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, Jul 2, 2018
Arrive in Otaru and embark the ship in the afternoon, with a departure set for 5:00 pm. Otaru is a small harbor city west of Sapporo. Famous for its many hills and a nearby ski resort, the town has been an important trade and herring fishing center. A wide canal that led from the port to the old town’s warehouses has been maintained for touristic purposes and the old stone or brick-built warehouses have been beautifully converted to restaurants and boutiques.
Day 2, Jul 3, 2018
Korsakov is used as a technical stop for ships clearing in and out of Russia. In addition to being a port of call for these formalities, the city was once home to an Ainu fishing village frequented by regional traders and early Russian expeditions. History also suggests that there may have been a significant Japanese population here at one time with reports of a Japanese religious temple on record.
Day 3, Jul 4, 2018
Thousands of northern fur seals and Steller sea lions call Tyuleniy Island their home. The island is appropriately named, as the word tyuleniy means “seal” in Russian. During the summer months, tens of thousands of seals and sea lions haul ashore here during the breeding season. The cacophony of their barks, belches, grunts, and groans is 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. Alongside the marine mammals, black-legged kittiwakes, slaty-backed gulls, tufted puffins, common murres, and pelagic cormorants summer on the busy shores in the thousands.
Day 4, Jul 5, 2018
While at sea, enjoy wine tastings, designer boutiques, language, and dance classes. Take in a matinee movie, check the market or your e-mail in the Internet Point, slip away with a novel from the library to a sunny chaise, or with a movie to your suite. Or just take in the sun pool side. The choice is yours.
Day 5, Jul 6, 2018
Yankicha Island / Matua Island
Any articles published about the Kuril Islands are likely to linger over impressive Yankicha Island. It is the southernmost of two islets forming Ushishir Island. Yankicha is distinct in having at its center a caldera that is accessible by small boat only during high tide. Inside this extraordinary lagoon are fumaroles and hot springs, both traces of the tremendous forces that created the island long ago. Fortunate visitors may encounter an arctic fox or the rare whiskered auklet. Ashore it is also possible to see arctic warblers and Middendorff’s grasshopper warblers. From the sea, the number of auklets around the island is truly incredible.
Matua is home to one of the Kuril’s most active volcanoes, with more than 14 documented eruptions in the past 250 years. Singing Eurasian bullfinches, Siberian rubythroats, ravens, eye-browed thrushes, and some very active peregrine falcons are among the birds that can be spotted from the upper plateau of Matua either along dirt roads, or in dense thickets of alders. Disappearing into the vegetation of Matua is a Japanese military base that was set up here during WWII. The Japanese inhabitants captured geothermal heat from the volcano to keep the runway open during winter. The newest building on uninhabited Matua is a tiny Russian Orthodox Church with room for four or five people inside.
Day 6, Jul 7, 2018
Lovyshki Islands / Makanrushi Island
Close to Matua are the Lovyshki Islands of the central Kuril Islands archipelago in far eastern Russia. The Lovyshki Islands are comprised of clusters of rocks grouped together, making them a natural home to huge populations of sea mammals and birds. At Skaly Lovyshky, visitors may see northern fur seals and Steller sea lions. Pigeon guillemots, smaller dark gray waterbirds with white wings and bright red feet, may also be spotted as they swim around the rocky outcrops of the islands.
Makanrushi is another uninhabited volcanic island. North of the Evreinov Strait, it is a roughly rectangular island with almost 50 sq. kilometers. As there are no sandy beaches, but mostly steep cliffs, a ship or Zodiac cruise along the shore will be set in hope to have good views of the island’s highest peak.
Day 7, Jul 8, 2018
Atlasova Island / Utashud Islands
The near-perfect cone of Alaid volcano dominates Atlasova Island with its 6,500-foot peak. It is the highest volcano in the Kuril Islands and over time generated the black lava beaches and the eroding Taketomi tufa limestone cone near the landing site. At one time a women’s prison, or gulag, was located on Atlasova. 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. The symmetrical volcanic island also plays a key role in the region's native folklore.
