Exploring Japan's Northern Realm aboard the Caledonian Sky

Overview

On this wonderfully varied expedition cruise around the island of Hokkaido, you'll wander through vast fields of wildflowers on Rebun Island, the “Floating Island of Flowers,” and explore spectacular Shikotsu-Toya National Park, a UNESCO Global Geopark noted for its two namesake caldera lakes, as well as hot springs and extensive hiking trails. You'll also visit the small settlement of Korsakov in Russia and have fantastic bird watching opportunities all along the way.

Note: This cruise is not exclusive to, nor operated by, Wilderness Travel, who acts solely as agent in booking your reservation with the ship operator. The itinerary, lecturers, and all other arrangements are subject to change at the discretion of the cruise line.

Itinerary

Day 1, May 19, 2018
Depart USA

Board your independent flight to Japan, crossing the International Date Line en route.

Day 2, May 20, 2018
Tokyo, Japan

Arrive in Tokyo and transfer to the group hotel for dinner and overnight.

Day 3, May 21, 2018
Tokyo / Niigata / Embark Caledonian Sky

After breakfast, set out on an introductory tour of Japan’s cutting-edge capital city. Discover modern and ancient highlights alike before lunch at a local restaurant. Then board one of Japan’s famed shinkansen (high-speed trains) for the ride to Niigata. This evening, embark the Caledonian Sky and set sail for Hokkaido.

Day 4, May 22, 2018
At Sea

During a relaxing day at sea, join the naturalists on deck to search for wildlife and attend engaging lectures on such topics as Hokkaido’s natural history and traditional Japanese culture.

Day 5, May 23, 2018
Otaru / Sapporo

Hokkaido’s dynamic capital Sapporo is famous for its ski slopes, ice-sculpting festival, green spaces, and great culinary scene. For a scenic overview, head southwest to Mount Moiwa Odori Park and ride the cable-car to the summit’s observation deck. Lunch at a local restaurant offers the chance to try Sapporo’s famous beer and perhaps some local seafood before browsing the busy fish market. Birders set out from Otaru to explore the surrounding foothills in search of resident Japanese pygmy-woodpeckers and varied tits, as well as blue-and-white flycatchers and other migrant species.

Day 6, May 24, 2018
Teuri Island / Rishiri Island

The northwestern island of Teuri is the seasonal home to millions of migratory seabirds, which flock to its steep slopes during the breeding season. It is also the world’s most important breeding ground for the rare rhinoceros auklet. The nearby island of Rishiri—known locally as Rishiri-Fuji due to its resemblance to Mount Fuji—rises majestically from the ocean, and offers a variety of trekking opportunities.

Day 7, May 25, 2018
Rebun Island

Along with neighboring Rishiri, Rebun Island forms part of the popular Rishiri-Rebun-Sarobetsu National Park. Between late-April and mid-September, the “Floating Island of Flowers” is blanketed in fields of wildflowers, and your visit is timed to enjoy the blooms before the annual flood of tourists arrive.

Day 8, May 26, 2018
Korsakov, Russia / Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk

A former military post and penal colony, Korsakov serves as your gateway to Sakhalin Island’s capital, Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk. Founded as a small Russian settlement in the 1880s, the city was a Japanese prefect capital from 1905 until the end of WWII. Visit a Russian Orthodox church, the Regional Museum—housed in an impressive former Japanese mansion—and the bustling market. You’ll also enjoy a performance of traditional Cossack song and dance from a colorfully costumed local choir. Alternatively, join your ornithologist for a day of birding around the southern end of Sakhalin. Watch for Latham’s snipes, Eurasian bullfinches, white-tailed sea eagles, Siberian thrushes, and Swinhoe’s robins.

Day 9, May 27, 2018
Abashiri, Japan

Fishing is one of the main industries of Abashiri, and your first full day here offers tasty seafood and a choice of tours. A scenic, geological expedition to the south visits a number of calderas and volcanic features, including Lakes Kussharo and Mashu and the Iwo Sulphur Springs. Then try on a surprisingly heavy sumo apron at the Taiho Sumo Museum, before lunch in Kawayu. Or, choose a nature tour in Utoro where you will take a cruise to look for brown bears, white-tailed eagles, and spectacled guillemots. Then drive up to the 2,425-foot-high Shiretoko Pass (weather permitting) for stunning views of Mount Rausu, returning via Lake Toufutsu and Koshimizu Gensei-kaen, a 12-mile-long stretch awash in some 40 species of wildflowers.

