John Rodsted

Expedition Leader & Photographer

John’s career spans 40 years in the photographic industry. Originally trained as a commercial photographer, he has impacted the world of imagery from the moment he set up his own studio in Melbourne at 22. 

Today, he is not only known for his award-winning work as a photojournalist of communities at risk, but also for his artistic and written work. Over the last 30 years, the world has been his focal point and his life has been spent as a true gypsy wandering the world and making an impact.

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

– Margaret Mead

Personal Note

At the age of 42, my life took a new turn as I ventured into the world of polar guiding. Prior to this chapter, I had worked extensively as a photojournalist, journalist, and researcher. Notably, my involvement in creating the anti-personnel landmines treaty in 1997 and the banning of cluster bombs in 2008 earned our team the prestigious Nobel Peace Prize. My work often took me to various conflict zones and post-conflict areas, including Cambodia, Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan, Eritrea, Sudan, Lebanon, Sri Lanka, East Timor, Mozambique, and many others. This diverse background and rich experience eventually led me to the fascinating realm of polar guiding.

The journey into polar guiding began with an accidental meeting that changed everything. During a casual social interaction, I crossed paths with the operations manager of a polar company. Little did I know that this seemingly ordinary conversation would pave the way for a life-altering opportunity. Soon after, the company’s boss invited me to Antarctica to discuss photography and our work in disarmament. My expertise in photography and photojournalism contributed to this invitation, but there was more to it—I had a deep personal fascination with the polar regions. I had spent countless hours studying polar history and had acquired extensive knowledge in that field. Thus, my first exposure to polar guiding occurred in 2003, and little did I know that this would mark the beginning of a remarkable two-decade journey.

Polar guiding proved to be an excellent fit for me. My boat skills aligned perfectly with the operations, making me a valuable asset in both the Arctic and Antarctic regions. Later, in the Arctic, my firearm skills also came into play, adding versatility to my abilities as a guide. What initially started as a one-time experience in Antarctica transformed into a passionate and fulfilling career, spanning 20 years of guiding in some of the most awe-inspiring regions on Earth.

Throughout these years, I managed to maintain a delicate balance between my guiding responsibilities and my other work. There were periods when I would transition from guiding expeditions to embarking on missions in war-torn zones like Lebanon or East Timor. My experiences were a blend of diverse histories and a mix of years—a testament to the dynamic nature of my life’s path.

Over time, my passion for the polar regions grew exponentially. I developed a deep desire to share these extraordinary landscapes with others and instill in them an appreciation for climate change, wildlife conservation, and the overall well-being of our planet. Motivating passengers to take action for the betterment of our world became a significant driving force in my role as a guide.

In addition to my polar expeditions, I embarked on a range of guiding ventures with Mette, covering vast territories from New Zealand through the Pacific to Papua New Guinea. Our journeys included exploring the enchanting Norfolk Island, Vanuatu, New Caledonia, and the Solomon Islands. We also ventured into the remote regions of Northwest and Northeast Australia, traversing the breathtaking Kimberley region, the Cape York peninsula, and the iconic Great Barrier Reef. Our guiding experiences extended to Southeast Asia as well, encompassing the captivating countries of Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam.

Looking back, my path has been one of discovery, resilience, and dedication. From a career steeped in conflict zones and peace efforts to guiding in the polar wonderlands and inspiring positive change, each chapter has shaped me profoundly.

One of my deepest interests is history—be it modern events, polar exploration, or political histories. Another captivating subject for me is ice geology. I’m fascinated by the critical role ice plays in maintaining our planet’s health, regulating temperatures and enabling food growth. Additionally, I have a peculiar fascination with cosmology and astrophysics, exploring the fundamental concepts that shape our universe and impact our world, including climate change.

Above all historical figures, Fritjof Nansen stands out as an extraordinary man. A former sportsman turned scientist, he is known as the father of modern oceanography. He achieved remarkable feats, leading the first skiing expedition across Greenland and daringly freezing a ship into Arctic ice for the Fram Expedition, aiming to drift over the North Pole. Apart from his exploration endeavors, Nansen also played a crucial role in shaping modern Norway and served as a dedicated diplomat.

Nansen’s selflessness became evident in his diplomatic pursuits. Through the establishment of the Nansen Passport, he saved millions of lives by offering hope to stateless individuals like Armenians and white Russians, enabling them to start anew in different countries. In recognition of his tireless efforts, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1922. Despite his numerous accomplishments, Nansen remained humble and devoted to his scientific interests throughout his life.

