Jewel of the Russian Far East 2013
The eastern seaboard of Russia dominates the North Pacific and yet very few people know anything about it, let alone have experienced it. Its isolation has protected one of its most valuable assets – its wilderness and to some degree, its wildlife.
The area was considered an important ‘frontier or border zone’ during the Cold War it was off-limits to foreigners and even Russians had to get special permission to travel within this zone. This, of course, changed in 1992/93 with Perestroika but, it doesn’t mean that it is more accessible. It is probably less accessible now than it was as there are fewer people living there and the State-subsidised transport system has collapsed. There is no money to replace the ageing fleets of aircraft and ships and few people can afford the prices that are charged today.
In the winter much of the shoreline is choked by ice, in the summer the lack of roads, scheduled air or shipping services and a lack of infrastructure means it is equally inaccessible. During spring and summer the region will have been a hive of activity. The thousands of birds that migrated here to take advantage of the phenomenal abundance of food will be preparing to leave. The reindeer and Mountain Sheep will be feeding in preparation for the harsh winter while the Brown Bears, which will have fed extensively on berries in the early summer, will be concentrated on the rivers and creeks and feeding on salmon. Late summer/early autumn is one of the best times to discover this wilderness. The late summer sun and the onset of the autumn colours will make the landscape look like a picture postcard.
With an option of joining from Nome, Alaska, our expedition begins in Anadyr, the administrative centre of the Chukotka Autonomous Region. We then travel south along the Koryak and Kamchatka coastlines to Petropavlovsk-Kamchatskiy. Along the way we will make numerous landings, including two full days at the Commander Islands.
You can join this expedition either in Anadyr or in Nome, Alaska. Those starting in Nome will fly by a charter flight to Anadyr and will join the ship and the expedition members who have travelled direct to Anadyr.
Those departing from Nome, Alaska, should arrive in Nome before midday and preferably the previous night.
On arrival, you should check in with Bering Air at the Nome Airport who will have details of our charter flight. During this flight you will cross the International Date Line, arriving into Anadyr on Day 1 of the expedition. You will clear Russian Customs and Immigration.
All expedition members will arrive in Anadyr; depending on your time of arrival you may have the opportunity to explore Anadyr, the administrative centre of the Chukotka region, before getting to know your fellow voyagers and crew on board the Spirit of Enderby.
This coastline is rich in marine mammals and one creature we will be looking for, in particular, is the walrus. The animals do regularly move between locations, so finding them is always very much a matter of luck, although we have had success here in the past. In the afternoon we hope to visit a well known walrus haul-out lying between Meinypil’gyno and Cape Navarin.
We also plan a landing in Bukhta Gavriila. The bukhta (or bay) was named after Commander Vitus Bering’s ship, the St Gabriel, of the First Kamchatka Expedition. Behind the expansive beach there is a lagoon we can explore for waterfowl and waders. We may also visit what used to be the oldest weather station in Chukotka and the southernmost in the Arctic, which is now abandoned.
Cape Navarin marks the place where the land bridge to North America began when sea levels were much lower. Because of strong tides around the cape there is an abundance of food and it is not uncommon to see large numbers of seabirds and good numbers of Grey Whales which often congregate here too.
We start the day with a visit to the delta of Pika River – a well known walrus haul-out and one of the few places in the southern part of the range that still get thousands of animals coming to rest on the beach.
Later in the day, we visit Meinypil’gyno, a small settlement located on a 40 kilometre long shingle spit. It is a traditional village although renovated under the recent Chukotka government. But the spirit is still alive and the village ensemble will perform for us some of their traditional dances, a chance to enjoy real Chukchi hospitality.
Meinypil’gyno is also an important breeding spot for many species of migratory birds, including Red Knot and critically endangered Spoon-billed Sandpiper. Even though the breeding season will be over by September, we have a chance of getting migrants on their way south and see the location where the research team is working hard to save the Spoon-billed Sandpiper.
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; called Bukhta Pavla and Bukhta Petra (named after St Peter and St Paul by Commander Vitus Bering).
We will cruise to the head of Bukhta Pavla and make a landing. This will be a great opportunity to explore the inland as we hike from one bay to be picked up by the ship in another. The magnificent mountain landscapes and tundra vegetation will surround us, along with the possibility of sighting Snow Sheep, as they were often seen in the area. There is a historic walrus haul-out on Bogoslova Island which guards the entrance to these fiords.
