This photographic extravaganza visits remote Wrangel Island on the roof of the world, with renowned zoologist and author Mark Carwardine, plus other wildlife experts, to enjoy a multitude of encounters with polar bears and other iconic Arctic birds and wildlife.
The 14-night expedition cruise crosses the Arctic Circle to reach isolated and pristine Wrangel Island and the wild coastline of northeast Siberia. This journey is only made possible by the retreat of the pack ice in summer and the thawing in regional politics in recent years. Sailing through the Bering Strait that separates Russia from the USA, we continue west along the Chukotka coast, to one of the world’s last great undiscovered wildernesses.
Zodiac outings and multiple landings provide memorable opportunities to see these magnificent creatures, plus wolverine, Arctic fox, reindeer and musk ox. The birds include snow goose, snowy owl and king eider, plus gulls such as glaucous, ivory, Ross’s and Sabine’s, while vast seabird colonies on nearby Herald Island and elsewhere hold everything from tufted puffin to black guillemot. The sea boasts the largest population of Pacific walrus, and grey whales migrate from their breeding lagoons off Baja California, on the Mexican coast, to feed here. Killer whales, belugas, humpback, fin and bowhead whales and various beaked whales are all present too.
The soils of the ancient steppe nurture over 400 plant species, many of which are endemic, while the presence of mammoth tusks and skulls, and the sheer variety of terrains and geological formations within such a small area all attest to Wrangel’s rich natural history and unique evolutionary status. The island’s human history is just as fascinating and its rich past will entertain us as we explore the northern coast of Chukotka, with guided walks, Zodiac trips and lectures to help us understand and appreciate the High Arctic landscape.
On arrival in Moscow we transfer to our hotel in the centre of the city.
Accommodation: Hotel in Moscow, 1-night
Day2: Overnight flight eastward to Anadyr
Day3: Embark cruise in Anadyr
Our voyage begins at Anadyr, the port and administrative centre of Chukotka Autonomous Region. In the afternoon we board the Kapitan Khlebnikov and sail into the estuary, which is renowned for beluga whales.
Accommodation: Kapitan Khlebnikov, 14-nights
Day4: Anadyrskiy Bay
While crossing Anadyrskiy Bay bound for the Bering Strait we meet the team and settle into shipboard life, with lectures, briefings and drills, and enjoy birding and watching for cetaceans with our naturalist guides. In the afternoon we take the Zodiacs to Preobrazheniya Bay’s spectacular bird cliffs.
Day5: Yttygran, Nuneangan & Arakamchechen Islands
Yttygran has an ancient aboriginal site known as Whalebone Alley, where half a kilometre of beach is littered with whalebones due to the presence of early man. We can see meat pits that were used for storage, and the remains of a busy whaling camp that once united several villages. In one spot, the immense jawbones and ribs of bowhead whales were placed to form a stunning arch.
We then go whale-watching by Zodiac - grey whales are frequently seen around the island – and cruise past neighbouring Nuneangan (Bird Island), where large number of seabirds nest. Nearby Arakamchechen has a prominent walrus haul-out spot, and we can land and walk across the tundra to see them.
Day6: Cape Dezhnev and Uelen Village
If conditions allow, we land at Cape Dezhnev, the north-easternmost point of Eurasia, named after Cossack Semyon Dezhnev, the first European to sail from the Arctic into the Pacific in 1648. A steep scramble leads to an abandoned border post, with monuments to Dezhnev and those who sailed these seas. In good visibility it is possible to see Cape Prince of Wales in Alaska, just 89 kilometres away across the Bering Strait.
Further west we visit Uelen - Russia’s most north-easterly village. Archaeology reveals that walrus, seal and whale hunters have lived here for over 2,000 years, and today the population is predominantly Chukchi, with some Russians and Inuits. Hunting is still important, but Uelen is a major centre for traditional Chukchi and Inuit art, and sculptures from its workshop are found in Russia’s major museums. The villagers entertain us and w e visit the bone-carving workshop.
Day7: Kolyuchin Island
This small island was once an important centre for research into polar bears, one of a number dotted across the Arctic, but abandoned with the collapse of the USSR. It has some of the Arctic’s most spectacular bird cliffs, with puffins, guillemots and gulls, and a photogenic walrus haul-out.
Days8-12: Wrangel & Herald Islands
Ice and weather conditions permitting, we spend the next few days exploring Wrangel Island and Herald Island to the east, making landings to search out the unique wildlife, wild flowers and Arctic landscapes. The first human occupation - seasonal hunters from Siberia - dates from 3,200 BC, and although the island was marked on maps by early Russian explorers, it wasn’t really discovered until 1849. A Canadian expedition attempted to establish a settlement to claim the island for Canada, but was evicted by Russians who also laid claim.
