Looking for a Kiwi backyard break with a difference? How about Antarctica?

While the pandemic has forced New Zealanders to forgo international travel, Heritage Expeditions wants to bring attention to the country's most exotic claims.

New Zealand's only domestic ocean cruise line has launched an itinerary designed to take passengers around some of the most exotic parts of our country. This includes New Zealand's claim on Antarctica - the Ross Sea Dependency.

Christchurch-based Heritage Expeditions plans to take the definition of domestic travel to its very limit.

Advertisement

"The Snares, Auckland Island, Campbell Island are all 100 per cent sovereign territory of New Zealand," says operator and expedition leader Aaron Russ.

'Spitit of Enderby': The Professor Khromov is Russian owned vessel, exploring New Zealand's most extreme destinations. Photo / Sherry Ott, Heritage Expeditions
'Spitit of Enderby': The Professor Khromov is Russian owned vessel, exploring New Zealand's most extreme destinations. Photo / Sherry Ott, Heritage Expeditions

"New Zealand flagged vessels are out and operating in Fiordland and Stewart Island, with great success," he says taking heart from the demand for New Zealanders cruising their own backyard.

The company which runs itineraries for international tourists around the more remote parts of New Zealand south Pacific islands and conservation areas will be running its summer season exclusively for Kiwis.

"We're a proudly New Zealand owned and operated company and we've been operating in the Southern sea for over 30 years," says Aaron who runs the company which was founded by his parents, conservation workers Rodney and Shirley. The Russes began the cruise line to take tourists around these extremely exotic, but undeniably Kiwi locations.
People other than conservation workers and researchers rarely get to see these parts of the world.

In the past Heritage Expeditions has been involved in DOC conservation projects, such as the "million dollar mouse" which eradicated invasive pests from the Antipodes islands -760km south east of the mainland.

Backyard: An party from Heriage Expeditions explores Thompson Sound. Photo / R Smith, Heritage Expeditions
Backyard: An party from Heriage Expeditions explores Thompson Sound. Photo / R Smith, Heritage Expeditions

Like the steel hull of a reinforced icebreaker they are ploughing on in preparation for the start of the November season. They are currently in negotiations with the government "to operate a Kiwis-only season within New Zealand waters including the Ross Sea Dependency - New Zealand's claim on Antarctica."

However, there is a snag. Heritage's only Antarctic ice-rated ship is currently in Russia. The Professor Khromov – which goes by the "Spirit of Enderby" in New Zealand – is property of the Russian Government.

"We need the ship to arrive to New Zealand before the season can start," says Aaron, but there is a plan in place to get Prof Khromov to Bluff which involves adequate quarantine and clearance for the 22 Russian crew members.

Advertisement

"Unfortunately for the voyages we do there's no NZ vessels that are capable."
Originally built in Finland as an oceanographic research vessel the Khromov's Cyrillic lettered, ice strengthened prow is rated for the extreme Antarctic conditions. "It was really designed to go to the places that we go."

The with space for just 50 guests the passengers are not your average cruisers, says Aaron– "they're explorers." While shorter sailings are popular with New Zealanders – until now the month-long sailings to the Ross Sea have been 80 per cent overseas guests.
However, the Heritage hopes that the adventure will appeal to New Zealanders who have had to look for travel closer to home.

The far corners of New Zealand: A seal on Campbell Island. Photo / Samuel Blanc, Heritage Expeditions
The far corners of New Zealand: A seal on Campbell Island. Photo / Samuel Blanc, Heritage Expeditions

If given the go ahead, Aaron says the itineraries appeal to Kiwis who have "had their wings clipped by Covid", looking to "tick off that bucket list adventure and explore the furthest reaches of our amazing backyard"

Polar expeditionary vessels have been leading the charge in a return to cruising. Norway's Hurtigruten was one of the first with sailings to return the sea with passengers after the pandemic halted operations in July. However, there was a major setback after an outbreak on the Roald Amundsen infected 41 crew and 21 guests.

Heritage says the Hurtigruten outbreak came from "a very different set of circumstances to the New Zealand model," and hopes that with an absence of community transmission they can begin domestic itineraries for Kiwi only guests by the end of this year.