Isolated in Ushuaia
21 March 2020
Kia Ora families, friends and supporters of the Antarctic Heritage Trust Inspiring Explorers Expedition.
We awoke this morning to the most beautiful sight of a light dusting of snow surrounding us, both in Ushuaia and in the distance, on the Andes, on the Chilean side.
Yet again, as a team, we have been reminded of the honour and good fortune to have been sufficiently blessed to be a part of this expedition - which has essentially been a visual and spiritual feast of a part of the world which remains unspoilt, pure and breathtakingly naturally raw.
We have indeed been challenged on every level: emotionally - missing family and friends, mentally - with the uncertainty of being homeward bound anytime soon, culturally - during our Inspiring haka practices lead by Jaylee and A’aifou, spiritually - by the close proximity to creatures that inhabit this part of the world like whales, seals and penguins and physically - the cold, the kayaking experiences and the “boot camps” run by Cam and Ryan! The above experiences have forced each and every member of the team to step outside their “normal”
boundaries and to embark on personal journeys of growth, expansion and enlightenment.
It has been both a delight and pleasure to observe Jaylee and A’aifou develop their leadership skills, to become emboldened in their desire to assimilate as much knowledge as they can, and to feel compelled to take action to protect the stunning natural landscape of Antarctica. To their credit they both completed the “polar plunge”. I am immensely proud of them and their determination to participate, engage and experiment with all of the opportunities presented.
“We don’t take a journey, a journey takes us” - a quote found in Hayley Shephard’s book: Solo South - which I read on this expedition. Hayley - a young Kiwi - now living in Canada - attempted to kayak singlehandedly around South Georgia - not far from Antarctica - in 2010. So while we have all been taken on a journey, thejourney has been unique for each and every individual member of the team and challenging on so many different levels.
We will not be returning as we once were - our travels have afforded us the acquisition of knowledge through action and experiences. We have learned to bend in the wind, lean with the waves and to allow the moon to light our way.
Finally I would like to take this opportunity to acknowledge Nigel, Fran and Jess of the AHT for their “ground” support and encouragement, Marcus for leading us so compassionately and ably, Mike and the “senior” supporters (Andrew, Bill and Richard) for your guidance and wisdom, the five amazing young Kiwis: Sadra, Laurette, Ihlara, Owain and Anzac, plus Jaylee and A’aifou - who provide me daily, with convincing and inspiring confirmation, that the future of NZ and Antarctica lies in good hands.
What was your favourite part of the trip?
It was absolutely amazing to see the growth in personal development and confidence, as well as the leadership capacity of my students, Jaylee Savage and A’aifou Potemani. I was so proud of them throughout the expedition, and particularly when they taught the team a haka on the ship and led its performance in front of the rest of the guests. A’aifou is generally a quiet and reserved student at school, so to see him perform karaoke in front of a large
audience and receive two standing ovations was also fantastic.
Another highlight was the time and investment that the expedition supporters and mentors, Richard, Bill and Andrew, put into Jaylee and A’aifou, who learnt so much from them. My other favourite part of the trip was the amazing opportunity Antarctic Heritage Trust provided for us to kayak, both throughout the expedition, and during the six sessions they arranged for us at the Vector Wero Whitewater Park before we left. This gave our students their first experience of the expedition, of pushing their boundaries, overcoming fear, and extending themselves in a way they hadn’t before.
Once in Antarctica, the opportunity to kayak definitely enhanced our experience, as it brought us so much closer to the wonders of the continent, from the icebergs, to the whales, seals and penguins. Seeing Jaylee’s confidence and excitement as she moved from our double kayak to a single one, and watching both students take the polar plunge, were other highlights for me. We all had such an incredible, growthful experience on the expedition. It was something you can’t buy for love or money.
What was the most challenging part? How did you conquer this?
The cold when we were kayaking was probably the most challenging aspect. It didn’t matter how many layers we put on, our feet and hands were always cold about halfway through the kayak. Everybody pushed through though and didn’t complain. When we got back to the ship and took our gear off in the mudroom the first thing we were handed was a hot chocolate, which warmed us up again! The process of confidence building for my students in an environment which was totally and utterly unfamiliar to them, was also a challenge, and while they were definitely stretched, their response was amazing. They took every opportunity and ran with it.
What did you learn or discover about yourself?
Strangely enough, it was how all my previous life experience, especially sailing around the world, had prepared me for the expedition. I was as calm as anything, even when faced with the uncertainty of how we were going to get back to New Zealand. I tried to pass this on to the team by encouraging them to be robust and resilient, and prepare for any eventuality, while enjoying each day, and knowing that whatever happened, it was an opportunity to learn and grow. The extra week we spent in quarantine on the ship was in some ways the most “growthful” period for the whole group, as we all learned so much more about ourselves and each other.
Which sights, sounds, feelings and experiences of Antarctica stand out as you reflect back on your experience?
The sheer size of all aspects of Antarctica. When we were kayaking, we looked back at the ship at anchor and it was dwarfed by the icebergs and mountains. It made us realise our place on earth and how insignificant we truly are. Being so close to the power of nature was also incredible. Many times, when in our kayaks, some ice would calve off an iceberg and cause a wave. Having whales, penguins and seals right under our kayaks was also utterly amazing.
How did going to Antarctica make you think about the historic polar explorers? In what way did these reflections impact on your personal experience?
I have enormous respect for all those who have gone before us – including our Expedition Leader, Marcus Waters. I had the privilege of finding two of Marcus’ books in the ship library and spent the first week reading them. I’m in awe of what he has accomplished. It was also wonderful to attend the numerous presentations on the ship, with many of these about the historic explorers, including the recent movie about Shackleton. It gave us a real feel for what they went through. Coming from the comfort of my cabin on the ship, I really had no idea how they survived the challenges!
What was something you experienced that was different to your expectations?
One of my takeaways is what the earth looks like, in this case Antarctica, without the presence of man. It is absolutely beautiful, with colours you can’t really capture through photographs or visuals. You can experience true solitude down there, and such close proximity to nature – in fact how it really should be. Imagine if the rest of world could be like this in respect to nature and our environment?