Northern Ring of Fire

Overview

The Northern Ring of Fire is a chain of spectacularly diverse islands stretching between the Sea of Okhotsk and the Pacific Ocean. Volcanoes and tundra, rocky shores, black sand beaches, and wide rivers are just a few of the landscapes you’ll see as you cruise from Sapporo, Japan, to Russkaya Bay. You’ll witness one of the largest colonies of rhinoceros auklets, plus northern fulmars, tufted puffins, and white-tailed sea eagles, to name a few. Zodiac explorations will take you to deep craters, hot springs, fumaroles, and lush slopes where streams and waterfalls flow to the beach. You’ll see northern fur seals and Stellar sea lions barking in great mass, and walk nature trails bursting with wildflowers where you may spot Arctic foxes and warblers. On Sakhalin Island’s capital, Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk, you can explore the Regional Museum and enjoy a live performance of traditional Cossack song and dance.  Your final stop is on the Zhupanova River before your charter flight brings you to Seoul, South Korea.

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

Days 1-2, May 20-21, 2020
Depart USA / Tokyo, Japan / Sapporo

Travel to Sapporo and check in to the group hotel. In the evening gather for a welcome dinner and briefing.

Day 3, May 22, 2020
Sapporo / Otaru / Embark Caledonian Sky

Following breakfast, join a tour of Sapporo's highlights. Hokkaido is Japan's northernmost island and during late May, flowers and trees should be bursting into bloom. Pass by historic buildings such as the city's symbolic Clock Tower, the university, the charming red-brick Old Prefectural Office, and several 1972 Winter Olympics sites. After lunch, transfer to the port of Otaru to embark the Caledonian Sky.

Day 4, May 23, 2020
Teuri Island / Rishiri Island

Cruise past tiny Teuri Island at dawn where early risers may train their binoculars on one of the largest colonies of rhinoceros auklets in Asia. Watch as the birds leave the rocky cliffs en masse to feed in the productive surrounding waters. Continue north to the classical cone-shaped volcano of Rishiri Island. Make a stop to stroll or hike in the magnificent conifer forests of Rishiri-Rebun-Sarobetsu National Park. A stop at the municipal museum unveils local history and artifacts dating back over 1,000 years.

Day 5, May 24, 2020
Korsakov, Sakhalin Island, Russia / Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk

Today, visit Sakhalin Island's capital, Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk. Founded as a small Russian settlement in the 1880s, the city became a Japanese prefect capital when the southern half of the island was declared a Japanese colony in 1905; after WWII it was returned to Russia. Highlights of your exploration include a visit to the Russian Orthodox church, the Regional Museum, housed in an impressive former Japanese mansion, and the bustling market. Enjoy a performance of traditional Cossack song and dance from a group dressed in colorful costumes. Alternatively, join your ornithologist for a day of birding in the southern part of the island. Watch for Latham's snipes, Eurasian bullfinches, white-tailed sea eagles, Siberian thrushes, and Swinhoe’s robin.

Day 6, May 25, 2020
Tyuleniy Island

Tyuleniy means seal in Russian, and you will immediately understand how the island earned this moniker. Hundreds of northern fur seals and Steller sea lions cover the beaches—watch bulls defending their harems, males sparring, and pups cavorting in the water. Birds fill whatever space the seals and sea lions leave unclaimed. Thousands of common murres and kittiwakes cover the cliffs and fly overhead. Other bird species include crested auklets, Siberian rubythroats, and Pallas's warblers, with possible sightings of red-necked stints and narcissus flycatchers.

Day 7, May 26, 2020
Broutona Island, Kuril Islands / Chirpoy Island

The Kuril Islands form an archipelago of 56 large and small islands, nearly equal to the Hawaiian Islands in landmass, stretching some 700 nautical miles between Kamchatka and Japan. Young in geological years, the Kurils are still bursting forth with volcanic action, with 40 active volcanoes. Take a Zodiac cruise past the sheer cliffs of uninhabited Broutona Island, keeping an eye out for the northern fulmars and fork-tailed storm petrels that nest here. Continue to the dramatic headlands of Chirpoy Island, also home to thousands of breeding seabirds. While black-legged kittiwakes and thick-billed murres are among the more numerous species, you may also find red-faced and pelagic cormorants.

