Robert Headland, in 1994, characterised (seaborne) Antarctic tourists as: “…adventurers who are well travelled, affluent, socially conscious, college educated professionals, seeking to step beyond the familiar” with a “desire to learn”.11

Photograph from an article in the Air New Zealand Staff News of 17 March 1977 entitled “Antarctic Adventure”. The passengers are Mr and Mrs DA Syme. Crouching in the aisle is Marketing Research Officer Joan Burkingshaw, who is conducting a passenger survey.

The above description may well have applied to some of the passengers undertaking flights in the late ‘70s, but what is most noticeable from photographs is that the majority on board were senior citizens. Mr Tucker, a passenger aboard the first Air New Zealand flight on 15 January 1977, records that “I think the majority of people are middle aged on this flight but those that aren’t join with those that are in the exhilaration and the absolute joy of being on it.” 12

The reasons these passengers had for travelling south were varied. The survey being undertaken in the photo to the right revealed that:

  • 44% were there because it was the “opportunity of a lifetime”
  • 18% felt it was “something different”, and
  • 12% had been attracted by the adventure-exploration aspect.

Geoff Chapple, writing of his Antarctic experience in the New Zealand Listener of 2 April 1977, had this to say about his fellow passengers: “These people were accomplished middle-aged – textile managers, engineers, and wives, a professional Hammond organ player… Skilled people, world travellers most of them, and some who had seen Arctic pack-ice from the commercial airline routes in the north… Then there were the dreamers – office-bound adventurers, and those who had retired from the building trades or farming. Some hadn’t flown before. Age was encroaching, inexorably. For one man, blindness was just nine months away. He waited for pristine images to take into darkness.” 13

Photograph from page 19 of the ANZ [Air New Zealand] brochure 'The Antarctic Experience' - no date [Archives New Zealand reference: CAHU, CH282, Box2/6]

All of the passengers responded they would recommend the trip to others, and 12.5% said they would repeat the trip themselves, if given the opportunity.14

Offsetting the “age bias” of the passenger complement, in 1977 Air New Zealand ran a competition through 370 New Zealand high schools offering the winners free seats on an Antarctic flight. The competition for form three and four pupils (years 9 and 10 in today’s terms) was to produce a “wall poster or chart with visual appeal”, and senior forms (years 11-13) were asked to prepare a paper on Antarctica’s weather, geology or resources.15

And some passengers had particularly personal reasons for travelling. On board one of the November 1978 flights was Mrs Jane Bassett, who hoped to fly over her 22-year-old daughter Jeni, camping with a research team on White Island, in the middle of the Great Ice Shelf. Mrs Bassett achieved that goal – and was able to chat with Jeni by radio as she passed overhead.16

Additionally, the lure of flight-seeing over the Antarctic caught the imagination of a significant group of non-New Zealanders. On page 4 of Air New Zealand’s Staff News dated 1 December 1977 ran a short article indicating that flying over the ice was good for business: “One of the big successes of last month’s Antarctic flight programme was the Japanese response. In all, 106 Japanese flew on the November 8 and 15 flights – and all were longhaul passengers with Air New Zealand from Hong Kong and Honolulu.” Additionally, “Hochi Shimbun, a leading sports newspaper, has now been approached to feature the Antarctic flight experience in its January New Year issue. Passenger comments will be featured, with photographs taken by Mr H Ikeda, a Japanese journalist and Antarctic authority who flew with both groups.”