Howard Whelan & Skye Marr-Whelan
Father’s Day gives us the opportunity to recognise our extraordinary dads and their contributions to our lives. Dads that are with us and those that are not, their love lives with us forever.
Within the Aurora Expeditions family, there are many special dads and although we can’t profile everyone, this year for Father’s Day in Australia, we’ve had a chat with someone who represents very much who we are, our history and the future.
“My lifestyle has always been in adventure and expeditions which can be fairly selfish, and I was born with curiosity and drive to look around the next corner,” said Howard Whelan.
“I’ve had a long relationship with Aurora Expeditions,” said Howard recalling his journey thus far.
Howard Whelan is a long-time friend of Aurora Expeditions founder Greg Mortimer. He got to know him in 1984 when he supported Greg as a cameraman on his historic Mount Everest summit. In the years following Howard became the founding editor of Australian Geographic and during his annual holidays joined Greg Mortimer as an expedition leader on Antarctic trips and continues to lead expeditions to this day.
Howard’s whole life has been driven by adventure admitting he loves to be challenged and one of the greater and more rewarding challenges has been becoming a father (to Skye, who is also an expedition leader) and grandfather.
“The thing that surprised me was how powerful being a parent can be. It entices you to stop thinking about yourself and consider the people you love and make them the priority.”
Howard settled into a less nomadic lifestyle during Skye’s upbringing when he led the Australian Geographic magazine through its editorial high life. Accompanying Greg Mortimer to Antarctica annually and getting outdoors with his family was the perfect balance.
“Life was always an adventure and fun growing up with my Dad,” said Skye. “We would spend weekends rock climbing and bush walking on the Northern beaches of Sydney and in the Blue Mountains, as well as skiing whenever we were able to. My earliest memories are of Dad belaying me off cliff faces and gently pushing me to live beyond my comfort zone, to get the absolute most out of life.”
Weekend activities were just the start of what would become a special father-daughter bond and journey through life for Skye and Howard. But Howard admits that Skye was always going to end up working in the outdoors with such a natural affinity to the land and skilled at all activities she tried. “We lived on Scotland Island when she was young. Even from three-years-old she’s been a good Zodiac driver. She can handle any conditions,” he said.
When Skye was just 16 years old, she started joining her dad on expeditions even adults dream of.
“I will never forget flying into Auster Rookery (Antarctica) in a helicopter from the icebreaker, with my Dad and seeing the white continent for the very first time. It was a life-changing experience for me and had a profound impact on my future, including my career and my own family that I created with my partner who also works in the Antarctic,” said Skye.
Years later Skye completed her university degree and headed straight back to sea joining Howard as assistant expedition leader. “We’ve shared some fantastic trips together,” said Howard. “Skye was with me in 2010 when we did the first commercial trip ever through the Northeast passage from Murmansk in Russia across to Wrangle Island and through the Bering Strait down the Kuril Islands and finishing in Sakhalin,” he said. “It has been wonderful to share experiences like these with my daughter.”
In recent years Howard and Skye have had the opportunity to travel and lead expeditions together and continue exploring the world and sharing their experience and stories with Aurora Expeditions guests.
Howard continues to enjoy family life with a new generation and beams with pride when talking about them. Now grandfather, he recounts the call he received from Skye after the birth of her son whilst he was out at sea.
“It was six years ago when I was in the Weddell Sea onboard the previous Aurora Expeditions ship the Polar Pioneer. We were headed to Paulet Island but there was a lot of ice, and it didn’t look like we were going to make it through,” said Howard.
“My assistant called me into the office to take the call from Skye who announced she’d given birth to my first grandson Eden,” he said. What followed was a very powerful moment for him.
“I went back to the bridge to talk to the naturalist about getting through the ice but there was just too much. We then looked over at an islet where we could see masses of penguins so decided to try and head towards it instead. Suddenly, the water ahead started to boil. Krill and birds started diving and penguins were purposing along the side of the ship towards the islet. You wouldn’t believe it,” said Howard still as enthralled by the moment, “we looked up the name of the islet and it was Eden Rocks!”
The pair have always had a special relationship built on good communication and support, qualities important to Howard and now valued by Skye. “Being a parent has made me appreciate my dad more by helping me understand unconditional love and that desire to give your kids the best opportunities in life which is what Dad has always shown me throughout my own life,” she said.
A proud daughter, Skye says ahead of Father’s Day, “Dad has achieved so much in his life and he always does everything with his heart on his sleeve, whilst trying to make the most out of every single opportunity that presents itself. I have loved working with him in the field and seeing him thrive as an expedition leader, always treating fellow staff and guests as equals, whilst giving people the most memorable and fun experiences possible.
“My Dad has always supported me with love in whatever path I have chosen to take. He has encouraged me to be true to myself and follow my dreams,” said a thankful Skye.