ormer Fairfax visual journalist Karl Drury and Fairfax's Antarctica journalist, Deidre Mussen, were invited by Antarctica New Zealand to spend two weeks in Antarctica from late November as part of its media programme.
Their assignment included profiling people working on the ice to highlight the reality of life on the world's southernmost continent.
During their stay, they witnessed world-leading scientific research in some spectacular parts of Antarctica, including the Dry Valleys, joined an annual aerial penguin census of some of Ross Island's Adélie penguin colonies and got up close with penguins at Cape Bird in the island's northernmost Adélie penguin colony, absorbed some very special Antarctica exploration history at three historic huts that Antarctic Heritage Trust are conserving, and experienced fascinating life on the ice through the eyes of some of Antarctica New Zealand's Scott Base staff.
They would like to thank Antarctica New Zealand, particularly science and communications advisor Lisa-Marie Brooks, for the life-changing privilege, and Scott Base staff plus all the scientists and Antarctic Heritage Trust personnel for their time, support, encouragement and openness.
The eye-watering stench of penguin poo chokes the air as Brian Karl goes about his work with thousands of Adélie penguins in the depths of Antarctica.
"The warmth of the sun and the water around mixes with the guano and the aroma can get quite powerful at times," the 63-year-old Cantabrian admits.
"It gets right up your nose. You almost taste it."
It takes a few days to grow accustomed to the acrid smell, which he knows better than most.
Almost every summer since 1987, he heads to Antarctica to monitor penguins, mostly at Cape Bird, the northernmost tip of Ross Island.
Karl, a Landcare Research field technician based at Lincoln, spends about 4 to 6 weeks on the icy continent, monitoring penguin breeding and counting nesting birds.
Penguins only come to shore for breeding, spending the summer laying eggs and raising chicks.
Cape Bird's colony, which includes north, mid and south sub-colonies, has about 35,000 to 40,000 breeding pairs of Adélie penguins.
"There's enough here to count, that's for sure," Karl says, laughing.
While they may look cute and cuddly, venture close to nesting penguins and their feisty nature is revealed.
"If we get too close, we get flipper bashed on our shins. Some people bruise very easily."
Their rock-lined nests are closely spaced at pecking range to their neighbours.
"These guys do a lot of scrapping and are quite protective of their nest area.
"When we go in, we get pecked quite a bit as well."
Other workplace hazards are potentially more deadly.
Leopard seals turn up offshore occasionally to hunt penguins and have been known to attack humans.
"My first one I was actually sitting on the loo and right out in front of me, there was a leopard seal kill going on. Fortunately it was long enough and I was able to go down to the shoreline and actually get a closer view.
"They're a big powerful animal but they will take their time to actually dispatch of the penguin. It might not look nice. It's all part of the scene down here. Everybody's got to eat and one thing has to eat something else to survive."
One time, while standing near the sea's edge with colleagues to watch a leopard seal kill a penguin, he got closer than planned.
After eating the penguin, the seal disappeared underwater before surfacing.
"He was a little bit closer and we said 'Oh this is going to be exciting' and next thing, he popped up right in front of us and it was real exciting.
"We backed off quite quickly and just walked away, got out of it."
Unlike many other Antarctic field camps, Cape Bird has a cosy heated hut and can accommodate 8 people in its two bunkrooms.
Its water system is a big barrel, which has a tap from it for running water and snow is shovelled in to each morning to melt.
However, there are no showers.
"We will have body washes every so often and that's a process of heating a bit of water up on a stove, tipping that water in a bucket and we basically have a bucket wash."
Cape Bird's toilet has a stunning view across the colony and out to icebergs floating in the Ross Sea with dramatic ice-covered mountains in the distance.
The team often works long hours, partly because 24-hour daylight in Antarctica's summer means the penguins are also on the go 24/7.
Karl's time on the ice has offered some incredible opportunities over the years, such as celebrating the new millennium with a group of colleagues reclining on an iceberg.
"There was a grounded iceberg just offshore and safe passage out to it so we decided we'd go and park ourselves on top of the iceberg and see the millennium in.
"We thought that it was something very, very few people would be doing at that time," he says, laughing.
The Cape Bird project runs from mid-November till the end of January with two teams splitting the duties during that time.
Karl hopes he'll be back to Antarctica next summer for a 24th season with his beloved penguins.
