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Russian Far East – Japan to the Sea of Okhotsk

Russia Far East Cruise

Summary : A geothermal wonderland of volcanoes and hot springs await as you follow in the footsteps of Vitus Bering. Remote and rarely visited destinations offer sensational wildlife spotting opportunities such as brown bears and sea otters, and the countless birds that nest in the area. Zodiac tours will fascinate, extraordinary topography will captivate and the whole journey will enthral. The Sea of Okhotsk is probably one of the least visited areas in the rarely explored Russian Far East. Visit a small town linked to Vitus Bering, as well as Petropavlovsk-Kamchatskiy, the cultural and political center of Kamchatka. Head south through the Kuril Islands, a geothermal wonderland of volcanoes and hot springs. During the voyage, keep on the lookout for whales, seals and huge populations of migratory seabirds.

Activities : Birding, Culture, Hiking

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Itinerary
Day 1
Otaru, Japan

Embark the Silver Discoverer for this amazing expedition. Meet your Expedition Team and attend a safety briefing. Familiarize yourself with your new home away from home, and meet some of your fellow travelers.

Day 2
Korsakov, Sakhalin Island, Russia

Explore part of this city founded in 1853 as Sakhalin’s first Russian military post. Drive to Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk, the capital of the island with a population of just over 160,000. Founded as a small Russian settlement in the 1880s, the city became a Japanese prefect capital when the southern half of Sakhalin was declared a Japanese colony in 1905; after WWII it was returned to Russia.

Highlights include a visit to the modern Russian Orthodox Church built in the traditional style without using nails. The Natural History Museum has very varied exhibits ranging from Kamchatka brown bears to military relics of the many wars fought in the region. Explore a local market, and later see an excellent and colorful cultural presentation by a local Cossack music and dance troupe.

Tonight the Captain will invite you to his Captain’s Welcome cocktail party, followed by the Welcome Dinner.

Day 3
Sea of Okhotsk

Today you will have the opportunity to sleep in, take your time to check for wildlife from the outer decks, attend one of the informative lectures our Expedition Team members will give, and sample same of the culinary specialties the Galley Team has prepared for you. The Executive Chef might want to show what he/she has been able to obtain in Korsakov and explain the special recipe used for its preparation.

Day 4
Sakhalin Island

During the morning, the lecture staff will present interesting talks about Sakhalin’s nature, getting you ready for the Zodiac cruise and landing this afternoon. On the north-eastern shore of Sakhalin, the waters in front of Piltun Lagoon are known to have a grey whale population, members of which can usually be seen while approaching the river mouth by Zodiac.

After lunch, take to the Zodiacs with the intention to land near a lighthouse, looking for Steller Sea Eagles and Aleutian Terns. After a wet landing, survey the area, the birders heading for Siberian stone pine looking for Pine Grosbeak, Siberian Rubythroat and Dusky Warblers, while others might want to climb to the top of the lighthouse for a panoramic view of the bay.

Day 5
Iony Island

During the morning Silver Discoverer will still be heading north, en route to Iony (or Jonas) Island. This small and isolated island in the Sea of Okhotsk is home to a Steller sea lion colony, but a great numbers of Northern Fulmars and Brünnich’s Guillemots will be the first sign of the island.

If conditions permit, circumnavigate the island by Zodiac. While the sea lions are taking up every single space imaginable close to the water, guillemots and kittiwakes will circle the cliffs by the thousands. Another highlight for the birders will be the Whiskered, Least and Parakeet Auklets in the air and floating as rafts in the water.

Day 6
Shantar Islands

The Shantar Islands are in the westernmost part of the Sea of Okhotsk. As you approach you might see some Minke whales and orcas, but most of all expect to see several species of seals, including bearded, ringed, Largha and ribbon seals.

Depending on the wind and sea conditions, the intention is to land and take a hike through beautiful larch and spruce forests, always on the lookout for bears, but mainly in search of nesting Steller’s Sea Eagles.

Day 7
Malminskiy Islands / Fedora Bay

North of the Shantar Islands are the tiny Malminskiy Islands. Take to the Zodiacs to cruise along the shoreline of the island, islets and rocks. As part of the Dzhugdzursky Zapovednik Federal Reserve the islands are protected and you can see that birds just love these rocks and islands.

Horned and Tufted Puffins, Ancient Murrelets, Rhinoceros Auklet, Parakeet Auklets, Crested Auklets, as well as Common, Brünnich’s and Spectacled Guillemots can be seen. Steller’s Sea Eagles can be found on the islands and on the nearby mainland. In the water and on the islands harbor seals will represent the marine mammals.

During lunch Silver Discoverer will continue the voyage north and try to reach Fedora Bay. Depending on conditions, you might explore ashore in Fedora Bay. During much of the year it is iced in, but there is a small ranger station and you might get to hike along the local river and through dense birch and larch forest to a viewpoint.

Day 8
Okhotsk City

The city of Okhotsk is on the banks of the Okhota River (giving its name to the town and the sea). For many years the most important port in the Russian Far East. It was from here that Vitus Bering left for his two expeditions in the early 18th century, but the town had lost its importance in the 19th century and today counts only some 4,000 inhabitants.

