A voyage across the remote and seldom visited Sea of Okhotsk offers fantastic wildlife and scenic experiences. The birdwatching is nothing short of spectacular, with huge concentrations that can literally darken the sky at times. Northern fur seals, rare ribbon seals, Steller sea lions, and orcas roam the isolated seascape. And the scenery? The breathtaking volcanoes and sea-filled calderas of Kamchatka and the Kuril Islands! Throughout the journey, you’ll enjoy Zodiac explorations and shore walks with expert guides who share their knowledge of these far-flung natural history paradises.
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.
Day 1, Aug 29, 2017
This afternoon you will be introduced to your Expedition Team and participate in the safety drill. Tonight, you can familiarize yourself with your new home away from home, meet some of your fellow travelers and enjoy the first of many memorable meals in The Restaurant.
Day 2, Aug 30, 2017
Korsakov, Sakhalin Island, Russia
In the morning you will have several briefings and perhaps a lecture preparing you for Sakhalin Island. Around noon you clear into Russia. Once the formalities are concluded you will be welcomed with the traditional bread, salt, and local fruit alcohol.
During the afternoon, explore part of Korsakov, founded in 1853 as Sakhalin’s first Russian military post. From here you will drive to Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk, the capital of the island with a population of just over 160,000. Founded as a small Russian settlement in the 1880s, the city became a Japanese prefect capital when the southern half of Sakhalin was declared a Japanese colony in 1905; after WWII it was returned to Russia.
Highlights include a visit to the modern Russian Orthodox Church built in the traditional style without using nails. This lovely light-brown wooden building is elaborately decorated inside with metal panels and painted wooden icons. The Natural History Museum has very varied exhibits ranging from Kamchatka brown bears (stuffed!) to military relics of the many wars fought in the region. There are also beautiful examples of pottery and clothing from the indigenous Ainu people including a coat made entirely of fish skins. The museum is housed in a beautiful Japanese-built mansion with lovely fountains in the forecourt. To see part of everyday life we will have a look at the bustling market. At the Community Hall, you will see an excellent and colorful cultural presentation by a local Cossack music and dance troupe. The variety of modern and traditional songs and dances is quite entertaining and some onlookers will even have the opportunity of joining in the dancing.
Tonight the Captain will invite you to his Captain’s Welcome cocktail party, followed by the Welcome Dinner.
Day 3, Aug 31, 2017
Cruising the Sea of Okhotsk, Russia
Today you will have the opportunity to sleep in, take your time to check for wildlife from the outer decks, attend one of the informative lectures our Expedition Team members will give, and sample same of the culinary specialties the Galley Team has prepared for you. The Executive Chef might want to show what he/she has been able to obtain in Korsakov and explain the special recipe used for its preparation.
During teatime attend a Team Trivia, testing your (natural) history skills while tasting tea. In the evening the Expedition Leader will present the plan(s) for tomorrow.
Day 4, Sep 1, 2017
Piltun Lagoon, Sakhalin Island, Russia
During the morning, the lecture staff will present interesting talks about Sakhalin’s nature, getting you ready for the Zodiac cruise and landing this afternoon. During lunch Silver Discoverer will approach the anchorage, which is quite some distance from the shore because of shallow waters. On the northeastern shore of Sakhalin, the waters in front of Piltun Lagoon are known to have a gray whale population, members of which can usually be seen while approaching the river mouth by Zodiac.
After lunch, you will take to the Zodiacs with the intention to land near a lighthouse, looking for Steller sea eagles and Aleutian terns. After a wet landing, survey the area, the birders heading for Siberian stone pine looking for pine grosbeak, Siberian rubythroat, and dusky warblers, while others might want to climb to the top of the lighthouse for a panoramic view of the bay.
Day 5, Sep 2, 2017
Iona Island, Russia
During the morning Silver Discoverer will still be heading north, en route to Iona (or Jonas) Island. This small and isolated island in the Sea of Okhotsk is home to a Steller sea lion colony, but great numbers of northern fulmars and Brünnich’s guillemots will be the first sign of the island.
If conditions permit, you will circumnavigate the island by Zodiac. While the sea lions are taking up every single space imaginable close to the water, guillemots and kittiwakes will circle the cliffs by the thousands. Another highlight for the birders will be the whiskered, least, and parakeet auklets in the air and floating as rafts in the water.
Day 6, Sep 3, 2017
Shantar Islands, Russia
The Shantar Islands are in the westernmost part of the Sea of Okhotsk. As you approach, you might see some Minke whales and orcas, but most of all expect to see several species of seals, including bearded, ringed, Largha, and ribbon seals.
Depending on the wind and sea conditions we intend a landing where you can hike through beautiful larch and spruce forests, always on the lookout for bears, but mainly in search of nesting Steller’s sea eagles.
Day 7, Sep 4, 2017
Malminskie Islands & Fedora Bay, Russia
North of the Shantar Islands are the tiny Malminskie Islands. You will take to the Zodiacs to cruise along the shoreline of the island, islets, and rocks. As part of the Dzhugdzursky Zapovednik Federal Reserve, the islands are protected and you can see that birds just love these rocks and islands.
