The allure of the mysterious Northeast Passage has captivated adventurers for centuries. Its Russian-controlled waters are steeped in history and mystery, while abundant wildlife is found along its remote shores. Only a handful of passenger vessels have ever completed a transit of this waterway, but recent changes in the summer sea ice conditions mean that it is now possible for a brief time each summer. In 2017, the long held ambition of completing a successful Northeast Passage double transit was fulfilled. Join in and retrace the route of legendary Polar explorer Adolf Erik Nordenskiold, navigate narrow fjords, search for unique wildlife, glimpse into the past and experience the warmth of Arctic hospitality in local villages.

1Murmansk, RussiaEmbark on the Akademik Shokalskiy
2-3Barents SeaSettle in on board as you make your way northwards
4-6Franz Josef Land192 islands make up this large archipelago, full of wildlife including the Polar Bear
7-8Kara SeaCruise through this sea, considered to be the coldest in Russia
9-11Severnaya Zemlya ArchipelagoAim to visit a colony of Ivory Gulls and explore the deep fjords and tidewater glaciers
12-13Laptev SeaLook for the Laptev Sea Walrus and the lesser known Taymyr form of Herring Gull
14-15New Siberian IslandsTry to visit the Southern, Central and Northern groups of these fascinating islands
16East Siberian SeaRelax on board during your day along this historical sea
17Medvezhyi IslandsAlso known as Bear Islands, keep an eye out for Polar Beats along with Arctic flowers and rock 'pillows'
18Ayon IslandEnjoy the warm hospitality of the local people on this island
19East Siberian SeaKeep an eye out for walrus and Bowhead Whales
20-22Wrangel IslandPolar Bears, Musk Ox, Arctic Fox, Show Geese and Snowy Owls
23Kolyuchin IslandBe in awe of the large number of Tufted and Horned Puffins, Brunnich's and Common Guillemots and Black-legged Kittiwakes
24Cape Dezhnev and Uelen VillageExperience a cultural performance, visit the famous bone-carving studio
25Whale Bone Alley and Gil'mimyl Hot SpringsWalk through this significant archaeological site and take a look and the hot springs
26Preobrazhnaya BayExplore the magnificant coastal cliffs of the Bay, home to an abundance of sea birds
27Anadyr, Russia The time has come to disembark from the Akademik Shokalskiy

Northeast Passage - Eastward
Resized Heritage Expeidtions©ATerauds_Polar Bear RFE

Ship Offering This Itinerary

Akademik Shokalskiy
Akademik Shokalskiy

The Akademik Shokalskiy is the sister ship to the Spirit of Enderby (Professor Khromov). Built in 1984 for polar and oceanographic research and, being fully ice-strengthened, she is perfect for expedition travel. Carrying just 48 passengers, she provides comfortable accommodation in twin share cabins with approximately half of which have private facilities. Each cabin features windows or portholes and have ample storage. The common areas on board include a combined bar/library and lounge area along with a dedicated lecture room. The food on board is fantastic and is prepared by top Australian and New Zealand chefs. The main focus on board is the emphasis on expedition and the aim is to get passengers off as often and for as long as possible. Experienced naturalists and guides are extremely knowledgeable in the destinations that are visited and the crew on board is enthusiastic along with the Russian Captain.

Day 1 Murmansk, Russia

Murmansk- Alex

Murmansk is home to Russia’s icebreaker fleet and featured as a strategically important port throughout the history of Russia. Join your ship this afternoon and prepare for an evening departure from port. After you set sail there will be introductions to ship and crew plus compulsory safety briefings.


This expedition is subject to approval from various Russian Federal and Regional Authorities and may have to change depending on these approvals. Permits have been lodged for all the sites mentioned in the itinerary, depending on approvals these may have to be amended or substituted. It is endeavoured to keep participants fully informed of any changes in the itinerary as and when they occur.

Days 2-3 Barents Sea

Gannet Barents Sea resized

The Barents Sea was named in honour of Dutch seafarer and navigator, Willem Barents, who explored this region on expeditions in 1594 and 1596. During your two days at sea, the lecture series will begin and as you move northwards the opportunities for spotting Humpback Whales and Harp Seals that feed in these waters increase.

Days 4-6 Franz Josef Land

This huge archipelago of 192 islands located only 10 degrees from the North Pole offers numerous locations for you to explore for the next few days. Closed to outsiders for decades, Franz Josef Land is today one of the great Arctic wildlife refuges, and its position close to the permanent ice of the Arctic Ocean yet accessible to the rich waters of the Atlantic gifts these waters an unusual diversity and abundance of marine life. The islands were named in 1870 after Emperor Franz Josef when they were discovered by the Payer-Weyprecht expedition that was searching for the Northeast Passage. The islands have a fascinating and rich record of exploration, scientific research and habitation.


