The eastern seaboard of Russia dominates the North Pacific and yet very few people know anything about it, let alone have experienced it. This isolation has protected one of its most valuable assets - its wilderness and to some degree, its wildlife. On this journey we will make numerous landings to discover this untamed and beautiful landscape. The river mouths, fiords, bays and islands offer the natural history enthusiast, the photographer, the historian and travellers the most unique of opportunities. Come and discover the jewel that is the Russian Far East!
Day 1: Nome, Alaska
Our expedition begins in Nome, Alaska’s most famous gold rush town.
Make your way to the designated meeting point for your transfer to
Heritage Adventurer (times and meeting point will be confirmed with
your voyage documents) where the captain and expedition team will be
waiting to welcome you aboard. You will have the opportunity to settle
into your accommodation and familiarise yourself on board before
joining your fellow expeditioners on deck as we set sail across the
Bering Sea and International Date Line for Provideniya, Russia.
Day 2: Provideniya, Russia
After clearing Russian Customs and Immigration there will be an
opportunity to explore this fascinating former Soviet military port
and administrative centre followed by an expedition afternoon.
Day 3: Cape Dezhnev and Lavrentiya
This morning we plan to be at Cape Dezhnev, the northeastern most
point of the Eurasian continent. This cape commemorates the
accomplishment of the Cossack Semyon Dezhnev who was the first
European to sail through this strait in 1648 (80 years before Bering
did). On the cape is a lighthouse, a monument and the remains of a
Border Guard base. If the weather and sea conditions are suitable we
plan to land here and give you the opportunity to explore the area. A
few nautical miles south of Cape Dezhnev we visit Lavrentiya village,
home to Chukchi, Yupik and Russians. While Russian development here
began in the late 1920s, Lavrentiya had been an indigenous settlement
long before. Explore the town square, sample local delicacies and
experience traditional cultural performances with the friendly locals.
Day 4: Yttygran Island & Bukhta Penkingney
Yttygran Island is home to the monumental ancient aboriginal site
known as Whale Bone Alley, where whale bones stretch along the beach
for nearly half a kilometre. There are many meat pits used for storage
and other remains of a busy whaling camp that united several
aboriginal villages at a time. In one location, immense Bowhead Whale
jawbones and ribs are placed together in a stunning arch formation.
Gray and Humpback Whales are frequently seen around the island. This
afternoon we plan to visit Bukhta Penkingney. This long fiord, cut
into the coastline by glaciers, is a popular spot for whale watching.
Exploring this scenic location we will be looking for wildlife
including brown bear.
Day 5: At Sea
As we sail across Anadyr Bay there will be lectures, opportunities to
look for whales and walrus from the deck, relaxing in the ship’s bar
and catching up with reading or downloading and editing photos.
Day 6: Bukhta Gavriila and Pika River
This coastline is rich in marine mammals and one creature we will be
looking for, in particular, is the walrus. As the animals regularly
move between locations, finding them can be a matter of luck, although
we have had success here in the past. We plan to explore Bukhta
Gavriila. The bukhta (or bay) was named after Commander Vitus Bering’s
ship, the St Gabriel, from the First Kamchatka Expedition. Behind the
expansive beach there is a lagoon and we may also visit Chukotka’s
oldest, and the Arctic’s southernmost, weather station which now sits
abandoned. Due to strong tides around Cape Navarin there is an
abundance of food here and it is not uncommon to see large numbers of
seabirds and Gray Whales congregating in the area. This afternoon we
plan to visit the delta of Pika River – a well-known walrus haul out
and one of the few places in the southern part of their range that
sees thousands of animals coming to rest on the beach.
Day 7: Bukhta Natalii
Along the Koryak Coast there are many beautiful fiords (bukhtas or
bays) and none are more beautiful than Bukhta Natalii. This fiord has
two smaller fiords that drain into it from the south – Bukhta Pavla
and Bukhta Petra (named after St Peter and St Paul by Commander Vitus
Bering). We plan to cruise to Bukhta Pavla and make a landing. The
magnificent mountain landscapes and tundra vegetation will surround
us, along with the possibility of sighting Snow Sheep, as they are
often seen in the area. There is a historic walrus haul out on
Bogoslova Island which guards the entrance to these fiords.
Day 8: Tintikun Lagoon
Much of the southern Govena Peninsula was declared a state reserve.
