Travel is for many of us, an attempt to satisfy an insatiable curiosity to explore the world and the people that inhabit it. It is to experience different landscapes, nature at its best, creatures in their natural habitat, cities that brim with unfamiliar food, art, culture and music. When we walk among foreign cities, we either marvel in the architecture and urban development or feel the community pain of poor design and overdevelopment.

It is a kaleidoscope of emotions to travel the world, for those of us that have been privileged to do so. Travelling can make us better humans when done consciously and sustainably. It can take us out of our comfort zones, and paradoxically, the thirst is often not quenched.

After more than two years of pandemic-enforced hermitude, to step back onto a plane and new shores was exciting enough. Going to Antarctica with Aurora Expeditions was a dream come true, and then meeting those intrepid spirits who took their first trip to an uninhabited continent (apart from the resident penguins and seals of course) was a definite highlight.

Isn’t it always the people you meet?

Travel Weekly joined one of the first groups to travel to the Antarctic Circle with Aurora Expeditions since the start of the global pandemic. We met some of these travellers, many of whom booked the once in a lifetime adventure to Antarctica more than two years ago.

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Rachel and Sophie

Data Analyst and Peanut Butter maker | UK

These two bright British sparks were one of the few “Snorks”. Snorks are those brave snorkellers who dive into the polar waters nearly every day. After all, Snorks have more fun, is what these water babies spent all trip attempting to convince us. And these two did a damn fine job of it – having more fun that is. Not sure, though, it had anything to do with snorkelling. 

Why did you choose Antarctica as your first trip since the Pandemic?

Sophie says we both love travelling and have travelled a lot together over the years. We like to go places we have never been before. Ten years ago, we agreed we would do a big trip for our 50th and we like to choose trips that are outside our comfort zone. 

Rachel was all about the penguins, but neither of us like lying around on beaches, we like to do something different and active and more challenging excursions. 

How did you come to choose Aurora?

We went to an adventure travel show and there were a few groups on Antarctica, but the best representative we spoke to was Aurora, and it ticked a lot of boxes for us. There were a lot of talks about, but what we found most impressive was how they manage tourism in Antarctica. They allocate only 100 people per landing. We knew a big boat was out and it had to be a small boat. That whittled it down. Aurora seemed like one of the best options if you want to independently travel within a group.

What did your friends think when you told them you booked Antarctica?

A mixture of crazy and jealous, but they're not very surprised though because we've been to some random places. 

Highlight of the trip

Snorkelling with the penguins. It is hard to believe you can actually snorkel in the Antarctic, but you can and its pretty awesome!


Travel Consultant | Merimbula, Australia 

The only other Aussie passenger on this expedition, our own true-blue Jacqui was your classic, infectiously positive crew member. She bounced around with an unending energy and enthusiasm for travel. Who wouldn’t book with her, I ask?

How long ago did you book this trip?

Only a month ago! And my expectations when I booked it? Adventure, excitement, I suppose. And yeah, it's exceeded them and we're only on day one!

Why did you choose Antarctica as your first trip since the Pandemic?

One of my biggest dreams has always been to travel here and after COVID I think it made me realise that we've got to do those big-ticket things when the opportunity presents itself. And then the opportunity did.  So, I said yes!

How did you come to choose Aurora?

Everything I know about Aurora, is that it is all about a community approach to travel. As a consultant, the feedback has always been about how the staff are just wonderful. And everything seems to be so amazingly organised. They make you feel welcome, and they make you feel safe.

Tom and Joan

Tom, sometimes travel writer/ private equity hustler and his wife, the charming purveyor of fine everything, Joan. Palo Alto, California 

Image: Jeff Kaufman

Image: Jeff Kaufman

"You learn a lot about someone when you share a meal together." 
Anthony Bourdain

Meeting these two seasoned travellers was one of our highlights. We spent most of the week trying to swap tables to sit with them and share our mutual love of pisco sours, travelling to those off the beaten track destinations and, of course, sharing food stories from all around the world. They also won the best humble brag award as being neighbours of Steve Jobs and his family and sharing school drop offs!

Why did you choose Antarctica as your first trip since the Pandemic?

It is a trip of a lifetime. If you are lucky enough to be able to do it, you've got to do it right? We've taken some wonderful exotic trips, but this would be probably the top 10 of anyone’s well-travelled list. You must have done it once! And it has already exceeded our expectations. We've done some pretty exotic stuff. So, in some ways, it's yeah, we've been there, done that and now we can add this one to that list!

How did you come to choosing Aurora?

For Joan in particular, kayaking was critical. Okay, so that narrows the choices dramatically, right? We also wanted a smaller ship, so that we weren't standing in line, or excluded from getting on land. And then we wanted to fly. We wanted to avoid the Drake Passage, I hear it can be horrible. For me, it was, you know what, let's maximise the amount of time in Antarctica for the number of days that I'm out of the office. I think the Internet led us to Aurora. 

What's been your highlight so far? Other than meeting us?

Crazy Australians, yeah you guys have been okay. Definitely the kayaking. Because it does get you out there and offers a level of intimacy that you're not going to get from the Zodiac. Mind you, the Zodiacs are pretty cool too. 

But with kayaking, you are right down there, and you can see whales, penguins porpoising, seals sunbaking on ice. It’s pretty cool.

What did your friends think when you told them you booked Antarctica?

Well, they're mostly jealous.