During your time here you will have a busy schedule of landings planned including Cape Triest on Alger Island where the famous ‘Devil’s Marbles’ (spherical geodes) dot the landscape, Cape Flora on Northbrook Island where the remains of three historic expeditions are found in close proximity and Tikhaya Bay on Hooker Island where the numbers of guillemots and kittiwakes on the remarkable columnar cliffs of Rubini Rock are simply unforgettable. Also plan to include a visit to Cape Tegetthoff, the first part of Franz Josef Land to be discovered. There is a very healthy population of Polar Bears living amongst the archipelago and the team will be keeping a close lookout for these both ashore and on any ice which remains. Sailing within the islands there are good chances to spot Beluga Whales and Bowhead Whale and if you are extremely fortunate you may find the extraordinary Narwhal with its unicorn-like single tusk.

Days 7-8 Kara Sea

heritage-expeditions-Meghan Kelly-8564

Lying between Novaya Zemlaya, Franz Josef Land and the Severnaya Zemlya Archipelago with two of Russia’s greatest rivers, the Ob and the Yenisei flowing in along its southern shore – the Kara Sea is generally considered to be the coldest sea in Russia. The large, relatively flat Ostrov Vize is along the route from Franz Josef Land and you will look to make a landing, conditions permitting. Interestingly, this island was “discovered” by Vladimir Wiese who postulated on its presence after analysing the drift of the St Anna.

Days 9-11 Severnaya Zemlya Archipelago

Heritage Expedition - Auklets

The Severnaya Zemlya Islands translated into English mean ‘Northern Land’ and they are on the border of the Kara and Laptev Seas and are an extension of the Taymyr Peninsula. These islands were not discovered until 1914-15 when Russian explorer Vilkitski finally charted the island making it the last significant archipelago in the world to be discovered. The three largest islands are heavily glaciated with deep fjords and majestic tidewater glaciers that are regularly calving icebergs, providing a magnificent environment for cruising. This is one of the last strongholds for Ivory Gulls and you can look forward to an opportunity to visit a colony.

Days 12-13 Laptev Sea

Heritage Expeditions© 1233 KOvsyanikova-Wrangel Island Overland Traverse

You will enter the Laptev Sea through the Vilkitskiy Strait which separates the Severnaya Islands from the mainland of Russia and also marks the northern most point of the Eurasian continent. This is a significant milestone on your journey; traditionally the last area where the ice clears and the biological divide between the Pacific and Atlantic Ocean wildlife occurs. This sea is bounded by the Taymyr Peninsula and the Severnaya Islands in the west and the Novosibirskie Islands in the east. It is named in honour of cousins who were both Arctic explorers. The Lena and the Yana are two of the larger rivers that drain into this sea. Along the western shore of the Laptev Sea you will take the opportunity to explore the Taymyr Peninsula. Laptev Sea Walrus are only found in this area and you will be on the lookout for haulouts where you can spend time photographing this unique and quite isolated population of walrus. If you are lucky, you may also have the chance to spot the lesser known Taymyr form of Herring Gull.

Days 14-15 Noviye Sebirskiye (New Siberian Islands)


These islands, which consist of three major groups – Southern, Central (Anzhu) and Northern (De Long), mark the border between the Laptev and East Siberian Seas. It is from this vicinity that the famed polar explorer and researcher Fridtjof Nansen froze the Fram into the sea ice in his attempt to reach the geographic North Pole by means of the natural ice drift of the Arctic Ocean. The New Siberian Islands are renowned for the preservation of the remains of mammoth, rhinoceros and other Pleistocene inhabitants of the far north; it is not uncommon to encounter their fossil remains while you explore the islands. Time has allowed two days for exploring this remarkable yet seldom visited archipelago, conditions permitting you can hope to have the opportunity to visit all three island groups, each with their own unique geology and landscapes. The highest island in the group is the small Ostrov Bennetta (Bennett Island) which is also one of the most northerly in the archipelago. On the southern shores of Great Lyakhovskiy Island there is an active meteorological station which is permanently manned by a small contingent.

Day 16 East Siberian Sea

Whale Spitsbergen

It was in this sea that the Jeanette, captained by George Washington De Long, became stuck fast and was crushed by ice in 1879. The men made their way from the sinking ship in open boats to the Kolmya River delta where many of them perished. Wreckage from the Jeanette found in Greenland in 1884 gave Nansen the idea for the now famous 1893-96 Fram Expedition drifting across the Arctic Ocean.

Day 17 Medvezhyi Islands

Franz Josef Land- Blog Size shutterstock_536539075 Polar Bears Franz Joseph Land

Today you will explore the little known and seldom visited Medvezhyi Islands (Bear Islands), an archipelago of five granitic islands. As the name suggests, the islands have a sizeable population of Polar Bears which den on these shores over winter. A landing on the island of Chetyrekhstolbovoy offers the opportunity to hike to the unusual rock ‘pillows’ which the island is named after, the largest of these resembling Moai from a distance. The abandoned weather station here is a fascinating example of the effects of permafrost melting as it slowly slumps into the sea while the very land upon which it was built disintegrates. On Pushkareva Island investigate the old lighthouse or enjoy the Arctic flowers that cover the expansive tundra during the brief summer.

