Once considered an important ‘frontier’ or ‘border zone’ during the Cold War, the area visited by this cruise was previously off-limits to foreigners, with even Russians requiring special permission to travel within this restricted zone. All this changed, however, in 1992/93 with Perestroika, yet it nonetheless remains largely inaccessible since there are now fewer people living here, while the State-subsidised transport system has collapsed. In addition, during the winter much of the shoreline is choked by ice, while in the summer the lack of roads, scheduled air or shipping services, and lack of infrastructure means it is equally inaccessible. Nonetheless, during spring and summer the region remains a hive of activity for the thousands of birds that migrate here to take advantage of the abundance of food in the rich surrounding seas. Furthermore, the area’s Reindeer and Bighorn Sheep will be feeding in preparation for the upcoming harsh winter, while Brown Bears, which will have fed extensively on berries in the early summer, will be concentrated on the rivers and creeks gorging themselves on salmon. For our purposes, however, late summer/early autumn is one of the best times to discover this fabulous wilderness, with the late summer sun and the onset of autumn colours making the landscape appear like a picture postcard. For those wishing to join this departure, the option exists of joining from Nome, Alaska, with the expedition beginning in Anadyr, the administrative centre of the Chukotka Autonomous Region. From here we will then travel south along the Koryak and Kamchatka coastlines to Petropavlovsk-Kamchatskiy while making numerous landings along the way, including two full days at the Commander Islands. 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: these prices exclude a landing fee of US$500 per person, as well as the cost of the private charter flight from Nome to Anadyr of US$1,000 per person for those who choose this option. Furthermore, these prices are subject to foreign exchange fluctuations.
Spoon-billed Sandpiper, Steller’s Sea Eagle, Spectacled & Pigeon Guillemot, Crested, Parakeet Auklet, Pelagic Cormorant, Tufted & Horned Puffin
Brown Bear, Grey Whale, Walrus, Bighorn Sheep
open seas, shorelines, coves, rivers, tundra
mostly cool to cold
easy with some undemanding walks
spectacular scenery, ancient & traditional cultures, various historical sites
Please note: You can join this expedition either in Anadyr or in Nome, Alaska. Those starting in Nome will fly by a Heritage Expeditions charter flight to Anadyr and will join the ship and the expedition members who have travelled directly to Anadyr. (See below.)
Day 0: Nome
Those departing from Nome, Alaska, should arrive in Nome before midday, and preferably the previous night. On arrival, you should check in with Bering Air at the Nome Airport, who will furnish you with the relevant details of our charter flight. During this flight you will cross the International Date Line, arriving into Anadyr on Day 1 of the expedition. Here you will clear Russian Customs and Immigration.
Day 1: Anadyr and boarding ship
Today is essentially an arrival day in Anadyr, the administrative capital of Chukotka. Situated on the mouth of the Anadyr River, close to where the river enters the Anadyr estuary, the town was initially established in 1889 as a frontier post, though today it is a modern town with a population of about 11,000 people. There are regular direct flights to and from Moscow (and we will also be providing a charter flight from Nome, Alaska), and if you decide to come early, there are several comfortable hotels to stay in and we can also arrange any pre-cruise activities. There is much to see in this small town and its environs, including monuments, churches, museums and military installations.
During the afternoon you will then be transferred to the ship; where, once on board, you will be shown to your cabins and given a chance to meet your fellow expeditioners and to explore the vessel. We will finally set sail in the late afternoon for Egvekinot, during which time there will be some mandatory safety briefings and introductions to ship and staff after we have sailed.
Day 2: Egvekinot
We spend the day in and around the town of Egvekinot on the shores of Kresta Bay. The town was built by Gulag prisoners who were then forced to construct a road to the nearby mine. We will explore the town which has an excellent museum, the road to the mine and the surrounding tundra, as well as visit the Arctic Circle.
