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Prime Minister John Key's Antarctic adventure has had a false start after awful weather forced the cancellation of his flight.
Heavy fog at the Scott Base landing strip in the Ross Dependency meant his departure for the four-day excursion was put off until tomorrow.
Antarctic officials had already been forced to change planes to a C-130 Hercules with fixed skis for the flight after a dust storm damaged the runway, making it impossible to land with wheels.
Mr Key planned to investigate New Zealand's scientific activities on the continent, recognise US-New Zealand collaborations on the ice, and travel to the South Pole with his wife Bronagh.
He admitted this afternoon that the trip to the pole on a US Air Force helicopter was partly a sightseeing tour, but he said he was also interested in the way New Zealand and US scientists were working together in the region.
Mr Key light-heartedly defended his entourage of two Diplomatic Protection Service members at the most isolated place on the planet.
"You never know where there's a trained assassin, I suppose, do you?"
The visit comes soon after failed talks to establish the largest marine reserve in the Ross Sea, during which New Zealand initially rejected a comprehensive protection plan drafted by the United States.
The US did not want fishing in the Ross Sea, but later agreed to a new joint proposal with New Zealand which permitted some fishing.
Mr Key said there was no bad blood between New Zealand and the Americans.
He noted that the US had no fishing interests in the Ross Sea, while New Zealand's fishing in the region produced a $20 million catch each summer.
"But New Zealand has always had a very strong history of undertaking fisheries on a very sustainable basis. That is something we are very acutely aware of in Antarctica.
"If New Zealand wasn't there, it would leave a vacuum that others would actually fill and fill on a less sustainable and sensible way."
Next week, Mr Key planned to gift three bottles of Ernest Shackleton's whiskey to the Antarctic Heritage Trust.
The century-old bottles, which were found under the floorboards in Shackleton's Antarctic hut, were being returned after being sent to Scotland for analysis.
- Isaac Davison of the New Zealand Herald