Ōtara students first to 'explore' Sir Edmund Hillary’s hut in Antarctica

By Jessica Tyson

Students from Sir Edmund Hillary College in Ōtara, Auckland are the first to try out the virtual reality experience of Sir Edmund Hillary’s Antarctic hut.

The experience, launched by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern today, offers insight into how the 23 men of Hillary’s team lived and worked in the world’s most extreme environment more than 60 years ago.

Student Jaylee Savage of Ngāpuhi was one of the first to try it out.

“It was really informative. We got to see how the past explorers stayed in their headquarters, to where they stayed in Antarctica, and their lifestyle as well. It was really similar to our experience in Antarctica.”

The 17-year-old was one of the lucky few to have this experience first-hand after attending the Antarctic Heritage Trust Inspiring Explorers' Expedition in March, where she kayaked parts of the Antarctic Peninsula.

“It was a once in a lifetime event and I was proud to represent not only Māori but Sir Edmund Hillary as well.”

Jaylee Savage in Antarctica / Supplied

Hillary's Hut

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

The experience launched today has been developed in partnership with the trust and Auckland University of Technology. 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.

Principal Kiri Turketo says the launch today was about cementing the partnership between the trust and school.

“It’s about building the leadership that is for our rangatahi, for our tauira. It's making sure we cement our future pathways for our students,” she says.

“It’s about letting them explore the world beyond Otara, about looking forward to the future, about seeing what’s available to them, and also expanding their horizons.”

Savage says she hopes the experience will inspire students at her school to "step out of their comfort zone, for them to think about going exploring themselves, not only around New Zealand but the wider world as well."

Ministry deficient in delivering resources to students

Today's launch comes weeks after Turketo requested 200 devices from the Ministry of Education for her students during the Covid-19 lockdown.

During the lockdown, thousands of electronic devices and resources were sent out by the Ministry of Education as part of an $87mil package targeting schools and students most in need.

Sir Edmund Hillary College is a decile one school but only received 73 of 200 devices.

“I know that speaking to my colleagues at other schools that they had the same, I guess, deficiencies with devices being delivered,” she told Tapatahi in May.  

Meanwhile, she said the schools with higher deciles did receive all of the devices they requested.    

“I’m not sure where the shortfall was," she said.

“I feel personally aggrieved. I feel like we’re almost like the forgotten nation. I feel like I have to fight twice as hard to be half as good or be heard.”

Today she told Te Ao her students’ were not delivered all of the devices requested.

“I know that we were in a global pandemic, so things weren’t as they were supposed to be. However, the assurance we got from the ministry didn’t eventuate as much or as fast as we'd hoped for.”

Students and kaimahi at Sir Edmund Hillary College / File

Today Turekoto said she shared some stories with the prime minister about what the school needs.

“I want fairness and equity. I want itto be recognised that geography shouldn’t be the marker for brilliance and I would also like to think that we're not last off the block.”

The prime minister was not available to be questioned about the shortfall of laptops during her visit to the college.

The virtual reality experience can be viewed on mobile devices by downloading the Antarctic Heritage Trust VR app or by downloading it from Steam and watching on a HTC Vive headset.