The COVID pandemic has hit hard the growing expedition travel industry. During the last weeks of the last Antarctic season, all operators and shipping companies had to bring back their ships, lay off their guides and scale back their business activities. But while the prospects for a start for this season from Argentina look bleak, New Zealand is daring to embark on expeditions and has given the ok to the long-standing company Heritage Expeditions.
With permission in their pocket, the traditional family business can officially start its season and bring its ship, the Spirit of Enderby, with the crew from Russia to New Zealand. The ship is a comfortably converted former research vessel, ideal for the polar regions and for exploring the sub-Antarctic islands around New Zealand. With its high manoeuvrability and low draught, bays and places can be reached that are not possible for other expedition ships . But first, the ship and its crew must go through New Zealand’s strict COVID protocols before it can start sailing around the islands, coasts and the sub-Antarctic islands of New Zealand from November on. There is also a safety and health protocol for guests who come exclusively from New Zealand due to travel restrictions. The first trip will also not lead too far away from New Zealand.
“Thesize of our Spirit of Enderby and the number of guests give us the opportunity of this family atmosphere, but also the safety and well-being of all the people on board.”
Aaron Russ, co-owner of Heritage Expeditions
The first trips will take place in New Zealand’s “backyard” and head for the islands around New Zealand. After that, the sub-Antarctic islands further south and perhaps the Ross Sea region in Antarctica are planned. The company owners Aaron and Nathan Russ want to go back to the roots of the company. More than 30 years ago, their father Rodney Russ began his expeditions with visits to the wild Fjordland coast and the islands around New Zealand. They wanted to introduce the guests to the domestic flora and fauna. Since then, the journeys to the south have been expanded and they visit places that hardly any other company has on their itineraries. The focus is on the experience of nature, not the equipment of the bar or the fluffyness of the bedsheets. “We do pay great attention to comfort and well-being on board,” says Aaron Russ. “But with us, the guest should feel at home as if in a family, not as if in a hotel. We do live together for some time, after all. The size of our Spirit of Enderby and the number of guests give us the opportunity of this family atmosphere, but also the safety and well-being of all the people on board.”
Whether these plans can be implemented depends on the course of the first journeys. But Heritage is optimistic. New Zealand, as one of the few countries in the world, has kept its COVID outbreaks under control. No further infections have been recorded in Auckland, the last outbreak, for about two weeks. Nevertheless, Heritage has a strict COVID protocol. As always, the safety and health of the guests and the crew and guides is paramount in expedition stours. And the signs that Heritage and New Zealand will be able to make a successful southern season despite the virus pandemic are good.
Dr Michael Wenger, PolarJournal
More on the subject: