Kamchatka: Nature’s Tour de Force
Closed to the outside world until 1993, both Vladivostok and the Kamchatka Peninsula remain largely untraversed by the mass tourism that so often destroys what were once unique destinations. This is at once a journey that explores both a unique indigenous culture as well as an astounding ‘tour de force’ of nature.
The tour starts in one of the least visited capitals of Asia, Seoul, where centuries-old palaces sit comfortably with modern, glitzy shopping malls. But it is the day that we head to the 38th parallel that steals the show. The border that separates North Korea (DPRK) with South Korea is undoubtedly one of the most tense in the world. Entering the Demilitarised Zone and the Joint Security Area, we walk around the negotiating table to briefly enter the DPRK! From Seoul we take a short flight to the Russian Far East and the beautiful city of Vladivostok, home to the massive Russian Pacific Fleet and the easterly starting point of the Trans-Siberian railway line. Flying north to Petropavlovsk, capital of the Kamchatka Peninsula, we experience a dizzying introduction into one of the great show-stopping sanctuaries on the planet. Here, in this fish-shaped region known as the ‘Land of Fire and Ice’, are found 159 volcanoes, 29 of which are active. A magnificent mingling of these volcanoes, mountains, glaciers and taiga forests, forms an artistry of landscape and beauty that is both overwhelming and exhilarating. Laced with incomparable fauna and flora which includes vast populations of the Kamchatka Brown Bear, as well as fascinating indigenous peoples, the Kamchatka Peninsula manages to exhaust all superlatives.
Tour Fitness Level: Active
- Visit to the 38th parallel, border between North and South Korea
- Boat trip on Vladivostok’s Golden Horn Bay
- Visit to Siberian Tigers Rehabilitation Centre
- Stroll through Vladivostok’s historic rail station, the eastern starting point of the Trans-Siberian railway line
- Fly into Kamchatka’s capital, Petropavlovsk, ringed by mountains, volcanoes and the Pacific Ocean
- Explore Avacha Bay, with its rare bird-life and killer whales
- See Petropavlovsk’s magnificent skyline from Starichkov Island
- Journey overland to the heart of Kamchatka
- Stay three nights in the Switzerland of Kamchatka, Esso
- Visit the indigenous community of the Koryak and Even people at Anavgay
- See Kamchatka’s amazing panorama of volcanoes at a remote mountain lake
- Enjoy a two-night stay at Dvukhyurtochnoye Lake and see Kamchatka bears feast on salmon spawn
- Explore the alpine larch forests of Esso
- Take a scenic helicopter flight into the ‘Valley of the Geysers’
- All flights between Australia and Petropavlovsk (inc domestic from your preferred capital city)
- All accommodation (twin-share)
- All ticketable air taxes (may be subject to change)
- All transfers
- Two Helicopter flights within Kamchatka
- All meals as specified
- Travel Directors’ tour leader throughout
- Expert local guides
- All entrance fees in specified sightseeing
- All visas and courier fees
- All tips and gratuities
Please note that whilst every effort will be made to adhere to the above pricing, currency fluctuations beyond our control can affect final costs. A booking form is to be completed by all passengers, and a non-refundable deposit of AUD $2,000 per person paid at the time of booking. All escorted tours are based on a minimum group size of 10 people travelling.
03/07/2020 Australia – Singapore (D)
Depart Australia from your chosen capital city on the flight to Singapore. On arrival connect with the flight to Seoul.
Depart Singapore SQ 600, 08.00
Arrive Seoul 15.35
After clearing customs we transfer to our hotel.
04/07/2020 Seoul – DMZ (BLD)
Perhaps one of the most exciting trips in the world today is a visit to Panmunjom, the Demilitarised Zone with North Korea. North and South Korea were the last two divided countries in the world and armies totalling two million men line this border. Tensions are always high here. We enter the Joint Security Area and even walk around the negotiating table into North Korea!
05/07/2020 Seoul (BLD)
Almost flattened during the Korean War, Seoul has risen from the ashes to become one of Asia’s great cities. As the political, financial, and cultural hub of South Korea, Seoul’s busy streets are lined with boisterous nightclubs, trendy stores and budget-friendly restaurants. Yet reminders of Seoul’s patrician past still linger on beneath the high rises and 12-lane freeways. Centuries-old royal palaces, imposing gateways and ornate pagodas provide visitors with an inside peek into Seoul’s aristocratic society. Our city tour today takes in all the major sights of this bustling city.
