Top tips for staying sane in isolation from Antarctica's winter veterans

New Zealanders are settling into a new routine in the nationwide lockdown, but it's not an entirely new experience for everyone.

Christchurch photographer Anthony Powell in Antarctica. Source: Supplied

Christchurch photographer Anthony Powell has spent 10 winters in Antarctica, one of the most isolated places on Earth.

There are no flights in or out, 24-hour darkness and only those at Scott Base or the neighbouring McMurdo Station for company.

He's very familiar with how to keep yourself busy during the long, seemingly endless days of isolation.

"Mix it up mentally, don't do the same thing all day every day," he told 1 NEWS.

"Often the work gets quite repetitive, so splitting up the jobs will give a good mental break. Also having things that need to be worked out rather than mentally passively routines all day."

Antarctica's isolation means it remains the only continent on the planet without any Covid-19 cases.

Down at Scott Base at the moment, engineering supervisor Luke Keehan is keeping an eye on the developing news and staying in touch with friends and family back home.

Those on the ice spent a few days in almost complete lockdown last week.

"We have just been through two days where we could not get off base due to the weather, and with the temperatures hitting -50C you have to plan your outside work and other outings now more carefully than over the summer period," he told 1 NEWS.

In such a small, tight-knit community, personalities can get "intense" at times, Mr Keehan admits.

It's the same challenge facing New Zealanders who are suddenly cooped up with family and flatmates they wouldn't normally be spending every waking minute with.

"For families and people isolating in groups, it is important to remember to give each other space," Mr Keehan says.

Scott Base engineering supervisor Luke Keehan in Antarctica. Source: Supplied

"Many people need a bit of down or alone time every now and then, and putting a few rules in place such as not disturbing people in their rooms or if they have headphones on can be a good start."

The importance of setting boundaries and communicating with each other is echoed by Mr Powell.

"Always talk about things early, honestly and calmly. Don't let small things fester and become big problems."

As well as alone time, set aside time as a group to do activities together.

"Have a group dinner with the people you are isolating with or set up Skype with other friends to have a video dinner together," Mr Keehan said.

Mr Powell also suggests trying to get outside every day, even if it's just a quick nip outside your backdoor.

"The brain needs a reset from being surrounded by walls all the time. You don't need to go anywhere, just take in the open space."

If you do, remember to follow the guidelines in place: stay local, keep a two-metre distance from others and stick to your household 'bubble'.

While rules aren't quite so restrictive in Antarctica - you're still allowed to head to the bar for a drink, for example - there are some things that are easier for those back in New Zealand.

"Learn new things, there are countless instruction videos on YouTube if you have an internet connection," Mr Powell said.

Christchurch photographer Anthony Powell pictured at Cape Crozier during a winter in Antarctica. Source: Supplied

"Do those jobs that have been waiting until you had some spare time. Work on that hobby you have not had time for.

"Setting goals and achieving things is hugely rewarding."

As of today, there have been 647 coronavirus cases in New Zealand. 

With things developing daily Mr Keehan says he's staying in touch with his family more than he has before.

"I am conscious that some of my family are isolating alone and it’s important for me to keep in contact with them regularly," he said.

"Everyone on base is taking it a bit differently, but the results are everyone is keeping in a bit closer contact with the outside world."


  • Keep a routine, getting up at the same time every day even if you're not working
  • Set goals to achieve, such as finishing off those jobs you've put aside for a spare moment
  • Get some fresh air every day, keep active and moving
  • Talk to the people you live with and set boundaries with them
  • Reach out to friends and family outside your household 
  • Once in a while, indulge yourself with those 'blob' days - but don't do it too often