Three small islands form Utashud and seem to be the remnants of a former volcano rising 262 feet out of Vestinik Bay. Although the island is deprived of forest, fragments of giant petrified trees have been found on its shores. Utashud is one of the richest islands on the southeastern side of Kamchatka in terms of wildlife. The island is notable for its population of sea otters (up to 300 individuals). In fact, native people from Kamchatka used to visit this island to hunt for sea otters, valuing the thick fur of their pelts. Steller’s sea eagles, brown bears, harbor seals, spotted seals, gray whales, and at least 10 species of seabirds are known to frequent the islands.
Day 8, Jul 9, 2018
South of Petropavlovsk-Kamchatskiy is the 9-mile-long Ruskaya Bay. The northeast to southwest direction and narrow body of water have made this bay a perfect place to look for shelter in foul weather, and fishing fleets and WWII convoys headed for Vladivostok have made ample use of the bay. Two shipwrecks can still be seen close to the bay’s southeastern shore. A river, used as a source of fresh water in former times, meanders through the valley. Boarding Zodiacs, you will explore and even hike to the small stands of trees found there.
Day 9, Jul 10, 2018
Northeast of Petropavlovsk, on the eastern side of the Kamchatka Peninsula, is the mighty Zhupanova River. Strewn with ever-changing shallows and sand bars, the 100-mile-long river is used year-round by rainbow trout. Anglers are attracted by the pink, cherry, coho, dog, and red salmon, as well as Arctic and white-spotted char. At the mouth of the river is a fish processing factory that is busy with local salmon during the summer season. Kamchatka brown bears also like salmon and there is a high chance of spotting a Steller’s sea eagle fishing the river.
Day 10, Jul 11, 2018
On the east side of Bering Island is Commander Bay (Komandor Bay) and Vitus Bering’s final resting place on this windswept isolated island after his ship, the St. Peter, was wrecked. Despite trying to survive on seaweed and the now-extinct Steller’s sea cow, Bering and several of his men perished here. These days Commander Island is protected as a Nature Reserve. A small monument accompanies the graves of Bering and the men who died there. Close to the graves is a creek that runs into Commander Bay that teems with salmon. The surrounding area is lush with diverse vegetation ranging from elegant grasses to plump crowberries.
Day 11, Jul 12, 2018
Cape Severozapadniy / Nikolskoye, Bering Island
A Steller sea lion rookery lies on the north side of Cape Severozapadniy. If a landing is possible, walk along a sometimes waterlogged dirt road that leads to a blind overlooking the rookery. Apart from the sea lions arctic foxes can often be seen. They are curious, and will watch the group from a safe distance.
Located just over 100 nautical miles off the coast of Kamchatka, the Komandorski or Commander Islands are named after Vitus Bering, who as a commander had been commissioned by the Russian Tsar to search for a land bridge between Asia and America. Nikolskoye is a settlement of around 750 inhabitants established in 1826 by fur traders. This fishing village on Bering Island has colorful buildings and an Orthodox Church—one of Russia’s newest and one of the easternmost. It has a small museum about the Aleut people and their culture, which also contains much information on Bering, as well as the bones of a Steller’s sea cow.
Days 12-13, Jul 13-14, 2018
Petropavlovsk / Depart
The Kamchatka Peninsula is part of the eastern frontier of Russia. Due to its close proximity to the United States, the region has played a strategic role in the defense of Russian territory throughout modern history. As a result, the territory was closed for many years to foreigners and Russians alike. Fortunately, the region's isolated position played a significant role in preserving and protecting its unique wilderness and rich biodiversity. With few roads, most regional transportation is by plane, boat, or helicopter. Overnight on Day 12 and disembark on Day 13 to depart on homeward-bound flights.