Horned and tufted puffins, ancient murrelets, rhinoceros auklet, parakeet auklets, crested auklets, as well as common, Brünnich’s, and spectacled guillemots can be seen. Steller’s sea eagles can be found on the islands and on the nearby mainland. In the water and on the islands, harbor seals will represent the marine mammals.
During lunch Silver Discoverer will continue the voyage north and try to reach Fedora Bay. Depending on conditions we might explore ashore in Fedora Bay. During much of the year it is iced in, but there is a small ranger station and we might get to hike along the local river and through dense birch and larch forest to a viewpoint.
Day 8, Sep 5, 2017
The city of Okhotsk is on the banks of the Okhota River (giving its name to the town and the sea), and for many years was the most important port in the Russian Far East. It was from here that Vitus Bering left for his two expeditions in the early 18th century, but the town had lost its importance in the 19th century and today counts only some 4,000 inhabitants.
Taking the Zodiac up the river mouth, you will land in Okhotsk and will explore the town and its highlights. Strolling down the puddled unpaved street, it seems as if you step back in time. There are few signs of any 21st century conveniences, but there are monuments honoring Russia’s Communist past, which include a large statue of Lenin towering over the town square.
The local museum has quite an interesting collection featuring items of the area’s history: a stuffed tufted puffin in winter plumage, a Steller’s sea eagle hanging from the ceiling, weaponry, old photographs, and exhibits covering recent events. The Ethnic Cultures Center shows tents of the local tribes, and traditional household objects. You can also expect to see some local dances.
Day 9, Sep 6, 2017
Talan Island & Zavyalov Island, Russia
During the morning, we intend to land on the small and, except for the occasional researchers, uninhabited island where seabirds have been counted now for nearly 30 years. The originally 1.5 million crested auklets found here have halved in number, but the tufted puffins have increased to 120,000 and the horned puffins are stable at 80,000. In addition there are parakeet auklets, ancient murrelets, and spectacled guillemots breeding on the island. Because of these huge numbers predators have arrived, too. Red foxes are known to take advantage of the ice to come over from the mainland for the season, returning to the mainland once the birds have left (and the ice has formed). Steller’s sea eagles nest and hunt here as well.
During the early afternoon Silver Discoverer will reposition to Zaviyalova Island. Once we arrive you can do a Zodiac cruise looking for wildlife: Steller’s sea eagles, harlequin ducks, goosander, and other birds and might go ashore. This depends on whether brown bears are seen in the vicinity or not.
Day 10, Sep 7, 2017
Kvachina River & Utkholok Peninsula, Russian Federation
During the morning, you can take the opportunity for more lectures, before we reach the western shore of Kamchatka at Utkholok Peninsula. This region produces a large percentage of all wild Pacific salmon and hosts the greatest diversity of salmon species on Earth. The Utkholok and Kvachina watersheds are among the most productive and best-protected steelhead rivers on the Peninsula. Apart from the salmon “riches” this is an important lowland tundra ecosystem of the western Kamchatka Peninsula.
The Utkholok and Kvachina meander through low floodplain forests of cottonwoods and willows, and both rivers have large steelhead salmon, sometimes weighing as much as 30 pounds (18 kg). The Wild Salmon Center has been working with Russian scientists, government officials, and local communities to establish a salmon protected area here. Landing near the mouth of the river you can explore the beach and surrounding marshy dune. It should be a good afternoon for the birders as the Utkholok Peninsula is one of 35 RAMSAR sites in Russia.
Day 11, Sep 8, 2017
At Sea, cruising the Sea of Okhotsk
After all the different activities during the last few days, you can relax today. Have a leisurely breakfast, join one of the naturalists on deck spotting wildlife, attend a lecture about the natural history of the area, let the Galley Team tempt you with a food or wine tasting seminar, or visit the gym.
Day 12, Sep 9, 2017
Utashud Island, Russia
The three islands that form Utashud are quite small, but seem to be the remnants of a former volcano rising 80 meters out of Vestinik (Messenger) Bay. Although the island is deprived of forest fragments, giant petrified trees have been found on the island. Utashud is one of the richest islands on the southeastern side of Kamchatka and is notable for its population of sea otters (up to 300 individuals), as well as the Stejneger’s harbor seal and spotted seal rookeries.
From spring until late December, gray whales feed here. There are 10 species of marine birds with a total of over 22,000 pairs, including one of the largest colonies of slaty-backed gulls (4,000 pairs) and tufted puffins (10,000 pairs). Steller’s sea eagles and brown bears are known to frequent the islands, while native people from Kamchatka used to visit this island to hunt for sea otters. A small cabin has been set up to be able to observe birds and marine mammals.
During the afternoon attend a lecture or scan the waters and sky for marine mammals and seabirds on your way to the Russian Far East’s most important town.
Day 13, Sep 10, 2017
Petropavlovsk (Kamchatsky), Russia
Petropavlovsk, the town of Peter and Paul, derives its name from the two sailing ships used by Vitus Bering when the great explorer reached Avacha Bay in 1740. It is the only major city on the peninsula and one of the oldest. Petropavlovsk is also the scientific and cultural center of the region, and today you will see why as local guides take you on a comprehensive tour including the museum of ethnography and natural history, the art school, the gold-domed Russian Orthodox Cathedral, and the marketplace.
