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Century-old whisky returned to Antarctic stash

Sunday 20 Jan 2013 4:51 p.m.

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A carved totara statue has been unveiled in Antarctica as part of celebrations marking the 56th anniversary of Scott Base – the bright green Kiwi compound on Ross Island in Antarctica.

Staff at the base had said they'd like their home-away-from-home to be a little bit more Kiwi, and that wish was realised today with the gift of a pou whenua.

In sub-zero conditions the sleeping bag was removed, unveiling the totora statue carved from two West Coast trees by Ngai Tahu.

“It's not ‘hey, this is Ngai Tahu’, it's about the Maori culture of New Zealand, so it represents all Maori,” says Ngai Tahu leader Sir Mark Solomon.

In only a short time, the pou whenua was settling into the conditions, one face nestled in snow, the other atop a long neck, gazing towards the sky and stars, which the early explorers used to navigate.

And Ngai Tahu says, like the British heroes Cook, Scott and Shackleton, its people may also have travelled as far south as Antarctica.

“Ngai Tahu has a tradition of a land of ice, but as I assured the Prime Minister we are not claiming Antarctica,” says Sir Mark.

“No, I can't see us having to settle that one,” jokes John Key.

Of course placing a statue the world's driest and coldest continent was always going to have its challenges. Scott Base staff spent two weeks digging through snow, top soil, rock and permafrost to lay the foundations for the pou whenua so it can stand up to any weather Antarctica throws at it.

"In the end it's nice to see it up and be able to say it's a bit of my own legacy," says Joe Kanongata’a of Scott Base.

While history was being made, and recorded by 15 cameras mounted in a backpack for Google Street View, last night a priceless piece of history was gifted back to the Antarctic Heritage Trust.

In 2007, three bottles of Earnest Shackleton's top drop was discovered encased in ice under his Cape Royds hut. It was 100 years old, and after careful excavation and defrosting, found to be in perfect condition.

Very few have had the privilege of tasting the whisky find of the century. Environment advisor at Antarctica New Zealand says it should be preserved.

The Antarctic Treaty prevents anything of historical significance being taken from the ice, but permission was granted for the bottles to travel to Scotland so a replica could be created.

Tonight at the Scott Base Tatty Flag Bar, 3 News is being offered the chance to taste the replica from Whyte and Mackay Distillery.

But diaries from Shakleton's 1907 Nimrod Expedition, in which he failed to reach the South Pole, suggest he wasn't that fond of drinking, but perhaps ordered 300 bottles knowing the Scottish whisky would keep his crew happy during the long, dark winter.

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