100 year-old whiskey frozen in Antarctic being thawed out

Earlier this year we reported how the New Zealand Antarctic Heritage Trust retrieved some whiskey left behind by explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton and his team after on unsuccessful attempt to make it to the South Pole in 1907-1909. Now curators at Canterbury Museum in Christchurch, New Zealand, are thawing out one of the crates.

The Nimrod Expedition ran low on supplies only 97 miles from the South Pole and had to beat a hasty retreat. They ditched much of their equipment, including several cases of whiskey that they left under a hut they had built. The subzero temperatures and ice preserved the whiskey.

At least that’s what the museum folks hope. They’re slowly raising the temperature of the crate day by day. The crate bears the label Mackinlay’s, a defunct brand owned by Whyte & Mackay, who are hoping to analyze the whiskey, reconstruct the recipe, and reissue it.

The museum has started a blog called The Great Whiskey Crate Thaw so you can follow their progress.

While the Nimrod Expedition didn’t make it to the South Pole, it did have some successes–mapping large stretches of previously unknown land, making it to the south magnetic pole, and being the first to test a car in the Antarctic. They were even the first to publish a book in the Antarctic, using a printing press they brought along and using candles to keep the ink from freezing! Check out the Trust’s excellent account of the Nimrod Expedition.

Photo courtesy New Zealand Antarctic Heritage Trust.

In the Corner of the World: TranzAlpine Train

Railway travel just isn’t what it used to be. Gone are the fastidiously dressed conductors checking their pocket watches before yelling, “All aboard!” Gone, too, are the eager young porters loading trunks into the luxury cars of well-heeled travelers. It’s the era of air travel and checked baggage fees, and we may all be worse off because of it. Sure. you can still take trains domestically and abroad, but rail travel has become antiquated and overlooked. However, those with a sense of adventure and a desire to slow things down can still find railway trips that not only get you to your desired location, but do so while enhancing your trip. One such journey exists on the South Island of New Zealand. All aboard the TranzAlpine railway.


The TranzAlpine is part of the TranzScenic line of railways that operates on both islands of New Zealand. While their primary purpose is scenic travel for tourists, many Kiwis use the trains to traverse the countryside on holiday and to visit family. Its popularity can be credited to the fantastic views passengers enjoy as they depart Christchurch and meander through the Southern Alps on their way to Greymouth. The Canterbury Plains stretch out towards rolling hills until finally giving way to the snow-capped mountains that make the South Island a skier’s paradise.

The conductor routinely plays tour guide by announcing fun facts such as, “We’ll be going through 16 tunnels.” For tunnel enthusiasts, this is surely a real treat. For those looking to steal a nap in between Kiwi adventure activities, it can get a bit tiresome. However, if you’re going to enjoy some of the most breathtaking landscapes that New Zealand has to offer, you might as well know where you are.

The full ride from Christchurch to Greymouth is more than 200km and takes about four-and-a-half hours. That’s more than enough time to take advantage of the snack car and linger in the open-air observation area where you can take pictures without worrying about the glare created by windows. It can get pretty brisk in that open car, however, so bundle up and hold on to your camera tightly. It will all be worth it when the mountains begin to reveal themselves on the horizon.

One-way fares will run you about $166NZ and return trips will be double that. There are deals to be had if you do the return in the same day, but you’d have to really love trains to spend nine hours in a railway car only to end up in the same place you started. Especially since the one negative I detected on the TranzAlpine is how truly uncomfortable the seats are.

But many people do make the same-day return trip. That only allows for an hour in Greymouth, which is a shame since it’s actually a pretty adorable little town. I bought my copy of the Greymouth Evening Star at the newspaper’s office, found a bench on the main drag and enjoyed the slow pace of the West Coast’s largest city (population: 9,970). Whitebait fisherman strolled by with their over-sized nets while locals waved hello and stopped to gossip with each other.

Most travelers who don’t head right back to Christchurch will use Greymouth as a jumping-off point to other South Island destinations. Car rentals are available right next to the train station, making self-drive holidays outside of Greymouth quite simple. But do yourself a favor and spend a couple of hours there first.

Planes will always be faster, but trains can still play a role in modern travel. Scenic railways like the TranzAlpine help travelers slow down, relax and enjoy hidden gems that exists between larger hubs. Digital clocks may have replaced pocket watches and you’ll have to carry your own luggage to the baggage car, but the TranzAlpine is more than just a mode of transportation. Its journey is a worthy destination.

Mike Barish traveled to New Zealand on a trip sponsored by Air New Zealand and Tourism New Zealand. No editorial content was guaranteed and Mike was free to report openly on his experiences. He never spit out the wine and managed not to cry during any of the death-defying activities that Kiwis love. At least not in public. Read more of Gadling’s In the Corner of the World series here.

In the Corner of the World – Where hitchhikers are welcome

Over the next few weeks here at Gadling, we’ll be bringing you updates from our recent travels across New Zealand – in the process, we hope to offer a range of perspectives about what visiting this truly unique and fascinating country is all about. You can read previous entries HERE.

We picked up Kevin near Springs Junction, nearly 200 kilometers southeast of Picton, New Zealand, standing on the side of the road with a backpack in the middle of nowhere. Like us, he was headed to Christchurch, so he tossed his gear into the back seat of our Mitsubishi Colt and jumped in behind it.

Among travelers, you always start with the same hour of conversation: Where are you from? Where have you been in New Zealand? Where do you think that we should go next? Kevin was traveling across the entirety of both islands on a series of hikes carrying his tent, sleeping bag and stove on his back and using the kindness of others for transportation. He was probably a few years younger than us, clean cut with a standard hiking fleece and khaki cargo pants. I could have confused him with the cashier at Whole Foods.

As a recent geography major from Canada, in fact, our friend had bounced around to a few jobs after finishing college, but had never found his groove. Eventually, he saved up enough money to voyage to New Zealand. Maybe to find himself. Maybe to stay. He never said.And that’s how most conversations went between Kevin and his drivers. Light fluff, catching up, swapping travel stories and talking about the beauty and luster of New Zealand. Amazingly, he didn’t have a bad experience from his entire weeks of hitching across the country. The longest wait that he had ever experienced was before we picked him up – a total of fifteen minutes. Among his worst stories? An art dealer in a Land Rover who talked a little bit too much.

We all agreed though: hitchhiking isn’t something that we would try in most other countries. Something about the friendliness and the culture of the Kiwis makes New Zealand perfect for backpacking – the warmth of their characters, the trust of another person, the wanderer buried in every single driver. It fosters a sense of security and altruism among hitchers in this corner of the world, and the resulting experience, especially in Kevin’s case, is definitely worth the risk.

Would he recommend it to anyone else traveling through this corner of the world? Absolutely. While not for everyone, hitchhiking is a unique experience. One meets random characters, saves a ton of money and opens oneself up to the improbability of mishaps on the road – in one of the safest countries of the world mind you. Isn’t that a core fundamental of adventure travel?

Before long we found ourselves in front of the hotel in Christchurch, Kevin with his backpack headed towards his hostel and our paths diverging. The phone number that we scribbled on our Gadling.com business card was wrong, I now remember — it went to a phone that had stopped working days ago. But it didn’t matter. Our service as drivers was done now, the exchange complete, two travel worlds briefly merging for a road trip to Christchurch.