Taking the Zodiac up the river mouth, land in Okhotsk and explore the town and its highlights. Strolling down the puddled unpaved street, it seems as if you step back in time. There are few signs of any 21st-century conveniences, but monuments honoring Russia’s Communist past, which include a large statue of Lenin towering over the town square.

The local museum has quite an interesting collection featuring items of the area’s history: a stuffed Tufted Puffin in winter plumage, a Steller’s Sea Eagle hanging from the ceiling, weaponry, old photographs, and exhibits covering recent events. The Ethnic Cultures Centre shows tents of the local tribes, and traditional household objects. There should also be the opportunity to see some local dances.

Day 9
Talan Island / Zaviyalova

During the morning, intend to land on the small and, except for the occasional researchers, uninhabited island where seabirds have been counted now for nearly 30 years. The originally 1.5 million Crested Auklets found here have halved in number, but the Tufted Puffins have increased to 120,000 and the Horned Puffins are stable at 80,000. In addition, there are Parakeet Auklets, Ancient Murrelets and Spectacled Guillemots breeding on the island.

Because of these huge numbers predators have arrived too. Red foxes are known to take advantage of the ice to come over from the mainland for the season, returning to the mainland once the birds have left (and the ice has formed). Steller’s Sea Eagles nest and hunt here too.

During the early afternoon, Silver Discoverer will re-position to Zaviyalova Island. On arrival, take a Zodiac cruise looking for wildlife: Steller’s Sea Eagles, Harlequin Ducks, Goosander and other birds. Keep an eye out for brown bears which may be seen in the vicinity.

Day 10
Utkholok Peninsula / Kvachina River

During the morning, take the opportunity to listen to lectures before reaching the western shore of Kamchatka at Utkholok Peninsula. This region produces a large percentage of wild Pacific salmon and hosts the greatest diversity of salmon species on Earth. The Utkholok and Kvachina watersheds are among the most productive and best-protected steelhead rivers on the Peninsula. Apart from the salmon “riches” this is an important lowland tundra ecosystem of the western Kamchatka Peninsula.

The Utkholok and Kvachina are meandering through low floodplain forests of cottonwoods and willows, and both rivers have large steelhead salmon, sometimes weighing as much as 30 pounds (18 kg). The Wild Salmon Center has been working with Russian scientists, government officials and local communities to establish a salmon protected area here.

Landing near the mouth of the river, explore the beach and surrounding marshy dune. It should be a good afternoon for the birders as the Utkholok Peninsula is one of 35 RAMSAR sites in Russia.

Day 11
Sea of Okhotsk

After all the different activities during the last few days, today you can relax. Have a leisurely breakfast, join one of the Naturalists on deck spotting wildlife, attend a lecture about the natural history of the area, and let the Galley Team tempt you with a food or a wine tasting seminar, or visit the Gym.

Day 12
Utashud Island

The three islands that form Utashud are quite small, but seem to be the remnants of a former volcano raising 80 meters out of Vestinik (Messenger) Bay. Although the island is deprived of forest fragments of giant petrified trees have been found on the island. Utashud is one of the richest islands on the southeastern side of Kamchatka looking at wildlife and is notable for its population of sea otters (up to 300 individuals), as well as the Stejneger’s harbor seal and spotted seal rookeries.

From spring until late December, grey whales feed here. There are 10 species of marine birds with a total of over 22,000 pairs, including one of the largest colonies of Slaty-backed Gulls (4,000 pairs) and Tufted Puffins (10,000 pairs). Steller’s Sea Eagles and brown bears are known to frequent the islands, while native people from Kamchatka used to visit this island to hunt for sea otters. A small cabin has been set up to be able to observe birds and marine mammals.

During the afternoon attend a lecture or scan the waters and sky for marine mammals and seabirds on our way to the Russian Far East’s most important town.

Day 13
Petropavlovsk-Kamchatskiy

Petropavlovsk, the town of Peter and Paul, derives is named from the two sailing ships used by Vitus Bering when the great explorer reached Avacha Bay in 1740. It is the only major city on the peninsula and one of the oldest. Petropavlovsk is also the scientific and cultural center of the region, and today you will see why as local guides take you on a comprehensive tour including the museum of ethnography and natural history, the art school, the gold-domed Russian Orthodox Cathedral and the marketplace.

A drive out of the city and into the beautiful countryside will take you down a narrow road through a forest of willows, alder, poplars, and the stone or Erman’s birch -which is a symbol of Kamchatka. Splashes of pink fireweed and yellow rattle brighten the roadside. Your destination will be the sled-dog kennel where racing sled dogs are kept. A local folk-group will entertain with songs and dances of the Even and Itelmen ethnic groups.

Day 14
Atlasova Island

Around noon Silver Discoverer reaches Atlasova and its 6,500 ft. (2,000 m) high volcano Alaid -the highest volcano in the Kurils. Alaid is praised by the Japanese for its almost perfect volcanic cone.

