Chukotka: Where Russia's Day Begins

Shokalskiy
Shokalskiy
48 Passengers
Northeast Passage

The vast majority of people in the world won’t even know where it is, let alone know much about it. It is one of 83 regions which make up the Russian Federation, and is officially known as the Chukotka Autonomous Region. It covers a vast area of North East Russia the size of England and France combined, and slightly larger than the state of Texas, yet is home to less than 50,000 people, the majority of which live in the towns. The indigenous people include Chukchi, Inuit, Even, Koryak, Chuvan and Yukaghir. The non-native inhabitants are predominately Russian. The Chukotka region was the last part of Siberia to be ‘conquered’ or ‘subdued’ by the Cossack invaders from the west. The Chukchi people resisted fiercely, only succumbing in the late 19th Century.

The Soviet regime initially treated these indigenous people well, but the collectivization and denomadization policies of the 1930s and ‘40s cut to the very heart of the nomadic lifestyle, which they had practiced for centuries, and found it difficult to adjust. Because of its strategic position, being so close to the USA, the region was very heavily militarized during the Cold War. At one stage military personnel even outnumbered native people. The collapse of the Communist regime in the early 1990s spelt disaster for the people, as they had become dependent upon the state. When the state had nothing to give, the people received nothing. The election of Roman Abramovich as Governor of Chukotka in December 2000 changed the course of its history. His vision, generosity and leadership gave the people hope, and today Chukotka is taking its rightful place in the Russian Federation. It is rich in natural resources and wildlife is abundant, but like all Arctic fauna, it is under pressure because of the changing climate.

North of Chukotka, where the Chukchi Sea meets the Arctic Ocean, is nature reserve and World Heritage site Wrangel Island, which has outstanding wildlife values. Sometimes referred to as ‘the world’s Polar Bear Maternity Ward’, because of the high density of denning Polar Bears, it is an island that never disappoints those keen on natural and Arctic history. As the ice retreats each summer (further and faster than ever before) Polar Bears come ashore and we see good numbers of these, likewise walrus find refuge here each summer normally in large numbers. Birds like Snow Geese and Snowy Owls also breed here in good numbers. And of course, Wrangel Island is central to the story of the wreck of the Karluk and other Arctic exploration stories.

On this special Chukotka expedition we will meet the locals; we will have an opportunity to see and hear their stories and experience their love for, and strong connection with, the land and the sea. We also hope to celebrate with them at their annual Regatta and Festival. We will explore the vast expansive tundra with its wild flowers and dwarf tree species and we will watch for brown bears, reindeer, Arctic Foxes, ground squirrels and, if we are lucky, we may also see a Wolverine. We will explore Wrangel Island with its Polar Bears, walrus and rich Arctic history and, while at sea, we will be looking for whales.

NOTE: You can join this expedition either in Anadyr or in Nome, Alaska. Those starting in Nome will fly by a charter flight to Anadyr to join the ship and remaining expedition members who have travelled direct to Anadyr.

Brief Itinerary

Day 0 Nome, Alaska
Day 1 Anadyr
Day 2 At Sea
Day 3 Whale Bone Alley and Gil’mimyl Hot Springs
Day 4 Bukhta Penkingney and Arakamchechen Island
Day 5 Lavrentiya and Unnamed Bays
Day 6 Cape Dezhnev
Day 7 At Sea
Days 8 to 10 Wrangel Island
Day 11 At Sea
Day 12 Kolyuchin Island / Kolyuchin Inlet
Day 13 The Annual Beringia Arctic Games
Day 14 At Sea
Day 15 Anadyr - Nome, Alaska

Day 0 ― Nome, Alaska

Those departing from Nome, Alaska, should arrive in Nome the day before 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.

Day 1 ― Anadyr

Arrive in Anadyr, the administrative capital of Chukotka. It is situated at the mouth of the Anadyr River near where the river enters the Anadyr estuary. The town was established in 1889 as a frontier post when it was called Novo-Mariinsk. The name was changed to Anadyr in 1920 when the Bolsheviks took control of the town. It has grown in importance over the years and today is a modern town with a population of about 11,000 people.

