Antarctica and New Zealand

Page 2 – First among men

New Zealanders were involved in a number of significant Antarctic firsts – notably the first substantiated landing on the continent proper in 1895 and the first overland crossing between 1955 and 1958. For some this ‘first’ marked the beginning of a long relationship with the continent; for others it was a fleeting moment that nevertheless saw their name live on in history.

Tuati – first New Zealander to view Antarctica

Tuati was probably the first New Zealander to view the coast of Antarctica in 1840. He was there as part of the United States Exploring Expedition, which explored the southern oceans between 1838 and 1842. The expedition, led by Lieutenant Charles Wilkes, notably provided the first evidence that Antarctica was a continent. Read more about Tuati

Alexander von Tunzelmann – first landing on Antarctica

New Zealander Alexander Francis Henry von Tunzelmann is sometimes credited as being the first person to set foot on the Antarctic mainland. Seven men from the Norwegian whaling and sealing ship the Antarctic, including Tunzelmann, are acknowledged as making the first substantiated landing on the continent proper on 24 January 1895. They all landed within seconds of each other, but there is dispute over who was the first to touch land. Read more about von Tunzelmann and the first landing

Clarence Hare – on first Antarctic land expedition

New Zealander Clarence Hare was a steward in the first real land expedition in the Antarctic. The British National Antarctic Expedition (1901-04), or Discovery expedition, was led by British explorer Robert Falcon Scott. Hare's name is recalled in most accounts of the expedition - for observations he made in his diary, and for his miraculous reappearance following a disastrous sledging journey. Read more about Hare and the first land expedition

Sir Edmund Hillary – led first party to reach Pole overland since Scott

Sir Edmund Hillary led the New Zealand component of the Commonwealth Trans-Antarctic Expedition (TAE) in 1955-58, under the overall command of the British explorer Dr Vivian Fuchs. The expedition successfully completed the first overland crossing of Antarctica, via the South Pole, on 2 March 1958. The New Zealanders supported the expedition by setting up Scott Base, and laying food and fuel depots for the British crossing party. Then, against the instructions of the Ross Sea Committee, Hillary led a ‘dash to the pole'. On 4 January 1958 they became the first party to reach the South Pole overland since Scott in 1912, and the first to reach it in motor vehicles. Read more about Hillary's Antarctic experiences

Peter Barrett – discovered first tetrapod remains in Antarctica

New Zealander Peter Barrett discovered the first tetrapod remains in Antarctica in 1967. Subsequent research that identified the remains provided the first evidence that land vertebrates had roamed Antarctica when its climate was warm, and lent support to the then controversial theories of continental drift and Gondwanaland. But Barrett's contribution to Antarctic science goes beyond his ‘serendipitous discovery' as a doctoral student. He has also been acknowledged as the 'supremo' of the geological drilling community in the Antarctic. Read more about Peter Barrett's contribution to Antarctic science

What about our women? – first NZ women to visit Antarctica

The first New Zealand woman to visit the Antarctic mainland was zoologist Marie Darby in January 1968. The first to work in Antarctica, and the first to set foot at the South Pole, was Pamela Young in the summer of 1969-70. New Zealander Thelma Rogers of the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research (DSIR) became the first woman to winter over in Antarctica in 1979. Read more about the experiences of the first NZ women in Antarctica


Read more about other New Zealand explorers and scientists associated with Antarctica in this feature or at the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography website:

How to cite this page

'First among men', URL:, (Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated 22-Jul-2014