Board the Spirit of Enderby in Petropavlovsk-Kamchatskiy. The ship is your home for the next 12 nights. Your starting city is a remote outpost of the Russian Federation which is backed by some of the most breathtaking scenery in the world. First settled in the year 1740, the city now has a population of about 250,000, and is largely supported by the fishing industry. It lies on the edge of Avacha Bay, the second largest natural harbor in the world and overlooked by the towering brooding volcanic cone of Koryaksky.
Depending on the scheduled departure time, you may have an hour or so spare for a short walk along Petropavlovsk's interesting harbor or up into the town itself. Early in the afternoon, board the ship once more and begin your cruise by heading into the deep waters of Avacha Bay, past the three rock pinnacles of Tri Brata (the 'Three Brothers') that guard the entrance to the bay, and then north along the spectacular volcano-dotted coastline of the Kamchatka Peninsula. The ship sails towards the Zhupanova River, the first main stop on the cruise.
Begin today near the mouth of the Zhupanova River. Spend the morning exploring this wide river on a zodiac cruise. The Zhupanova heads deep into the wilderness and is lined by vast tracts of birch forest and is backed by several spectacular snow-capped active volcanoes including Zhupanoesky and Karimsky. There are plenty of ornithological gems to look for in this marshy extremity of the Kronoki State Nature Reserve as well. Your main goal here, however, is the magnificent Steller's Sea Eagle which usually nests along the banks of the Zhupanova River. These are one of the largest raptors in the world with a wingspan of up to 2.5 meters! Their enormous nests are obvious and you are likely to have wonderful views of this impressive species. This stretch of coastline also offers our best opportunity of finding two of the region's rarest auks, the Spectacled Guillemot and diminutive Long-billed Murrelet. The excursion ends with a brief stop at a seasonal fishing camp at the mouth of the river where you may be able to sample the day's catch and spend a little time onshore in search of some smaller landbirds.
Around mid-afternoon the ship leaves the Kamchatka coastline, headed east towards the Commander Islands. Your route enters into the Kuril-Kamchatka Trench, one of the deepest stretches of ocean anywhere in the world. The seafloor plunges down to a staggering 10,000 meters. The waters between Kamchatka and the Commander Islands are not only deep, but very rich in nutrients and wildlife. The shelf edges are particularly good areas for birds and the best spot to look for cetaceans which may include Sperm Whale, Fin Whale, Humpback Whale, Orca, Baird's beaked Whale and perhaps even the mighty Blue Whale.
The ship is likely to arrive at the Commander Islands mid afternoon on Day 3. You have the rest of today and the following day to explore this remote group of small islands named after the early explorer Commander Vitus Bering, who was shipwrecked and died here in 1741. The Commanders are home to a small Aleut population who are very welcoming to visitors, as well as a huge population of nesting seabirds. Here you have your first opportunity to experience the sights and sounds of a North Pacific auk colony. You can also enjoy the Tufted and Horned Puffins, Parakeet Auklets, Crested Auklet and Brünnich's Guillemot, plus Pigeon Guillemot, Red-faced Cormorant and Red-legged Kittiwake.
Keep your eyes peeled for the wide variety of wildlife in this islandc grouping. Sea Otters are common around the rocky coastline of the Commanders and are frequently seen wrapped up in the sea kelp beds or bobbing on their backs with their pups. Minke Whales are seen from time to time offshore, whilst on land Arctic Foxes wander along the beaches and can be amazingly confiding.
Awake this morning to a 360-degree view of the open ocean as you complete your crossing back to the mainland and as the ship makes it way to Karaginskiy Island. The ship's crew offers a series of lectures for those who would like a break from the seabirds. Depending on weather conditions, the aim is to reach Karaginskiy Island by early afternoon in order to make a landing and explore the pools and patches of birch woodland of this tundra.
Karaginskiy Island is located approximately 40 kilometers off the Kamchatka coast. This is a particularly rewarding spot for birds and you should be on the look out for such species as Long -toed and Red-necked Stints, Pacific Diver, Harlequin Duck, Red-necked Phalarope, Lapland Bunting, Pechora and Red-throated Pipits, Bluethroat, Yellow-breasted Bunting and Arctic Warbler. Largha Seals are common offshore and you also need to keep a careful eye open for the characteristic 'rooster-tail' spray kicked up by a passing pod of speedy Dall's Porpoise, or perhaps a patrolling pod of their arch nemesis, the magnificent Orca or Killer Whale.