Day 18 Ayon Island

Heritage Expeditions Resized©MKelly Across the Top of the World (7)

Guarding the eastern approaches to the Kolyma Gulf, Ayon Island is relatively low lying with fertile tundra. The Chukchi people that call this island home are reindeer herders and hunters and during the soviet era over 20,000 reindeer were farmed on the island however today it is a more manageable 4,000. Despite the harsh Arctic climate, enjoy the warm hospitality of the local people as you learn about life on this remote island.

Day 19 East Siberian Sea


Join your expedition team to learn more about the rich history and wildlife of the Northeast Passage as the expert lecturers share their knowledge while you transit the East Siberian Sea. This sea is defined by the Novosibirskie Islands in the west and Wrangel Island to the east, along its southern shores are three of Siberia’s major rivers, the Indigirka, Alazaya and the Kolyma. The average depth is only 54 metres making it ideal habitat for walrus and Bowhead Whales.

Days 20-22 Wrangel Island

HERITAGE EXPEDITIONS©EBell_Wrangel Island Overland -18

Wrangel Island is one of those islands that you have to visit to appreciate. It is a Federal Nature Reserve and World Heritage Site of international significance. Its significance lies in the fact that it is a major Polar Bear denning area and one of the few areas of the Arctic to not be glaciated during recent glacial episodes. In fact, it is sometimes referred to as a Polar Bear maternity ward on account of the large numbers of cubs born here. In addition to the Polar Bears for which it is renowned, there are numerous other Arctic species which you will be looking for including Musk Ox, Arctic Fox, Snow Geese and the Snowy Owls which breed here annually. Because Wrangel has not been recently glaciated, the diversity of tundra flora is exceptional and during walks ashore you should see the last flowers of summer. With three days scheduled to explore, the expedition team in conjunction with the local rangers will customise your program at Wrangel to deliver the very best opportunities to see and appreciate this truly remarkable island and its inhabitants.

Day 23 Kolyuchin Island

Today the plan is to land on Kolyuchin Island; a 4.2km long home to thousands of seabirds just north of the Russian mainland. Although you will be visiting after the peak of the breeding season, there should still be large numbers of Tufted and Horned Puffins, Brunnich’s and Common Guillemots and Blacklegged Kittiwakes. There may also be an opportunity to Zodiac cruise around the base of the cliffs where there are excellent photographic opportunities. As you set sail for Wrangel Island, join the expedition team on deck as there will be fantastic marine mammal watching opportunities – Humpback and Bowhead Whales have been seen in the area previously.

Day 24 Uelen Village & Cape Dezhnev

This morning you will visit Uelen; the most north-eastern village in Russia where you will get to enjoy the hospitality of the local people who are predominantly Chukchi. The village is the largest centre for traditional Chukchi and Inuit art in the world. A cultural performance and visit to their famous bone-carving studio and museum will conclude the afternoon’s activities; works produced from this studio can be found in most of the major Russian museums.

During the afternoon you will arrive at Cape Dezhnev, the eastern extremity of the Eurasian continent. Named after the Cossack explorer Semyon Dezhnev, the first European to sail through the Bering Strait, it is sometimes possible to see the coast of America just 50 nautical miles away. Ashore, visit the monument erected in honour of Dezhnev as well as explore the remains of the traditional Chukchi village of Naukan from which the inhabitants were resettled in the 1950s. The Bering Strait is a vitally important migratory pathway, where you may see flocks of King, Common and Spectacled Eiders passing south.

Day 25 Whale Bone Alley & Gil’mimyl Hot Springs

Heritage Expeditions-Whale Bone Alley

In the morning visit Whale Bone Alley on Yttygran Island, one of the most significant and intriguing archaeological sites in the Arctic. The name comes from the large number of Bowhead Whale jaw bones placed along the beach in the form of a pathway. The site is believed to date from the 14th century and its origins, purpose and even the identity of those that built it are still debated. The waters nearby remain rich feeding grounds for whales and weather permitting, you may be able to take the Zodiacs in search of Gray Whales and walrus. This afternoon plan a landing at the Gil’mimyl Hot Springs. Deep within the hills of eastern Chukotka, this is a beautiful location for exploring the tundra with its rich plant life and the chance to see Sandhill Cranes which usually breed in the area.

Day 26 Preobrazhnaya Bay

Crossing the Gulf of Anadyr there will be many opportunities for wildlife watching. This afternoon plan to explore the magnificent coastal cliffs of Preobrazhnaya Bay by Zodiac. These cliffs are home to an exceptional diversity and abundance of seabirds including Brunnich’s Guillemot, Crested and Parakeet Auklets plus Tufted and Horned Puffins.

Day 27 Anadyr, Russia

After a final breakfast on board it will be time to disembark. There will be a complimentary transfer to the airport or to a central downtown hotel.

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. However, it is strongly advised that you do not book any onward travel from Nome until the following day to allow for possible delays in the charter flight. Those returning to Moscow can either be transferred to the airport or hotel in Anadyr, depending on their flight times.

To book this cruise contact us on 1300 784 794 or email:

We will look after all aspects your journey to the Top of the World.