Day 10, May 28, 2018
Abashiri / Shiretoko Peninsula

Abashiri Kando Asaichi, Abashiri’s buzzing morning market, is the first stop on your city tour, followed by Ryuhyo Garasa Kan to shop for unique glass craft gifts. Learn about the Ainu, Inuit, and other indigenous cultures at the Hokkaido Museum of Northern Peoples before a short walk around scenic Cape Notoro. If time permits, a visit to the Okhotski Sea Ice Museum offers hands-on insights into the sea ice that encircles the region during winter. Alternatively, join a natural history tour to explore along the shore of Lake Abashiri and Komaba Kinohiroba Forest Reserve. This afternoon, be on deck as the ship navigates the scenic Nemuro Channel to search for minke, orca, and sperm whales, as well as Pacific white-sided dolphins, and Dall’s porpoises.

Day 11, May 29, 2018
Kushiro

Two thousand species of flora and fauna are found in Kushiro Marsh, Japan’s largest peat swamp and wetland reserve. A Ramsar-registered site and national park, Kushiro provides sanctuary to the red-crowned crane, a symbol of luck and longevity in Japan. Thanks to successful conservation efforts, Hokkaido is now home to 1,500 of these rare birds. Enjoy spectacular scenery while you search for them in their marshy breeding grounds. A visit to the Kushiro City Museum offers insights into the lifestyle of the Ainu through a small, but excellent exhibit.

Day 12, May 30, 2018
Muroran

Its two namesake lakes—along with hot springs and great hiking—make Shikotsu-Toya National Park a popular escape from Sapporo. Your tour of this UNESCO Global Geopark includes stops at various viewpoints to appreciate Lake Toya, a nearly circular caldera lake; on a clear day, it is backdropped by Mt. Usu, an active volcano that often billows smoke.

Day 13, May 31, 2018
Hakodate

Hakodate was one of the first ports in Japan to open to foreign trade in 1854, and around the waterfront you’ll find many western-style buildings such as churches, warehouses, and the Old British Consulate. Start your day like a local at the Hakodate Asaichi (morning market), which overflows with displays of fresh seafood, produce, and traditional snacks. Then climb aboard the cable-car and ascend Mount Hakodate for magnificent views over the city.

Day 14, Jun 1, 2018
Akita

Nature rules in the Akita Prefecture, known for its rice farming, traditional festivals, and treasured dog breed of the same name. At the center of its capital lies Senshu Park, built from the ruins of Kubota Castle, a former samurai fortress. Lotus flowers now fill the remnants of old moats, and tree-lined walking trails lead to its watchtower, temple, and shrine. The city’s Hirano Art Museum houses “Akita no Gyoji,” the largest canvas painting in the world. Akita also boasts Lake Tazawa, Japan’s deepest lake.

Day 15, Jun 2, 2018
Niigata / Dismebark / Tokyo

Disembark in Niigata and board the bullet train back to Tokyo. A city tour, visiting highlights such as the 2,080-foot-high Skytree—the world’s second highest tower and the beautiful Meiji Shrine. Or, join a birding tour in Kasai Rinkai-koen Park, a third of which is a designated seabird sanctuary.

Day 16, Jun 3, 2018
Depart

Transfer to the airport for your independent homeward flight, arriving in the USA the same day.

Highlights

Highlights

Search for Japanese pygmy-woodpeckers, white-tailed eagles, Eurasian bullfinches, and iconic red-crowned cranes, along with millions of migratory seabirds that breed on Teuri Island
Join locals at the buzzing asaichis (morning markets) in Abashiri and Hakodate
Learn about the indigenous Ainu culture at the Museum of Northern Peoples and experience a traditional Cossack performance in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk

Details

Length: 16 days
Cost From: $13,980  
Arrive: Tokyo, Japan
Depart: Tokyo, Japan
Lodging: 12 nights aboard an expedition ship, 2 nights hotel
Meals: All meals included
Activity: Small Ship Cruising
Trip Level:

13-day expedition cruise, cultural explorations and walking tours
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