Douglas Mawson: Designed for discovery

Tomas Tillberg tells Rebecca Gibson how the interiors Tillberg Design has created for Aurora Expeditions’ new Douglas Mawson will pay tribute to a legendary Antarctica explorer and redefine expedition cruising

Douglas Mawson: Designed for discovery
Douglas Mawson will feature luxurious spaces, such as its restaurants and a sun deck with a heated pool

By Rebecca Gibson |

Pioneering geologist, scientist and explorer Sir Douglas Mawson made history by spearheading the first Australia-led expedition of Antarctica in 1911-1914. Mawson and his team overcame multiple adversities to map Antarctica’s coastline and study wildlife and geological formations to further the world’s understanding of the continent’s unique ecosystem.  

In 2025, intrepid travellers can follow in his footsteps by boarding new luxury expedition cruise ship Douglas Mawson, which will spend its inaugural season exploring East Antarctica. The 154-guest ship will be chartered to Aurora Expeditions and is part of a series of purpose-built expedition ships owned by SunStone Ships, all of which feature interiors designed by Tomas Tillberg Design.  

Douglas Mawson is purpose-designed to safely navigate remote coastal areas and the polar regions. At 104.4 metres long, the ship will be small enough to easily access narrow waterways, while its ice-strengthened, inverted X-Bow hull designed by Ulstein Werft will increase stability and reduce fuel consumption. The ship will also be equipped with advanced navigation systems and eco-friendly technologies to minimise its impact on the environment and fragile marine ecosystems.  

Although much smaller in size than mainstream cruise vessels, Douglas Mawson will span eight decks and offer multiple spacious onboard venues.  

“The ship will have interiors, facilities and amenities designed to enhance both the expedition experience and passenger comfort,” says Tomas Tillberg, managing partner at Tomas Tillberg Design. “To ensure passenger comfort and convenience, the ship will have relaxing cabins and suites, beautiful dining venues, observation decks, a heated outdoor pool, a poolside bar, lounges, a library and a wellness centre with a spa, gym and sauna. The two dining venues will also be a highlight, with the outdoor venue enabling guests to enjoy meals while immersed in the surrounding scenery.” 

Douglas Mawson will also have onboard amenities and facilities designed to enhance the expedition experience. “The ship will have specialised equipment including kayaks and Zodiacs for shore landings,” says Tillberg. “There will also be a mudroom with personal lockers, where guests can quickly gear up in wetsuits, boots and life jackets.” 

MSC Seascape

The ship’s science centre is intended to enhance the expedition experience for guests

Other expedition-focused spaces will include a well-equipped Science Lab where guests can join scientists as they work on research projects and a lecture lounge with audiovisual technology where naturalists, scientists, historians and local guides will deliver briefings, lectures and workshops. “In addition, a dedicated library will showcase books and documents about polar exploration, geology and environmental science,” says Tillberg. “These resources and the educational programming will inform passengers about the wildlife, cultures and history of the destinations, as well as Mawson’s expeditions and scientific contributions.” 

The educational programme is just one of many elements on the vessel designed to pay tribute to Mawson’s pioneering spirit. Several of the onboard spaces will be named after key locations, events or individuals associated with his expeditions, and guests will find nautical motifs, vintage maps and artefacts, photographs and memorabilia related to Mawson throughout the ship.  

“We’ve drawn inspiration from Mawson’s achievements to create interiors that evoke a sense of adventure and exploration,” says Tillberg. “The design elements, combined with interactive exhibits and virtual reality experiences, will provide a tangible link to his legacy and help guests to develop a deeper appreciation for his contributions to exploration, science and the natural world.” 

Tomas Tillberg Design has also curated the interiors to seamlessly connect guests with the landscapes and seascapes surrounding the ship.  

“We’ve incorporated floor-to-ceiling windows in guest accommodation and public spaces to provide unobstructed panoramic views and optimise opportunities for wildlife sightings,” says Tillberg. “These windows create a sense of openness and connection to the natural environment, which will be further enhanced by the open-air observation decks, outdoor seating areas and private balconies in some suites.” 

The team at Tomas Tillberg Design has also maximised natural light and created airy spaces so guests feel as though they are outdoors despite being inside the ship. 

“A wonderful example is the forward open space on Deck 5, where the Science Lab leads up to the library on a mezzanine floor,” says Tillberg. “This was made possible by the unique shape of the bow and creates a large open and light space not found on other small expedition ships.” 

To reinforce the connection between guests and nature, Tomas Tillberg Design has followed biophilic design principles and devised a colour scheme that reflects the landscapes, flora and fauna of the destinations the ship will visit. 

“We’ve used natural materials such as wood and stone, as well as textures and patterns inspired by the natural world,” says Tillberg. “Earthy tones, cool blues and shades of green dominate the colour palette to mirror the polar landscapes, while artwork depicting wildlife, landscapes and indigenous cultures will further enhance the sense of immersion.” 

According to Tillberg, Douglas Mawson symbolises the significant evolution in expedition cruising in recent years.  

“Purpose-built ships like Douglas Mawson open up new opportunities for travellers seeking immersive, adventurous and educational experiences in the world’s most remote and pristine regions,” he says. “The beautiful Douglas Mawson is the result of amazing collaboration between our team, SunStone Ships, Aurora Expeditions, the shipyard and contractor Makinen. It will redefine the small-ship expedition cruising experience.” 

Contact author


Subscribe to the Cruise & Ferry newsletter

  • ©2024 Tudor Rose. All Rights Reserved. Cruise & Ferry is published by Tudor Rose.