The first thing you notice upon stepping into the Storm Dome is your difficulty breathing. The next thing you notice is how hard it is to move. Or to think. I shouldn’t have been surprised. The sign outside the room warned that temperatures could drop to minus 8° Celsius, with a minus 18°C wind. That’s -22 F and -27F, respectively, for us North Americans. Even with the parka I received from the attendant outside, this is still the coldest place I’ve ever been, which is kind of the point. I’m at the International Antarctic Center (IAC), in Christchurch, New Zealand, standing in a room that recreates the temperatures people experience in Antarctica. What was I expecting, a balmy day in Hawaii?

Built in 1992, the center sits next to the Christchurch airport. It’s a super-fun place to visit, and not only for the cold room. You can snap photos of little blue penguins. You can watch a “4D” show about Antarctica. But what makes the center a Wow place for me is the ability to ride on a Hägglund – an amazing, all-terrain, amphibious Antarctic vehicle. About the size of a small SUV, on treads, the vehicle reminds me of the “chariot” in the original Lost In Space tv series. To ride it, you pay an extra admission and then go out in the backyard, where they have an obstacle course set up, with all manner of ramps and inner tubes. Before you know it, the Hägglund is tearing up, down, around and across every obstacle in its way. It’s like being in a tank…for science.

I’m not sure if I’ll ever make it to the actual Antarctica, but IAC – just a hop, skip and a jump from the actual continent, at least gives me a taste of the place. At least I know how cold it is!