Day 8, May 27, 2020
Simushir Islands / Yankicha Island

Shimushir’s spectacular geology features a string of extinct volcanoes, well-wooded slopes, and a flooded crater at its northern tip. The crater’s narrow pass opens into a nearly hidden bay that was home to a secret Russian military base from 1978 to 1991. Nearly 2,000 occupants inhabited the keyhole harbor, where Russian submarines were based. Spend a fascinating morning wandering among the abandoned buildings and other relics of this former military base. Located in the flooded caldera of Yankicha are fumaroles and hot springs, hinting at the tremendous forces that created the island long ago. Nature walks may reveal Arctic foxes, Arctic warblers, and Middendorff’s grasshopper warblers.

Day 9, May 28, 2020
Srednego Islands

Often enshrouded in fog, the rugged columnar stacks of the Srednego Islands are home to thousands of nesting seabirds. Here you’ll find northern fulmars, guillemots, black-legged kittiwakes, and whiskered auklets, as well as large populations of Steller sea lions and northern fur seals.

Day 10, May 29, 2020
Lovyshki Islands

Unlike their volcanic neighbors, the Lovyshik Islands are small, rocky islets that offer the perfect resting place for thousands upon thousands of northern fur seals. Crested auklets are also a possibility here.

Day 11, May 30, 2020
Onekotan Island

Beautiful Onekotan Island boasts an impressive 4,000-foot-high volcano with a deep, almost perfectly circular crater lake at its center. Small streams and waterfalls tumble down the hillsides to the beach, while lush tundra slopes are the habitat for red foxes and myriad bird species, such as the red-throated pipit. Scan the rugged and rocky ledges for seabirds while taking a shoreside walk with our naturalist. The area was once inhabited by the Ainu, and you may have the chance to investigate ruins of their former dwellings.

Day 12, May 31, 2020
Atlasova Island

This afternoon, as you cruise through the First Kuril Strait, watch for the Steller’s sea eagles that frequent the area. Past voyages have also found hundreds of sea otters frolicking in this strait—a heartening rejuvenation after a brush with near-extinction. Step ashore on Atlasova Island, dominated by the towering 7,600-foot-high Alaid Volcano. Stroll along the black sand beaches to observe the island’s fascinating geology or take a hike inland over tundra bursting with wildflowers.

Day 13, Jun 1, 2020
Russkaya Bay

Reminiscent of a Norwegian fjord, the craggy shores of the bay served as a natural shelter for ships in the past. The imposing inland mountains and volcanoes add to the dramatic impact of this spectacular bay, where you will find seabirds such as horned and tufted puffins, cormorants, kittiwakes, and auklets, as well as a wealth of marine mammals.

Day 14, Jun 2, 2020
Zhupanova River

Board Zodiacs to negotiate the shallow and meandering Zhupanova River, with superb opportunities for both birding and nature walks. Heading upstream, we are likely to spot up to 40 species of birds, including such special Siberian species as the yellow-billed loon, yellow-breasted bunting, common greenshank, and Far Eastern curlew. Heading downriver, scan the skies for the magnificent Steller’s sea eagle.

Days 15-16, Jun 3- 4, 2020
Petropavlovsk / Disembark / Seoul, South Korea / USA

After breakfast on board, disembark the Caledonian Sky and transfer to the airport for our charter flight to Seoul. Check in to the Grand Hyatt Incheon for dinner and overnight. Board your independent homeward flight the next day, arriving in the USA the same day.

Highlights

Highlights

Witness huge concentrations of seabirds in a frenzy of breeding activity—northern fulmars, horned and tufted puffins, guillemots, black-legged kittiwakes, and more
Cruise by Zodiac along rocky islets and uninhabited shores to search for the area's prolific marine and wildlife—including bears, Arctic foxes, seals, and whales
Photograph a variety of stunning scenery, from snowcapped volcanoes to wildflower-studded tundra
Enjoy a performance of traditional Russian songs and dances in Sakhalin Island's capital, Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk

Details

Length: 16 days
Cost From: $14,980  
Arrive: Sapporo, Japan
Depart: Seoul, South Korea
Lodging: 12 nights aboard 100-guest expedition vessel, 2 nights hotel
Meals: All meals included (B=Breakfast, L=Lunch, D=Dinner)
Activity: Cultural Adventures, Wildlife & Natural History, Photography, Whale Watching, Small Ship Cruising
Trip Level:

13-day cruise, cultural exploration, and walking tours
Cruise collection 2020 brochure

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