Tragically, he passed away at the age of 69, leaving behind an impressive legacy. His wisdom and counsel were sought after by other explorers like Amundsen, Scott, Shackleton, and Mawson, who often found success when following his guidance. Fritjof Nansen’s impact on history and exploration is enduring and significant.

With over 20 years of guiding experience, we’re in a good position, well-versed in our craft. Secret Atlas caught my attention with their focus on small ships, a model that aligns with my belief in the future of travel. Small ships allow us to do our job effectively while minimizing environmental impact. Twelve people disembarking into the landscape are virtually invisible, unlike the logistical nightmare of 200 people stomping around and leaving.

While much of the industry is heading in the latter direction, Secret Atlas stands out. They prioritize small ships and embrace environmental consciousness as part of their DNA. Meeting the owners reinforced their genuine commitment to doing what’s right for the environment and beyond. This shared philosophy made joining Secret Atlas a natural and comfortable fit for me. I’m extremely pleased and have no intention of leaving this company I deeply believe in.

I sought true integrity in an organization, and I found it with Secret Atlas. As an expedition leader, I value running well-organized and transparent trips. We strive to offer great experiences while being sensitive to wildlife and nature. It’s about finding a balance where everyone benefits, from passengers to the environment. Our goal is for passengers to leave as effective ambassadors for the polar regions, fostering a shared appreciation for these neutral territories. Whether in the Antarctic, the Arctic Basin, or unique places like Svalbard, our approach is guided by education, respect, and mindfulness towards the environment and its inhabitants.

My background is diverse, and with age, it has become a collection of various experiences. I take pride in my work on disarmament treaties, especially the moment when I gathered evidence that kickstarted the ban on cluster bombs. Creating two disarmament treaties that reshaped warfare is an achievement I cherish.

In my polar work, I find deep satisfaction when I witness the transformative impact on people’s lives. It’s not just about showing them the polar regions; it’s about sparking those “aha” moments that motivate them to take action. As guides, we facilitate life-changing experiences and strive to help others appreciate their significance.

Engaging in discussions, even with skeptics of climate change, is something I welcome. It’s rewarding to witness a shift in perspective and understanding. Fact-based discussions offer opportunities to explore different viewpoints, and I’ve seen attitudes change over time, even with geologists and academics.

Being in the polar regions makes climate change tangible and real, deepening people’s understanding through firsthand experiences. Safety is paramount in these hostile environments, and we prioritize running a green operation while providing extraordinary experiences tailored to each person’s interests.

Guiding is a privilege, and witnessing people gain knowledge and leave transformed is incredibly satisfying. We act as facilitators, fostering meaningful conversations about topics from wildlife to politics, broadening perspectives and fostering deeper appreciation for these unique environments.

Over 20 years of guiding, I’ve been privileged to experience countless unforgettable moments. Each season brings new memories that gradually get replaced by even greater ones. From ice calvings to encounters with polar bears, penguins, and whales, it’s like a jigsaw puzzle of extraordinary experiences.

One particular memory stands out: a humpback whale surfaced right next to our Zodiac in the Antarctic’s Gerlache Strait. Drifting in the small boat, the majestic creature surfaced just a meter away from us. I resisted the urge to touch it, and it curiously looked at us with its big eye before gracefully returning to the water. Being in a small boat allowed us to connect with wildlife, creating an unforgettable encounter that lingers in my heart.

Without a doubt, my day at work doesn’t feel like work at all. We choose polar guiding because we genuinely love it. The passion for this job and the breathtaking locations keeps bringing us back. Interacting with the people we meet adds to the fulfillment.

What makes Secret Atlas special is their focus on small ship travel. I hope the industry moves towards downsizing, away from those massive ships with hundreds of people. It’s not suitable for the landscape, whether in the north or south. I’d love to see a return to smaller ships like 20 years ago, offering a far better experience.

Currently, I’m content with my role as an expedition leader and guiding with Secret Atlas, one of the best in the business. Our partnership thrives on our complementary interests, surrounded by talented people. Besides guiding, we remain involved in disarmament work, and exciting news just came in about progress in cleaning up World War II bombs in the Pacific.

Overall, I’m incredibly happy with where I’m at, and I believe this is the best job in the world.

Meet John

For a more personal connection with John, we encourage you to connect with him on Facebook. Discover more about John and his wife Mette in our blog article, ‘From the Frontlines to the Arctic: The Guides Saving Lives in War Zones.’