Russia’s Far East: The Last Horizon

The latest addition to our Asia portfolio, this is without doubt our most remote venture which takes us to the very edge of the world. This is the Russian Far East – an area of vast river deltas, great lakes, mountains and gulags, and where extremes of temperature have welded a rugged humanity that inhabits a forgotten sphere.

Our journey begins in Eastern Siberia and the city of Irkutsk. Sitting close to this imposing municipality is mighty Lake Baikal, the largest fresh water lake in the world and Russia’s spiritual heartland. We then fly north to Yakutsk, capital of Sakha region, located on the mighty Lena River. Defined by unique cryogenic museums and built on enduring permafrost, this is a city that has a temperature range of over 100 °C, making it the coldest city in the world and the place of greatest seasonal temperature variation on the planet. The adventure then heads to the Russian Far East proper and the city of Magadan, made famous by Charley Boorman’s and Ewen MacGregor’s attempt to ride the 2,000-kilometre Kolyma Highway – one of the most remote and rugged roads in the world. Sitting on the great Sea of Okhotsk, this is where Solzhenitsyn’s ‘Gulag Archipelago’ unfolds and yet paradoxically, it has some of the richest bird and marine life found anywhere in the world. Moving south to Khabarovsk, we discover one of the most surprising cities in Russia. This architectural gem, just 30 kilometres from the Chinese border, lies on another great Russian River, the Amur. Possessing magnificent Tsarist architecture, Khabarovsk is one the major hubs of the Trans-Siberian railway and fittingly, we board this great flagship of Russia for an overnight, 760-kilometre journey to Vladivostok. After exploring Russia’s ‘San Francisco’ we fly to the island of Sakhalin. Close to the Japanese island of Hokkaido, this is a sanctuary rarely visited by foreigners. Disputed for many years by Russia and Japan, and with a complex and compelling nature, it is a fascinating melting pot of the two nations. From here we take a short flight to Hokkaido and the island’s capital, Sapporo. Russia’s Far Horizon is an exhilarating and enthralling journey that takes you, quite literally, to the edge of the world.

Tour Fitness Level: Active

Highlights
  • Visit the largest freshwater lake in the world, Russia’s inland sea, Lake Baikal
  • 5-night stay in Yakutsk, the world’s coldest city in winter
  • Visit the amazing Yakutia treasury
  • Enjoy a day excursion cruise to the amazing Lena Pillars
  • See the greatest Mammoth collection in the world
  • Full day visit to Lake Buluus Glacier
  • Ride a short distance on the Kolyma Highway – the ‘Road of Bones’
  • See the monument to the Gulags, the moving ‘Mask of Sorrow’
  • Visit the Eskimo people in Magadan
  • Enjoy a full day cruise on the Sea of Okhotsk
  • Explore the wonderful Tsarist architecture of Khabarovsk
  • Experience the Trans-Siberian train between Khabarovsk and Vladivostok
  • Enjoy a full day boat ride on Vladivostok’s Golden Horn Bay
  • See one of the world’s most endangered animals, the beautiful Far East Leopard
  • 3-night stay on one of the least visited islands in the world, Sakhalin
  • Visit the great monument of nature, Cape Giant, on Sakhalin’s wild East Coast
  • See salmon spawning on Sakhalin
  • 2-night stay in the capital of Hokkaido, Sapporo

Inclusions

  • All flights between Australia and Russia/Japan and Australia
  • All visas and courier fees
  • All flight within Russia and Japan
  • All ground transportation within Russia and Japan
  • All accommodation (twin-share)
  • All ticketable air taxes (may be subject to change)
  • All transfers
  • All meals as specified
  • All entrance fees in specified sightseeing
  • Unique cultural experiences and interaction with local people
  • Travel Directors’ tour leader throughout
  • Expert local guides
  • 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 $3,000 per person paid at the time of booking. All escorted tours are based on a minimum group size of 10 people travelling.

Itinerary

05/08/2019 Australia – Bangkok

Depart from your chosen capital city on your flight to Bangkok.

