The Russian Far East offers an extremely diverse and interesting assemblage of wildlife and habitats, and is home to one of the world’s most endangered waders, the spectacular spoon-billed sandpiper.
This 13-night cruise aboard the comfortable Spirit of Enderby explores the stunning volcanic landscapes of Kamchatka and Chukotka, cruising through the remote wilderness of the Commander Islands along the coastlines of the Russian Far East. Zodiac outings ensure memorable views of vast seabird colonies, particularly on the cliffs of Verkhoturova Island, encounters with Steller’s sea eagle on the Zhupanova River, and superb sightings of Steller’s sea lion, Pacific walrus and Kamchatka brown bear.
Sailing in the Pacific Ocean offers fantastic opportunities to see cetaceans, as orca, beluga, humpback and grey whale, as well as beaked and fin whale, all migrate through these waters.
Day1: Embark Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky
The voyage begins at the port of Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky on the Kamchatka Peninsula. In the early afternoon you board the Spirit of Enderby for allocation of cabins, a general briefing and safety drill before setting sail.
Day2: Zhupanova River
The morning is spent exploring the Zhupanova River by Zodiac inflatable, focussing on iconic Steller’s sea eagles, which usually nest along the riverbank. There should be excellent opportunities to photograph these magnificent birds in flight, or perched by the riverside. Other wildlife highlights include large gatherings of spotted seal, and a variety of waterfowl and waders. You also have a chance to visit a seasonal fishing camp, which specialises in salmon, to gain an insight into the river’s ecosystem and local practices.
Late in the afternoon, you return to the vessel and head east towards the Commander Islands. This remote area of the Pacific Ocean is an important feeding, wintering and migrating habitat for cetaceans, and as you cross the deep waters of the Kamchatka Trench, there is a fantastic opportunity to look for sperm whale, orca, beaked whale, porpoise, or possibly even humpback, right, and blue whale. During the crossing, you may also come across fork-tailed storm petrel, mottled petrel and Laysan albatross.
Days3-4: Commander Islands
The Commander Islands, first discovered by the Commander Vitus Bering when he was shipwrecked in 1741, are extremely rich in wildlife. Exploring the islands by Zodiac, with several shore landings, offers a chance to familiarise yourselves with the diverse range of birdlife and marine mammals found here.
On Zodiac trips you are likely to encounter red-legged kittiwake, pigeon guillemot, large colonies of horned puffin, red-faced cormorant, parakeet, crested and whiskered auklets. In addition, there is an opportunity to observe the vast number of northern fur seals and sea otters on the coast. The vessel also makes a stop at the village of Nikolskoye, where you can observe the skeleton of the well-known, yet extinct Steller’s sea cow in the museum. Weighing an estimated 10 tonnes, and 9 metres long, this impressive mammal was hunted to extinction within 27 years of its discovery. While on shore you may also see the endearing Arctic fox - two endemic sub-species are found only on these islands.
Weather may affect exactly where you can land, but the numerous interesting sites include Medny Island and Commander Bay. Along the southern coast of Bering Island, there are excellent opportunities to see humpback whale, sperm whale, northern minke, orca and Baird’s beaked whale.
Day5: Karaginskiy Island
Having left the Commander Islands, you wake to views of the Pacific Ocean, as the vessel heads back towards the mainland. This morning, there is another opportunity to scan the ocean for cetaceans, or you may wish to attend one of the informative lectures offered by the expedition crew.
In the early afternoon you visit the large uninhabited island of Karaginskiy, on the east coast of the Kamchatka Peninsula. With your guides you visit the patchwork of ponds, shingle spits and boggy tundra which is home to an array of interesting waders including red-necked stint, Pacific golden plover and red-necked phalarope, as well as bluethroat and Pallas’ reed bunting.
Day6: Verkhoturova Island and Govena Peninsula
The visit to Verkhoturova Island is a highlight, as its cliffs hold literally thousands of seabirds. Following a short, yet steep trail to the top, you are rewarded with superb views of Brünnich’s guillemot, pelagic cormorant and black-legged kittiwake, just a few metres away. There is time to enjoy this spectacle, and make the most of the photographic opportunities. Both Steller’s eider and harlequin duck occur here too, and offshore Steller’s sea lion rest on the rocks.