Land by Zodiac on the black lava beach for a walk to see the remains of the Taketomi tufa cone and the women’s prison, or gulag. The women, many of them political prisoners during the Soviet rule, were sent here to raise foxes for fur. Peregrine Falcons can sometimes be spotted flying above the beach, while buzzards, Eurasian Wigeons, and Tufted Ducks have all been observed on the island.

Day 15
Matua Island / Yankicha Island

Matua is home to one of the Kuril’s most active volcanoes, with more than 14 documented eruptions in the past 250 years. Attempt to make a landing and start a long walk to the upper plateau of Matua along a dirt road that cuts through dense thickets of alders. Singing Eurasian Bullfinches, Siberian Rubythroats, ravens, Eye-browed Thrushes and some very active Peregrine Falcons are among the birds expected.

Learn about the Japanese military base that was set up here during WWII and how the Japanese used to capture geothermal heat from the volcano to keep the runway open during winter.

The newest building on uninhabited Matua is a tiny Russian Orthodox Church – with room for 4 to 5 people inside. Standing on the edge of the main plateau of the island and commanding a marvelous view of the bay, the church has been beautifully constructed of wood.

During the early afternoon, Silver Discoverer will re-position to Yankicha, the southern part of Ushishir Island. The island is quite impressive — actually so much so that it is featured in almost all articles about the Kuril Islands. The southern part (Yankicha) has a caldera accessible only by Zodiac and only during high tide. Inside this extraordinary lagoon with its fumaroles and hot springs, you can still see traces of the tremendous forces that created the island long ago and a visit here is invariably one of the highlights of the entire voyage. The number of auklets, which breed here, is truly incredible.
If lucky, you may also catch a glimpse of an Arctic Fox or even the rare and elusive Whiskered Auklet. Arctic Warblers and Middendorff’s Grasshopper Warblers can be seen in addition to the seabirds nesting here. Polar Foxes had been introduced by the Japanese as a resource for fur trappers. As the island is a nature reserve for birds, the foxes live off the vast number of breeding birds, especially the auklets that nest on the slopes in cracks between the boulders and stones.

Day 16
Chirpoy Island

During the early morning, approach Chirpoy and search by Zodiac (weather permitting) along the Coast of Chirpoy Island for the profusion of wildlife that lives in the area, including Steller sea lions, Northern Fulmars, kittiwakes, puffins and auklets. Whales, and specifically orcas, have been seen around Chirpoy.

If Snou volcano is active, you might see the slow flowing lava reach the sea from a safe distance.

During the afternoon Silver Discoverer will continue the journey crossing the Sea of Okhotsk.

Day 17
Tyuleniy Island

Go out on deck with the Expedition Team to look for the fulmars, kittiwakes, gulls and cormorants that are known to come to Tyuleniy Island.

But more importantly, thousands of Northern fur seals and Steller sea lions call Tyuleniy Island their home - understandably the island was named this way, as the word Tuleniy means “seal” in Russian. The island has one of the highest concentrations of Northern fur seals in the Russian Far East. During the summer months, the island is home to literally tens of thousands of seals and sea lions that will be heard through a cacophony of sound difficult to imagine. Bulls, their harems and many thousands of young black pups all jostle for space on the crowded beaches that flank the small rocky island. A small group of houses is sometimes used by researchers assessing the sea lion and seal populations but on occasions there are so many seals on the beach that landing is impossible, as there is simply no space available.

Visiting at the end of the breeding season is timed to see not only the seals and sea lions, but also Black-legged Kittiwakes, Slaty-backed Gulls, Tufted Puffins, Common Murres and Pelagic Cormorants that summer on the island.

During the afternoon Silver Discoverer will head north through Aniva Bay.

Day 18
Korsakov, Sakhalin Island, Russia

Today we clear out of Russia. This is a technical stop only and as soon as the formalities are concluded we will continue on our way to Japan. Today is a good day to edit your photos, listen to the last lectures of your voyage, which will be preparing you for Japan.

Do not miss the presentation of the voyage’s DVD by our on-board Photographer/Videographer, who will have recorded the various highlights of this voyage.

Day 19
Otaru, Hokkaido, Japan

After clearance into Japan and following breakfast, disembark Silver Discoverer.

Notes

This itinerary is subject to change. ExpeditionTrips is not responsible for itinerary changes.

Included:
Suite accommodations; onboard meals and entertainment; butler service; parka; backpack; gratuities aboard ship (except spa); complimentary beverages aboard ship (including select wines, champagnes, spirits, soda, water and coffee); 1 hour of internet access per guest/per day for passengers booked in Explorer and View Suites; unlimited internet access for passengers booked in Vista, Veranda, and Medallion Suites. Subject to change without notice.

Not Included:
Airfare; transfers and luggage handling; optional shore excursions; government fees and taxes; passport and visa expenses; some champagne, premium wine and spirit selections, caviar, cigarettes and cigars; laundry or valet services; items of a personal nature such as boutique purchases, medical care, and spa services; fuel surcharge may apply.

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