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John Key misses South Pole trip

Monday 21 Jan 2013 5:58 p.m.

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The Prime Minster is due to touch down in Christchurch this evening after his truncated visit to Antarctica.

The 7000km round trip was effectively a sightseeing tour, but bad weather meant Mr Key missed out on a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

Mr Key boarded a US Hercules this morning bound for Christchurch, without ticking the one box he'd hoped to – a flight to the South Pole.

Instead he took a seven-hour sightseeing tour with wife Bronagh to Ernest Shackleton's hut, the dry valleys and Mount Erebus, although cloud prevented them from seeing the crash site where 257 New Zealanders were killed.

“It was very quiet in the helicopter when we were up at 13,000ft and looking into the crater, remembering those New Zealanders who lost their lives,” says Mr Key.

Earlier in the trip, Mr Key saw the crater hill wind turbines above Scott Base in action. It's one of the best performing wind farms in the world.

“A lot of people were quite sceptical about that because it was in such an extreme environment, but it is 50 percent ahead of our expectations in terms of productivity,” says Antarctica New Zealand chief executive Rob Fenwick.

It has saved over 1.5 million litres of fuel over three years.

Today it was about -15degC, but the wind turbines can operate in as low as -40degC. Antarctica is one of the windiest places on Earth, but in big gusts of up to about 50 knots the turbines just moderate themselves and shut down.

In windy conditions, it can supply 60 percent of the energy needed to run the Kiwi base and McMurdo.

“We're not ruling out doing more,” says My Key. “Meridian's been down here to look at both the efficiency of this operation and whether it can be extended.”

The three turbines cost $12 million – a cost that will be recovered in less than a decade.

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