"They are full of personality and they're just on the go the whole time.
"I guess we anthropomorphise them. They do look like people and they've got such an endearing character. They get under my skin."
Antarctica is in Richie Hunter's genes.
More than a century ago, his great-grandfather, able seaman William McDonald, sailed from Lyttelton for two journeys to the icy continent aboard Terra Nova, which supported Robert Falcon Scott's doomed South Pole expedition.
The opportunity to work there proved irresistible for 29-year-old Hunter, a Queenstown-based mountain guide.
"I've always been inspired by Antarctica. I've always wanted to see it."
He has spent this summer working as Antarctica New Zealand's field training coordinator, leading a team of four field training instructors at Scott Base.
It is his second season on the southernmost continent after working as a field training instructor last summer.
The busy role includes teaching field skills, ensuring field safety, and search and rescue for everyone who heads to Scott Base.
Anyone spending time in the field must first complete a two-day Antarctic field skills (AFS) programme.
After an initial briefing at base on safety and team dynamics, including getting food and sleeping kit ready, groups are driven by hagglund to 'overnight' in polar tents on snow near Mt Erebus.
Field training instructors teach people how to pitch a real field camp, snow based or snow-free area.
Extreme care is taken to have nil impact on Antarctica's pristine environment.
Any dropped crumb of food or spilled drink must be scraped up carefully.
Managing human waste in the field is also important, says Hunter.
Both sexes pee into one litre bottles that are emptied into large containers and returned to Scott Base. Women are issued a "she wee" to assist the stand-up method.
A polar tent acts as a loo with a communal bucket with toilet seat lid for more serious calls of nature.
All human waste is later returned to base for processing at its waste treatment plant.
After tents are pitched, groups are taught to build snow kitchens by sawing out huge blocks of snow "like big concrete blocks" and shovelling them into walls around a pit.
"The snow down here is unlike anything in New Zealand and a lot of the world. It's like stiff polystyrene so it's fantastic for making igloos or big blocks out of with a big saw," Hunter says.
Outdoor kitchens offer vital refuge from Antarctica's freezing wind.
"It's amazing what protection that will give people if people are faced in the elements and in a survival mode then getting low is going to save their lives."
AFS training is focused on using survival bags, which accompany people on trips away from Scott Base, whether in land vehicles or by air, and are equipped with sleeping bags, cookers and food for one to two people for three days.
"So if they're faced with having to put down in bad weather or a mechanical fault, then they can get into those survival bags and look after each other for a number of days until further help arrives."
The importance of such safety measures was highlighted in December when an Australian helicopter crashed in Antarctica while returning from a penguin survey. Three injured team members were stuck in freezing conditions for 20 hours on the remote Amery ice shelf before they could be airlifted to Australia's Davis Station 277km away.
Hunter and his team plus fellow field training instructors from United States' McMurdo Station, a few kilometres from Scott Base, are in a Joint Antarctic Search and Rescue Team or JASART.
They are called to incidents in a large swath of Antarctica, although December's crash was outside their area.
Field training instructors' work aims to avoid such disasters, Hunter says.
However, the JASART team was activated in January last year after a small plane departed from the US base at South Pole and crashed en route to an Italian research base in Terra Nova Bay, killing three Canadians.
Hunter stayed behind at Scott Base running other programmes but two Antarctica New Zealand field trainers were involved in rescue efforts with four from McMurdo.
Bad weather hampered rescue efforts for several days but eventually, the six-member JASART team was airlifted by helicopter close to the site on a steep slope high on Mount Elizabeth, a 4480m peak in the Queen Alexandra range.
They climbed down to the wreck about 3,900m above sea level but had to call off their risky mission before the men's bodies could be retrieved.
Christchurch-raised Hunter and his team also teach specialist training depending on people's needs, such as under-ice dive safety, driving hagglunds, snow mobiles or cars, and GPS training.
They support field parties for various safety needs, such as acting as a safety observer, monitoring weather, controlling rope management, safety in dangerous terrain and aircraft safety.
An example is helping the annual aerial penguin census by Antarctica New Zealand and Landcare Research.
"We hover above those colonies and start a sort of a grid profile of taking aerial photographs," Hunter says.
