Our first port of call was the town of Korsakov, located on Sakhalin Island, just north of Japan and east of mainland Russia. Once a small Japanese fishing village and later a Russian penal colony, Korsakov is now a melting pot of Japanese, Korean and Russian cultures. Though its tumultuous history includes power struggles and forced labor, the town is the perfect picture of tranquility today.
Sailing from Sakalov in the early morning we came across a small fog enshrouded island called Tyuleniy. The island takes its name from the breeding grounds of the rare Northern Fur Seal, it’s one of largest rookeries of fur seal and sea lions left in the world, and also sports many species of birds for the ornithologically inclined. There is a small Russian research station on the island, with blinds for observing the wildlife. We boarded zodiacs and navigated through the fog to a rocky beach to the raucous sounds of birds and seals.
The island is located some 19 kilometres south of the Terpeniya peninsula’s cape, in pretty rough sees. You’d either have to go with a rare tour or charter a boat for yourself to visit here. Your best bet is to join one the expedition cruise ships that occasionally visit the region.
Chyornie Bratya is collectively the name for a pair of uninhabited volcanic islands between Simushir and Urup in the Kuril Island chain. The larger of the two islands is Chirpoy and the smaller is named Brat Chirpoev. The origin of the names is uncertain: the original Ainu language name of the island was Repunmoshiri, a word meaning “place of many small birds”. The Chirpoy islands are the remains of a partially submerged volcanic caldera which measures 8–9 km wide. The two islands are surrounded by a number of small islets and offshore rocks and together, the collective forms the Chernye Brat’ya (Russian for Black Brothers) Islands. Both islands are separated by the Snou Strait.
Simushir is an uninhabited volcanic island near the centre of the Kuril Islands chain. It’s name is derived from the Ainu language for “large island”. On the north end it has large volcanic caldera called Broutana Bay, over 2 miles (3.2 kilometers) across. The Simushir volcano is not active, it is extinct. Under the Soviet Union, Broutana Bay was used by the Soviet Navy as a secret base built in 1987, then abandoned it in 1994. When this was an active sub base about 3,000 lived here. There were three floating sub docks for the submarines to tie up to, only one remains today.
Ushishir consists of two islets connected by a narrow spit of land with an area of 5 km². These islets are the tops of a partially submerged volcano. The southern island Yankicha consists of the summit caldera and has a maximum width of 2.5 kilometers. The caldera has a diameter of 1.6 kilometers, and is breached on the south, forming a sea-water crater bay. The steep walled caldera is broken to the south and so is flooded by the sea. It forms a tranquil lagoon where Harelquins and sea otters swim. The inner grassy slopes rise to the rocky rim where fulmars nest and the cliffs are covered in Kittiwakes. Near the lip of the lagoon a srape in the beach fills with thermal waters.
Atlasova Island is the northernmost island of the Kuril Islands in Russia. It is essentially the cone of a submarine volcano, Alaid, and protrudes above the sea of Okhostsk to a height of 2,339 m. The island is currently uninhabited and has an off-shore cone formed during the 1933-34 eruption. Opposite the landing beach is a small lake and between the two are the ruins of an old fishing factory. It does give visitors an idea of what the island could have been like in earlier times. The question of everyone’s mind is whether there will be further eruptions from this beautiful volcano in the future.
The Kamchatka Peninsula is a 1,250-kilometre (780 mi) peninsula in the Russian Far East, with an area of about 270,000 km2 (100,000 sq mi). It lies between the Pacific Ocean to the east and the Sea of Okhotsk to the west. Kamchatka boasts diverse and abundant wildlife. This is due to climates ranging from temperate to subarctic, diverse topography and geography, many free-flowing rivers, proximity to highly productive waters from the northwestern Pacific Ocean and the Bering and Okhotsk Seas, and to the low human density and minimal development. Kamchatka is famous for the abundance and size of its brown bears. In the Kronotsky Nature Preserve there are estimated to be three to four bears per 100 square kilometres.
Petropavlovsk was founded by Danish navigator Vitus Bering, in the late 1740’s, while in the service of the Russian Navy. He named the city after his two ships, the St Peter and the St Paul. The town’s location on the sheltered Avacha Bay and at the mouth of the Avacha River saw it develop to become the most important settlement in Kamchatka. The city is situated on high hills and is surrounded by active volcanoes.
The experience of a lifetime.
Visiting the Russian Far East was an experience I will never forget. If you'd like to see more 360˚ Panoramas from my travels download my free iPad App, Red 360 Panoramas, from the iTunes store or visit the other locations below.