You will be transferred to the ship, which will more than likely be anchored in the river (rather than tied alongside the wharf) during the afternoon. There will be a chance to meet fellow expeditioners and explore the vessel. We will sail in the late afternoon for Egvekinot.

Day 2 ― At Sea

As we sail towards our first destination, the Arctic’s archaeological mystery ‘Whale Bone Alley’, we will take the opportunity to enjoy lectures to prepare us for our voyage and settle in to ship life.

Day 3 ― Whale Bone Alley and Gil’mimyl Hot Springs

Our first landing of the day we expect to be at one of the most significant and intriguing archaeological sites in the Arctic on Yttygran Island. This place is known affectionately as ‘Whale Bone Alley’ due to the large number of whale bones spread along the beach in the form of a pathway. The site dates to the 14th Century and its origins and purpose have been the cause of much debate. It was almost certainly a ceremonial site as well as being used for meat storage. What is puzzling is the lack of any substantial settlement in the vicinity, which suggests that it was possibly a communal site situated here because of the abundance of whales nearby.

This afternoon we intend to make a landing at the Gil’mimyl Hot Springs. They are a short walk from the coastline, but well worth the effort. There will be a chance to explore the tundra for birds, plants and animals as we walk to and fro. After a soak in the springs we will re-join the ship for a relaxing evening.

Day 4 ― Bukhta Penkingney and Arakamchechen Island

This morning we will be launching our Zodiacs with a landing planned at Bukhta Penkingney, a long fjord cut into the coastline by glaciers and a popular spot for whale watching. Here a small braided river, its gravel bed studded with Willow bushes, winds its way down to the sea where we land. Exploring this scenic location we will be looking for Arctic Ground Squirrels and Pikas, Willow Ptarmigan, Sandhill Cranes and brown bears attracted by the berries and salmon-filled river.

This afternoon we plan to cruise over to Arakamchechen Island just north of Cape Chaplino and separated from the Chukotka mainland by the 5 mile (8 km) wide Senyavina Strait. Having watched Gray Whales feeding here previously, we recommend being out on deck as we slowly cruise through the strait. On Arakamchechen Island we will explore the lush tundra and, if they are present, view the prominent walrus haul out from the cliffs.

Day 5 ― Lavrentiya and Unnamed Bays

Dropping anchor in beautiful Lavrentiya Bay, we expect to spend the morning exploring the historically and culturally rich village of Lavrentiya. A former indigenous settlement, this Soviet-planned community was established in the 1920s as an administrative center where local Chukchi and Siberian Yupik were encouraged to move. Visit the museum, meet local elders and enjoy an authentic taste and slice of village life in the main square.

Nearby picturesque Unnamed Bay is our planned destination for the afternoon where we will Zodiac cruise to shore. Welcomed by an expansive stretch of beach, backed by a lagoon and surrounded by rugged hills, there’s much to discover. Enjoy a walk along the beach and tundra looking for Arctic Squirrel, or scale one of the nearby peaks and take in the stunning vistas.

Day 6 ― Cape Dezhnev

Early this morning we will be at Cape Dezhnev, the north-eastern most point of the Eurasian continent. This cape commemorates the accomplishment of the Cossack Semyon Dezhnev who was the first European to sail through the 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 short distance south of the cape is the former Inuit settlement of Naukan. The Soviet government relocated these people to other Chukotka settlements in the 1950s as it was thought they posed a security risk, supposedly because of the close proximity of Alaska. It is still possible to sense the melancholy in the air because the people never wanted to leave. As the relocation was fairly recent, there is a wealth of historic data and photographs that make a visit to this site even more poignant.

Day 7 ― At Sea

Take the opportunity to spend time up in the bridge or out on deck looking for the first Polar Bears of our voyage as we cruise along the sea ice, or download photos as we navigate towards Wrangel Island.