This wildlife-rich and rarely visited location is surrounded by jagged
peaks and cliffs where waterfalls tumble down valleys, and is home to
Kamchatka Brown Bears, Steller’s Sea Eagles and Largha Seals. During
our Zodiac cruise we expect to enjoy numerous wildlife encounters and
explore one of the region’s most spectacular fiords Tintikun Lagoon.
This fiord was blocked by a large terminal moraine during the last
period of glaciation. A shallow river surrounded by jagged mountains,
glaciers and forested slopes has breached the moraine, allowing access
to one of the most picturesque locations found anywhere in the world.
We take a closer look on a Zodiac safari. There is also a large
population of brown bears and these should be feeding in, and around,
the river mouth that drain into the head of the lagoon.
Day 9: Verkhutova Island
Verkhoturova Island has some huge seabird colonies which we plan to
get close to by following a short, but steep trail to the clifftop. We
should be able to enjoy some fantastic views of Tufted Puffins,
Brunnich’s Guillemots, Pelagic Cormorants and Black-legged Kittiwakes.
We may also see some Steller Sea Lions, as they are often hauled out
on offshore rocks nearby.
Days 10 to 11: Commander Islands
The Commander Islands consist of two large islands (Bering and Medny)
with two smaller islands Ariy Karmen and Toporkov. These islands are
located at the western extremity of the Aleutian chain. We intend to
explore the islands through a combination of landings and Zodiac
cruises. Anchoring off Bering Island, named after Commander Bering who
had the misfortune of discovering this land when his ship was wrecked
here in 1741, we plan to explore Commander Bay. Walk to the graves of
Bering and some of his crew who lost their lives during the long cold
winter on this remote land and visit the site where they sought
shelter. The reports from those that survived led to a ‘fur rush’ and
the settlement of the islands. Our first stop will be the village of
Nikolskoye, where we will visit one of the only museums in the world
to display a skeleton of the famed (but now extinct) Steller’s Sea
Cow. After the village we plan to visit the fur seal rookery at
North-West Cape and Zodiac cruise the bird colony at Ariy Kamen. At
nearby historic and atmospheric Medney Island we explore this
fascinating landscape and wildlife including Pacific Sea Otters back
from the brink of extinction after being hunted relentlessly in the
Day 12: Olga Bay and Zhupanova River
Olga Bay is a part of the very large Kronotskiy Reserve, which also
includes the world-famous Valley of the Geysers. The habitat is quite
different to what we will have been experiencing before with lush
Kamchatka forests coming right down to the beach line. There is a
possibility we will see brown bears and other forest fauna, as well as
multiple bird species that live in this habitat. The seas around Olga
Bay are frequented by large numbers of Gray Whales that are usually
quite friendly to the visiting boats, if the conditions are right we
will take a Zodiac whale-watching cruise. The rising volcanoes in the
background here provide a beautiful setting to explore real Kamchatka
wilderness. This afternoon we make our way along the Zhupanova River
by Zodiac. This journey allows us to explore a river habitat which is
common in Kamchatka. The Kamchatka rivers (of which there are over
1,800) are important ecosystems that support a wide variety of
wildlife. They are especially important for salmon spawning – one of
Kamchatka’s valuable natural resources. Steller’s Sea Eagles are known
to nest in the lower reaches of the river and we are likely to see
many young birds as well as a few adults still hanging around their
Day 13: Bukhta Russkaya, Kamchatka
If the weather is fine, fantastic views of the many snow-covered
volcanoes that dominate the southern part of the peninsula will greet
us as we sail up Bukhta Russkaya. Near the entrance of this isolated
fiord, roughly 150 miles north of the southern tip of Kamchatka, there
have been sightings of both the Long-billed Murrelet and the
endangered Kittlitz’s Murrelet. There is also an excellent chance of
seeing Sea Otters, Largha Seals, Steller Sea Lions and Orcas. We plan
to make a landing at the head of the fiord where brown bears are not
uncommon. During the night our vessel will enter Avacha Bay, one of
the greatest natural harbours in the world.
Day 14: Petropavlovsk- Kamchatskiy
Today we plan to spend the day exploring Petropavlovsk- Kamchatskiy,
the capital and administrative centre of the Kamchatka Region. The
town was founded in the 1700s by Commander Vitus Bering during the
Second Kamchatka Expedition. All through the Cold War it was home to a
significant part of Russia’s Pacific Fleet which included a large
submarine base. The city and region was ‘closed’ to all foreign
visitors until 1992. There is the option to join our inclusive tour,
or upgrade to join a tour to the Valley of Geysers – the second
largest geyser field in the world – via helicopter.
