Tag Archives: kurils-2014

The three Kurilsks of the Kurils – your guide.

The Kuril Islands are bleak – plain and simple. Extreme weather, poor communications with the continent, a 100% mark-up on all imported goods (and just about all goods are imported from mainland Russia), and a constant threat of natural disasters such as volcano eruptions, earthquakes and tsunami!

It takes a tough individual to survive here; an even tougher individual to love the place. However, there are things to love about it; you just need to know where to look…

The total land mass of all the Kurils is slightly less than that of Israel or Slovenia, or about half the size of Belgium. However, its population is only around 20,000, half of which lives in three towns: (i) Severo-Kurilsk (North-Kurilsk), (ii) Kurilsk, and (iii) Yuzhno-Kurilsk (South-Kurilsk). All very logical.

Surprisingly, the first two have the official status of town, yet their populations combined are smaller than that of the third, which is officially deemed an ‘urban type settlement’. (Logical?) There are also a few tiny hamlets plus seasonal fishing villages which come to life in the summer after hibernating through the winter.

So what’s it like living on the Kuril Islands?

Kurils islands, Tyatya volcano

Read on: your complete guide to Kuril settlements…

The Kurils: Why, where, how.

So, where on earth did the idea of a cruise, not around tourist-friendly tropical islands, but around mostly uninhabited – for a reason – polar-esque ones, come from?

It’s quite simple really…

My favorite place for an annual August ‘hard reset’ is Kamchatka: volcanos, geysers, hot springs, bears, and other similarly extreme extremities. But… well, I’ve done Kamchatka – and more than once. So something different but very similar was needed…

Now, every time I’m on Kamchatka the locals there are always saying “but on the Kurils they’re much better…”, and so on. Then kindred spirit Olga Rumyantseva had already been on the Kurils and wouldn’t stop raving about them… So my curiosity had been growing and growing for quite some years – until it reached a critical mass and it was decided, er, by moi – that the next annual August reboot trip would be to the Kurils.

After deciding where to go – about a year ago – the preparation for the Kuril trip began, only to end a year later. The ‘who’s going’ was established (mostly lovers of extreme tourism and extreme nature appreciation), the optimal route was calculated, the Kuril territory was surveyed, and the most suitable vessel for the trip was selected. Crucially, all participants were informed that this wasn’t going to be gym>beach>pina colada>spa>Cuba libre>paperback>single malt…tourism. This was wild marine-based tourism in a harsh climate on harsher islands, with neither Internet nor cell coverage.

Back to basics, back to nature.

Kuril Islands

Read on: 20 days on the Athens..

Flickr photostream

  • Jordan / Nov 2022
  • Jordan / Nov 2022
  • Jordan / Nov 2022
  • Jordan / Nov 2022

Instagram photostream

Onekotan: None better than.

I’m not sure why, but for some reason volcanos are my fave natural phenomena.

I’ve clambered up scores around the globe, and seen even more from up above in helicopters – more again from the side. The views they all provide are just breathtaking. Santorini, Mount Fuji, Gorely (before the eruption), Mutnovka, Ksudach… I’ll have to tot them all up one day.

All volcanos are unique in their own special way, and each is beautiful in its own special way, so to compare and rank them is no simple task.

However, now I know which volcano tops my list of the best of the best.

Easy: it’s the Krenitsyn volcano on the Kuril island of Onekotan. It’s also a rather exclusive volcano – just for the more discerning connoisseurs of volcanism; after all – it doesn’t even have its own Wiki page in English :).

The views it has in store are absolutely magical.

The almost perfectly round caldera is colossal – stretching seven (7) kilometers across. Inside the caldera there’s a correspondingly capacious lake, out of which peeps the cone of a new volcano (height 1324m). The volcano’s surrounded by the sea on all sides; the lake’s at a height of around 400 meters above sea level, and its depth is about 200 meters. That’s the basic run-down of this fantastical phenomenon of nature.

Kuril islands, Krenitsyn volcano

The most beautiful volcano in the world, according to @e_kaspersky – KrenitsynTweet

Read on: The view from up above is also impressive…

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog

Kuril KLimate.

To get to see real tundra it turns out you don’t need to go to the Far North (or far south – say, to Tierra del Fuego); for something very similar to tundra conditions can be found in perfectly moderate latitudes. For example, on the Kurils.