"So we've got one photographer in the back left door so the door's right open and he'll have his two feet out on the skid, leaning right out over the colony itself so there's a responsibility on my part to not only clip that person in but also manage how he changes his lens and also clothing management.
"We're airborne for a number of hours at a time so it's critical that the photographer and the spotter on the front left both with the doors open don't get cold and if they need to change gloves or hats, then that's my responsibility to ensure that nothing becomes loose inside the cabin so we're doing that pretty carefully and well practiced."
Teaching people how to safely work in a cold environment is important.
Hunter says some people spend months in field camps on the snow or ice so can face minus 40degC or colder but windchill can swiftly drop that to minus-70degC.
"Any temperature down here is a safety concern. It can cause major disaster if it's not well managed."
It can cause frost nip or worse, frost bite, when tissue freezes solid and starts to die, which can led to amputations of digits or limbs.
"We all know people around the world who have had that so a huge priority with our safety training is that the weather is a big player of how we work outside and at the end of the day, we need to be able to say 'Today's not a day to work outside folks'."
Antarctica New Zealand provides 'extreme cold weather' clothing for people to work outdoors safely but the field training instructors teach its best use, as well as sun protection and ensuring hydration in the dry climate.
Sea ice is a big part of travel for those working in the McMurdo Sound area but weather conditions can change fast and make it unsafe for heavy vehicles to cross.
McMurdo and Scott Base field training instructors share duties to profile sea ice to ensure safe travel on flagged routes, monitoring cracks to see if they are crossable.
"In areas we can't cross, we've got options. We either turn around and go home or we scout, we follow the crack a number of kilometres east or west and try a new location to cross it or we've also got portable bridging timbers that we can take around, which are certain lengths, so they can only cross a certain width of crack but we can certainly bridge just over two metres of open ocean with those timbers."
Hunter admits ensuring people's safety as well as safe equipment management is a huge responsibility.
"Certainly safety is number one for us and we never stop thinking. We're always thinking about the next thing that could be unfolding in front of us and also in the future within the coming days.
"We're checking weather all the time and we're generally the eyes and ears for field operations so it's not quite as laid back as maybe it looks.."
He has more than 10 years experience in outdoor instruction and guiding in the mountains, including search and rescue.
But it's not all work.
Outdoor recreational opportunities are also incredible for those lucky enough to work in Antarctica.
"I think the expectation here is that people do get out socially and physically, they actually get outside and get away from work and have some time outside," Hunter says.
Antarctica has proved the perfect spot to learn kite skiing, which he has mastered over the past two seasons.
"It's an incredibly safe perfect place to learn. It's flat, there's a lot of sea ice and the big thing is the consistent wind.
"If you just drop your kite onto the ice and look around and there's four or five other kites coloured yellow black or orange and blue and it's just a beautiful stunning environment to see these kites in the sky."
Unsurprisingly, Hunter loves his job.
"I'd never swap it. I've met some fantastic people and worked with some great, great people around us."
His favourite part of his job is being part of the community on the ice and he is eager to return for another season.
"People here are like family. They're colleagues but they're also close friends.
"This sets people up for the big wide world, whatever that might involve but certainly the skills that you learn down here, both working in the field but also just living in a small community and working with people, are invaluable."
Diving under the frozen surface of a lake in the middle of Antarctica's dry valleys is like "flying through a cathedral".
That is according to Tyler Mackey, a PhD student from the University of California.
He has spent December studying Lake Vanda's microbial communities for an international project, led by Canterbury University scientists and supported by Antarctica New Zealand.
His unusual subject means he has needed to master the rare skill of diving under ice-covered lakes to gather samples of bacteria.
On diving days, he and a fellow scientist don warm gear under a dry suit and a 90m tether for safety before slipping under the 3 to 4 metre-thick ice via a dive hole, which a heater keeps open.
The experience of swimming below ice is far from terrifying, Mackey says.
"When we're diving down there through the clear water with this glassy ceiling above us, it really is like flying through a cathedral because you're weightless and in your dry suit, just floating through crystal clear water with diffuse light coming in from everywhere. This sort of pale blue light sort of permeates everything."
However, the challenging environment requires concentration and a degree of seriousness.
"It's not done light-heartedly but at the same time, it's an environment where we have taken precautions for the setting and I think by being very intentional about what we're doing, we minimise the risks there while really getting some fantastic opportunities to do research, asking questions we wouldn't be able to ask just from the surface of the lake."