06/2019 Bangkok – Irkutsk

Depart Bangkok S7 6332, 17.00

Arrive Irkutsk 23.55

Irkutsk is the capital of Eastern Siberia and dates back to 1661. A major city on the Trans Siberian railway, it was once known as the ‘Paris of Siberia’. Today, Irkutsk, which is situated on the Angara River – the only river to flow out of Lake Baikal – has been beautifully restored and once again is a marvellous Siberian jewel.

Courtyard by Marriott

Irkutsk

07/08/2019 Irkutsk (BLD)

This morning we drive out of Irkutsk to the pretty village of Listvyanka on the shores of Lake Baikal. Formed some 25 million years ago, Baikal is the world’s deepest lake and almost every statistic about it is astonishing. We enjoy an informative briefing about the lake on a visit to the excellent Limnological Museum.

08/08/2019 Irkutsk – Yakutsk (BLD)

Irkutsk is the capital of Eastern Siberia and dates back to 1661. A major city on the Trans Siberian railway, it was once known as the ‘Paris of Siberia’. Today, Irkutsk, which is situated on the Angara River – the only river to flow out of Lake Baikal – has been beautifully restored and once again is a marvellous Siberian jewel. Today we explore this lovely city including the Siberian mansion which was home to the exiled Decembrists including Sergei and Maria Volkonsky. After dinner we transfer to the airport for our flight to Yakutsk.

Depart Irkutsk Yakutia Airlines R3 494, 23.25

Arrive Yakutsk 03.15

On arrival in Yakutsk we transfer to our hotel.

Azimut Hotel Polar Star

Yakutsk

09/08/2019 Yakutsk (BLD)

One of the oldest cities in Siberia, Yakutsk was founded in 1632 by Cossacks. Built on the right back of the Lena River, it was originally known as Fort Lenskii and was renamed Yakutsk in 1647. Today the city is one of the most important in eastern Siberia and is a base for scientific expeditions to the Far East and the Arctic. As a territory in the extreme North of Asia, its dramatic cultural history pushes its boundaries as far west as Central Asia with a cultural legacy that stretches as far as Greenland. A region bigger than India, it has a vast, varied, and extreme landscape.Today we enjoy a sightseeing tour of the city including the Yakutia Treasury, which is home to massive collection of precious stones, and a walking tour of the Old Town.

10/08/2019 Yakutsk (BLD)

Today we  continue our tour of the city including a visit to the amazing Mammoth museum.

11/08/2019 Yakutsk – Lena Pillars – Yakutsk (BLD)

After breakfast this morning we board a charter cruise for a full day excursion to the Lena Pillars, which are located some 260 kilometres south of Yakutsk City. The pillars are a series of rock formations which were laid down in the middle Cambrian Age when the region was covered by sea. The formation of the pillars was the result of the extremes of the Sakha climate; frost and ice expanding and shattering the rocky joints, forming jagged stone buttresses, dissected by deep vertical gullies. Comprising alternating layers of limestone, marlstone (lime and silt rich mudstone), dolomite and slate, the pillars rise to a massive 100 meters in height and extend for some kilometres on the banks of the Lena River. They are now a part of the Lena Pillars Nature Park and a designated UNESCO Natural Heritage Site.

12/08/2019 Yakutsk – Lake Buluus – Yakutsk (BLD)

Today we take a ferry across the Lena to the small town of Nizhny Bestyakh and drive on a road that cuts through dense larch forests to the magnificent Glacier of Lake Buluus. The glacier is formed by the extreme ice winds and temperatures during winter. The ice is so thick that it does not melt in the heat of the summer and maintains a constant +4C +6C on the ice surface.

13/08/2019  Yakutsk (BLD)

The lowest temperature ever recorded on the planet, -64.4°C, occurred in Yakutsk and the city has never recorded a temperature above freezing between November and March. However, summers are warm and short with daily maximum temperatures occasionally reaching +30 °C, making the seasonal temperature differences in the city the greatest in the world. It is also the largest city built on continuous permafrost, and many houses are built on concrete piles. Today we visit the extraordinary Kingdom of Permafrost ice tunnel complex.