Day 15: Ptich’i Rocks and Atlasova Island
Early this morning we will arrive at the wildlife rich Ptich’i or
Bird Rocks. The plan is to Zodiac cruise these fascinating formations
where an abundance of birds, seals and Sea Otters reside. Sea Otters
were hunted to almost extinction in Russia, but now number back to
almost two-thirds of their historical range. Harbour and Largha Seals
are often seen here as well as a healthy population of Tufted Puffns.
We then plan to sail through the Second Kuril Strait between Shumshu
and Paramushir Islands on route to Altasova Island where Alaid, the
tallest volcano in the archipelago with an elevation of 2,340 metres,
can be found.
Day 16: Onekotan Island
Today we plan to make a landing at Onekotan Island, an uninhabited
island comprising two stratovolcanos connected by a flat stretch of
land and part of the Kuril Islands chain. Exploring the island you
will find extensive evidence of fortifications built by the Japanese
during World War II.
Day 17: Simushir and Yankicha Islands
After an early breakfast we plan to board the Zodiacs and cruise into
a vast flooded caldera at the northern end of Simushir Island. Only a
quarter of a century ago this was the location of a top secret Soviet
submarine station where hundreds of mariners were based. This haunting
reminder of the Cold War has now been completely abandoned and we can
wander around what remains of the base, which is steadily being
reclaimed by nature. Within the stunning setting of this huge caldera,
we can expect to find a good range of species with one of the most
common birds likely to be the spectacular Siberian Rubythroat which
can often be seen singing from the tops of scrubby bushes. Over lunch
we plan to cruise to Yankicha Island, the summit of a submerged
volcano. Invariably this is one of the high points of the entire
voyage as the number of alcids breeding here is truly incredible.
Subject to weather and sea conditions, we will use the Zodiacs to
circumnavigate part of the coastline and then enter the flooded
caldera. The concentrations of Crested and Whiskered Auklets here are
simply spectacular and we can also expect to get great views of
Brunnich’s and Common Guillemots and both Tufted and Horned Puffns. We
also stand an excellent chance of seeing Arctic Foxes that can be
pretty inquisitive as they patrol the auk colonies looking for their
next meal. As we return to the ship in the late evening many of the
alcids will be returning to their colonies. Being surrounded by clouds
of birds darkening the sky is an experience you will never forget.
Day 18: Chirpoy and Urup Islands
This morning we plan to anchor off Chirpoy Island where there are
some dramatic headlands covered in breeding seabirds. Blacklegged
Kittiwakes and Brunnich’s Guillemots are among the more numerous
species that we are likely to find here. As we continue south towards
Urup there is an excellent chance of observing Sperm Whale and Orca
from the ship. Laysan Albatross, Ancient and Long-billed Murrelets,
Brunnich’s Guillemot, Crested and Rhinoceros Auklets and Tufted Puffns
are often seen in good numbers on this crossing. On an extended walk
on Urup Island we will explore the scrubby woodland. Beachcombing and
walking can be very rewarding here as there is the possibility of
seeing both Largha and Harbour Seals, as well as Pacific Sea Otters.
Day 19: Iturup Island
This morning we make our way to the community of Kurilsk. where local
buses will take us into the volcanic highlands of Iturup. Passing
through some spectacular scenery as we steadily climb up towards the
Baranskiy volcano, there may be an opportunity to soak in the thermal
pools. The higher altitude and different vegetation provides a great
contrast to recent days. On our return to Kurilsk there should be an
opportunity to explore the village on a nature walk with our
expedition guides or do some further birding.
Day 20: Sakhalin Island
We arrive at the Port of Korsakov on Sakhalin Island where we will
clear Russian Customs and Immigration before setting sail for Otaru,
Japan. This evening enjoy a farewell dinner and recap of our
Day 21: Otaru, Japan
This morning we arrive in Otaru, a port city in Hokkaido known for
glassworks, music boxes, sake distilleries and picturesque Otaru Canal
flanked with shops and cafes built within repurposed 1920s warehouses.
After breakfast and clearing Japan Customs and Immigration, there will
be a complimentary coach to a central hotel or to the airport. To
allow time for disembarkation procedures and travel from Otaru, we do
not recommend booking flights departing before 13:00hrs.
During our voyage, circumstances may make it necessary or
desirable to deviate from the proposed itinerary. This can include
poor weather and/or opportunities for making unplanned excursions.
Your Expedition Leader will keep you fully informed.