Sir Edmund Hillary Collegiate student A’aifou Potemani spoke with Tagata Pasifika’s Alistar Kata about his experience on the Antarctic Heritage Trust’s Inspiring Explorers’ Expedition 2020.
After a short break and some time to process his experience in Antarctica, we caught up with Inspiring Explorer A’aifou Potemani to get his perspective on the expedition, and find out about the highlights of his trip, and the big challenges he faced.
A’aifou is Deputy Head Boy at Sir Edmund Hillary Collegiate. He is interested in painting, sketching and print-making, loves being active, playing sport, and trying new activities. In 2020, A’aifou is studying Mathematics, English, Visual Arts, Print-Making and Geography. Once A’aifou leaves school he hopes to pursue a career in Architecture/Artist – Printmaker.
What was your favourite part of the trip?
Kayaking. I had only done it once before at Great Barrier Island, so I wasn’t used to it, but it is something I really enjoyed during the trip. It was an amazing experience for me to kayak while looking at the mountains and views and seeing wildlife, including seals and penguins up close.
What was the most challenging part? How did you conquer this?
Kayaking in the open sea. I wasn’t comfortable about this but I kept telling myself that I had to try new things even if I didn’t want to do them to start with. I tried to have a mindset of confidence within myself. Marcus and the others on the expedition told me it was going to be fine, and it turned about to be a really fun thing to do.
What did you learn or discover about yourself?
During and since the expedition, I’ve started to interact with more people, more often, and have more confidence within myself. I believe anything is possible if you put your mind and soul into it. Overcoming my fear by stepping outside my comfort zone, taking the opportunities given to me, facing challenges, and having a mindset of giving it a go was another big one. Before I went on the trip I was a bit worried about getting seasick but I didn’t get sick at all which was all good!
Which sights, sounds, feelings and experiences of Antarctica stand out as you reflect back on your experience?
The sound of the calm waves and the carving glaciers made the experience exciting, along with watching the amazing wildlife – penguins, seals and whales. It was so different seeing them a few metres away in their natural environment rather than in an aquarium. I was also amazed at how white and blue the ice was, and seeing the ice carve and collapse into the water. It created waves and made such a loud sound, almost like an earthquake. Kayaking around a few islands, stepping onto islands, and cruising on the ship were other highlights.
How did going to Antarctica make you think about the historic polar explorers? In what way did these reflections impact on your personal experience?
I thought about the resources the historic explorers had compared to nowadays, with companies arranging trips to Antarctica on comfortable ships. I can’t imagine how tough it must have been to travel through the rough seas in their small boats to see this incredible place. I also thought about what kind of clothes they had for their expeditions compared to the gear we had.
What was something you experienced that was different to your expectations?
The icebergs. The ice was so white but was also coloured light blue, which was cool and something I didn’t expect. Other things were how massive everything was, and how cold the ice was when we grabbed it (even when we were wearing gloves). I was surprised the temperature wasn’t as ultra-cold as I thought it was going to be. With the right clothes and keeping ourselves warm it was all good.
When you share your story, what will be the things you want to share most?
I want to tell people what it was like to kayak on the open sea, how beautiful the views were in Antarctica, and what it was like to see the penguins, seals and whales. I would also talk about how exploration is good for young people. There is a whole massive world out there and so many great places and things to experience. Who knows, seeing something you’ve never seen before might change your life. Going on this trip has made me want to go out there and experience and explore even more.
What skills did you bring to the team, and how were you able to utilise these on the trip?
During this experience I tried my best to display as much leadership as I could by being the best version of myself, leading by example and making the most of all the experiences I was offered. Leading the haka with Jaylee and teaching the rest of the team how to do it was a great experience. I knew I had to step forward and have the confidence and courage within myself to lead. We had a lot of practices before the day. It was fun to teach people who had never done a haka before. The Trust’s supporters, Andrew, Bill and Richard, and expedition leader, Marcus were all great to teach, as they were so interested in learning. I was really proud of how the team performed the haka. They made it look strong, and it was cool for the audience to watch. As Deputy Head Boy and a Prefect at school, this experience was really helpful to help me find confidence within myself and improve my communication skills.
Any comments about the team itself? What were the strengths of the team? Why do you think it worked well together?
We were a strong team. Spending time with the other team members was one of the reasons why the trip was so enjoyable. Communication was one of our key strengths. Everybody made me feel comfortable, and being the youngest, Jaylee and I were checked up on a lot, and we all checked up on each other. The team helped me to feel more confident, and thanks to Marcus as well for being a great expedition leader. I miss everyone!
How did you and the team deal with the disruption to your trip caused by COVID-19? Did this experience make you reflect on the challenges faced by the historic explorers? What similarities do you think there might be?
When we heard the news regarding COVID-19, we knew it was getting serious, but we tried not to think too much about the virus and continue to stay positive, participate, and make the most of the trip before heading home. I really loved doing the Body Boot Camp workouts with Owain and the other activities we did as a team. The different presentations about Antarctica, its wildlife, and much more, also kept our spirits up.
Would you recommend others apply for future expeditions and why?
Yes – I strongly recommend anyone interested in seeing this beautiful place to apply. Who wouldn’t want to go to visit one of the seven continents? It is a special and astonishing place with its wildlife, landscape, carving glaciers. Visiting it is the opportunity of a lifetime for sure.
Do you have any advice for future expedition members?
Make the most of it and have as much fun as you can. Never take these opportunities for granted. Just apply and you may get to experience this great place. Also, have the right gear and be prepared to face the coldness!
Is there anything else you would like to add?
I’m really grateful and happy to have had this amazing trip, regardless of COVID-19. It made me feel amazed at how great the world is. Antarctica is a place I never thought I’d go to, and I’m so happy and blessed to have been there. I’m looking forward to sharing my stories with my family, community, and future family. I found the confidence to try things I had never done before and came out of my comfort zone to explore and experiment. I know for sure, this is the beginning of exploration in my life.
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