Today Wrangel has an bundance of wildlife. and we should be rewarded with numerous encounters.
We may visit Dragi Harbour where survivors of the Canadian vessel Karluk, which was crushed by ice in 1914, scrambled ashore and lived until they were rescued several months later.
Day13: North Siberian Coast
Few expedition cruises venture to northern Siberia, but depending on conditions we attempt a landing. The area around Cape Vankarem consists of narrow ridges of sand with numerous coastal lagoons and inlets, and a large seasonal walrus haul-out. The Chukchi inhabitants still live from hunting walrus, seals and whales, much like their ancestors.
Day14: Kolyuchin Inlet
This vast inlet contains large numbers of waterfowl and migratory waders. Belaka Spit, near the mouth, is a wild and desolate, but strangely beautiful landscape where we search the dunes and tidal areas for emperor geese and spoon-billed sandpiper. Grey whales frequent the area and are sometimes spotted offshore.
Day15: Bering Strait & Chukotka Coast
En route south we pass the Diomede Islands - known as Tomorrow Island and Yesterday Isle because they straddle the International Date Line. In 1867, when the USA purchased Alaska from Russia, the new boundary was drawn between Big (Russian) and Little (USA) Diomede, making Big Diomede Russia’s eastern-most possession, separated from American territory by only 2.3 nautical miles of ocean.
The original Yupik Eskimo inhabitants were relocated to the mainland after World War II, and nowadays there are no permanent residents, only a Russian border post. The excellent birdlife includes black-legged kittiwakes, common and Brunnich’s guillemot and horned and tufted puffin and, if granted permission, we will cruise the coastline by Zodiac to see spectacular numbers of birds. We also land on the Chukotka mainland to enjoy its wildlife and tundra landscape.
Day16: At sea
We cross Anadyrskiy Bay with a final chance to look for belugas. There’s time to relax and reflect on the voyage, before a recap and disembarkation briefing with expedition staff, followed by a farewell dinner.
Day17: Disembark at Anadyr & fly to Moscow
Disembark in Anadyr and transfer to the airport for a scheduled flight to Moscow, where we transfer to our hotel.
Accommodation: Hotel in Moscow, 1-night.
Day18: Arrive UK
Transfer to Moscow airport and fly to London
Duration and price including flights from/to UK: 18 daysfrom £12,875 pp: Price based on main deck twin-share cabin
Group size: 45
Included in the price/package:
14 nights accommodation on board Kapitan Khlebnikov (twin-share)
2 nights hotel accommodation in Moscow (twin-share)
Mark is an award-winning writer, magazine columnist, widely published photographer, consultant, broadcaster and lecturer.
With Stephen Fry he co-presented Last Chance to See, a BBC TV series about endangered species which was broadcast in autumn 2009. He also presented the weekly half-hour programme, Nature, on BBC Radio 4 for many years.
Mark has written more than 50 books – including the best-selling field guide to whales, dolphins and porpoises ever published. He has also penned monthly columns in BBC Wildlife and Wanderlust magazines for many years. Mark has an extensive collection of wildlife, nature and environment photographs taken on all seven continents and in more than a hundred countries – which are sold around the world. And for many years Mark was the Chairman of the Judging Panel for the prestigious Wildlife Photographer of the Year Competition.
A wildlife and landscape photographer, Joe started his career freelancing for the National Trust in 1988.
Years of close encounters with nature have left him him convinced of the need to reconnect people with the natural world, and travelling to Antarctica with Mark Carwardine in 2013 reignited Joe's passion for wilderness. He has subsequently joined Mark on trips in Svalbard and Baffin Island.
Books are the heart of Joe’s photographic output, and he has written several landscape photography publications, including Scotland's Coast, and the critically acclaimed Scotland's Mountains. His training in fine art and experience assisting commercial photographers have helped Joe bring together these two worlds, and his enthusiasm has made him a popular speaker and workshop leader.
Katie is a polar addict, a Shackleton groupie and a Scot.
With a background studying Scottish History then Museum Studies, her real quest in life seems to have been to seek out the wettest, windiest and wildest places…..a Cold War RAF camp on the Hebridean island of Lewis, a stone-age tomb on Orkney, and best of all, the old whaling station of Grytviken on the Subantarctic island of South Georgia. Here, her first task was to dig the museum out of the snow! Other duties included tending to Shackleton’s grave and trying to shoo fur seals out of the cemetery. Back at home Katie is studying for a PhD in polar cultural history at the University of St Andrews.
Remote Wrangel Island with its desolate, primitive landscapes has an abundance of Arctic wildlife: polar bears, musk oxen, and birdlife such as Steller’s sea eagle, and the endangered spoon-billed sandpiper. Located north of the Bering Strait, the cold waters are home to grey whales.
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 that of Alaska and is found nowhere else in Russia.