Russia Far East Cruise – Kamchatka, Commander & Kuril Islands

©Photo by JPitcher
Journey to the most dramatic reaches of the Pacifmillions and pristine oceaic Ring of Fire in the Russian Far East.

A once-in-a-lifetime Russia cruise in the spirit of the great explorers, embark on a Russia Far East Cruise of unparalleled adventure into the Pacific Ring of Fire. Here, Mother Nature still reigns supreme. Mighty volcanoes (mostly only half-asleep), cast their magnificent shadows across bizarre and beautiful landscapes.

Nowhere else on earth can the eruptive forces of nature be experienced more intensely than where the Pacific Ring of Fire meets the Russian Far East. Stretching for 50,000km around the Rim of the Pacific Ocean, most of the earth’s volcanoes are located around the edge of the Pacific Ring of Fire. Along one of the world’s most active plate boundaries, millions of years of volcanic and geothermal activity have brought islands up from the sea and carved the land into the most unique and amazing shapes and formations.

Departing from the rugged eastern coast of the Kamchatka Peninsula, our Russia Far East Cruise will forge towards the absolute northern reaches of the Pacific, where few cruise ships have ventured before. After our Kamchatka cruise, we head for the tundra covered lands of the Commander Islands, home to massive colonies of seabirds.

Next, it's on to the volcanic archipelago of the Kuril Islands, whose forests and grasslands are home to brown bears and Arctic foxes and even a small community of hardy fisherfolk. Upwellings from the deep volcanic trenches surrounding the islands and the Kamchatkan coastline create perfect conditions for ocean-going wildlife. Not only will you witness incredible sightings of seabirds in astounding numbers in astounding numbers, but this cruise also provides exciting opportunities day after day to spot several species of whales and dolphins as well as otters, seals and sea lions.

Russia Far East Cruise Highlights:

  • Commander Islands Cruise: spend two days discovering the Commander Islands, following the footsteps of legendary Danish Commander Vitus Bering. The surrounding waters are home to at least 20 species of whales. Fin whales, sei whales and humpbacks are commonly spotted, and extremely rare sightings of Pacific Northern right whale have also been recorded. Along the shore, spot sea otters, northern fur seals and Stellar’s sea lions
  • Despite their desolate appearance, one of the Commander Islands, Bering, is home to a single permanent settlement. Around 800 people, a mix of Russians and indigenous Aleuts inhabit Nikolskoye. We’ll drop in on this rarely-visited village, where the locals have established a museum on their national culture and natural history.
  • Kuril Islands cruise: There’s nothing quite like a visit to Sumushir Island in the middle of the Kuril Islands chain. The island wasn’t always uninhabited. From 1987 to 1994 the Soviets operated a top-secret submarine base in the island’s north - former population, 3,000. Now, the settlement lies completely abandoned. Russian military equipment rusts on the beach and there are few signs of life inside the eerily empty buildings.

 

  • They say Yanchika is the most visually stunning island in the Kurils. Dominated by a sinking caldera (volcanic crater), once you set foot on the island and make your way up the grass-covered exterior slopes, the view from the top reveals Yanchika’s extraordinary hidden beauty. The massive caldera is flooded with seawater, forming a vast, mesmerisingly calm blue lagoon. Yet Yanchinka is still very much active, with hot springs and fumaroles spewing steam near the edge of the barren caldera walls.

 

  • The wildlife watching opportunities on this cruise are world class. Birders can attempt to cross off over 14 species, often in mindblowing density as we approach their nesting sites on rocky shorelines and in the nooks and ledges of sea cliffs. Set eyes on vast numbers of tufted and horned puffins, whiskered and rhinoceros auklets, spectacled and pigeon guillemots, Laysan albatross, mottled petrel and many others. Multiple species of cetaceans are guaranteed. Expect to spot fin, sei, sperm, humpback and minke whales as well as orca, Dall’s porpoise and on rare occasions, Baird’s beaked whale.

Although this wild and seemingly inhospitable region is best known for its incredible abundance of wildlife, the human history of the islands is a fascinating story in itself.