Kuril islands

Here on the Kurils Mother Nature must have been having an off-day when putting the finishing touches to their climate. On one side of the island there’s the cold Pacific Ocean; on the other – the bitterly freezing Sea of Okhotsk. If the wind blows from the south it can be warm and humid; if from the north – a Siberian chill can take over. So it gets a bit muddled. But generally in winter here it’s always very cold – with snow up to the waist; while in summer it’s just so-so cold – but always humid, plus foggy, plus drizzly, plus rainy.

Read on:

Gobsmacked on Kunashir.

Besides cha-cha, on Kunashir island there’s still plenty to check out…

…Ludicrous lava columns on the coast, the fantastic fumaroles of Mendeleyeva volcano, and the magnificent mud baths in Golovnina’s caldera, for example. Bathing in a 30°С muddy lake didn’t quite do it for me, but the volcanism of Mendeleyeva – especially the lava columns there – now that was something else. Quite simply gobsmackingly unforgettable.

Kuril islands

Read on: Basalt columns on Kunashir – breathtaking!…

Shikotan – the Kuril New Zealand.

If you’ve ever been to New Zealand, and then one day you were to wake up on Shikotan island (er, without knowing how you got there, or why were you asleep for so long, etc., etc.), you’d probably think you’ve been teleported to NZ. They’re just so similar!

Non-volcanic gently rolling grassy landscapes, nano-bamboo, picturesque and seemingly carefully positioned trees. All neatly trimmed, colored, and – you’d think – Photoshopped, and sparkling under the inevitable Kuril rain. If sheep and sun were added – it’d be the carbon copy of NZ – somewhere around the center of the North Island.

Kuril Islands - Shikotan

Read on: Only the hobbits’ cubbyholes are missing…

Atsonupuri: The Aston Martin of volcanos

The Kurils are all volcanic. On the 56 islands that make up the archipelago there are a total of 68 volcanos, 36 of which are still smoking.

There are small volcanoes up to two kilometers high, right down to mere volcanic ‘pimples’. Throughout our expedition we clambered up and across seven of them, in doing so totting up around six km on the y-axis and about a hundred on the x. The smoldering seven we conquered were as follows: EbekoKrenitsinaUshishirZavaritskovoAtsonupuriTyatya, and Mendeleyeva.

Fortunately almost all the climbs are light and non-mountaineering-esque; sometimes they’re long and tedious, but nevertheless never too tough. It’s a matter of just taking it easy and slowly, getting the lungs working at full capacity, getting a bit of a sweat on too, and before you know it in two or three or four hours you’re at the top. And then it all becomes worth it – the beauty, the bewilderment, and the pure bliss. 360-degree awesomeness – outwards, and also inwards – into the caldera or crater. Then it’s clickity-clack on the Leica, then back down to the bottom again. That was the routine most of the time. Apart from Atsonupuri on the island of Iturup

Atsonupuri volcano

Atsonupuri volcano

Read on: I knew it would be hard, but not torture!…

The Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything.

Many of you will know that the answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything is 42. But no one – NO ONE! – including Douglas Adams, the one who came up with the Ultimate Question and its answer, knows why it’s 42, and not 17, 41 or 43. I didn’t know earlier either. Now I do. And you won’t believe it…

Now, I didn’t go looking for the answer to this eternal question. It was the other way round – the answer found me: In a hot river on the island of Iturup!

So, the Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything is this: ’42’. That’s the temperature of the water in this magical river.

The ultimate question

Read on: what a place!…

Island No. 16: Simushir.

Here we are with more adventures on the Kuril Islands

Our expedition went like this: new day – new island. In all there were 18 days, and 12 islands (if we include Sakhalin). Each day it was a new route, new outstanding views, new fantastic experiences.

The day would normally start with our motorboats landing on a new, unknown shore. Sometimes that was easy, other times it was Saving-Private-Ryan-opening-scenes; almost. The sea got choppy, the weather got rainy and windy, and the adrenalin got pumping – as did the cortisol. On those days just making it to shore resembled no less than a hugely heroic deed, so we ended such days with similarly hugely heroic festivities once camp had been struck.

But on the clear days – the landings plus the ensuing day spent onshore were easy and unforced. The day on Simushir was one such day.

Simushir, Kuril Islands

Read on: running away from a typhoon…