06/07/2020 Seoul – Vladivostok (BLD)
This morning is at leisure. After lunch we transfer to the airport for our flight to Vladivostok.
Depart Seoul Siberian Airlines S7 6272, 15.55
Arrive Vladivostok 19.00
After completing customs and immigration formalities we transfer to our hotel in the heart of Vladivostok. During the years of Soviet rule, Vladivostok was a closed city. For that reason, tourism in this far eastern Russian city is still in its infancy. The city was discovered in 1859 and quickly became a military outpost protecting Russia’s resemblance to Turkey’s Golden Horn in Istanbul.
07/07/2020 Vladivostok (BLD)
In the morning we explore this beautiful city, which has often been likened to Naples and San Francisco. After lunch we take a boat ride around the harbour. There are three distinct harbour areas: the fishing harbour, naval base and the commercial port, which stretches along Golden Horn Bay. Afterwards we head to Amursky Bay for a panoramic view of Vladivostok.
08/07/2020 Vladivostok (BLD)
Today we drive 60km out of Vladivostok to Primorsky Safari Park. Originally designed as a safe haven for injured animals, the park, which is 40,000 square kms, welcomes visitors to see Siberian tigers, Siberian stag, dappled deer, roe deer, wild boar, black bear, brown bear, wolf, fox and other wild animals in their natural habitat.
09/07/2020 Vladivostok – Petropavlovsk (BLD)
Depart Vladivostok Aeroflot Russian Airlines SU 5614, 07.35
Arrive Petropavlovsk 12.45
After breakfast we transfer to the airport for our flight to the capital of the Kamchatka Peninsula – Petropavlovsk. As our flight begins its descent into Petropavlovsk, we are treated to the astounding sight of the city surrounded by mountains and punctuated by three snow-capped volcanoes. On our arrival we transfer to our hotel.
10/07/2020 Petropavlovsk (BLD)
The city of Petropavlovsk was founded by Vitus Bering, the leader of the First Kamchatka Expedition, in 1740. Home to the Russian Pacific Fleet, a major submarine base, the whole area was one of the most secret and restricted in the Soviet Union. It was closed to foreigners and Soviet citizens until 1993, but today it is a city of 250,000 people. Today we board a boat for a tour of Avacha Bay and Starichkov Island, passing the amazing ‘Three Brothers’ rocks, which jut up dramatically from the ocean. Legend has it that when the settlement of Petropavlosk was first founded the Three Brothers, the iconic symbol of Petropavlosk-Kamchatsky, waded into the boiling ocean to protect the community from fierce storms and were turned into stone. Here, in one of the most beautiful aquatic icons of Kamchatka, large seals, whales and killer whales can be found
11/07/2020 Petropavlovsk – Esso (BLD)
After breakfast we start our 530km journey through the extraordinary Kamchatka peninsula. We stop at Milkovo, a quaint Cossack village perched on the banks of the mighty Kamchatka River. The village is the warmest spot in Kamchatka and after lunch we visit the old Cossack fort before continuing to the alpine town of Esso. Here an abundance of geothermal activity allows free heating for all residents throughout the town and ensures that it is a wonderful destination in both summer and winter.
Paramushir Tur Hotel
12/07/2020 Esso – Lake Dvukhyurtochnoye (BLD)
This morning we leave Esso and drive to the helicopter pad for our 45 minute flight to Lake Dvukhyurtochnoye. As we ascend towards the lake, a magnificent panorama unfolds before us, as the Gora Alney volcano group comes into view. After lunch we walk to the shore of the lake where we may see bears catching fish. We also have the chance to bath in the nearby hot springs. Tonight we feast on freshly caught salmon.
Lake Dvukhyurtochnoye Camp
13/07/2020 Lake Dvukhyurtochnoye (BLD)
The Kamchatka bear can weigh up to 600kg with a length of 2.5 metres. Their extreme dark brown colour is due to their salmon diet, which is rich in oils and minerals. They also eat berries and small rodents. Kamchatka peninsula has more than 14,000 rivers and streams which support six species of sockeye salmon, the food base of the brown bear. The spawning season is from July to March – an extraordinary length of time – resulting in Kamchatka having the highest concentration of bears in Russia. Early this morning, after a snack and coffee, we leave the camp and make our way towards the river and lake. We spend several hours here before returning to our camp for a late breakfast. After a leisurely day, we return to the wilderness area once more to observe the late afternoon activity of the bears.