Day 3: Bukhta Gavriila
This coastline is rich in marine mammals and one creature we will especially be looking for is Walrus. These weird looking animals regularly move between various locations, so finding them is always very much a matter of luck. In the afternoon we hope to visit a well-known Walrus haul-out, lying between Meinypil’gyno and Cape Navarin, while we also plan a landing in Bukhta Gavriila. The bukhta (or bay) was named after Commander Vitus Bering’s ship, the St Gabriel, of the First Kamchatka Expedition. Behind the expansive beach here there is a lagoon we can explore for waterfowl and waders. We may also visit what used to be the oldest (now abandoned) weather station in Chukotka and the southernmost in the Arctic. Cape Navarin marks the place where the land bridge to North America began when sea levels were much lower. Because of strong tides around the cape, there is an abundance of food and it is not uncommon to see large numbers of seabirds and good numbers of Grey Whales, which often congregate here.
Day 4: Pika River & Meinypil’gyno
We start this day of our birding cruise with a visit to the Pika River delta – a well-known Walrus haul-out and one of the few places in the southern part of their range that still attracts thousands of these animals, which come here to rest on the beach. Later in the day, we will then visit Meinypil’gyno, a small settlement located on a 40km long shingle spit. This traditional village has recently been renovated by the Chukotka government, but the people’s time-honoured spirit is still alive and the village ensemble will perform for us some of their traditional dances – a chance to enjoy real Chukchi hospitality! Meinypil’gyno is also an important breeding spot for many species of migratory birds, including Red Knot and the critically endangered Spoon-billed Sandpiper. Even though the breeding season will be over by September, we still have a chance of finding migrants on their way south, as well as viewing the location where the local research team is working hard to save the Spoon-billed Sandpiper from extinction.
Day 5: Bukhta Natalii
Along the Koryak Coast, there are many beautiful fiords (bukhtas or bays) and none are more beautiful than Bukhta Natalii. This fiord has two smaller fiords that drain into it from the south; namely Bukhta Pavla and Bukhta Petra (named after St Peter and St Paul by Commander Vitus Bering). Today we will cruise to the head of Bukhta Pavla and make a landing, affording us a great opportunity to explore inland as we hike from one bay to another, where we will be picked up by our ship. Here we will be surrounded by magnificent mountain landscapes and tundra vegetation, along with the possibility of sighting the Siberian race of Bighorn Sheep, as they are often seen in the area. There is also another historic Walrus haul-out on Bogoslova Island, which guards the entrance to these fiords.
Day 6: Tintikun Lagoon
Much of the southern Govena Peninsula was recently made into a State Reserve. There are a number of fiords included in the Reserve; one of the most spectacular is Tintikun Lagoon. This fiord was blocked by a large terminal moraine during the last period of glaciation. A shallow river surrounded by jagged mountains, glaciers and forested slopes has breached the moraine, allowing access to one of the most picturesque locations found anywhere in the world. We take the Zodiacs onto the lake and intend to make several landings with Eurasian Nutcracker, Dusky Warbler, Siberian Rubythroat and Siberian Accentor amongst other possibilities. There is also a large population of Brown Bears and these should be feeding in and around the river mouths that drain into the head of the lagoon.
Day 7: Koryakskiy Reserve and Verhoturova Island
We will start this morning of our birding cruise in Brown Bear country, an undisturbed habitat within the Koryakskiy Reserve, where we will go bear watching and Zodiac cruising along the coast. Brown Bears come down to the sea coast and into the nearby hills very frequently and the area is completely protected and rarely visited. In the afternoon we go to Verkhoturova Island, where we have a chance to climb over to a seabird colony. The breeding season will be over; however, some of the birds that should still be around the colony include Tufted and Horned Puffins, Pigeon, Common and Brunnich’s Guillemots, and Parakeet and Least Auklets. Pelagic Cormorants also occur in large numbers. On nearby rocky islets, there is a regular non-breeding haul-out of Steller Sea Lions.
Day 8: Karaginskiy Island
A few miles to the south of Verhoturova Island is the much larger Karaginskiy Island. Here we encounter some of the first ‘forests’ of the voyage. This is a change from the tundra that we have seen so far, depicting a sure sign that we are getting further south. There are a large number of Red Foxes that live on the island and many migratory birds come here to their breeding grounds and on the way south. The autumn is the best time for the wild berries and we can marvel at the richness of the local flora, as many of them will be at their best. A proposed landing site is a patchwork of boggy tundra, ponds and shingle spits. An interesting range of waders can be found here, including Pacific Golden Plover, Red-necked Stint and Red-necked Phalarope. The ponds also support a range of waterfowl and previously we have encountered Red-throated Diver, Bean Goose, Greater Scaup and Long-tailed Duck. Potential passerines include Kamchatka Leaf Warbler, Dusky Warbler, Bluethroat, Red-throated Pipit and Eastern Yellow Wagtail.
