North East Passage

Exploring Russia's Northern coast

At a Glance

FOCUS:

Rarely undertaken transit along northern coast of Russia. History, birds, whales and remote locations.

WHERE:

Anadyr – Murmansk (or vice versa)

SAMPLE WILDLIFE:

Numerous auks including Tufted and Horned Puffins, Crested, Parakeet, Whiskered and Least Auklets, Pelagic Cormorant and Short-tailed Shearwater.  Snowy Owl,

Some fantastic marine mammals are also possible including Bowhead, Humpback and Northern Minke Whales as well as all three forms of Walrus (Pacific, Laptev and Atlantic), Bearded Seal, Polar Bear, Brown Bear, Musk Ox and Arctic Fox.

Dates and Prices:

Dates: TBC

Leader: Ship’s expedition team

Prices: TBC

Travel to Russia is currently not advised by the UK government as the country is on the "amber list". Hopefully this will be possible in 2022 without too many restrictions and until there is greater clarity we do not recommend making bookings.


  • Whale Bone Alley, Yttygram Island, Chukotka
  • Stoat, Chukotka
  • Arctic Redpoll, Chukotka
  • Chukotka
  • Black-legged Kittiwake, Chukotka
  • Polar Bears, Wrangel Island
  • Polar Bears, Wrangel Island
  • Wrangel Lemming, Wrangel Island
  • Aurora, North East Passage
  • Steller's Eiders, North East Passage
  • Polar Bears, North East Passage
  • Mammoth bones. Taymyr Peninsula
  • Siberian Brown Lemming, Taymyr Peninsula
  • Taymyr form of Herring Gull, Taymyr Peninsula
  • King Eider, Taymyr Peninsula
  • Arctic Fox, Taymyr Peninsula
  • Laptev Walrus plus Polar Bear, Taymyr Peninsula
  • Cape Chelyuskin, most northerly point in Eurasia
  • Bearded Seal, North East Passage
  • Ivory Gulls at dusk, North East Passage
  • Purple Sandpiper, Franz Josef Land
  • Glacier, Franz Josef Land
  • Purple Sandpiper, Franz Josef Land
  • Kittiwake colony, Rubini Rock, Franz Josef Land
  • Murmansk WWII memoral
  • Murmansk
  • Ivory Gulls, Severnaya Zemlya
  • 'Blue' Fulmar, North East Passage
  • Sea Ice, Franz Josef Land
  • "Devi's Marbles" (spherical geodes), Franz Josef
  • glacier, Franz Josef Land

Tour overview

The North East Passage which links Scandinavia with the Pacific Ocean via the northern coast of Russia is a route that only a handful of expedition ships have ever completed. With recent changes in the summer sea ice conditions, however, it is now possible to complete this transit and follow in the footsteps of some truly great Arctic explorers.

Our friends at Heritage Expeditions in New Zealand completed the first ever two-way expedition sailing from the remote town of Anadyr through the Bering Strait and then all the way to the Russian Arctic city of Murmansk (famous as the destination for the Arctic convoys during the Second World War) and then back to Anadyr in 2017 and there are plans to repeat this epic journey again in the coming years.

Assuming you sail in a westerly direction, the ship will spend the first few days exploring Chukotka where there will be a mixture of landings and zodiac cruises. Potential destinations include the seabird cliffs at Preobrazhnaya Bay, ‘Whale Bone Alley’ on Yttygran Island (which is considered one of the most important archaeological sites in the entire Arctic and the possibility of landing at Cape Dezhnev which is the most easterly point on the Eurasian continent.

The ship will then spend three days on Wrangel Island which is a World Heritage site and home to some exceptional wildlife. This area is considered to have the highest density of denning Polar bears anywhere in the Arctic and this was spectacularly demonstrated on the eastbound trip in 2017 when 241 bears were spotted in the vicinity of a Bowhead Whale carcass, smashing the previous world record for the number of bears in one location by a factor of three !!

As well as bears, there is plenty of other wildlife to look for on Wrangel Island and whilst the breeding Snow Geese are likely to have already left for warmer climes, there will be opportunities to look for Musk Ox, the two endemic species of lemming, Walrus and Snowy Owl. Whilst out at sea, it is possible to find a variety of cetaceans including the rarely seen Bowhead Whale.

