I thrust myself back into the moment and watch Max for any signs of increasing fatigue. I look at the fuel gauges and see that one tank is completely empty and the other only about a quarter full. That gives me quite a jolt. Casually I mention this to Max but he does not react or seem perturbed. He states that provided the good weather holds up and there are no major winds driving us off course we have just enough to see us through. I don’t ask Max what could happen should either of those situations occur and he doesn’t volunteer the information. He radios ahead several times for weather clearance and to announce our position and expected arrival time. He still seems totally in control and I can only admire his strength and determination after so many hours flying.
I ask about his photographic work back home in New Zealand and his future plans. He is adamant that above all he likes to stay loose, without being tied down and I guess that his girlfriend Ann will not be able to change his long-established way of life. He’s one of the breed of men you often find in remote outposts around the world, men who prefer the isolated, often lonely existence, far away from a city with set times and all the rules and regulations to follow. To Max it will always be his plane first, his photography second and any personal relationship would follow away in third or lower place.
Antarctica Travel Experience Photo Gallery
At long last we are finally approaching Patriot Hills, some 18 hours after we left the camp. Of course we have gained back the day we lost when arriving at the Pole Base. It again reminds me of Phineas Fogg in Jules Verne’s Around the World in 80 Days, when, with his incomparable servant Passepartout, he almost loses the wager by forgetting they had crossed the international date line and gained back 24 hours. It’s always possible to use the date line to gain or lose a whole day permanently, but only every 100 years or 1,000 years is it possible to make a major statement for the history books. Captain John Phillips, sailing the Warrimoo, on 30 December 1899 at midnight lay her exactly on the equator where it crossed the International Date Line; 31 December then never occurred as the date jumped immediately to 1 January 1900. By travelling the other way of course it’s possible to celebrate two New Year’s Eves. If a ship crosses the date line at the equator then the bow is in the Southern hemisphere where it is summer, while the stern is in the Northern hemisphere where it is winter. Choosing the right day it’s therefore possible for a ship to be in two different seasons, on two different days, two different months, two different years and on 30 December 1999 it was possible to be in two different millennia, all at the same time.
I rouse Ian and we both start taking photographs of the Patriot Base and the surrounding mountains as Max does one or two laps of honour before taking us steadily down and making an absolutely perfect landing. We are back! We have been to the South Pole. Thanks to you Max Wenden. Although it’s about 4 a.m. Patriot Hills time, several people have stayed up to await our return and to welcome us back. These include Steve, Duncan, Fran and the two Anns. They have champagne waiting to toast us both and have even prepared a hand-drawn sign, ‘Congratulations to Neville and Ian’. Robert Swan comes rushing over and gives me a huge bear hug. I look for Max to thank him again but he has quietly disappeared with Ann.
Duncan Haigh again asks me to sign the visitor’s book and this time I’m more than happy to do so. I want to write something quite special to record the high emotion I’m experiencing. Luckily the words almost seem to write themselves and after barely a moment’s reflection I compose and jot down and sign the following poem : ‘Don’t sigh for me, Antarctica. I’ll always remember, I came in December. You were the wild one. Was I the mild one? So then goodbye, au revoir, adios. You will always be the boss. You offered me all the thrills. One day I will return to Patriot Hills. Love Ever, Hurt Never.’