The lake is about 77m deep but Mackey's dives are limited to about 28m so the lake's shallower edges are the main target to collect samples.
There are no animals or plants in the water, unlike lakes elsewhere in the world.
Instead, the floor is covered with a thick carpet of bacteria, which is completely undisturbed.
During dives, samples of the carpet are carefully cut out using a spatula "like a piece of lasagne" and put into a container or a tube is pressed into the floor to take a core sample.
Mackey's research examines climate impacts on the bacteria, which grow a few millimetres each year and depend on light levels penetrating the water.
New Zealand has been involved with studies in the area since about 1970, when monitoring began on the Onx River, which flows into Lake Vanda and is Antarctica's longest river.
Since the 1960s, the lake's level has risen more than 10m thanks to climate change and that affects the amount of light reaching its bottom. The river is having more frequent high-flow years and the Lower Wright Glacier, which also feds the lake, is generating more melt water as Antarctic temperatures rise. The lake has no outlet.
During their month-long stint in Antarctica, Mackey and the team sleep in one-person mountain tents pitched near some huts at one end of the lake, which offer some permanent facilities for cooking and lab space.
By day, they spend their time on the lake's glassy surface, making boot chains vital to stay upright as they go about their work.
Antarctica's dry valleys are the coldest and driest dessert on Earth and frequently described as the world's closest environment to Mars.
"When you look around at the landscape here, you don't really see any life. It's rocks and sky and that's pretty much it but once you go below the ice, it's just life everywhere and so you really are entering into a different vision of the dry valleys of Antarctica, where it's brimming with life."
Underwater is a relatively balmy 4degC, compared to the colder, winder surface.
"So I think when we're diving in there, we feel sort of like we're getting the better end of the deal than the folks on the surface who are tending our line," Mackey says.
However, dive gloves are relatively thin to allow good dexterity, which means cold fingers by the end of an hour-long dive.
He admits it takes a bit to get used to under-ice diving, such as remembering shallow water is lighter and darker water is deeper.
"When you're in that environment, it can actually be a bit disorienting because you've light coming from different directions and you don't really have a good cue for which way is up necessarily."
Mackey is deeply passionate about his climate change studies and his work environment.
While the lake's bacteria forest is not a typical "charismatic rainforest", Mackey says it is as diverse and interesting.
"You're really swimming through the forest of these bacteria. It just happens to be on a much smaller scale than we think of ecosystems that we see around us. It's also a much more temperate environment.
"It's a very other worldly experience and rather transcendent just being in a system so far outside of yourself and so apart from daily experience. I think it's something that I never want to take for granted.
Steve Denby chuckles as he grabs a dried giant sea lice from Scott Base's reverse osmosis pump house.
It's one of many unlucky sea-dwelling animals sucked up from a hole in sea ice near Antarctica New Zealand's base on Ross Island and caught in the pump filter.
"They're a bit of a giggle when they get in there and we pull them out and let them dry out and then leave them lying around the base to scare people," the 50-year-old water engineer says.
"We get fish, sea lice and a type of big slater sometimes. I throw them back if they're still wriggling."
In October, he started his second year-long stint in Antarctica, eight years after completing his first year on ice.
His job is dominated by sea water, fresh water and waste water.
Sea water is sucked up a pipe from the "RO hole" and pumped to the reverse osmosis plant, which operates 10 hours a day inside Scott Base to create fresh water.
Basically, salty water passes over reverse osmosis membranes but only water molecules can go through them, while everything else is filtered out, including salt, viruses and bacteria. Sodium bicarbonate and calcium chloride are added for water softening.
Denby's day starts with a quick check of the reverse osmosis plant, firing it up before heading down to the reverse osmosis hole to see if things are running smoothly and to "make sure the seal's not stuck to the end of the pipe".
He's not joking.
Weddell seals frequently use the hole to haul out onto the sea ice and some years ago, one got too close to the inlet pipe and ended up suctioned onto it before pulling itself free.
"Somebody who went down or who was there at the time noticed it had a bit of a mark on its face where it had sucked up to the pipe."
The hole has to be checked daily, even in winter when temperatures can plummet to about minus 40degC and its 24-hour darkness.
"Wind chill on top of that can make it heinous and you don't want to be here," Denby says.
