The mountains of the Kuril Islands

The Three Brothers Rocks in the Avacha Bay along Kamchatka Coast PHOTO: Cookson Adventures

The mountains of the Kuril Islands

The Three Brothers Rocks in the Avacha Bay along Kamchatka Coast PHOTO: Cookson Adventures

Journeys

The mountains of the Kuril Islands

A superyacht expedition to this volcanic archipelago is bound to break new territory.

By Julia Zaltzman | 19 September 2019

Rising from the deep, shrouded in cloud and mystery, the remote Kuril Islands make for a magnificent sight. Stretching 1,300km northeast from Hokkaido, Japan all the way to Russia’s Kamchatka Peninsula, this volcanic archipelago is one of the last outposts of a land less trodden. Forming part of an area of tectonic instability in the Pacific Ocean referred to as the ‘Ring of Fire’, the resulting landscape ranges from temperate to sub-Arctic climate types, resulting in virgin forests, rocky shores, wide rivers and snow-capped peaks.

For superyacht owners and charter guests on the hunt for explorative ‘off the beaten track’ travel, the Kuril Islands – which are flanked by the Sea of Okhotsk to the west and the north Pacific Ocean to the east – more than deliver. Only accessed by air or water, and with no roads or railways connecting Russia’s Kamchatka Peninsula to the outside world, wildlife thrives in this isolated landscape. Pink salmon spawn in abundance providing a feeding frenzy in the summer months for the 20,000 brown bears that roam the volcanic terrain. Migrating orca whales pass through the icy waters on their way north, while near-threatened Stellar sea lions languor salubriously on the black-ash shoreline.

The mountains of the Kuril Islands

Foraging bears on Kurile Lake PHOTO: Cookson Adventures

The mountains of the Kuril Islands

Foraging bears on Kurile Lake PHOTO: Cookson Adventures

Providing an island-hopping itinerary like no other, the most direct route is to fly into Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky Airport on the Kamchatka Peninsula where yachts can provision and bunker fuel, before heading south and navigating the deep waters of the islands. “Hokkaido in northern Japan also provides refuelling facilities, but the vast area is ideally suited to long-range explorer yachts that can remain self-sufficient for prolonged stretches of time,” says Nick Davies, director of projects at Cookson Adventures, which is proactively chartering yachts in the area.

“Historically, bureaucratic complications have made it difficult to explore these relatively unchartered waters, but now an increasing number of yacht owners are looking to venture forth,” he says. “We’ve done a huge amount of research with local suppliers and contacts on the ground so that we have what is required to make it happen.”

The mountains of the Kuril Islands

The White Rocks of Iturup PHOTO: Cookson Adventures

The mountains of the Kuril Islands

The White Rocks of Iturup PHOTO: Cookson Adventures

Originally inhabited by the native Ainu people, today all 56 islands fall under Russian jurisdiction. Nearly 30 of the islands’ 300 volcanoes still erupt with spectacular regularity, and towns and villages remain sparse. Atlasov Island, the largest in the chain, boasts a volcano of epic proportion, and the chance to hike its 2,300km-high slopes. Further down lies Simushir Island, which boasts a collection of Cold War relics in its shimmering bay, including an abandoned Russian submarine base. Back at the yacht, the prospect of sea kayaking and kite-surfing in whale-filled waters beckons, as does Yankicha Island and its pools of gargling springs and dramatic mountain ranges.

Expert wildlife guides, helicopter operators, and exhibition leaders are on hand to bring the entire adventure to life, along with active conservation activities and careful wildlife engagement. From sea otters and hundreds of species of seabirds to Arctic foxes and peregrine falcons, these desolate lands are rich in life. Fulmars, kittiwakes, and Crested Auklets can be seen diving into the sea where they can stay for up to four minutes hunting for lunch, while Arctic Warblers, Middendorff’s Grasshopper Warblers and more are easily spotted feeding on land.

The mountains of the Kuril Islands

Arctic fox on Yankicha Island PHOTO: Cookson Adventures

The mountains of the Kuril Islands

Arctic fox on Yankicha Island PHOTO: Cookson Adventures

“The scenery, due to the volcanic nature of the islands, means the mountains rise quite sharply out of the sea, which is pretty unique,” says Davies. “And the wildlife is up there with the likes of Alaska and Svalbard, but without the human footfall.”

The climate on the islands is generally severe, with long, cold, stormy winters and short and notoriously foggy summers, however there are windows of opportunity when exploration is ideal. Peak times to visit include August when the salmon run is in full flow, which means both bear viewing and fly-fishing opportunities are plentiful. For yachts equipped with a helipad, travelling by helicopter to salmon fish the streams and rivers higher up the mountains is a must, followed by an exhilarating descent by mountain bike. Alternatively, the months of April and May offer some of the best heli-skiing in the world. Few experiences can rival an adrenaline-fuelled ski to the water’s edge down Nemo Peak, on powder snow with active volcanos smoking in the background. A gentle sail into Onekotan Island’s caldera lake or a relaxing dip in one of 200 thermal springs is the ultimate way to finish, before repeating it all again the following day.

The mountains of the Kuril Islands

Take adventure in the Kurils to a new height PHOTO: Cookson Adventures

The mountains of the Kuril Islands

Take adventure in the Kurils to a new height PHOTO: Cookson Adventures

Yachts looking to explore these waters include the new superyacht La Datcha, which is looking to visit as part of its maiden voyage in 2020/21, while luxury expedition vessel Sherakhan is also planning to pass through on its 2020 world voyage.

“The mystifying Kuril Islands offer a huge, untapped potential for adventure,” says owner and captain of Sherakhan, Jan Verkerk. “This anticipated stop on our voyage is bound to break new territory for yacht charters in the region.”

Get a taste of the superyachting good life at the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show from 30 October to 3 November 2019. Get your tickets here.

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