In November last year, Sqn.Lt. Kathleen Rowles from NSW Group took a once in a lifetime flight to Antartica with Qantas in a Boeing 747-400 and recently sat down to tell us all about this exciting adventure.
It’s Saturday morning, 23rd November 2019 and we are on our way to Sydney Airport. The trip is pleasant and we arrive early. We get our boarding passes and head up to the Qantas business lounge to have an early lunch and watch the airport activity in comfort, and I must say that was really nice.
Finally it’s time to head to the gate for boarding the flight to Adelaide. We arrive in Adelaide mid-afternoon and head to the hotel for check in. after dropping our bags in the room we head out and have a look around Adelaide and decide on where to eat for dinner. We finally decide to go to the “Schnithouse” for dinner, it was absolutely delicious. After dinner we headed back to the hotel for an early night. We wanted to be in bed by 7.30pm as we had an early start the next morning but we were so excited, sleeping was difficult.
The day had finally arrived, Sunday 24th November 2019, the day of our Antarctica flight. There was only one small issue, even though the flight had been booked 18 months in advance, the only flight we could get on was from Adelaide, so I booked 2 Ice Class tickets on the Adelaide to Antarctica flight and return.
Sunday morning we were up at 4am to head to the airport, we were now getting extremely excited. The taxi picked us up at 5am and we were at Adelaide airport at about 5.15am.
Our Ice Class tickets gave us access to the Qantas business lounge where we had a lovely breakfast. At about 7am we headed to the designated gate to collect our passes then went back to the business lounge to eat and drink some more while waiting for our time to board the flight. At about 7.45am we headed down to our gate. While sitting in business class we were able to watch the airport come to life. There wasn’t much activity at about 5.30am but it was still awesome to watch the sunrise over the airport.
Now the excitement was hard to contain as the Qantas 747 jumbo jet was parked at our gate waiting for us to board for our epic flight. Boarding was due to commence at 8am. There was so many people waiting to board, almost 300 people.
Boarding had finally been called and Ice Class was first to board, I couldn’t hold my excitement any longer and I was sure I was going to burst. I walked down to the plane door ready to get on and full of excitement with a huge grin on my face that stayed there all day. The lovely flight attendants greeted us, looked at out ticket and I was able to hear those amazing words, “turn left please”, probably my one and only time to hear those words. OMG, Ice Class also known as first class was awesome, unbelievable. Ice Class was large, plenty of room, fully recliner seats, which reclined into flat beds, seated in pairs and each window seat had 4 windows all to myself (well I was supposed to share with my flying buddy but he knew that I wasn’t budging). Complimentary gifts were on our seats which consisted of an esky cooler, hat, stubby holder, a book called “The Ice Beneath My Feet – a Year in Antarctica” by Diana Patterson (which was signed by the author) and a cute penguin.
Once seated, the flight attendants welcomed us onboard and addressed us by name, we felt so special. At about 9am once everyone was on board, the plane was eventually pushed back from the terminal and we were on our way to Antarctica.
During the first half of the flight we got to sit back and relax and enjoy the delicious food and drink. In regards to the food it was fresh and made for us on the plane. We enjoyed delicious bacon and egg rolls for breakfast, they just melted in your mouth.
After breakfast was served, we reclined back in our seats and relaxed and enjoyed the documentaries that have been preloaded onto the entertainment system about Antarctica. The documentaries included the Mawson Expedition on Antarctica.
When we were about 2 hours from Antarctica, the pilots gave us the privilege of being able to connect to the boss at the Casey Research Station. For about an hour we were able to hear her talk to the experts on board and answer questions about the conditions, living at the station and what life was like there. It gave us a really good insight into how they lived and coped at Casey research station for many months at a time.
At about 12pm still about an hour from Antarctica we started to notice a few small icebergs below us on the water. The closer we got to Antarctica, the icebergs got bigger and many more of them. Finally at about 1pm we were told that we had finally reached Antarctica. We had descended down to 2000ft and it was spectacular. It is hard to describe exactly how it felt to finally be above Antarctica. I must say that I was absolutely glued to the windows, I was transfixed and I couldn’t look away.
As we flew over Antarctica, there was so much to see. You could clearly see the Casey research station, the airfield with planes parked there, you could even see the penguin poo on the ice, (The penguin poo are the black areas on the ice). The Antarctica coast was clearly visible. The area of Antarctica that we flew over was between Wilkes land and Queen Mary land. The route took us over Casey research station, Skiway Airfield, then over Wilkes airfield, Vander ford glacier, Adams glacier, Underwood glacier, Bunger Hills, Scott glacier, Edgeworth David, Oasis II, Cape Elliot, Cape Peremenny (Coastline) and over Vincennes Bay then over Casey station once again then back to Australia.
During the times that we were over the ice, the glaciologists were wandering around the cabin explaining what we were seeing as well as talking on the microphone. Douglas Mawson’s great granddaughter from the Mawson Huts Foundation, Emma Mc Ewin was also onboard and chatted to everyone about Mawson and the great work the Mawson huts foundation is doing in restoring and looking after the original huts that Mawson and his crew built on Antarctica.
While we were looking out the window, we had one of the pilots come over and chat to us as well as taking photos, as their view we got was different from the view from the cockpit. I asked the pilot who was flying the plane and he said that there was someone else up there, then he looked around and saw another pilot looking out a window on the other side of the plane and he joked “Well if you’re here as well, then who’s flying the plane?”, and they both laughed. He then told us that they actually had 5 pilots on board that day, so all was safe.
On the return flight back the Mawson Foundation held a raffle and an auction of some amazing items, with all monies going to helping to keep the Mawson foundation doing there extraordinary work.
The entire time over Antarctica was absolutely awesome, words cannot describe how it felt to be able to view the ice of Antarctica. As we were flying at 2000ft, you could see every imperfection on the ice, every crevice and crease. You could see where the ice has melted and reformed. We left Antarctica about 5pm to make the trek back to Adelaide. We arrived in Adelaide at about 9pm.
After arriving back in Adelaide on the amazing 747 we were informed by the air stewards that , that was to be the last flight in a 747 as new planes were going to be used next year, so that was a bit sad. But overall an amazingly splendid awesome day was had by all.
Antarctica flight is a bucket list must do but especially in Ice Class!
On Monday morning before flying back to Sydney, we decided to go and look at some more sites of Adelaide. While on the flight, Emma mentioned to us about a Mawson display at the South Australian Museum, called the Polar Exhibition. This exhibition had a replica of the living quarters, Antarctic animals on display, equipment that the Mawson expedition used, documentaries were playing on the displays. The exhibition was well worth going and looking at after doing the flight the previous day.
Walking past the State Library of South Australia, we noticed a rather interesting sign for a current exhibition, it was about flying men. The exhibition was called “Heroes of the skies” – The Smith Brothers and the Great Air Race of 1919. The exhibition showed the time line of the Great Race from England to Australia which was won by Captain Ross and Lieutenant Keith Smith. The exhibition explained the lives of the Smith Brothers from South Australia and also about the lives of the mechanics, Wally Shiers and James Bennett who worked with the Smith Brothers throughout the race.
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