Days 9 & 10: Commander Islands
The wildlife-rich Commander Islands were first discovered by Commander Vitus Bering when his ship was wrecked here in 1741. He perished on the island along with many of his men. The reports from those that survived led to a ‘fur rush’ and the subsequent settlement of the islands. There are two large islands (Bering and Medney) along with two smaller islands, Ariy Karmen and Toporkov. These islands are located at the western extremity of the Aleutian chain, and we intend to explore them through a combination of landings and Zodiac cruises. We plan to stop at the village of Nikolskoye; the museum here is reputedly one of the best in the Russian Far East and amongst many other items, it has one of the very few preserved, full-size Sea Cow skeletons. Birding around the village is also excellent and we should find Rock Sandpiper, Lesser Sand Plover, Glaucous-winged Gull and Pechora Pipit, with additional possibilities on other landings including Rock Ptarmigan, Buff-bellied Pipit and Grey-crowned Rosy Finch.
After our culture visit to the village, we intend to make several landings to explore the natural wonders of the Commander Islands. Here we will visit the Fur Seal rookery at North-West Cape and Zodiac cruise around the impressive bird colony at Ariy Kamen. We will also possibly visit the gravesite of Commander Vitus Bering or the remarkable Medney Island, with its bird cliffs and numerous Sea Otters.
Day 11: Olga Bay
Olga Bay is part of the very large Kronotskiy Reserve, which also includes the world-famous Valley of the Geysers. The habitat here is quite different to what we will have experienced before, with lush Kamchatka forests coming right down to the beach line.
There is a possibility we will see Brown Bears and other forest fauna, as well as multiple bird species that live in this habitat. The area around Olga Bay is frequented by large numbers of Grey Whales that are usually quite friendly to the visiting boats; if the conditions are right, we will, therefore, take a Zodiac whale-watching cruise in search of these gentle giants. The rising volcanoes in the background will provide a beautiful setting to explore real Kamchatka wilderness.
Day 12: Zhupanova River and Bukhta Bechevinskaya
This morning on our birding cruise, we make our way along the Zhupanova River by Zodiac. This journey allows us to explore a common river habitat in Kamchatka. The Kamchatka rivers (of which there are over 1,800) are important ecosystems that support a wide variety of wildlife, and are especially important for salmon spawning – one of Kamchatka’s valuable natural resources. Steller’s Sea Eagles are known to nest in the lower reaches of the river and we are very likely to see many young birds as well as a few adults still hanging around their nesting sites. Other birds that breed here will have finished breeding at the time of our visit, but some of them should still be present, including waterfowl, gulls and terns, with an outside chance for Aleutian Tern. There is also the possibility of spotting Brown Bears, Red Foxes and Musk Rats.
In the afternoon, depending on permit availability, there is a possibility of visiting Cape Shipunsky and Bechevinskaya Bay, where there was previously a secret military submarine base during the Cold War. While completely abandoned after the collapse of the Soviet Union, it nevertheless provides an amazing image of the ugly face of the Cold War. Alternatively, we may cruise nearby to Krasheninnikova Island – a rocky island that has a number of nesting seabirds, including Spectacled Guillemot and some other Bering Sea endemics. As we spend our last night at sea, celebrating and recapping our voyage highlights with fellow passengers, there will no doubt be much to remember!
Day 13: Petropavlovsk-Kamchatskiy and depart
During the night our vessel will enter Avacha Bay, which is one of the greatest natural harbours in the world. On the shores of the bay is Petropavlovsk-Kamchatskiy, the capital and administrative centre of the Kamchatka Region. The town was founded in the 1700s by Commander Vitus Bering during the Second Kamchatka Expedition. All through the Cold War, it was home to a significant part of Russia’s Pacific Fleet, which included a large submarine base. As a consequence, the city and region were ‘closed’ to all foreign visitors until 1992.