Much of the southern Govena Peninsula was recently made into a State Reserve. There are a number of fiords included in the Reserve; one of the most spectacular is 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 the Zodiacs onto the lake and intend to make several landings with Eurasian Nutcracker, Dusky Warbler, Siberian Rubythroat and Siberian Accentor amongst the possibilities. There is also a large population of Brown Bears and these should be feeding in and around the river mouths that drain into the head of the lagoon.
We will start the morning in Brown Bear country, an undisturbed habitat within the Koryakskiy Reserve, where we will go bear watching and Zodiac cruising along the coast. Brown Bears come down to the sea coast and into the nearby hills very frequently, and the area is completely protected and rarely visited.
In the afternoon we go to Verkhoturova Island, where we have a chance to climb over to a seabird colony. The breeding season will be over, however, some of the birds that should still be around the colony include Tufted and Horned Puffins; Pigeon, Common and Brunnich’s Guillemots and also Parakeet and Least Auklets. Pelagic Cormorants also occur in large numbers.
On nearby rocky islets there is a regular non-breeding haul-out of Steller Sea Lions.
A few miles to the south from Verhoturova Island is the much larger Karaginskiy Island. Here we encounter some of the first ‘forests’ of the voyage. This is a change from the tundra that we have seen so far depicting a sure sign that we are getting further south. There are a large number of Red Foxes that live on the island and many migratory birds come here to their breeding grounds and on the way south. The autumn is the best time for the wild berries and we can marvel at the richness of the local flora, as many of them would be at their best.
A proposed landing site is a patchwork of boggy tundra, ponds and shingle spits. An interesting range of waders can be found here including Pacific Golden Plover, Red-necked Stint and Red-necked Phalarope. The ponds also support a range of waterfowl and previously we have encountered Red-throated Diver, Bean Goose, Greater Scaup and Long-tailed Duck. Potential passerines include Kamchatka Leaf-Warbler, Dusky Warbler, Bluethroat, Red-throated Pipits and Eastern Yellow Wagtail.
The wildlife-rich Commander Islands were first discovered by Commander Vitus Bering when his ship was wrecked here in 1741. He perished on the island along with many of his men. The reports from those that survived led to a ‘fur rush’ and the settlement of the islands.
There are two large islands (Bering and Medney) 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.
We plan to stop at the village of Nikolskoye, the museum is reputedly one of the best in the Russian Far East and amongst many other items it has one of the very few preserved full-size Sea Cow skeletons. Birding around the village is also excellent and we should find Rock Sandpiper, Mongolian Plover, Glaucous-winged Gull and Pechora Pipit, with the possibilities on subsequent landings including Rock Ptarmigan, Buff-bellied Pipit and Grey-crowned Rosy Finch.
After the culture visit to the village we make several landings exploring the natural wonders of the Commander Islands. We visit the Fur Seal rookery at North-West Cape and Zodiac cruise around the impressive bird colony at Ariy Kamen. We will also possibly visit the gravesite of Commander Vitus Bering or the remarkable Medney Island with its bird cliffs and numerous Sea Otters.
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 area around Olga Bay is frequented by large numbers of Grey 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 will provide a beautiful setting to explore real Kamchatka wilderness.
This morning 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 very likely to see many young of the year as well as a few adults still hanging around their nesting sites. Other birds that breed here will have finished breeding at the time of our visit but some of them should still be present; there will be waterfowl, gulls and terns, possibly including the Aleutian Tern. There is also the possibility of spotting Brown Bears, Red Foxes and Musk Rats.
In the afternoon, depending on the permits there is a possibility of visiting Cape Shipunsky and Bechevinskaya Bay where there was a secret military submarine base during the Cold War. It was completely abandoned after the collapse of the Soviet Union, but it provides an amazing image of the face of the Cold War.
Alternatively we may cruise nearby to Krasheninnikova Island – a rocky island that has a number of seabirds nesting on it, including Spectacled Guillemot and some other Bering Sea endemics.
During the night the Spirit of Enderby will enter Avacha Bay which is one of the greatest natural harbours in the world. On the shores of Avacha Bay is 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.
Disembark the vessel today where there will be a complimentary transfer to the airport. Alternatively you have the option to remain on board for one further night and disembark on Day 13*. The day is free for exploring and we will be offering a number of optional excursions including a trip into the world-famous Valley of the Geysers, an excursion to one of the nearby volcanoes or a day exploring the city, including the museums and markets.
For passengers who stayed on board in port last night, after breakfast disembark the ship and transfer to a hotel of your choice in the city or to the airport with our complimentary transfer today.
To allow time for disembarkation procedures, whether you depart the ship on day 12 or 13 we do not recommend booking flights before 13:00hrs.
* Itinerary may be subject to change