14/07/2020 Lake Dvukhyurtochnoye – Esso (BLD)
Early this morning we have a further opportunity to see brown bears in the wilderness before taking our helicopter flight back to Esso. Known as the Switzerland of Kamchatka, Esso is a beautiful town of 2,500 people, where Russian Cossacks live alongside the indigenous people of the Peninsula – the Koryak and Even. As a result, a vibrant culture thrives and offers a fascinating glimpse of a way of life that has been astonishingly well preserved. After lunch we begin our exploration of Esso.
Paramushir Tur Hotel
15/07/2020 Esso (BLD)
Today we hike into the nearby larch forests. Here the riverbeds are lined with alder trees and willows as well as Japanese pine. In fact, more than 1,000 species of plants thrive in the short summer of this alpine environment. We spend the day in the forests before returning to our hotel late afternoon.
16/07/2020 Esso – Anavgay – Esso (BLD)
A short distance from Esso is the settlement of Anavgay, which is almost exclusively the home of the Koryak and Even people. These people believe that the universe is divided into upper, middle and lower worlds and that constellations are like people. Their dwellings represent a mythological model of the world, particularly the pole-ladder, which stands in the middle of the home and symbolises the connection between the lower and upper worlds. Today we visit Anavgay and learn about the customs of the local people, before returning to Esso late afternoon.
17/07/2020 Esso – Petropavlovsk (BLD)
After breakfast we begin our journey back to Petropavlovsk, stopping for lunch and dinner en-route.
18/07/2020 Petropavlovsk – Valley of the Geysers – Petropavlovsk (BLD)
Perhaps the centrepiece of our Kamchatka experience is the day spent at the Valley of the Geysers. A 90-minute helicopter flight brings us to perhaps the most active regions of the so called ‘Pacific Ring of Fire’. Here a landscape of taiga forests, rivers and lakes combine with the fantastic grandeur of mountain ranges and active volcanos. The valley is hidden inside a wall of a canyon where mud pools, geysers and thermal springs erupt through the valley floor. We thread our way through this unbelievable biosphere via boardwalks, which allow us to explore a world that was discovered only in 1941. The ‘Volcanos of Kamchatka’ World Heritage site continues to astound researchers and visitors from all over the world. In the evening we return to Petropavlovsk.
19/07/2020 Petropavlovsk (BLD)
Avachinsky Volcano is one of the most active volcanoes in the Kamchatka Peninsula. Its last eruption occurred in 2008 and was tiny compared with the major eruption of 1945. Today we set out for the volcano, which is situated within sight of Petropavlovsk approximately two hours’ drive away, and enjoy lunch at its base. Later we return to Petropavlovsk and enjoy a farewell dinner.
20/07/2020 Petropavlovsk – Vladivostok (B)
After breakfast we transfer to the airport for our homeward flight.
Depart Petropavlovsk Siberian Airlines S7 6216, 09.55
Arrive Vladivostok 11.30
Depart Vladivostok Siberian Airlines S7 6271, 13.35
Arrive Seoul 14.50
Depart Seoul SQ 603, 23.45
21/07/2020 Singapore – Australia
Arrive Singapore 05.05
In Singapore we connect with the flight to our chosen destination in Australia.
This tour is graded as ‘Active’. What is the reason?
Although there is not a lot of strenuous walking on this tour, the remoteness of the destination has prompted us to grade it as active. The places where there is some walking are at Lake Dvukhyurtochnoye, the Valley of the Geysers and the Avacha Volcano. At Lake Dvukhyurtochnoye the walk to the bears can take up to 40 minutes on uneven, sometimes muddy tracks, wearing gumboots which are provided.
If I travel alone, do I have to pay the single supplement?
