territory. Later, in 1979, Antarctica was the scene of one of this country's greatest catastrophes – the Erebus air disaster, which killed 257 people.
Buildings, gravesites and memorials remind New Zealanders of our historic connections to Antarctica. New Zealand's Antarctic Heritage Trust cares for four early explorers' huts. Scott Base became a permanent research station in 1962, while the United States continues to base its Antarctic operations in New Zealand, near Christchurch International Airport.