Explorer Journeys: Sadra Sultani

Inspiring Explorers Expedition: Antarctic Peninsula 2020

The opportunity to visit the Antarctic Peninsula has led Sadra Sultani to encourage the spirit of exploration in many other young people in her community.

The icy, remote landscape of the Antarctic couldn’t be more different from dusty, hot, war-torn Afghanistan, where Sadra Sultani was born and lived with her family until they came to New Zealand more than a decade ago.

Sadra, who is a Law and Politics students at the University of Canterbury, was incredibly excited to have the opportunity to step outside her comfort zone and explore this completely foreign environment as part of the Inspiring Explorers Expedition.

She says every sense was heightened in the Antarctic. “We saw friendly penguins zooming and flipping in the water, elegant whales basking near our kayaks, and heard noises as loud as thunder when icebergs collapsed into the ocean, breaking the silence. I remember sitting on a cliff admiring the view and thinking how what we saw in photographs or on YouTube before the expedition, simply didn’t do justice to the beauty of Antarctica.”

Although she had competed at a national level in dragon boating and was part of a team of South Island Secondary Schools’ waka ama champions, Sadra had a fear of deep water, which made the polar plunge one of the biggest challenges she faced during the expedition. “Muslim girls are not big swimmers as we have to stay fully covered in the water. Before I jumped, I was so scared, and couldn’t think straight for a second. But once I did it, I enjoyed it so much that I could have gone for a second round. I thought about the deep water sometimes when we were kayaking, as there was a chance of us flipping, but I knew I had so many people to support me. By the end of the expedition, I felt like I was born to do this.”

Sadra is excited to keep exploring and has been busy encouraging the spirit of exploration in other young women and men in the Muslim community. As part of her outreach programme she ran a series of online and in person workshops, and several Zoom conferences around the theme of exploration. She also led a camp for the Muslim youth community based around exploration.

One of the things Sadra enjoyed most about the expedition to the Antarctic Peninsula was the unpredictability of the experience. “There is a quote I like which has the message ‘you are not taking the journey – the journey is taking you’.”

“Through exploration we are educating ourselves, which affects the decisions we make. Places like Antarctica have such a profound impact on the climate and our ecosystem. It is even more important we explore these places because it helps us to learn ways to preserve our natural phenomena.”