In the late afternoon we go in search of Kamchatka brown bear. This much larger subspecies of brown bear is abundant along the coastlines of Kamchatka and Chukotka. Depending on where the bears are, we may view them from the Zodiacs, or disembark on the Govena Peninsula in Koryaksky Reserve.
Days7-10: Koryak and Chukotka Coast
During your time along in remote Koryak and Chukotka you make multiple landings to observe and photograph the area’s wildlife. This largely unknown coastline comprises deep forested fjords, where you may encounter red fox, brown bear, mountain sheep and Kamchatka marmot. The lagoons and shallow bays hold a wealth of birdlife including tundra bean goose, Steller’s eider, great knot, long-tailed stint, gyr falcon, Siberian accentor, Asian rosy finch and Kittlitz’s murrelet.
The settlement of Meinypil’gyno, located on a 40-kilometre-long shingle spit, is the breeding ground for the critically endangered spoon-billed sandpiper. The expedition staff of the Spirit of Enderby have built a close relationship with the ‘Spoon-billed Sandpiper Recovery Taskforce’, who monitor breeding pairs, and it may be possible to have a guided tour of one of their nests. With less than 2,500 individuals remaining in the wild, this unique opportunity to see this enigmatic bird is a highlight of the trip.
This remote wilderness is extremely rich in other wildlife, and you may also find emperor goose, Pacific diver, sandhill crane, white-billed diver and Sabine’s gull. Spotted seal, grey whale and the fascinating beluga whale are often present at the lagoon entrance.
Day13: Cape Navarin and Keyngypilgyn Lagoon
The last full day is spent cruising close to Chukotka, with an opportunity to explore the coastline of Cape Navarin. As the ship approaches the shore, your guides will be looking for a haul-out spot of Pacific walrus, which are often found along the coast. They will also scan the ocean for grey whale activity, as these often congregate here too.
North of Cape Navarin, Keyngypilgyn Lagoon is a fantastic area for waterfowl and waders - particularly emperor geese, brent geese, white-fronted geese, king eiders, red knot, whooper swan and Aleutian tern.
Day14: Disembark at Anadyr
As the end of the cruise approaches, the Spirit of Enderby enters Anadyr Bay in Chukotka, where there is one final chance to look for beluga whales. After a final breakfast on board, you disembark at Anadyr.
You should note: The above itinerary is for guidance only - programmes may vary depending on local ice and weather conditions, the availability of landing sites and the opportunities to see wildlife. The final itinerary will be determined by the expedition leader on board. Kayaking is available at a supplement.
Duration and price excluding international flights: 14 daysfrom £7,132 pp
Group size: 50
The Kamchatka Peninsula, known for its stunning landscapes, is home to an abundance of iconic wildlife, notably brown bear, Steller’s sea eagle, and the endangered spoon-billed sandpiper. It is located between the Sea of Okhotsk and the Pacific Ocean, whose waters offer superb cetacean watching.
Where: Russian Far East
Ideal for viewing: brown bear, Steller’s sea eagle, spoon-billed sandpiper, sea otter, Kittlitz’s murrelet
Excellent for: Wildlife cruises, Bear watching
Remote Chukotka, in the Russian Far East, is bordered by the Chukchi Sea, the Bering Strait, and the Bering Sea, which together contain an abundance of cetaceans, including bowhead, humpback, orca and beluga whales. The terrestrial fauna is similar to Alaska’s and is found nowhere else in Russia.
East of the Kamchatka Peninsula lie the Commander Islands, consisting of Bering Island, Medny Island and 15 smaller islets and rocks. Northern fur seal and Steller’s sealion are abundant here, while more than 200 bird species include large colonies of seabirds which nest on the coastal cliffs.
This itinerary is available on the following
The ice-strengthened Spirit of Enderby accommodates a maximum of 50 passengers in comfortable twin cabins, all of which have an outside view. She makes an ideal expedition vessel for visiting remote locations such as the Kamchatka Peninsula or the South Pacific in search of wildlife.