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A life less ordinary - Aaron and Nathan Russ

28 May 2021

For most of us, work means sitting at a desk, getting minimal use out of our legs, staring at our busy screens until it’s time to go home. We’ll take a vacation once or twice a year, always leaving totally envious of resort staff that get to live and work the experience year round, lapping up the sun and absorbing unlimited Pina coladas, we’re certain. Well, brothers Aaron and Nathan Russ of Heritage Expeditions take combining business in leisure to an entirely new level.

Heritage Expeditions was founded in 1985 by Aaron and Nathan’s father, Rodney Russ, a keen biologist. Having worked with many endangered species including the Black Robin, Rodney came to the conclusion that instead of shutting these wilderness areas away from humans, they should be shared so that visitors can become willing, authentic ambassadors of these incredible environments and the animals that inhabit them, and so Heritage Expeditions was born.

Today, Aaron and Nathan run the business that has always been a part of their lives. Aaron went on his first expedition at the tender age of five and by the time he turned eight, he was travelling on voyages more than regularly, spending a great deal of time on the company vessel. Each voyage sees a group of keen travellers board a vessel, and head for one of the far flung destinations around the globe that the company offers. From the Solomon Islands to Antarctica, a quick weekend getaway this is not.

These expeditions are luxurious in their own right, just not in the traditional manner. Whilst the vessels are comfortable and all amenities are within reach during the long expeditions at sea, the real luxury comes in the form of, as corny as this may sound, the journey. It’s rather hard to categorise the customer base of this one of a kind tour company. They’re a diverse bunch of professionals and retired business people who quite possibly, after decades of abundant wealth, have come to the conclusion that luxury isn’t an object such as a set of golf clubs or designer bag, it’s an experience. Expedition leader Aaron surmises the expeditions as boarding a boat with fifty new best friends. Together, witnessing things that most will only ever dream of. Alien landscapes, polar bears, whales, rare birds and penguins all delight the eyes. With no strict schedule, adventure calls. Hiking and kayaking are the best ways to get up close and personal with the surroundings, and it’s greatly encouraged.

The busy team are always searching for new corners of the world to explore, where only the smallest number of tourists has been before. They simply won’t settle for anything less than spectacular. These are intimate tours that only a handful of people are lucky enough to experience. In some instances, they transport tourists to incredibly unique destinations of which fewer than two hundred people will visit annually. Compared even to the eight hundred people who attempt to Climb Mount Everest each year, these numbers are emotively small. We really do mean it when we say ‘unique’ destinations. Aaron recalls a past trip where Heritage Expeditions were actually the first tourists to arrive on a remote island. The crew had to explain to the chief of the tribe what a tourist was, and why exactly the tourists had travelled to see their island. The idea of people travelling to witness the nature and beauty that the island had to offer was a foreign concept that took quite some illustrating. After some successful conversing, the vessel set back to an inhabited island, where they would later receive news that they had been invited to visit and explore the island. Other trips see guests living, dressing and dancing just as the tribe do; authenticity at its most sublime. With a new Indonesian Voyage focusing on some of the most diverse coral on the globe in sight, more rare opportunities await.

Looking for a downside to this lifestyle isn’t easily done. Given that a rather large percentage of their time is spent at sea, you’d have to wonder if perhaps it was a struggle to incorporate family life. And whilst Aaron admits that he’s reduced the time spent at sea due to having two young children, he still spends around four months of the year on board a vessel. However, time spent at sea doesn’t always mean time spent away from family. Before Christmas, his children experienced their first expedition. The young ones were treated to a voyage around Fiordland; the first of many sensational experiences that their own father was able to enjoy from a similar age. The balance of land and sea has been mastered it would seem.

Whilst you can’t deny that this is a job that requires huge amounts of work, knowledge and planning (voyages for 2021 are already in the pipeline), for both Aaron and Nathan, the pros of this incredible job outnumber the cons a hundred times over. In fact, according to Aaron, indeed the only con is that life is too short to thoroughly explore the whole planet.

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