You’ve traveled to the Caribbean, around the Greek Islands, down the Danube River in Europe, and maybe you’ve even made it to Antarctica – what’s left for you in the world of sailing?
Why not drive north, waaaay north; high above the Arctic Circle lies Wrangel Island. This may just be the last new place on earth to sail. Even though it was remote, it just got a little easier to get there. Heritage Expeditions sails a new ship from Nome Alaska to Wrangel starting in their 2022 season!
This unknown island at the top of the earth has historically been in a tug of war between the US, Russia and other countries, with it now finally part of Russia’s Far East. You may have heard of Wrangel Island because of its tragic expedition history with the famous and failed last trip of the Karlukbut currently it is home to some of the most rare and endangered animals and landscapes in the world.
A very different kind of Arctic island
The island boasts the world’s largest population of Pacific walrus and the highest density of polar bears. It is a large feeding area for the gray whale that migrates from Mexico and the most northern nesting site for 100 migratory bird species, very endangered. Currently, 417 species and subspecies of vascular plants have been identified on the island, double those of any other Arctic tundra of comparable size and more than any other Arctic island.
Wrangel Island has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2004 this island is a unique gem in the High Arctic that few people experience.
Expedition to Wrangel Island
Of course, if you go to the last place on earth to sail, do not expect it to be your typical vessel! I was a passenger on Heritage Expedition’s Spirit of Enderby, a Russian Pole Expedition ship based in New Zealand.
Heritage is known for their travels to introduce you to the remote, unfamiliar places like the Subantarctic Islands I went to a few years ago (LINK) and rarely seen islands and cultures in Melanesia (LINK).
Expedition sailing is more robust, unplanned and unpredictable than the typical speed you may be used to. Granted, you still eat like a royalty, but the ship I was on was small and basic. I stayed in a basic cabin with 2 bunk beds, a desk and sink. The ship carried 50 passengers and an expedition team.
Heritage Adventurer – A New Ship for 2022
Heritage Expeditions used the Pandemic to make big changes – they purchased a new flagship for their polar expeditions! I loved the Spirit of Enderby, but it was definitely not for everyone. The new Heritage Adventurers will offer a mix of expedition-style travel and a touch of elegance.
The Heritage Adventurer is often referred to as the ‘Great Lady of Pool Exploration’ because of her celebrated history and refined design, she was purpose built for adventure at Finland’s Rauma shipyard in 1991 and specifically designed for Pool Exploration.
As the new flagship, the Heritage Adventurer will sail with 140 guests and will go beyond the Arctic and Antarctic circle. all the Heritage Routes.
5 reasons to sail to Wrangel Island
1. Rare game to see and photograph
Polar bears from Wrangel Island
The island has been referred to in the past as the Polar Bear Maternity ward because it has the largest population of polar bears that freely make Wrangel Island their home for a few months. Some days we would take out the zodiac and see more than 10 in one area.
On top of that, the crew is excellent at educating you about Polar Bear safety as well as the current challenges the bears face with the disappearing ice. In fact, one of the few areas where the United States and Russia actually work as a team is on polar bear research around Wrangel Island.
The expedition team consists of PhDs of botany, marine biologists, expert bird watchers, biological scientists, as well as multilingual speakers who grew up in the Chokotka region of Russia through which we traveled. You will definitely get off the ship smarter and more informed.
Birds and amazing bird cliffs
This trip to the Russian Arctic is a dream for bird watchers; Eels, Snow Geese, Kittiwakes, Parrots, Snowy Owls, Guillemots, and more. On top of that, you will see some of the most densely populated bird cliffs in the world.
More Rare Arctic Wildlife
You will also see whales, walruses, seals, muskrats, reindeer, arctic foxes and lemmings. Plus – Wrangel is the last known ‘home’ of mammoths and you will hardly spread mammoth bones on the island.
2. Remote Russian Culture
Stop at remote villages in the Chukotka region and see how life is created above the Arctic Circle. The villages are a mixture of Eskimos, Chukchis and Russians.
These remote villages are few and far between the Heritage Adventurer passengers are actually the only exposure to tourists they will get all year round, so they really know how to hold a show!
My visit to Lavrentiya was full of splendor while the locals held a cultural dance demonstration and laid out a festival of local food for us to try; whale and walrus meat, tundra berries, oil dumplings, tea and tundra salad.
My day in Lavrentiya meeting and interacting with the locals was a highlight for me.
3. Set foot on the Tundra landscape
Life happens near the ground in the Arctic. There is a massive amount of plant life, but you need to take a quick look as life on the tundra is very short! The soft, spongy arctic tundra is a fascinating landscape to see – and walk on.
In July / August the tundra flowers bloom. Nothing grows on the Artic Tundra more than 2 feetso it looks rather barren, but it’s a carpet of beautiful, colorful flowers and trees if you look closely at the ground.
During the voyage we landed when the coast was free of polar bears, and we were able to do some long tundra walks and hikes that we appreciated this harsh but beautiful environment even further.
4. Cross the Bering Street and the Arctic Circle
When I traveled to Wrangel Island, our journey began Anaydr Russia. We rented a small flight from Nome Alaska to Russia and boarded the ship in Russia.
From 2022, however, it has become a little easier to get to Wrangel Island. The Heritage Adventurer will begin the voyage from Nome Alaska and sail through Bering Street. It cuts out a pretty expensive charter flight!
Plus – it means you can also extend your trip in the beautiful and quaint Nome, which is one of my favorite remote destinations in Alaska! Nome is a quaint town where you can experience real Alaska life. There are a lot of unusual things to do in Nome if you extend your trip.
5. Go where few people have gone before
I know that travel to remote destinations is not for everyone; for those who do like it (like me), however, Wrangel Island is one of the gems of remote travel. The only way to get to Wrangel Island is through an expedition cruise and very few permits are given to cruise companies.
When I visited it, Heritage Expeditions was just one shipping company going to Wrangel – however, this island gem is spotted and now several shipping companies are starting to make the move. Heritage Expeditions has a long history of sailing in the region since 2013, and therefore knows the landings, history and culture best.
No one knows what the future holds for travel permits to this region, so go now when you can!
Cruise in COVID
Under the new protocols, from 1 November 2021, Heritage Expeditions will require every guest, crew and staff member on board its vessels to be vaccinated with a WHO-approved COVID-19 vaccine. Heritage Expeditions continues to monitor all guests before boarding and complete vessel cleansing between voyages.
“As one of the few shipping companies that has been able to operate successfully and safely despite COVID-19, Heritage Expeditions has a proven track record of ensuring the safety of all guests, expedition staff and crew while on board. We take what we have learned and strengthen it to continue to protect everyone who gets on board our vessels, ”explained Aaron Russ, owner and expedition leader.
Other Unusual Russian Far East Cruises
Make sure you check them all Heritage’s Russia’s Far East Routes for incredible wildlife in this little seen part of the world. In addition, Heritage operates a Northeast Passage go for 21 days. Only a handful of passenger vessels have ever completed a transit of this waterway, but recent changes in summer sea ice conditions mean that it is now possible for a short time every summer.
I understand many people are not ready to sail yet, but when I get a chance to sail with Heritage Expeditions, I will do it! I know they will take me somewhere off the beaten path and expose me to things I have never seen or heard before.
And that’s why I travel – to learn new things and satisfy my curiosity.
Mark your calendars for next summer for the ultimate voyage, head north… road north… on an expedition cruise to Wrangel Island.