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As a child, Lisa Bolton had no notion of the Antarctic, or the urge to travel much further than the Queensland bush.

Years on, she is at the helm of the Australian-based adventure tourism company, Aurora Expeditions, and a trip to the Arctic or Antarctic is just another day in the office.

The Bolton family moved from Brisbane to settle in the township of Cabarlah near Toowoomba when Lisa was eight years old. “We had 10 acres, chooks, horses and an orchard. I have fond memories of growing up there – a great street with lots of kids,” recalls Lisa.

An upbringing in the country was supplemented by parents who loved to travel. Lisa and her siblings were always encouraged to get out and explore the world. “I was in love with the Australian bush, especially outback Queensland. It wasn’t until I was in my late teens that travel took my interest, but I had no intention of pursuing a career in travel – I wanted to be a vet or the first female Prime Minister!”

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Despite her parents’ encouragement, it was Lisa’s firsthand experience that finally saw her succumb to the intrigue of travel. Study in economics and resource management led to a career with Qantas and then with Carnival Australia (P&O Cruises). It wasn’t long before she ditched the cruise ship industry for something far more adventurous taking the lead role at Aurora Expeditions. Cruise ships were exchanged for ex-Soviet icebreakers with burley crew and smooth sailing swapped for the notorious Drake Passage that runs between Argentina’s Tierra del Fuego (the end of the world) to the Antarctic Peninsula.

Of her extraordinary travel experience with the company, it is kayaking in Antarctica that stands out as the most incredible experience of all. “You paddle into another dimension, where curious wildlife approaches you rather than the other way around and the silence is profound,” Lisa says.

It has not all been smooth sailing; shortly after taking up the position of CEO, Lisa was faced with the challenge of manoeuvring the company through the Global Financial Crisis. She is proud to have seen the company through the ordeal and to have strengthened its position in the adventure tourism market. “We offered the first trip across the North East Passage and added destinations like Alaska, Africa and Ecuador,” she says. “We’ve increased access to Antarctica by developing Fly/Sail trips to Antarctica and are developing Puerto Williams, Chile as a gateway closer to Antarctica than traditional Ushuaia.”

The business of taking tourists to remote, exotic locations is fraught with environmental concerns. “Aurora Expeditions was one of the early members of IAATO and AECO, the industry body that worked hard to establish and maintain environmental guidelines for Antarctica and the Arctic respectively.”

There are many challenges facing the company and the greater industry today but Lisa has plans for new ships on the drawing board, and more exciting travel opportunities on the horizon, including a river expedition arm for the business.

Words by Alice Thompson | Images via Andrew Halsall.