New Zealand's only oceangoing cruise line has drafted a fresh-faced birdwatcher for a unique expedition to the Subantarctic Islands.
Oscar Thomas, a 20-year-old ecology student and naturalist, has joining Heritage Expeditions ship Spirit of Enderby, currently on a 7-day voyage to the Auckland Islands and Snares.
It is a trip that offers a glimpse into the habitat of oceangoing birds Oscar has "always dreamed of encountering."
As the author of A Naturalist's Guide to the Birds of New Zealand, Oscar has travelled the length of the country identifying over 230 species of feathered fauna. It represents a chance to do further research and capture more images for the second edition of his book, which sold out within a month of publishing.
"The opportunity to actually see Aotearoa as it would have been without disturbance or destruction is incomparable." He will hopefully return with images of albatross and crested penguin in an entirely natural habitat.
The Otago University student joins the expedition as part of the True Young Explorers Scholarship, which offers reduced fares to young naturalists.
"Heritage Expeditions was founded on the ideals of people like Oscar, he is a tenacious and talented young man who embodies our shared ethos," says expeditions leader and commercial director Aaron Russ.
The Young Explorers Scholarship offers naturalists between 18-30 the chance to join expeditions for two thirds off normal rates.
However, during the current pandemic travel restrictions which see international visitors and cruise lines shut out of the country, it is an experience that money cannot buy.
Last week, French expedition company Ponant cancelled seven fully-booked sailings around New Zealand and the Subantarctic Islands.
The ship Le Lapérouse was forced to redirect to Noumea after failing to obtain visas for 61 crew members.
Heritage Expeditions' ship The Spirit of Enderby - which is also known by her Russian name Professor Khromov – arrived in New Zealand in November with 22 crew members covered by the Economic Exemption undergoing mandatory quarantine en route.
It is a unique set of circumstances but the Christchurch-based expedition company said beyond getting the ship into the country, much of this Kiwi-only season was familiar.
"It's pretty much the same as a regular season," Aaron Russ told RNZ at the time "We have adapted things a little bit as we are only carrying New Zealanders".
The Spirit of Enderby concludes its New Zealand-only season with two trips to the Chatham islands in March and April, before she is scheduled to return to the Arctic for the Northern summer.