A drive out of the city and into the beautiful countryside will take us down a narrow road through a forest of willows, alder, poplars, and Erman’s birch, a symbol of Kamchatka. Splashes of pink fireweed and yellow rattle brighten the roadside. Our destination will be the sled-dog kennel where racing sled dogs are kept. A local folk-group will entertain us with songs and dances of the Even and Itelmen ethnic groups.
Day 14, Sep 11, 2017
Atlasova Island, Russia
Around noon Silver Discoverer reaches Atlasova and its 6,500-foot-high volcano, Alaid—the highest volcano in the Kurils. Alaid is praised by the Japanese for its almost perfect volcanic cone. You will land by Zodiac on the black lava beach for a walk to see the remains of the Taketomi tufa cone and the women’s prison, or gulag. The women, many of them political prisoners during the Soviet rule, were sent here to raise foxes for fur. Peregrine falcons can sometimes be spotted flying above the beach, while buzzards, Eurasian wigeons, and tufted ducks have all been observed on the island.
Day 15, Sep 12, 2017
Matua Island and Yankicha Island, Russia
Matua is home to one of the Kuril’s most active volcanoes, with more than 14 documented eruptions in the past 250 years. We hope to make a landing and start a long walk to the upper plateau of Matua along a dirt road that cuts through dense thickets of alders. Singing Eurasian bullfinches, Siberian rubythroats, ravens, eye-browed thrushes, and some very active peregrine falcons are among the birds expected.
Learn about the Japanese military base that was set up here during WWII and how the Japanese used to capture geothermal heat from the volcano to keep the runway open during winter. The newest building on uninhabited Matua is a tiny Russian Orthodox Churchwith room for 4 to 5 people inside. Standing on the edge of the main plateau of the island and commanding a marvelous view of the bay, the church has been beautifully constructed of wood.
During the early afternoon Silver Discoverer will reposition to Yankicha, the southern part of Ushishir Island. The island is quite impressive—actually so much so that it is featured in almost all articles about the Kuril Islands. The southern part (Yankicha) has a caldera accessible only by Zodiac at high tide. Inside this extraordinary lagoon with its fumaroles and hot springs, you can still see traces of the tremendous forces that created the island long ago and a visit here is invariably one of the highlights of the entire voyage. The number of auklets, which breed here, is truly incredible.
If you are lucky you may also catch a glimpse of an Arctic fox or even the rare and elusive whiskered auklet. Arctic warblers and Middendorff’s grasshopper warblers can be seen apart from the seabirds nesting here. Polar foxes had been introduced by the Japanese as a resource for fur trappers. As the island is a nature reserve for birds, the foxes live off the vast number of breeding birds, especially the auklets that nest on the slopes in cracks between the boulders and stones.
Day 16, Sep 13, 2017
Chirpoy Island, Russia
During the early morning you will approach Chirpoy and search by Zodiac (weather permitting) along the coast of Chirpoy Island for the profusion of wildlife that lives in the area, including Steller sea lions, northern fulmars, kittiwakes, puffins, and auklets. Whales, and specifically orcas, have been seen around Chirpoy. If Snou volcano is active, you might see the slow-flowing lava reach the sea from a safe distance. During the afternoon Silver Discoverer will continue the journey crossing the Sea of Okhotsk.
Day 17, Sep 14, 2017
Tyuleniy Island, Russia
While you approach your next destination, the Expedition Team will have you out on deck with them to look for the fulmars, kittiwakes, gulls, and cormorants that are known to come to Tyuleniy Island. But more importantly, thousands of northern fur seals and Steller sea lions call Tyuleniy Island their home. Understandably, the island was named this way, as the word Tuleniy means “seal” in Russian. The island has one of the highest concentrations of northern fur seals in the Russian Far East. During the summer months the island is home to literally tens of thousands of seals and sea lions that will be heard through a cacophony of sound difficult to imagine. Bulls, their harems and many thousands of young black pups all jostle for space on the crowded beaches that flank the small rocky island. A small group of houses is sometimes used by researchers assessing the sea lion and seal populations, but on occasions there are so many seals on the beach that landing is impossible, as there is simply no space available.
Your visit at the end of the breeding season is timed to see not only the seals and sea lions, but also black-legged kittiwakes, slaty-backed gulls, tufted puffins, common murres, and pelagic cormorants that summer on the island. During the afternoon Silver Discoverer will head north through Aniva Bay.
Day 18, Sep 15, 2017
Korsakov, Sakhalin Island, Russia
Today you clear out of Russia. This is a technical stop only and as soon as the formalities are concluded you will continue on our way to Japan. Today is a good day to edit your photos and listen to the last lectures of your voyage, which will be preparing you for Japan. Don't miss the presentation of the voyage’s DVD by our on-board Photographer/Videographer, who will have recorded the various highlights of this voyage.
Day 19, Sep 16, 2017
Otaru, Hokkaido, Japan
After clearance into Japan and following breakfast, disembark Silver Discoverer.