Continuing westwards, the ship will traverse the East Siberian Sea making landings at remote and almost unknown islands such as Ayon, Medvezhyi and the New Siberia Islands. Although most avian migrants will have already headed south by now, we should find both King and Steller’s Eiders, with excellent opportunities for more Polar Bear encounters.

Entering the Laptev Sea, we will head for Taymyr Peninsula where in 2017, those aboard enjoyed some fantastic encounters with the very poorly known Laptev Walrus which is only known from this region. For those keen on gulls, this is also the place to find the highly distinctive Taymyr form of Herring Gull which may warrant recognition as a full species.

As on Wrangel Island, one of the fascinating aspects of exploring this area is the chance to find tusks and bones of Woolly Mammoths and other now extinct Arctic species. Indeed it is believed that the species of mammoth found on Wrangel was the last to die out with the final individuals surviving until only 3,700 years ago.

Passing the most northerly point in Eurasia, Cape Chelyuskin, the ship will cross the Laptev Sea before reaching the Severnaya Zemlya archipelago of islands which were only discovered in 1914-15. There should be more chances to find Polar Bears but we will also hope to visit a colony of Ivory Gulls. Whilst the birds will have long finished breeding, they tend to hang around the colony and we should get some excellent views.

After crossing the Kara Sea, the final landings of the expedition will be on the remote islands of Franz Josef Land. Here we should find our final subspecies of Walrus, the Atlantic form, and other possibilities include Bowhead Whale and Narwhal.

As well as the wildlife, there is some spectacular geology here including a huge colony of guillemots and Kittiwakes that breed on some stunning basalt columns and at Cape Trieste on Alger Island we should be able to marvel at the “Devil’s Marbles” (spherical geodes) which litter the shore like giant stone footballs.

After three days enjoying the ice, bears and spectacular scenery of Franz Josef Land, we will reluctantly head back to sea and after crossing the Barents Sea, the expedition will conclude in the Arctic City of Murmansk from where it is possible to fly back to the UK via Moscow or St Petersburg.

Itinerary (sample only)

Day 1: Anadyr, Chukotka.  Board vessel and sail.

Day 2: Preobrazhnaya Bay

Day 3: Whale Bone Alley, Yttygran Island

Day 4: Cape Dezhnev

Day 5: Kolyuchin Island

Days 6-8: Wrangel Island

Day 9: East Siberia Sea

Day 10: Ayon Island

Day 11: Medvezhyi Islands

Day 12: East Siberia Sea

Days 13-14: East Siberia Islands

Days 15-16: Laptev Sea

Days 17-19: Severnaya Zemlya Islands

Days 20-21: Kara Sea

Days 22-24: Franz Josef Land

Days 25-26: Barents Sea

Day 27: Murmansk




NB: As applies to all expedition cruises, the exact itinerary will be subject to weather and local conditions. All landings are subject to government permissions.

Potential Seabirds (selected species only)

Tundra Bean Goose, Harlequin Duck, Steller's Eider, King Eider, Stejneger's Scoter, Black Scoter, Ivory Gull, Glaucous Gull, Vega Gull, Long-tailed Skua, Brunnich's Guillemot, Black Guillemot, Parakeet Auklet, Least Auklet, Crested Auklet, Horned Puffin, Tufted Puffin, Fork-tailed Storm-petrel, Short-tailed Shearwater, Pelagic Cormorant.

Potential Landbirds (selected species only)

Rock Ptarmigan, Purple Sandpiper, Snowy Owl, Grey-cheeked Thrush, Fieldfare, Bluethroat, Arctic Redpoll, Snow Bunting.

Potential Cetaceans and other Marine Mammals (selected species only)

Bowhead Whale, Fin Whale, Humpback Whale, Grey Whale, Northern Minke Whale, North Pacific Right Whale, Orca, Beluga, Walrus (Pacific, Laptev and Atlantic), Largha Seal, Bearded Seal, Ringed Seal.

Potential Land Mammals (selected species only)

Polar Bear, Brown Bear, Arctic Fox, Red Fox, Wolf, Wolverine, Musk Ox, Arctic Ground Squirrel, Wrangel Collared Lemming, Wrangel Lemming, Northern Pika.