14/08/2019 Yakutsk – Magadan (LD)

An early start this morning as we transfer to the airport for our flight to Magadan.

Depart Yakutsk R3 409, 05.50

Arrive Magadan 09.40

Magadan lies on the Sea of Okhotsk in the beautiful Nagayev Bay. Founded in 1930 during the Stalin years, it was a major transit centre for prisoners destined for labour camps. It is one of the most isolated towns in the world and is connected to Yakutsk, 2,000 kilometres away, by the infamous Kolyma Highway, also known as the ‘Road of Bones’, because the skeletons of the forced labourers who died while constructing it were laid beneath or around its foundations. The road became known around the world after Charley Boorman and Ewen MacGregor attempted to complete the journey to Yakutsk in the film, ‘Long way Round’. Often referred to as ‘the small Leningrad’, Magadan has a Baroque style that is engulfed by Stalinist architecture. This morning we visit the ‘Mask of Sorrow’, a remarkable sculpture that depicts a crying face, with the tears made up of smaller and smaller crying faces, symbolising the eternal grief of the Kolyma gulag region during the Soviet era. We also visit the natural history museum which showcases the life and history of the indigenous populations of the Far East — among them the Evens, the Chukchi, the Nanai and the Eskimos.

Hotel Golden House

Magadan

15/08/2019 Magadan (BLD)

This morning we head for Magadan sea port for a full day cruise that will reveal the many beautiful bays along the coast. The Sea of Okhotsk is one of the world’s most biologically productive seas. River drainage combined with intense intermingling of waters by the straits and winds and the upwelling of deep, nutrient-laden ocean waters, are all favourable to marine life. In the short summer months, when temperatures warm the sea, there is a marked increase in activity. The area is home to the majestic Steller’s sea eagle and numerous seabirds such as guillemots, puffins, auklets and fulmars. Waterfowl and many migratory species are also well represented. Marine mammals include four species of ‘ice seal’ – bearded, ringed, largha and the beautifully marked ribbon seal. There are also steller sea lions, northern fur seals, sea otters, and several whale species.

16/08/2019 Magadan – Khabarovsk (BLD)

This morning we continue exploring Magadan. After lunch we transfer to the airport for our flight south to Khabarovsk.

Depart Magadan HZ/SU 5613, 16.20

Arrive Khabarovsk 17.55

Khabarovsk sits on the Amur River, some 30 kilometres from the Chinese border and 648 kilometres from Vladivostok. Unlike its southern counterpart however, Khabarovsk was never closed to foreigners and today the city is distinctly international with an increasing Asian presence who want to visit ‘Europe’ in Russia’s Far East. Indeed, vast amounts of money have been poured into Khabarovsk and the city’s magnificent Tsarist architecture has been beautifully restored. It is a city of parks and gardens as well as a fantastic river promenade which boasts chic bars and restaurants.

Sopka Hotel

Khabarovsk

17/08/2019 Khabarovsk (BLD)

After breakfast we start to explore this surprising pearl on the edge of the great taiga forests. In the afternoon we cruise down the Amur River, the world’s tenth longest, that forms a natural border between the Russian Far East and North-eastern China. The Amur River is an important symbol of, and geopolitical factor in, Chinese—Russian relations. Indeed, the first permanent bridge across the Amur, the Khabarovsk Bridge, was completed in 1916, allowing the trains on the Trans-Siberian Railway to cross the river year-round without using ferries or rail tracks on top of the river ice. The area in and around the Amur River is home to 95 percent of the world’s Oriental white stork, as well as significant numbers of cranes and other birds.

18/08/2019 Khabarovsk – Vladivostok (BLD)

Among the indigenous people in the area around Khabarovsk are the Nanai people. After breakfast we drive 75km north of the city to the small village of Sikachi-Alyan located on the Amur River where we spend the day with this fascinating and friendly people, learning about their traditions and culture. On our return to Khabarovsk we transfer to the railway station and board Russia’s great rail flagship, the Trans-Siberian, for our overnight journey to Vladivostok. Connecting Moscow with the Russian Far East it has a total length of 9,289 kilometres making it the longest railway line in the world and has connected Moscow with Vladivostok since 1916. Built between 1891 and 1916 under the supervision of Russian government ministers personally appointed by Tsar Alexander III and his son, Tsar Nicholas II, the completion of the railroad marked the turning point in the history of Siberia and the Russian Far East, opening vast areas to exploitation, settlement, and industrialization.

