Arrive in Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky, the administrative, cultural and industrial centre of Kamchatka and home to around 180,000 people. It is a remote poor city with little infrastructure, in a dramatic and beautiful setting; built on a series of high hills on the Pacific harbour of Avachinskaya Bay, surrounded by a chain of five towering volcanoes, two of which are still active.
From the airport, you’ll be transferred to your hotel in town, where you will take your time to relax and acclimatise. Meet a guide for a short briefing on a tour ahead. You’ll be welcomed to Kamchatka this evening with a group dinner in a city restaurant.
This morning our journey to the Kingdom of Brown Bears kicks into high gear, with a morning flight by MI-8 helicopter to Kurilskoye (Kuril) Lake, deep in the heart of brown bear country!
One hour into our flight we’ll make a stopover at the Ksudach Volcano (if weather permits). We’ll take a walking excursion visiting the deep blue crater lake of Schtubelya, situated inside the volcano, and to a lovely waterfall where water cascades from the crater. Volcanic hot springs create a ‘hot beach’ on the lake’s shore, where it’s possible to take an invigorating swim. Following your dip, our chopper flight continues the short distance to Kamchatka’s famed Kuril Lake.
Our home for the next three nights is in a very basic but cozy wooden lodge. A wraparound deck affords a gorgeous view of the lake and surrounding mountains. It’s often possible to watch bears fishing along the lake’s edge without even leaving the grounds of the lodge! In the afternoon, you’ll have time to enjoy excursions along the lake’s pumice rock beach, where you’ll be briefed about the next day’s activities.
Kuril Lake is without a doubt one of the best places on earth to spot and photograph brown bears in their natural habitat, so the next two days are devoted to observing these mighty mammals as they hunt the salmon that gather here in their millions during the summer months.
We’ll use a mix of a motorboat and walking excursions with experienced local wardens in order to maximise our chances of seeing bears up-close and observing different behaviours.
The bear viewing platform (250m from our lodge) is located at the mouth of the many rivers that drain into the lake, providing awesome opportunities to take Nat Geo worthy photos of the bears fishing for migrating salmon. Our longer walking excursions will lead us to a lush summer meadow where the bears feed on wild berries and visit other spawning streams further from the lodge. Along these streams, you’ll be able to see the spawning salmon in shallow water and many signs of a large number of birds in the area. There’s a good chance of spotting bears fishing only metres away as you walk along the banks of the streams.
In the morning we’ll take a final stroll around Kurilskoye Lake and head up to the bear-viewing platform for a final opportunity to bag a prize-winning shot of the magnificent beasts in their element.
Our afternoon MI-8 helicopter flight will drop us off on the banks of the Khodutka River for a bathe in the thermal hot water springs – the largest in Kamchatka. The water bubbles out on to a section of tundra located just under the Khodutka Volcano, forming a small stream. We board the MI-8 once more and set out for our camp on the Mutnovsky Volcano plateau, where our 4 or 6WD truck and team of volcano guides will be waiting for us. Accommodation for this evening is in a tented camp under the stars.
After breakfast at the camp, we set out for a full day trek up the Mutnovsky volcano. With two options for the walk depending on the group’s ability, the trek is an enjoyable adventure for everyone, with the highlight being a stroll into the active caldera.
The first trekking option covers just under 7km, with a rise of 600m. A gentle stroll soon starts to climb steadily on the bedded volcanic rock of the Mutnovsky slopes, following a stream which emerges from the caldera gorge ahead. The second option is a long walk but with a lesser climb. A 6WD bus will take you as far as possible on a track below the hills of Skalisty and Dvugorby, two 20,000-year-old volcanoes. Beyond the track, a foot trail climbs past old bore holds spouting steam, with views of a number of peaks in the distance. The route makes a long traverse on a mix of rough tundra, lava blocks and banks of air-fall ash and pumice. It crosses three broad snowfields before a final rise to the mouth of the caldera gorge. The caldera floor is at an altitude of 1,540m, which is still 800m below the ice-capped summit of Mount Mutnovsky.
A picnic lunch will take place some distance from the active fumaroles. Afterwards, we’ll return to the campsite along the outward route. Dinner will be enjoyed back at camp.
Today’s destination is Gorely (1,829m), one of the most active volcanoes in Kamchatka. From our campsite, the 6WD heads north around the edge of a large lake that lies in the unfilled eastern crescent of the Gorely caldera.
From the lake flats, the walk up the huge shield volcano is about 5km, with a steady 750m height gain. We’ll cross a mix of grassy tundra with dwarf willows and bare strips of basaltic lava and lava flow formations. The magnificent panoramic view in front of us looks out over a sudden, vertical descent into the active crater. Over 100m down, a hot acidic lake has active fumaroles around its margin and beneath the surface, thanks to Gorely’s recent steam eruptions.
After returning back along the trail, we re-join our vehicle and hit the road, rambling south to our next destination, the stunning Paratunka Valley. Check into hotel and enjoy a relaxing day’s end swim in a pool filled with thermal hot water.
Today, we’ll enjoy the day cruising and discovering the wildlife-rich waters of the Avacha Bay.
A boat trip (6 hours) out into the bay is a very relaxing way of gaining an alternative view of the splendid setting of Petropavlovsk and its dramatic volcanoes. Departing from a pier near the centre of town, the expanse of the hilly city soon falls into perspective. Further toward the middle of the bay, both Koryaksky and Avacha volcanoes come into view behind the city. Near the mouth of the bay, the Three Brothers are tall finger-like sea stacks, whose rock faces rise vertically out of the water. The cliffs around the bay house many colonies of seabirds in their natural habitats, and puffins are commonly seen among many other types of seabird. Hot lunch is aboard.
This day, we also visit the Volcanology Museum with its spectacular photographs of most of the volcanoes. Return to Petropavlovsk sometime in the afternoon.
Today the choice is yours to either enjoy free day exploring Petropavolvsk at your leisure, or join an optional* scenic helicopter flight to the World Heritage site of the Valley of the Geysers and the crater of the mighty Uzon volcano.
The Valley of Geysers is the only geyser field in Eurasia and the second largest concentration of geysers in the world. This cluster of around 90 geysers, fumaroles and hot springs in this valley were only discovered in 1941. They lie above the marginal fractures of the oldest Uzon caldera and periodically expel hot water in spectacular jet streams.
The MI-8 helicopter will take you on a flight (about 1h 15min) over Karymsky (active) volcano and Maly Semyachik volcano with its spectacular acid crater lake, and finally will land in the valley. The walking route (1h 30 min) goes along the wooden decking of the paths to the main observation points, from which you will see eruption of the biggest geysers, look into the “Gates to hell”, enjoy the views of the pots with boiling red clay.
After that, the helicopter will take you to Uzon Caldera (5-10min flight). During the excursion (40- 50min) you will walk along the Eastern thermal field to observe moon landscapes and volcanic activity. From here, you will fly (40 min) to the beautiful Nalychevo Valley where you will have lunch and a relaxing soak in natural thermal pools. Another 20 min flight, and you will back to the heliport.
Today marks our final day in the Kingdom of the Brown Bears. After breakfast, you’ll be transferred to the airport. Please keep in mind when planning your departure that hotel check out is at 12pm.
Full board (B,L,D)
Professional local English-speaking guide, helper, chef
*Russian visa can be arranged by 56th Parallel for an additional cost (for Australian citizens only). Apply for comprehensive visa service here.
Flights, travel insurance, visa, optional excursions, individual transfers, alcohol, tips
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