Sir Douglas Mawson was a genuine Australian hero. A geologist, academic and Antarctic explorer, he rightly deserves to have his name alongside the likes of Amundsen, Shackleton and Scott.
As well as being one of the foremost adventurers of his time, pioneering the exploration and geographic mapping of large parts of the world’s southernmost continent, he was the sole survivor of a tragic three-man expedition to King George V Land in 1911, when he stayed alive only by eating the last of their sledge-dogs and trekking more than 100 miles through a crevasse-strewn icy waste on his own.
He was knighted in 1914, served in WWI and led more Antarctic expeditions from 1929-31. Sir Douglas is also inextricably linked to modern expedition cruising, which is about to take another leap forward thanks to the company that was created in his pioneering image.
Modern explorer Greg Mortimer – one of the first two Australians to summit Mount Everest in 1984 – and his wife Margaret formed Aurora Expeditions in 1991 with the express intent of introducing travellers to the spirit and passion of Mawson. The company was named for Mawson’s adventuring ship, the Steam Yacht Aurora, and things have developed nicely ever since.
So much so, in fact, Aurora Expeditions will debut their first all-new vessel later this year when the Greg Mortimer will set sail for Antarctica on a 12-day cruise on October 31 from Ushuaia in Argentina, providing an all-Aurora experience literally from stem to stern thanks to an innovative design specifically for the waters of Antarctica.
Built by Miami-based SunStone Ships to a Norwegian design in a Chinese shipyard, Greg Mortimer will sport a unique, patented X-bow configuration, zero-speed stabilisers and dynamic positioning that add up to Polar Ice Class 1A, which is as good as it gets.
This week, the ship completed her sea trials – in advance of her first season of adventure voyaging – with impressive results. The X-bow is specifically designed to cut through rough seas for smoother, faster and more economical sailing. It has been used on a variety of freighters to date, but this is its first use on a passenger vessel, hence Aurora Expeditions is cock-a-hoop about their cruise coup.
Managing director Robert Halfpenny explained: “Even with challenging conditions, we will be able to cross the Drake Passage in a day and a half as opposed to two days. That equates to an extra landing, and places we only dreamed of reaching before. That gets the expedition team leaders really excited. The big thing for passengers is that the ship will be more stable because it doesn’t absorb the impact of the swell, it disperses it.
“We have worked in very close partnership with our expedition team to design Greg Mortimer. Our X-Bow means faster travel, lower fuel consumption and virtually no vibrations and disruption to wildlife, which is extremely important for the remote and wild destinations we travel to.”
The vessel includes a Tier 3 engine, which has a low pollution marine qualification, giving off 80 per cent fewer emissions, while it is also built to surpass current environmental protection requirements and features the highest safety levels.
Until recently, Aurora’s stock in trade has been in leading voyages to destinations that are not so much off the beaten track as places where tracks don’t even exist; places like Costa Rica, Patagonia and Nepal, as well as both polar seas.
Current ship the Polar Pioneer holds just 54 passengers and was built in 1982, hence Aurora’s trips to either polar frontier have been limited in the past. But, with the advent of their radical newcomer, they will be able to carry fully 160 guests in greater comfort and style, opening up the expedition cruise market to a much wider audience.
As well as being more efficient and environmentally-friendly, the new ship will offer significant advantages for the regions in which it will travel, including hydraulic viewing platforms on either side, a purpose-designed Zodiac launching platform to enable more (and quicker) trips ashore in remote places and a custom-built ‘activity platform’ for kayaking, diving and other off-ship pursuits.
For creature comforts, there are a 180-degree observation lounge, spacious lecture room, library, wellness centre (with sauna and spa), and the most sumptuous staterooms Aurora Expeditions has ever offered, 80 per cent of them with balconies – a huge bonus in the wildlife-rich polar seas.
Outside the short winter and summer Antarctic and Arctic seasons, the Greg Mortimer will offer voyages to equally remote destinations in more mainstream locations, including isolated St Kilda in Scotland, the Falklands, South Georgia, Iceland and the majestic Chilean fjords.
It all adds up to a unique, mouth-watering package of adventure voyages, with one of the foremost expedition teams anywhere on earth thanks to Aurora’s 28 years of experience.
Oh, and just in case you’re not ready to book just now, Aurora Expeditions will have a sister ship to Greg Mortimer – as yet unnamed – that will be ready to sail in autumn 2021. Sir Douglas would surely have approved!
So, are you interested in an Aurora adventure cruise, or have you already sailed with them? Tell us all about your experience in the Comments section below.