Depart Khabarovsk Train 6, 20.45

19/08/2019 Vladivostok (BLD)

Arrive Vladivostok 08.27

On arrival in Vladivostok we transfer to our hotel and later begin to 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.

Lotte Hotel

Vladivostok

20/08/2019 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.

21/08/2019 Vladivostok – Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk (BLD)

An early transfer to the airport this morning for our flight to Sakhalin Island.

Depart Khabarovsk SU 5680, 10.05

Arrive Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk 12.45

Sakhalin Island is separated from the Far East Russian mainland by the Tartar Strait and from the Japanese Island of Hokkaido by the Perouse Strait. The island is approximately the same size as Scotland and has a population of 600,000. The capital of Sakhalin, Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk was founded in 1881, and this afternoon we start to explore the city visiting Gagarin park, before heading up to Gorny Vozduh for magnificent views of the city and the surrounding mountains.

Gagarin Hotel

Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk

22/08/2019 Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk (BLD)

After breakfast we drive to the southern tip of the island and the village of Novikovo. Here we  board a boat and take a trip around the Aniva lighthouse, built by the Japanese in 1939, which is perched on a rocky outcrop here and is also home to dozens of gulls which nest here. Later we return to Novikovo village where we have lunch before visting the Blue Lake.

23/08/2019 Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk (BLD)

This morning we drive out of the capital to a wonderful monument of nature. One of the most impressive places on the coast of Sakhalin, Cape Giant is surrounded by sand beaches that are lapped by the azure waters of the Sea of Okhotsk. The cape is reached through almost impenetrable taiga and steep passes. There are many grottoes, created by the wind and waves, where massive bird colonies are located. Huge rocks nestled in the cosy bays at the cape – which from afar resemble the profile of a warrior, are the reason Cape Giant got its name. As the tide retreats from the bays a Sakhalin delicacy is revealed, sea urchins. This caviar is considered a superb food that increases the ability of the body during physical activity and accelerates the recovery time by quickly normalising the level of leukocytes.

24/08/2019 Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk – Sapporo (BLD)

Depart Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk Aurora Airlines HZ 4536, 09.20

Arrive Sapporo 08.50

Sapporo is the capital of Hokkaido and Japan’s fifth largest city. It is also one of the nation’s youngest major cities. In 1857, the city’s population stood at just seven people. In the beginning of the Meiji Period, when the development of Hokkaido was started on a large scale, Sapporo was chosen as the island’s administrative centre and enlarged according to the advice of foreign specialists. Consequently, Sapporo was built based on a North American style rectangular street system. The city became world famous in 1972 when the Winter Olympics were held there. Today, it is a lively city well known for its ramen, beer, and the annual snow festival held in February. On our arrival we begin to explore the city visiting Mount Moiwa and Odori Park which is located in the heart of Sapporo’s downtown, providing residents with a lush, green escape from the hustle and bustle of urban life. From east to west, the park spans about 1.5km and covers over 78,000 square meters.

Mercure Hotel

Sapporo

25/08/2019 Sapporo (BLD)

After breakfast we board our bus for a short journey to Otaru.  We take a tour of the area, including the Otaru canal, where many historical buildings still stand, providing a nostalgic atmosphere. In the afternoon we visit the Sapporo Beer Museum, the birthplace of beer in Japan since 1877 and still today one of the most popular beer brands in the country.

26/08/2019 Sapporo – Tokyo – Bangkok (B)

Depart Sapporo NH 2154, 13.05

Arrive Tokyo 14.50

Depart Tokyo TG 677, 17.25

Arrive Bangkok 21.55

On arrival in Bangkok we connect with the flight to our chosen Australian city.

27/08/2019 Bangkok – Australia

We arrive back in Australia today.