adventure, wanderwell, world

This Female Indiana Jones Is History’s Greatest Forgotten Explorer

Words: Josh Rakic
Photography: Courtesy of

Meet Aloha Wanderwell, the badass forgotten explorer and director who became the first woman to drive around the world at age 16.

The name likely won’t ring a bell but the story of the world-record explorer Aloha Wanderwell is a movie waiting to happen. The Canadian 16-year-old become the first woman to drive around the world — in the wake of WWI — and added multiple other death-defying expeditions to her list of accomplishements.

The six-foot-tall beauty had a penchant for adventure from a young age, and at a time when most women were confined to the kitchen, the 16-year-old — then known as Idris Hall — dreamt of adventure, so she packed up her bags and answered a newspaper ad to join a worldwide expedition with Captain Walter Wanderwell by way of Model T Ford in 1922.

© YouTube/Aloha Wanderwell

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Her “beauty, brains and breeches” soon won her and the tour international attention, the focus of the record-setting adventure now turning to the girl given the stage name of “Aloha Wanderwell” by the Captain himself.

Not content with simply being the Captain’s secretary, it wasn’t long before Aloha became the lead driver, filmer, spokesperson and face of the expedition, which saw her and the Captain traverse four continents and 43 countries with Aloha at the wheel — even if at times the car was being pulled by oxen through the muflats of India and by laborers through 80 miles of China in 1924 when civil warfare made the purchase of fuel impossible.

adventure, explorer, world

It wasn’t just the terrain that Aloha had to survive, but journeying through war-torn nations such as France, Germany and Italy, where the likes of Mussolini was consolidating his power. She adventured across Egypt and Palestine, too, often finding herself in life-or-death situations that required all her diplomacy skills to stay alive. Rumors of the time suggested she even cut her hair and fought as part of the French Foreign Legion during the journey.

The round-the-world trip would take almost four years, the “World’s Most Widely Traveled Girl” becoming a marketing whizz and star mechanic in the process, as the couple resorted to extreme means to keep their custom Ford running — kerosene in place of gas, crushed bananas for grease and elephant fat for engine oil. This was 100 years ago, when cars had only existed for 14 years.

Over the course of the journey, Aloha and the Captain found love, and settled in California in 1929 before setting off to the wilds of the Amazon, camera in tow, where tragedy struck. Their plane crashed in “the river of death,” leaving Aloha to fend for herself with the native Bororo tribe in Brazil’s Mato Grosso, as the Captain went off on a months-long search for help. She was quickly embraced by the tribe, and her footage of them remains the most acclaimed to this day.

Aloha was a superstar of her time, but tragedy soon struck again when the Captain was shot and killed onboard their boat in Long Beach. His murder remains unsolved to this day. Aloha eventually remarried and continued to break new ground for adventurers and women alike, including a famous flight — which she piloted — to Indo China, where she famously had to shoot her way out of an elephant stampede.

She eventually settled in Newport Beach, California, giving her last public appearance in 1982. And she died in relative obscurity in 1996, leaving behind an entire archive of photos and film that document her entire life. A movie soon please, Hollywood.

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