It is a major challenge if a fault occurs during such bad weather conditions that no one is allowed outside the base.
While he hasn't been in that situation yet, previous engineers have, requiring field support crew to help them reach the hole by clipping them onto staked-in safety lines.
"Sometimes, if conditions are so bad that you can't even stand up, then you basically just leave it and rely on your alarm systems and if something goes wrong at that point, then you've got to come up with contingencies what you're going to do about it.
"There are ways and means around these things but basically that's why they employ us to pull the rabbit out of the hat and keep the things going… (In) extreme conditions you have to come up with some pretty extreme ideas to get round them sometimes."
Upwards to about 8000 litres of fresh water is needed at Scott Base daily, depending on the number of people living there, and includes showers, toilets, washing, cooking, drinking and cleaning.
"We're trying to get about 100 litres per person. If we're over that threshold, we start getting a bit grumpy."
Four large storage tanks behind Scott Base contain about 170,000 litres of fresh water, of which three-quarters is in reserve for fire fighting.
The water is kept at about 14 degC to ensure it won't freeze.
Denby admits he feels a sense of pride when using Scott Base water and says it tastes "beautiful".
The less attractive side of his job is looking after waste water.
"It's quite a neat process but not for the weak stomached," he says, laughing.
"Like I say, once you get over your initial revulsion of the whole deal, it's quite a cool job. It's different and it's not something everyone would want to do but I think most people should be forced to do it at one stage just to realise where stuff goes when they're finished with it."
Scott Base's waste water plant runs 24/7 and treats effluent and grey water from washing, showers and sinks.
After processing, water is removed from the sludge, which is flown back to New Zealand for destruction. The remaining water is dosed with ozone and returned to the sea.
Denby, from Feilding, has worked for 20 years at Massey University as a workshop technician in the institute of fundamental science.
His experience for Antarctica came from decades in the Territorial Force doing water purification and reverse osmosis, plus 12 months with the Palmerston City Council as a waste water mechanic.
He has a wife and two adult children back home, who he misses.
"I'm happy to be back here and I'll be happy to go back home again, obviously."
Antarctica is a fantastic place to work, he says.
"Some people say that you come down here the first time for the experience, second time for the money and the third time because no one else will employ you but generally, you come down here because of the people."
Sniffing 100-year-old sultanas from Robert Falcon Scott's doomed polar expedition is one of many unique experiences that Bobbie McSweeney has had in Antarctica.
The 34-year-old Christchurch chef is nearly three months into her third year working for Antarctica New Zealand at Scott Base and has loved every minute.
Several years ago, Antarctic Heritage Trust conservators at Scott Base were restoring a small tin box from Scott's Terra Nova hut, built in 1911 at Cape Evans for his South Pole attempt.
"They undid it to find out what was in it because there was no label on it. They called us up and we came down and it was an amazing package of sultanas like you'd get now in a box. The smell was just incredibly fresh and sultana-like."
McSweeney's dreams of visiting Antarctica began as an eight-year-old girl.
Her first year-long stint began in October 2009, taking a year off between each stretch in Antarctica.
She shares cooking duties with a fellow chef during busy summer months when up to ninety people are at Scott Base. Staff numbers drop to about fifteen over winter so only one chef remains.
Cooking in such a remote and harsh place has unique challenges, aside from the fact she's a vegan so can't eat most of the food she cooks.
"There are always taste sisters here to help out."
In summer, fresh supplies are flown down once every few weeks but no flights run over winter.
Each February, when sea ice is at its least, a supply ship delivers a huge container packed with a years' worth of frozen foods, canned goods, flour and sugar for Scott Base.
"You just can't ring up your local supplier and get it delivered the next day. You've actually just got to plan it or use what you've got here and change the menu and just be quite adaptable to what you've got to use around base."
Sometimes, theme dinners are put on for fun, such as Halloween and fish and chip nights.
Her traditional Christmas menu was organised well in advance to ensure an arrival of berries and other treats but no more fresh fruit and vegetables will arrive until mid-January.
"Christmas is really awesome to do down here. One it's white and snowing hopefully."
Antarctica's dry atmosphere also causes problems.
Cookie and bread dough swiftly crumble if you turn your back for long, she says.
Wintertime offers additional difficulties because of the lack of fresh fruit and vegetables plus the extreme cold outside.