One of the many highlights of this cruise is the opportunity to make a landing at Verkhoturova Island. A special place, this is one of the very few truly accessible seabird colonies along the whole Kamchatka and Chukotka coast. After a steep climb up a grassy slope, sit and enjoy the spectacle of numerous Tufted Puffins just a few meters away, plus thousands of Brünnich’s Guillemots on the cliffs below, numerous nesting Slaty-backed Gulls and flocks of Crested and Parakeet Auklets wheeling overhead. This is a wonderful place for photographers to get those 'magazine quality shots'!
In the afternoon, move north to the Governa Peninsula and Cape Conspicuous. Here you can enjoy a zodiac cruise along the coastline looking for Brown Bears. You are now well within the 'Realm of the Russian Bear' and this stretch of coastline is a favored haunt. The Kamchatka Brown Bear, also known as the Far Eastern Brown Bear, is a subspecies of the 'generic' Brown Bear that occurs from the Kuril Islands north to Anadyr. It is the largest subspecies in Eurasia and is widespread along the Kamchatka and Chukotka coast.
Explore Tintikun Lagoon this morning as you take a zodiacs ashore and explore this beautiful area on foot and by boat. The lagoon is surrounded by a wonderful landscape of jagged mountains, glaciers, tundra and forested slopes covered in dwarf birch and pine. This is another great spot for sighting Brown Bears as well as a variety of birdlife. Largha Seals are often seen along the coastline, whilst offshore keep your eyes open for the critically endangered Western Pacific Grey Whale, of which there are thought to be less than 100 remaining!
Spend the next 3 days slowly cruising north along the spectacular Chukotka Coastline, stopping each day to explore secluded bays, walk onshore and enjoy the wealth of wildlife that abounds in this remote and little visited region. The itinerary is flexible to take account of the weather conditions, the advice of our Expedition Leader, and the sightings already enjoyed over the past few days. There are many equally wonderful areas to explore including Pavla Bay, around which Brown Bears patrol and Steller's Sea Eagle soar, and the dramatic Bogoslova Island. Onshore you can explore a mix of tundra, coastal marshes, birch and pine forest and freshwater lagoons that are home to a wide variety of birdlife. Flowers such as Kamchatka Rhododendron and Alpine Bearberry carpet the landscape. Look out for mammals like the Red Fox, Arctic Ground Squirrel, Mountain Hare and even the rare Snow Sheep. Although, with the exception of Brown Bear and foxes, larger land mammals are elusive.
Today is perhaps the ornithological highlight of your cruise as you have the opportunity to view of one the world's rarest and most beautiful waders on its remote nesting grounds. The enigmatic Spoon-billed Sandpiper is critically endangered and only breeds on the remote tundra of Kamchatka and Chukotka and then migrate over 8,000 kilometers to their wintering grounds in South-East Asia. Over the past few decades the population has nose-dived to less than 100 pairs in 2011.
Over the past few years Heritage Expeditions have build up a close relationship with the staff at the 'Spoon-billed Sandpiper Recovery Taskforce' in the remote settlement of Meinypil'gyno. This is the most important breeding site in the world for the 'Spoonies' and the researchers have agreed to take our group out to view this amazing wader - a rare and privileged experience!
Your final full day of the cruise is spent exploring the coastline of Cape Navarin, an area rich in marine mammals. In addition to possible sightings of Beluga Whales and Grey Whales you may be particularly hoping to find a haul-out of Pacific Walrus which at times congregate here in their thousands. The exact location of these rookeries change from year to year, with any lick, you can hop into the zodiacs and head closer to enjoy one of the most impressive sights of the arctic realm. Naturally, there are plenty of birds to enjoy here too along with inquisitive groups of Largha Seals. Finally, as the sun sets on our final day in the Russian Far East we must 'up anchor' and head east to complete our journey to Anadyr.
This morning the ship berths at the port of Anadyr, the most easterly town in Russia. After saying goodbyes to the crew and staff of the 'Spirit of Enderby,' transfer to the airport or downtown to continue your travels.