The Russian Far East could easily and understandably be mistaken for another world. Its culture, climate, history and wildlife certainly aid in differentiating itself from the rest of the country. This wild and rugged land is home to an array of different wildlife and species which can be witnessed in their sheer abundance. A voyage travelling through this region can combine Alaska, the Bering Sea and the UNESCO World Heritage site of Wrangel Island Reserve. A journey through the Russian Far East and beyond promises to fill you with a wealth of knowledge about what life is like in one of the most remote, less travelled regions on Earth.
The Pacific Ring of Fire exhibits itself in various areas along the rim of the Pacific Ocean – but nowhere more dramatically than in Russia’s Far East. Ongoing subduction of the Pacific Oceanic Plate underneath the Eurasian plate cause volcanism, evident throughout the Russian Far East however more specifically in Kamchatka. The volcanic and geothermal activity has resulted in a breathtaking landscape of snowy peaks, rugged mountains, hot springs and active volcanoes. The deep trenches formed through these processes harbour the perfect conditions for seabirds and cetaceans.
If the thought of birds even slightly excites you, a trip to the Russian Far East is bound to absolutely enthrall you. The famed auks are out for display and it is possible to spot up to fourteen species including Tufted and Horned puffins, Whiskered and Rhinoceros Auklets, Parakeets, along with Spectacled and Pigeon Guillemots. The excitement doesn’t end in the sky, in the oceans you have the chance to spot orcas, grey whales, sea lions and sea otters. On land spot the local brown bears, arctic foxes and if you’re travelling to the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Wrangel Island, Polar bears, considered to be “polar bear nursery” for the high amount of dens there.
The landscape in the Kamchatka Peninsula could easily be considered some of Russia’s most breathtaking and fascinating scenery. The dramatic coastline is full of volcanoes, hot springs, snow peaked mountains and flowing rivers all surrounded by absolute wilderness. The Peninsula accommodates 127 volcanoes, with 22 of them recorded as still active. What is so unique about the Kamchatka region is that it’s one of the few places in the world not connected to the outside society by a single road. Adventure in this area is simply calling the name of its visitors.
The Commander Islands is on the Western extremity of the Aleutian chain of islands linking Asia and North America. The island features flora and fauna unique to the region and some not found anywhere else in Russia with many coming from North America. The dramatic coastline is full of volcanoes, hot springs, snow peaked mountains and flowing rivers all surrounded by absolute wilderness. Covered mostly by mountain tundra with a labyrinthine of sea cliffs and rocky outcrops, low-mountain massifs along with rivers and streams contributing to an abundance of waterfalls.
The archipelago of the 56 islands that make up the Kuril Islands span for 1200km from the southern tip the Kamchatka Peninsula to the northeastern corner of Japan’s Hokkaido island. It is recorded that the Islands have at least 160 volcanoes spread throughout them with 40 of them still active. Rich in history the island contains artifacts recovered from various excavations.
Located high in the Russian Far East is the UNESCO world heritage site of Wrangel Island- a primative and harsh landscape which is home to an abundance of wildlife and diverse ecosystems. Known as the last place on earth that Wooly Mammoths roamed and took refuge, the prehistoric feeling of this place can be felt once you reach the shore. Ice never reached Wrangel Island during the last Ice Age so there are many species of plants to have survived since the Pleistocene era. More recently, the island is known for its impressive polar bear population, commonly referred to as the “Polar Bear Maternity Ward” with an average of 300-350 maternity dens recorded on the island each year. The island is also home to the world’s largest population of Pacific Walruses, with numbers on ice free years reaching as high as 80,000- 100,000.
The mammals don’t stop there, lemmings, arctic foxes, reindeer, wolverines, musk oxen and arctic wolves can also be found on the island. There are bearded and ring seals, walruses and two species of whales making their way around the surrounding oceans. Visitors are only allowed on the island with permission from the Russian Authorities, with a select few cruises during the season having been given this special permission. Wrangel Island truly is a once in a lifetime place to visit, rewarding it’s guests with an incomparible wildlife spectacular and untouched, pristine landscapes.
National Geographic Orion is a modern, elegant ship with an intimate ambiance. She is perfectly suited to luxury Arctic cruising. The window-lined main lounge and library offer spectacular views while the expedition community are gathered each evening for cocktails and a recap of the day’s activities. High atop the vessel, the cosy observation lounge is ideal for taking in the 270º views, or you might choose to brave the outdoor bar (with ambient heaters) on the same deck. The 53 cabins accommodate 102 guests and all are exterior, with most featuring picture windows that connect you with the incredible Arctic landscapes of the Russian Far East.
The Kapitan Khlebnikov combines power and technology with comfort and has 52 en-suite cabins and a maximum of 102 guests. This polar class icebreaker was originally designed for the ice-choked waters of norther Siberia. Its 24,000 horsepower engine and advanced ice-breaking technology allows access to places in the Russian Far East that no other ship can. She has a fleet of Zodiacs to take passengers on excursions. She carries just 102 passengers and was refurbished in March 2013 to provide comfortable accommodation in twin share cabins all have private facilities.
The Silver Explorer was built in Finland in 1989 and was designed specifically for navigating waters in some of the world’s most remote destinations including Iceland, Greenland and Spitsbergen (Svalbard). The vessel was acquired by Silversea in late 2007 when it was fully refurbished and relaunched in 2008 as an elegant luxury expedition cruise ship. Its ice-strengthened hull enables the ship to safely push through ice floes with ease, while a fleet of Zodiac boats allows guests to visit even the most incredible locations accompanied by the expert Expedition Team.
The Spirit of Enderby is a fully ice-strengthened expedition vessel, built in 1984 for polar and oceanographic research and is perfect for expedition travel. She carries just 50 passengers and was refurbished in March 2013 to provide comfortable accommodation in twin share cabins approximately half of which have private facilities. All cabins have outside windows or portholes and ample storage space. On board there is a combined bar/library lounge area and a dedicated lecture room. The cuisine is very good and is prepared by top NZ and Australian chefs.