Project Manager, Booz Allen | Baltimore

Sam, the bold and adventurous traveller, likes to see the expressions on peoples’ faces when she tells them she is going to places like Antarctica.

Why did you choose Antarctica?

I like doing places that no-one else goes to. I love telling people I bought a ticket to Antarctica and seeing the people's faces. And they're like, you're going where? I actually went to Vegas for my 40th birthday during COVID. We wanted to go to Death Valley. No-one else goes there. There were no hotels open. So, we stayed in Vegas and just did a day trip out. It was fantastic. I knew I wanted to see wildlife. I was really hoping to get up close and comfy with penguins. I wanted to see a bunch of furseals, I wanted to see the ice. And again, my big thing was I wanted to make the landing on the continent. I want to check off all the continents and do all seven before I die.

How did you come to choosing Aurora?

It was my friend Kelly who came up with the idea of crossing the Antartic Circle. She had done the Arctic Circle so that will be next for me.

She is a very big traveller. We knew we wanted to cross the circle. So that cut out a lot of everyone, right off the bat. This was one of the only two boats I think that went past the circle. We thought, if we're going to do it, we're going across the circle, right? We like that it was luxury. It wasn't like an expedition ship where you're eating with the five people that you don't know. It had all the features that we wanted. It also looked like it was “big person” friendly.

How did you find the COVID protocols?

I lost my mum three weeks ago to COVID. So, I'm perfectly comfortable with them. They're fine. I mean, it is what it is. I hate wearing a mask, but I just deal with it. It really is being safe. I would not wish on anyone what I had to go through let alone what my mom did before she passed.

What's been your highlight?

It’s all been breathtaking. It's this unimaginable beauty.


San Francisco | Retired (kind of)

Gail and I bonded over our mutual love of Japan and her fascinating stories of her family and their settling to America post WW2 from there. Having cared for her mother for some time until recently, and being unable to travel so freely, she is now one of those travellers who have a constant willingness to try new things, to experiment, to learn and grow from happy misgivings and experiments while on the road, as much as planned itineraries. Her stories were joyful and uplifting and openness to exploring and always saying yes when it comes to travel experiences

Why did you choose Antarctica as your first trip since the Pandemic?

I've always enjoyed travelling. My first trip was at age 13, to Hawaii, which was huge. And then we went to Japan, to see my relatives for the first time. I recall thinking, this is it, I am travelling the world any chance I get. Given I had committed to full time care of my elderly mother, I was restricted for a time but now I have no schedule, so as soon as COVID restrictions lifted I thought, Antarctica? Why not?!

How did you come to choosing Aurora?

I have a really good friend in South Africa. She's a travel writer.  I met her at a camp in South Africa. And ever since then, I've been travelling with her and small group of people. We go somewhere every year. I guess I’m one of those friends that always says yes to anything she recommends. She bought me here and with Aurora. But I love everything. I love to see different cultures to improve who I am in this world. It could be a third world country, or it can be Paris. You know, I love it all. And I love to eat, so I try to find places where the food is good. The food here on the Greg Mortimer has been incredible.

How did you find the COVID protocols?

It’s made me feel safer. They really wanted to make sure you were vaccinated, and that every step of the way, you were going to be safe. So I felt more comfortable. It’s a small inconvenience to feel safe.

What's been your highlight?

I'm always in awe when I see wildlife. And we have seen so much I think that's what I could tell my friends. It is really just marvellous, seeing animals in their natural habitat. You know, you sit back and watch and you don't talk, you know? The silence. And the animals. Hours can roll by and no thoughts pass. 

Stephen Martin 

Author of “The History of Antarctica” 
Historian at Aurora | Sydney, Australia 

No Humans of Antarctica piece is complete without adding the remarkable Stephen Martin’s experience of this remote, icy continent. His stories of the human occupation of Antarctica, the explorers, the scientists, the territorial disputes, the people who go down to Antarctica, and set up these small communities and live there for a short while, and then move away. His knowledge of the waves of human occupation of Antarctica were remarkable and moved me in a way I had not expected to be. 

How far back does your research go?

It goes back to the first16th century people who started poking down into the Southern Ocean, or to look for Terra Australis, and the slow discovery of the fact that there was a big continent on the south of the globe, Antarctica, and different voyages along the way.

What do you love most about being here?

I've been doing this for 23 years. And one of the things I really enjoyed on my first visits was the sort of stuff you're doing now, the ice and the atmosphere, the landscapes the wildlife. And each time someone new is here, for the first time, I feel like I am too.

The wildlife encounters, such as we what we had with the whales today, they're stunning every single time. The people I meet on the ships are brilliant. I always talk to the passengers, and I love meeting the people that come here, It connects us, the motivations of why we travel.

Tell me about the expedition huts 

I've been right around the coast of Antarctica over the years. And when you open the door to some of those huts, sometimes you can still smell the musty human smell of old socks. And that's quite evocative, and we imagine the people in the huts and some of what went on, living in such small quarters in the freezing cold. The background fights and some of the achievements of the expeditions, and it all mingles together into one really rich experience.

A quote from Stephen’s book sums up poetically the experience of travelling to Antarctica.

Antarctica experience takes on a deeply personal, spiritual tone: icecaps become metaphors, birds such as snow petrels become symbols of hope and contact, the trip becomes a metaphysical journey and profound experiences emerge in the stories and narratives.