Tricks are many, such as coating fresh eggs with oil to make them last up to six months.
"It's a good challenge to make stuff to keep people happy and see what you can freeze down beforehand over the summertime to bring out for treats in winter."
A major bonus is Scott Base's kitchen offers spectacular outlook across pressure ridges, sea ice and the Ross Ice Shelf to White and Black islands.
"It's probably the most beautiful view I've had from any kitchen so we make the most of our big windows and make sure we're chopping looking out those windows."
In wintertime, the sun never rises above the horizon but a full moon sometimes shines on White Island, creating a magical sparkle of white in the permanently dark landscape.
McSweeney rates her job at Scott Base as one of the best in her life and isn't ruling out applying for a fourth year.
"It's just an amazing incredible place…It just keeps getting better and better each time I come down."
Lizzie Meek lives and breathes the world's heroic Antarctic explorers.
"You walk in here and you smell blubber, old straw from the stables, a host of old sort of woody smells and it's a lovely space," the 40-year-old Christchurch-based woman says as she steps into her workplace.
This summer, she is spending three months working with two fellow conservators at Cape Evans in Robert Falcon Scott's Terra Nova hut, where he launched his ill-fated South Pole expedition in 1911.
"I think my favourite thing about the hut is the first moment when you step in through the door, every single time. There's something about it, it sort of lifts the hair on the back of your neck. I can't describe it any other way.
It is Meek's sixth season in Antarctica.
As Antarctic Heritage Trust's programme manager for artefacts, she leads teams of conservators to protect objects found at all three of Ross Island's historic huts.
Each summer, two or three conservators are based in the field and collect about 1200 artefacts, which are packed into fish crates and sent to Scott Base for conservation by the trust's winter team, before being returned to the huts the following summer.
"So that's the big balancing act for us is to stabilise the object by treating it without making it too clean and shiny or without taking away the character."
Ernest Shackleton's Nimrod hut at Cape Royds was the trust's first project to complete and work began this summer to conserve Scott's Discovery hut, built in 1902.
To date, about 15,000 artefacts have been conserved, including 10,000 from Terra Nova hut.
The most famous was the 2010 discovery of a stash of whisky buried in ice under Nimrod hut's floorboards, where Shackleton was based for his failed 1907-09 South Pole expedition.
But Meek most enjoys items that offers insight into what life was like back then, like a recently conserved man-hauling harness that looked like pile of fabric when first discovered or a darned sock with Terra Nova expedition member Apsley Cherry-Garrard's handwritten name tag inside.
A few years ago, a textile conservator at Scott Base discovered pubic hairs in a pair of long johns, also labelled Cherry-Garrard, although the 1915-1917 Ross Sea party may have been used them after him.
"It gave the winter team a bit of a giggle."
The hair is stored in a freezer at Scott Base on the off chance someone decides to DNA test them.
One of Meek's favourites is Herbert Ponting's film changing bag, which hangs on the door of his processing lab in Terra Nova hut.
"It's such a neat little object but it tells a story of how they developed ways of dealing with the Antarctica environment. So you're out in the middle of nowhere, you need to change a film, you don't have a darkroom so you take a portable cloth darkroom with you and you do it like that, you put a little mask on, put your hands in the bag and change your film."
This year, conservation of a clump of old negatives found in Ponting's dark room unveiled never-been-seen photographs taken by the Ross Sea party.
Tins of hops have also ignited imaginations over whether Scott home-brewed beer.
"We have to find a recipe first," Meek says, laughing.
Unfortunately, the hops are mouldy so it is unlikely Scott's brew can be re-created and no beer brewing kit has ever been found in the hut.
Instead, Meek suspects the hops were used to make yeast for bread or tonic rather than beer.
She will return home in late January and will work full-time managing the trust's winter team and working on hut projects until she returns to Antarctica next summer to complete Terra Nova hut.
"It will be an extraordinary moment, I think, when I can step back from this, from these 10,000 objects and say we've conserved everything in this building."
Her background is as a book conservator, previously working with the National Library in Wellington and the British Library in London.
"I had always been drawn to old things and in particular, old books.
"History is not everyone's cup of tea."
She admits life in the field is physically demanding but she loves her job and has no plans of stopping.
"I wouldn't swap it for anything."