The Ainu people were the original settlers of the Kuril Islands. The 18th century saw the great Danish explorer, Vitus Bering, sailing for the Russian Navy, charting out the Commander and Kuril Islands in search of new territory. His arrival would eventually lead to the displacement of the Ainu by the Cossacks, and the beginning of a tense territorial dispute over the Kurils that is hotly debated to this day. At the height of the Cold War, the Soviet Empire laid claim to the entire region, basing its formidable Pacific Fleet in these waters.

The secrecy surrounding the fleet and its military bases was so closely guarded that the region was closed even to ordinary Russians. Only in the last few decades have outsiders been able to travel here relatively freely.

Undisturbed by political disputes raging over the Kurils, a population of Russian and Aleut (indigenous Alaskans, brought to the Commanders by Russian fur traders in the early 1800s) continued to eke out a simple existence, fishing and hunting on Bering, the largest of the two main Commander islands. A handful of their descendants still live there today. The islands were named after Commander Vitus Bering, who died on the island of his namesake when his ship wrecked in 1741.

Today, these isolated oceanic outposts are a testament to the bravery and resilience of the people who set out to explore this region and even make it their home.

So join us, as we go in search of the people, places, animals, stories and legends that make this part of the Pacific Ring of Fire so special. Get In touch, and experience what a Russia Far East Cruise.

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Arrival

Departure

Accomodation

Trip style

Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky

Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk

Spirit of Enderby

Expedition Cruise

Duration

Action rating

Group size

Type of tour

13 days / 12 nights

     

up to 50 passangers

Guaranteed departures

Itinerary

Expand all

Day 1:Arrival to Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky

Welcome to Kamchatka! Upon arrival to Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky city, you will be transferred to the vessel and we will depart for the Commander Islands. You are welcome on the bridge as we sail from what some people consider the best natural harbour in the world. There is also some good birding as we leave the shoreline behind.

Day 2:At sea

A full day at sea is ahead of us as we cruise north-east towards the Commander Islands in the Bering Sea. On our day at sea you’ll be invited to join enlightening talks and briefings in preparation for the days of ahead. This is also a great time to observe various bird species from the deck, with Fork-tailed Storm Petrel and Red-legged Kittiwake being common sightings out over the open ocean.

Day 3-4:Commander Islands

During out two days, we will explore the two main islands in the Commander group, Bering and Medny, making our way to several sites that combine the best of the island’s natural and cultural history. On the birding front, we have an excellent chance to spot Mongolian Plover, Rock Sandpiper, Grey-crowned Rosy Finch and Pechora Pipit. We’ll also get the opportunity to observe the Commander’s endemic subspecies of Arctic Fox. Zodiac Cruise around the island’s perimeters can be extremely rewarding, with several Auklet species and Red-legged Kittiwake. The waters surrounding the Commanders are incredibly rich in marine mammal activity. Potential cetacean species include Humpback, Sperm, Northern Minke Whale, Baird’s Beaked Whale and Orca, as well as Northern Fur Seals, Stellar Sea Lions and Pacific Sea Otters.

On Bering Island, we’ll pay a visit to the small fishing settlement of Nikolskoye and discover more about the island’s intriguing human history at the local museum.

Day 5:Kamchatka, Zhupanova river

The scenic Zhupanova River is where we’ll spend several hours cruising in the Zodiacs, where we can expect to get great looks at the population of Steller’s Sea Eagles who nest in the trees along the riverbanks. Other birding highlights may include Long-toed Stint, Kamchatka Gull, Aleutian Tern and Far Eastern Curlew. We can also pay a visit to the major salmon fishery located on the river.

Day 6:Kamchatka, Russkaya Bay

Bukta Russkaya is a deep fiord on the Kamchakta Peninsula where we’ll be on the look out for the endangered Kittlitz’s Murrelet, as well as the Long-billed Murrelet. A short excursion to the head of the fiord will give us a good chance of seeing Kamchatka Brown Bears. Cruising on the Zodiacs at the entrance to the fiord we almost always encounter Orcas and Stellar Sea Lions.

