The Pacific Ring of Fire manifests itself in numerous places on the rim of the Pacific Ocean – but nowhere more dramatically than in Russia’s Far East. Along one of the world’s most active plate boundaries, the Pacific plate subducts under the Eurasian plate and the resulting volcanic and geothermal activity has built a unique and amazing landscape. Upwelling from the deep trenches formed by this action and currents around the many islands means there is an abundance of food for both birds and marine mammals, making the seas here amongst the richest in the world.
This voyage takes us where very few people have been – or are able to go. The region falls into three quite distinct and unique geographical regions: the Kamchatka Peninsula, the Commander Islands (the western extremity of the Aleutian chain of islands) and the Kuril Islands. Each of them is very different, with their own story and, in many cases, endemic plants and birds. On this expedition we go in search of those people, plants, animals and birds that make this part of the Pacific Ring of Fire so special and intriguing.
Stretching northwards for over 700 miles from Japan to the southern end of the Kamchatka Peninsula, the Kuril Islands were formed by the collision of the Pacific and Eurasian plates. This created a chain of over 30 volcanic islands and an oceanic trench that reaches depths of over 8,000 metres (+-26,000 feet). The combination of deep water upwelling, and the mixing of the cold waters from the Sea of Okhotsk with the warmer Pacific Ocean, creates ideal conditions for seabirds, making this one of the richest areas in the world, both in terms of the number of species and their sheer abundance. For many birders, the undoubted highlights are the auks and, during our voyage, it is possible to see up to 14 species, including Tufted and Horned Puffins, Parakeet, Whiskered and Rhinoceros Auklets, as well as Spectacled and Pigeon Guillemots.
The Commander Islands consist of two islands – Bering and Medney. They were uninhabited when Vitus Bering landed there in 1741, mistakenly believing it was Kamchatka. When his ship was wrecked he and many of his men consequently died. Those who survived told of the wealth that could be made from otter, fox and fur seal pelts. So began the ‘Fur Rush’ to the North Pacific that changed the region forever. The islands were settled, species like the Sea Cow became extinct, and the population of fur-bearing animals was decimated. During the Cold War, ‘Border Guards’ fiercely and patriotically protected these islands from unseen enemies. Today the islands are a Nature Reserve and only a small population still lives there. The days we spend on the Commander Islands will be as unique as the islands themselves.
The Kamchatka Peninsula, which dominates the North Pacific, is in turn dominated by a large number of volcanoes, dense forest and spectacular scenery very different to what we will see elsewhere on this journey. It is impossible to experience the entire peninsula in such a short time, so we have chosen several sites that will give a good overview of the region. These locations include one of the hundreds of salmon-rich rivers for which the region is renowned and around which the infamous Kamchatka Brown Bear congregates. We have also included a coastal harbour / bay renowned for cetaceans, including the Western Grey Whale. Other species such as Humpback and Sperm Whales can generally be observed here as well.
Please note that a Rockjumper leader may not accompany the expedition unless a minimum of 10 participants are signed up through Rockjumper. In the case that a Rockjumper leader is not on board, the professional expedition staff will take care of all participants signed up through Rockjumper.
Please note: the above prices exclude an additional landing fee of US$500 per person and are subject to foreign exchange fluctuations.
Steller’s Sea Eagle, Harlequin Duck, Short-tailed, Black-footed & Laysan Albatross, Mottled Petrel, Red-legged Kittiwake, Whiskered & Rhinoceros Auklet, Tufted & Horned Puffin, Parakeet, Spectacled & Pigeon Guillemot, Red-faced Cormorant, Ancient & Long-billed Murrelet, Siberian Rubythroat, Eurasian Nutcracker, Arctic Warbler, Brown-headed Thrush, Pine Grosbeak, Japanese Grey Bunting
Kamchatka Brown Bear, Sea Otter, Steller’s Sea Lion, Largha Seal, Orca, Western Grey, Humpback, Sperm, Northern Minke & Baird’s Beaked Whale, endemic subspecies of Arctic Fox
open seas, shorelines, coves, volcanic slopes, scrubby birch/alder forest, meadows
mostly cool to cold
easy with some undemanding walks
spectacular scenery, snow-covered volcanoes, beautiful wildflowers, abandoned Cold War military bases