This year, Chimu Adventures launched this unique flight that gives everyone aboard the plane the chance to witness one of the world’s most magical natural phenomena – the Southern Lights, also known as Aurora Australis. In a nutshell, this trip takes you aboard a private Qantas Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner to head south towards Antarctica and the Southern Aurora Zone.
Departing from Sydney, Melbourne, Perth, and Brisbane this adventurous flight will take you far away from the light pollution and high above the clouds to chase the Aurora Australis.
As an intern for Chimu Adventures, I had the amazing opportunity to join the last Southern Lights flight that departed from Sydney. I was there to help with the operation of the flight, but I also got to experience the adventure through the eyes of a (very excited) first-time passenger. So read ahead if you’re keen to know what actually happens on the Southern Light Flight!
When I left my apartment, I found it absurd to answer my house mate “I’ll fly to Antarctica” when she asked me for my plans for the rest of the day. I was so excited about it! Shortly after, I met the rest of the Chimu crew at the airport, and after passing security we started setting up some stands to welcome all passengers at the gate.
The flight left at 20:00, but people started arriving at 18:00 and were welcomed by our team with their boarding passes, a photo stand-in, and an ‘information point’. This is where our expert astronomers and photographers happily shared their knowledge with the approximately 160 passengers. You don’t really need to bring anything to this trip but don’t forget your passport if you’d like to receive a stamp in your passport as a souvenir!
I helped to sell tickets for the raffle the Children’s Cancer Institute organized – there were some great prices to win at the end of the flight for whoever got the lucky ticket, and it was for a great cause. The atmosphere at the gate was already amazing! It was definitely not a regular flight as people started chatting and shared their excitement before boarding even began.
As soon as we got on the plane, the passengers were greeted by the extremely friendly Qantas crew, the equally excited pilot, and Chimu’s amazing Marketing Manager and that night’s charter leader Meg, who guided all passengers through the events of the evening.
We then took off and had about three hours of flight before we entered the ‘Auroral viewing zone’ where the Southern Lights looked promisingly active on the forecast. This time was filled with dinner as part of the Qantas inflight service for all economy and business classes. There was also commentary from our photographers on how to get the perfect picture once we got to see the Aurora, and a lot of excited chats between the passengers and the Chimu crew. Even though most of our team had been on at least one of these flights before, one couldn’t deny the untamed excitement that energized everyone aboard the Boing. This was probably the main reason most of us managed to stay awake during the majority of the night!
We got extremely lucky as we started seeing the lights pretty much as soon as we entered the Aurora viewing zone close to Antarctica. This is where a disclaimer is very much needed as we can never guarantee the visibility of the Southern Lights! We are monitoring its activity closely before taking off and we use the forecast to decide where to head. But the lights’ activity is very much unpredictable, leaving us with nothing but crossed fingers to get some good sightings.
And we weren’t disappointed on this flight! The Southern Lights put on quite a show for us, showing off bright and clear and in all shapes and forms. Another disclaimer though: With the naked eye, the lights are usually rather pale and white and not as intensely green as they look like in photographs. Our photographers shot amazing pictures of the lights which showed bright green lights all over. They later shared their stunning photos with all passengers. This was great because it’s rather hard to snap a good picture that justifies the beauty of the graceful lights without a good camera at hand. I took some nice-ish photos with the long-exposure function of my smartphone but then gave up quickly. The plan B: Focussing on the present moment and simply enjoying the stunning views out of the plane’s window!
We got extremely lucky with the views we were offered by Mother Nature. I immensely enjoyed how this experience bound together everyone on the plane as the passengers, the Chimu team and the Qantas crew were all equally fascinated by what was happening around us. We had special permission to turn off the plane’s outside navigation lights as we were officially the only living beings down there at that time. This reduced the light pollution to an extreme minimum, leaving us with even more spectacular views of the starry night sky.
When we hit halftime, we initiated a seat swap to enable everyone on the plane to have a window seat for at least half the journey. That way, everyone gets a turn to press their nose up against the windows to witness the lights with their own eyes!
On top of that, the wait was sweetened by the most amazing inflight food I’ve ever had. Besides dinner and brekkie, everyone also received a snack bag, and the Qantas crew even distributed chocolate popsicles. That was definitely the dot on the i for me as a major sweettooth!
I continued walking around the airplane chatting with the passengers. The excitement in the air was still at your fingertips, and the Aurora was still going strong just outside the plane windows. After leaving the Aurora viewing zone, the weariness overcame some of the passengers who then slept on the way back to Sydney,
Before the landing approach, the winners of the raffle were announced, breakfast was served, and Meg rounded the events of the night off with some final comments.
Landing at around 6:00 am at the same airport where we took off only ten hours ago, everyone disembarked from the charter plane. All I saw were tired, but extremely happy faces! The team spirit that was created that night made it hard to part ways with all the amazing people who shared this unique experience with each other.
It was a truly special night for every single person aboard – a wedding proposal by one of our passengers high above the Antarctic waters being only one of the many highlights!
It felt weird to just go on with my daily life in Sydney after this extraordinary night in the air, but I decided to spend the sunny day that just started napping at the beach. 10/10 would recommend, it was the best way to beat the ‘jet lag’ and process the events of the night before!
All in all, I can only describe the Southern Lights Flight as spectacular – truly something one needs to see with their own eyes to understand the magic of it!