The best of Antarctic museums, in time for the Scott centenary

February 10, 2012


It’s pretty safe to say that the polar regions have been all over the news lately. For one, it’s the centenary of Robert Falcon Scott’s ill-fated expedition to claim the South Pole and around about the centenary of Roald Amundsen’s slightly more successful one (hint: he made it).

Then there are all the expeditions happening this year in honor of that anniversary… incidentally, you can follow the British Services teams @BSAE2012 on Twitter.

Let’s not forget Felicity Aston’s wee trip across the continent recently (she only became the first person to manually ski across Antarctica on January 23rd, how awesome is that!), and that’s not even getting into all the Fox News and conspiracy theorist speculation over what exactly’s going on with Lake Vostok at the moment!

So if you find yourself captivated with Antarctica like the rest of the scientific world this year, here are four awesome places you can go and get your polar exploration on:

4. Discovery Point Antarctic Museum

Dundee’s tagline is the city of discovery and, no, it’s not just called that because of all the cash the city has been pouring into funding its fledgling scientific research industry.

At around the turn of the century, Dundee was known more for building whaling ships than anything else. And it was in this place that Shakleton’s ship, The Discovery was built. As the last traditional wooden three-masted ship built in the UK, it would have already been of historic interest had it not carried Scott and Ernest Shackleton on their first successful voyage down south.

On the whole, it’s an interactive and interesting setup, especially if you’re new to Polar history; they have the exhibition designed so you can see and experience how its sailors lived when they were trapped in the ice for two years. Which makes it perfect for family days out. Or if you’re just a social history kind of person.

3. Polar Museum

It’s only an annex of the Scott Polar Research Institute at Cambridge, but this relatively small venue has already been making waves in the museum world. You may have heard of them from the Art Fund Prize of 2011, where they held their own against museum superstars such as the British Museum and the Robert Burns Birthplace Museum on the shortlist. Or maybe when it was shortlisted for European Museum of the Year 2012.

But what it lacks in size, this museum makes up for in some incredible displays and a whole lot of heart. I’m personally a big fan of the polar art…

The Fram Museum, Image via Nenyaki

The Fram Museum, Image via Nenyaki

2. The Fram

So, if we’re going to talk about polar exploration, you have to admit the Norwegians had way more than their fair share of successful exploits. I mean: Amundsen, Nansen, Sverdrup, Riiser-Larsen… Even HP Lovecraft made the first man to behold the Antarctic city of Cthulhu and live to tell about it a Norwegian sailor. And doesn’t that just say everything.

Basically, the museum’s set on and around the famous gigantic icebreaker that, among other headlining expeditions, carried Amundsen on his successful trip in 1911. It’s pretty magical, seeing everything in the temperature-controlled chill, set against the minimalist interior of a modern Norwegian-style building. They also have an incredible collection of scientific equipment that was used during the expedition.

Also, it’s right next to the Kon-Tiki Museum and down the street a bit from the Viking Ship Museum if you want to make it a day of hardcore feats of exploration.

1. Port Lockroy

Of course, number one on our list kind of has to be in Antarctica itself. Open since 1996 when it was restored by a British Antarctic Survey team, the Port Lockroy museum makes a great stop if you’re wanting to explore the region for yourself.

Port Lockroy is nestled on barren Goudier Island just inside the Antarctic Penninsula, which made it an important waystation for whalers that operated in the region from 1911 to 1931 before being used as a scientific research station until 1962. Today, the port has been restored to show what it would have looked like when it was still in use.

But the real question some people are going to be wondering is: do they have penguins. The answer is yes, Gentoo Penguins. And they are adorable.

Oh, and if you have the skills needed and wouldn’t mind working somewhere rather adventurous, the Antarctic Heritage Trust is looking for people to work at the port for the 2012/2013 tourist season. Just keep in mind it’s pretty remote. As in, mail takes 2-6 weeks to get there remote.

Any recommendations of your own for celebrating the Antarctic centenaries? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

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