The Aurora Australis is Australia's Antarctic flagship. It was named after the southern hemisphere atmospheric phenomenon – Aurora Australis.
Designed as a multi-purpose research and resupply ship, the Aurora Australis was built by Carrington Slipways in Newcastle for P&O Polar and launched in September 1989. The ship is 94.9 metres long and 3911 tonnes in weight. It has a cruising speed of 13 knots, and accommodates 116 passengers. It is capable of breaking ice up to 1.23 metres thick. The ship is also fitted with a helipad and hangar facilities for three helicopters.
The Aurora Australis regularly sails across the Southern Ocean where storms can generate 10 metre high seas and winds of 120–150 km/h. The ship has been known to roll up to 45 degrees in big swells. In these situations the angle of the deck is far steeper than any streets in Australia. The Aurora Australis is painted a very bright orange, thus allowing it to be easily seen in ice-strewn waters.
The Aurora Australis is well equipped with a trawl deck, purpose designed for marine science and oceanographic work. A wide range of science is conducted in onboard laboratories. This includes biological, oceanography and meteorological experiments and observations.
On a six week voyage, the ship's kitchen can go through 4500 eggs, 1000 kg of potatoes and 280 litres of ice cream. The ship can produce up to 45,000 litres of fresh water per day for use on board for both drinking and other uses.
With satellite communications, people on the ship can phone anywhere in the world at any time. Expeditioners are also able to stay in contact with friends and family via email.
Expeditioners are accommodated in small cabins that sleep three or four people on bunk beds. The beds fold away into couches to save space, and each cabin has its own bathroom and toilet. The ship also has a gym, library and recreation areas. Everybody eats together in a large communal mess.