How to experience Antarctica or the Southern Lights in a day

Experience the vast expanse of Antarctica from the comfort of a Qantas Boeing 787 on a series of new sightseeing flights.

By Staff Writers, December 1 2021
How to experience Antarctica or the Southern Lights in a day

Aussie travellers will soon be able to experience the majesty of Antarctica and the Southern Lights on board a series of flights being run by expedition specialists Chimu Adventures.

The day trips are being run from Sydney, Brisbane, Perth, and Melbourne aboard chartered Qantas 787 Dreamliners, with the 12.5-hour return journey allowing you to experience these exotic sights without even having to pack a suitcase.

Despite the international grade service and catering on-board, they are classified as domestic flights and therefore aren’t affected by pesky changing border restrictions.

Chimu Adventures founder Chad Carey explains that “even if you’ve visited Antarctica by expedition or cruise ship, the flights give you a totally different perspective of just how large the continent is and the expanse.”

As nice as a lie-flat business class seat is, don't go to sleep and miss the amazing view!
As nice as a lie-flat business class seat is, don't go to sleep and miss the amazing view!

Expect to see icebergs from three hours in to the flight with the main continent visible after another hour.

The journey takes you past Cape Adare and Ross Island, where the largest settlements on Antarctica are located, while Antarctica experts on board each flight can help provide context on the sights below, the history, and what life on the ground is like.

Each flight is unique because of the 20 routes possible depending on a number of factors including weather, cloud cover and ice conditions, however you can expect to have 3-4 hours over the great white continent. The pilots will also attempt to get down to 20,000 feet for better viewing of key sites.

“The air down there is so unpolluted and pristine that you can literally see for hundreds of kilometers without any obstruction”, Carey explains. Certain routes even fly over Mawson’s Huts.

From COVID rescue flights to Southern Lights

So how do you charter a jet to fly to one of the most remote parts of the world?

With the world shutting down in early 2020, Carey described to Executive Traveller how Chimu’s staff went from being adventurers to repatriation and rescue flight operators, managing one of the first repatriation flights from Peru by “chartering a couple of aircraft off LATAM” to bring Aussies home. (The effort is detailed in a documentary called Calm to Chaos).

With the charter experience under their belt, the company started looking at Southern lights flights in partnership with Qantas, however Carey explains “it’s not easy to convince Qantas to actually assign these aircraft to slots to do this.”

After running a few flights last year, the company is gearing up for its next season of Southern Lights flights beginning from April 2022, with flights running from Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne, and Perth.

Norway, Canada, and other northern countries are famous destinations for viewing aurora, but Carey points out “the reason why we don’t really hear about them in Australia is that the band where they’re really clear is essentially all ocean.”

Southern lights are quite different as they’re night flights and aim to fly to the 62 degrees south latitude where the aurora is most prominent.

Seeing them by flight provides more certainty because even “if you’re at a fixed point in say Norway you don’t know if the northern lights will be there that night, and even if they are it could be cloudy.”

With little light pollution and the ability for the aircraft to reposition for optimal viewing, it’s your best chance of seeing auroras.

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