Thousands Set To ‘explore’ Sir Ed’s Hut In Antarctica

Press Release – Antarctic Heritage Trust

Scott Base’s oldest building, a hut built by a Sir Edmund Hillary-led team, is about to open its doors to the public – virtually.

New Zealand’s Prime Minister, Rt Hon Jacinda Ardern, today launched Antarctic Heritage Trust’s unique virtual reality experience of Sir Edmund Hillary’s Antarctic hut at Sir Edmund Hillary Collegiate in South Auckland.

Developed in partnership with Auckland University of Technology over two years, the virtual reality experience allows users to explore Sir Edmund Hillary’s hut in Antarctica. The experience provides insight into how the 23 men of Sir Ed’s team lived and worked in the world’s most extreme environment more than 60 years ago.

Hillary’s hut was Scott Base’s first building and was built by a team led by Sir Ed to support the Commonwealth Trans-Antarctic Expedition and the International Geophysical Year. The Trust conserved the building in time for Scott Base’s 60th anniversary in 2017.

Users can tour the five rooms of the building, viewing hundreds of artefacts from the early years of New Zealand’s Antarctic programme and learn more about New Zealand’s first presence in Antarctica.

The Trust’s General Manager Operations and Communications Francesca Eathorne who oversaw the project development, hopes thousands of New Zealanders will take up the opportunity to explore the hut virtually.

New Zealanders will be able to experience the VR through selected exhibitors; a version of the full experience is available for free via Antarctic Heritage Trust’s app and the gaming platform Steam.

“Virtual reality allows people to visit these important sites without travelling there, which is expensive and difficult to do. Hopefully the fascinating stories of what Sir Ed and his team achieved will inspire people to explore.”

Professor Barbara Bollard from Auckland University of Technology, who helped collect the data to create the virtual reality, says it was a privilege to be involved in bringing the heritage site to life.

“It’s one thing to read about a place or see photos, but to interactively walk around and experience it as if you are there, really cements the connection. It creates a greater awareness and appreciation of the importance and value of these places.”

Principal sponsor Ryman Healthcare’s Chief Executive Gordon MacLeod said New Zealand’s largest retirement village operator was delighted to be asked to support the VR experience.

“This project will bring a unique Antarctic experience to thousands of people who otherwise could not get there. Sir Ed’s hut is part of the rich history of Antarctic exploration and we will be taking this experience to as many of our residents as we can. I am sure they are going to love it.”

The initial launch date in March was put on hold due to COVID19 restrictions and the nationwide lockdown. The project was also supported by Antarctica New Zealand and Staples VR.

How to view the VR

  • To view the virtual experience at home on your mobile device visit the app store and download the Antarctic Heritage Trust VR app for free (best viewed with a cardboard headset)
  • To experience the fully immersive and interactive version, download it for free from Steam and watch it on your HTC Vive headset
  • Visit Antarctic Heritage Trust’s website to see who is hosting the fully immersive and interactive version around New Zealand:

You will find a selection of images and footage for media use here.

Background Information

Antarctic Heritage Trust is a New Zealand-based not-for-profit with a vision of Inspiring Explorers. A world leader in cold-climate heritage conservation, the Trust cares for the expedition bases and more than 20,000 artefacts left behind by Antarctic explorers, including Carsten Borchgrevink, Captain Robert Falcon Scott, Sir Ernest Shackleton and Sir Edmund Hillary.

To date the Trust has restored and conserved Scott’s huts at Cape Evans and Hut Point, Shackleton’s hut at Cape Royds and Hillary’s hut at Scott Base. This has led to a number of significant discoveries including 114-year-old whisky under Ernest Shackleton’s hut, a notebook from surgeon and photographer George Murray Levick at Scott’s Cape Evans hut as well as lost Ross Sea Party photographs. In 2017, conservators discovered a century-old fruitcake and a 118-year-old watercolour amongst artefacts from Antarctica’s first buildings at Cape Adare.

The Trust shares the legacy of exploration through outreach programmes and encourages the spirit of exploration through expeditions to engage and inspire a new generation.

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Auckland University of Technology (AUT)

AUT is New Zealand’s second largest university and home to 17 schools and more than 60 world-class research institutes and centres. AUT is ranked #1 in New Zealand for global research impact and #1 for international outlook, reflecting the fact that AUT staff have collaborated on research projects with 140 different countries and worked with more than 5,000 industry partners around the world. 2020 marks AUT’s 20th year as a university and it has been a rapid rise to now be recognised in the top 1% of universities worldwide. School of Science Associate Professor Barbara Bollard and School of Art and Design Head of Digital Design Gregory Bennett worked together to develop this VR experience.

Barbara Bollard

Associate Professor Barbara Bollard’s current research interests include developing novel methods for advancing the science of high resolution remote sensing science. She has focused on 3D mapping of vegetation using multi and hyperspectral imaging for conservation and cultural objectives in complex forests and in extreme environments such as Antarctic, Namib and Australian arid lands. Her research is also breaking new ground in deploying drones in animal behaviour and object recognition science. She is also engaged in research which explores the interaction between human perceptions and the ecological status of the natural environment.

Gregory Bennett

Gregory Bennett is currently the Head of Department for Digital Design and Visual Arts in the School of Art and Design, Auckland University of Technology (AUT). Gregory is an internationally exhibiting digital artist and designer with a background in both digital art practice and digital film post-production. He has created curriculum and taught across a number of disciplines including 3D animation, visual effects, motion capture and virtual reality. As director of the AUT Motion Capture Lab he pioneered the first courses in digital motion capture at AUT and worked on a number of collaborative industry projects in this field. He is also a founding co-director of the AUT Extended Reality (XR) Lab and is currently undertaking Virtual Reality research in the areas of heritage, climate change and health.

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