If you do not want to share a hotel room with another person in the group, you will have to pay the single supplement. However, if you are willing to share we will team you up with another passenger of the same sex and similar age in the hotels. If a match-up is not possible, we will upgrade you at our expense. PLEASE NOTE: There is no option to have single occupancy at Lake Dvukhyurtochnoye where we spend two nights, due to the way the owners operate their premises. All rooms are multiple-occupancy rooms and a ‘buy-out’ is not possible. Therefore if you choose to pay the single supplement it applies only to the hotels we use on the rest of the tour.
What is the infrastructure like in Kamchatka generally?
The infrastructure in Petropavlovsk and Esso is adequate with constant power, hot water and intermittent Wi-Fi. The bear camp is basic and power is supplied with a generator for four hours a day. There may be occasions when four people are required to share a large room and in this instance we would endeavor to put four ladies or four men together. Though the camp does not have showers, there are toilets as well as wash basins. There is also a housed thermal pool that can be used for an all over body wash. The complex has a large dining room and the food, which is prepared by our chef of many years, Natasha, is homely and tasty.
What kind of clothing should I take?
The climate in Kamchatka is extremely changeable and one should be prepared for sun and temperatures of around 28C as well as rain and temperatures of around 13C. Both of these scenarios can occur in one day. Mosquitoes can be in evidence: it varies from one year to the next. Sometimes they can be very active and at other times not present at all. We provide mosquito-net hats and recommend you bring light-coloured long-sleeved shirts and long pants and a good insect repellent.
What is the weather like at the time we travel?
Kamchatka’s tourist window is the summer which is, effectively, July and August. As mentioned above, even during this optimum time, temperatures can range between 13C and 28C and we should be prepared for rain and sun.
How safe are the helicopters that we use in Kamchatka?
We us MI-8 helicopters on the peninsula. Although a military helicopter, they are used for research, search and rescue, and tourism. For commercial purposes, this helicopter is the most widely used around the world, largely because of its flexibility and reliability. As well, Russian pilots are world class.
How long are the helicopter flights during the tour?
The flight to our bear camp is 35 minutes. The three flights that make up the day in the Valley of the Geysers are 1 hour 40 minutes, 7 minutes, and 40 minutes.
Are the Kamchatka bears dangerous and what safety mechanisms are in place?
Kamchatka bears feed on salmon and berries only. There is an ample food supply and the bears are rarely hungry and are therefore not aggressive. The walk from the camp to the confluence of rivers, where the bears meet, is around 40 minutes and we are accompanied at all times by a ‘gun master’. There are no recorded bear attacks on tourists in Kamchatka, but it is a wild animal that can weigh up to 500 kilos and therefore we do not take chances.
How much spending money do I need for the entire trip?
Because almost everything is included, US $800 per person is usually ample for the entire journey. However, if you’re a keen shopper and like to buy lots of gifts and souvenirs, you may require more.
What currency should I take on this tour?
The currency for this journey is US dollars. They should be in low denominations, clean and undamaged, and dated post-2006.
Are credit cards acceptable?
Credit cards are acceptable and ATMs are available in Seoul. In Esso ATMs are not available and therefore should not be relied upon as a main source of funds.
Do I need vaccinations for this journey?
Vaccinations are not required for this tour though you should also seek advice from your doctor.
Is the water safe to drink en-route and what is the general standard of hygiene?
We err on the side of caution on all of our tours and advise travellers to drink only bottled water which we supply each day. The standard of hygiene in Russia and Korea is world class and we also hand pick all of our restaurants for their quality.
Do I need visas?
An Australian or British passport holder will not need a visa for Korea but will require one for Russia. The cost of the visa is included in the tour price and the paperwork is handled by our office.
A lot of companies have many expensive optional extras on their tours. Do you?
We do not believe in a lot of expensive ‘optional tours’. Our itineraries are designed to make the best possible use of time and to include all the must-see sights, plus additional surprises. Therefore, practically everything is included in the tour cost.
Do mobile telephones work?
Both Telstra and Optus have partner networks in Korea and Russia but there is no signal at all at the bear camp.
How much should we tip the guides and porters?
There is no need to tip guides or porters as all tipping and gratuities are included in the tour cost.
Listed below is a selection of books which you may wish to read prior to, or during, your journey.
This Kind of War: The Classic Korean War History
The Coldest Winter
The Long Way to Vladivostok
Midnight in Siberia
Ancient Tales of Kamchatka
Kamchatka: Land of Fire and Ice