Days 8 to 10 ― Wrangel Island

We should arrive at Wrangel in the early morning, and what we can achieve will depend on the ice conditions. During the winter months Wrangel Island is completely surrounded by ice. Historically it was slow to break out in some years making it was almost impossible to reach the island. Changing weather conditions has meant that in recent years it is becoming ice-free earlier and earlier, with huge ramifications for the wildlife (especially the Polar Bears) that rely on the ice.

It is impossible to predict ice conditions ahead of time, but based on recent years there will still be some ice around the island which will be great for us as this is where the wildlife will be concentrated. There should also be opportunities to land and to explore the tundra to look for the species which breed here. We have allowed three days on and around the island to take advantage of whatever conditions we encounter. We will be utilizing the local knowledge of the Park Rangers to make landings as well as spending some time Zodiac cruising the ice looking for Polar Bears.

Day 11 ― At Sea

We will be steaming south from Wrangel Island and, again, sea and ice conditions will dictate our course and speed. We suggest expeditioners will be richly rewarded by being on deck, because if we are in ice there could be Polar Bears, walrus, and Ringed and Bearded Seals to be seen. As we make our way closer to the Chukotka coast we will keep an eye out for Humpback and Gray Whales, which are frequently seen. Increasingly we are also seeing a number of Bowhead Whales in this area. We will also use this time for lectures and recaps.

Day 12 ― Kolyuchin Island and Kolyuchin Inlet

This morning we will come to anchor at tiny Kolyuchin Island. What it lacks in size it more than makes up for in points of interest. People from the nearby village of Nutepelmen come here to hunt walrus when the ice disappears and large numbers of walrus haul out on the island. At the western end of the island is the remains of a Polar Research Station which was only abandoned in the 1990s. During the Soviet period there were large numbers of these Research Stations in the High Arctic, but few survived the economic meltdown of the 1990s. Nearby are some amazing bird cliffs where it is possible to get magnificent views (and photographs) of puffins and guillemots as they come and go from their nests. The only things stopping us from landing here, other than weather and sea conditions, are Polar Bears. They take refuge on the island when the ice recedes and if they are there it is both unwise and unsafe for us to go ashore. If they are ashore we will Zodiac cruise the bird cliffs for equally good views.

This afternoon we have planned a cruise to nearby Kolyuchin Inlet, a massive tidal estuary so big we can take our ship inside. It is ideal habitat for many bird species and it is early enough in the season for the majority of them to either be on nests or have young. It is an easy landing with lots of opportunity for hiking, exploring and photography.

Day 13 ― The Annual Beringia Arctic Games

Today we plan to attend the first day of the annual Beringia Regatta and Festival which includes whaleboat and Baidara (traditional walrus skin covered boats) races, as well as cultural group performances. It is one of the most colorful festivals in the Chukotka calendar and attracts people from many villages in the region. This unpredictable festival rotates between different villages and features a range of activities. Some you can watch, while others allow participation. There will be local foods to sample and lots of photographic opportunities. This festival gets to the heart and soul of the people, their culture and land.

Day 14 ― Presbrazhenya Bay

We aim to be cruising along the south coast of Chukotka today and plan to stop at Presbrazhenya Bay. This is an excellent opportunity to Zodiac cruise some spectacular bird cliffs, as long as sea conditions permit we will get in close for some great photographic opportunities. There will also be a chance to land at a hunting camp (and boat haul-out area) at the nearby village of Nunligren. This evening enjoy a farewell dinner and final recap.

Day 15 — Anadyr - Nome, Alaska

We will wake this morning as we enter the Port of Anadyr. After breakfast passengers will be taken ashore either to the airport to catch a flight out today or to the town if staying on.

Those returning to Nome will join a charter flight that will depart Anadyr around midday and, because of the International Date Line, will arrive back in Nome on the evening of the previous day. Those returning to Moscow can either be transferred to the airport or hotel in Anadyr, depending on their flight times.

Note: 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.

* Itinerary may be subject to change

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