Day 7:Second Kuril Strait, Atlasova and Onekotan Islands

Early in the morning we will pass through the Second Kuril Strait. This channel between Paramushir and Shumshu islands is home to one of the highest density Sea Otter populations in the Kurils. Next, we’ll land on Atlasova Island, a fantastic spot for birders and non-birders alike. Here you’ll find the remains of a Gulag to explore and numerous bird and terrestrial species. This evening on Onekotan Island, an amazing field of wildflowers is the perfect place to stop and stretch our legs as we walk to the volcanic Black Lake.

Day 8:Ekarma and Toporkovy Islands

This morning we head out on an early Zodiac cruise around Ekarma Island, where we can observe close-up colonies of Tufted Puffins and Whiskered Auklet. We’ll spend the afternoon exploring Toporkovy, an island in the shadow of the active Matua Island volcano. Here we can expect to spot a wide variety of species including Red-faced Cormorants, Harlequin Decks, Brunnich’s Guillemots and Tufted Puffins. Ashore, exploring on foot, we may come across Grey-tailed Tattler, Black-faced Bunting and Middendorff’s Grasshopper Warbler.

Day 9:Simushir and Yankicha Islands

Enter flooded caldera at the northern end of Simushir Island where a once top secret Soviet submarine base now lies abandoned, along with the ghostly remnants of a settlement that supported up to 3,000 people between 1987 and 1994. In the surrounding area look for Siberian Rubythroat, Eurasian Nutcracker, Pine Grosbeak and Japanese Grey Bunting. Our visit to Yankicha Island is likely to be one of the highlights of the voyage as the number of alcids which breed here is incredible, with spectacular concentrations of Crested and Whiskered Auklets.

Day 10:Chirpoy and Urup Islands

Depending on the weather, this morning we will either Zodiac cruise or land ashore on Chirpoy Island, whose volcanic landscapes harbour some truly striking rock formations and dramatic headlands covered in raucous colonies of breeding seabirds. This afternoon’s landing on Urup Island is a chance to stretch your legs on an extended walk, patrol the beach in search of Sea Otters or look for birds in the forest behind the beach.

Day 11:Iturup Island

This morning we land at the small settlement of Kurilsk from where local buses/trucks will take us into the volcanic highlands to thermal hot pools where you can enjoy a soak or go birding. Possible species include Kamchatka Leaf-warbler, Japanese Robin, Siberian Accentor, Pine Grosbeak and Japanese Bush-warbler.

Day 12:Kunashir Island

Kunashir is the largest island in the Kuril chain. The plan today will be to land ashore on Kunashir to visit the Kurilsky Reserve. Here we'll abe able to explore an extensive area of woodland. An number of good walks in the island's forest interior are exceptionally productive for birding. In the afternoon, it's time to depart the islands and head out to sea for the journey home, giving you an opportunity to recap and prepare for our arrival on land tomorrow. 

Day 13:Departure from Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk

Our cruise ends as we arrive at the Port of Korskov on Sakhalin Island. Transport to a central hotel and the airport will be available in the town of Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk.

Inclusions

Airport arrival and departure transfers

Accommodation onboard of a fully ice-strengthened expedition vessel - Spirit of Enderby (Professor Khromov)

3 daily meals onboard

All expeditions and shore excursions with professional leaders

Onboard lectures

Russian visa support document (invitation letter/voucher)

Flights

Travel insurance

Russian visa and visa fees.*Russian visa can be arranged by 56th Parallel for an additional cost (for Australian citizens only). Apply for concierge visa service here.

Individual transfers

Dates & Prices

DatesAvailabilityPriceSingle sup. 
May 28 - June 9, 2019
Guaranteed Departures

Sold out

US $7,650 contact us
May 27 - June 8, 2020
Guaranteed Departures
Few places left US $7,650 contact us Reserve
13 days
Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky to Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk
from
$
7,650
USD
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