IT’S IMPOSSIBLE NOT TO FALL IN LOVE WITH SAKHALIN AND THE KURIL ISLANDS: IT’S AS THOUGH NATURE HERSELF GATHERED ALL HER BEST ATTRIBUTES INTO ONE AREA — GRANDIOSE VOLCANOES, INNUMERABLE WATERFALLS, FANTASTICAL CLIFFS, CLEAR-BLUE LAKES, GOLDEN SUNSETS, AND LANDSCAPES THAT ARE SIMPLY OUT OF THIS WORLD. MOST IMPORTANT OF ALL IS THE ATMOSPHERE OF BEING AT ONE WITH NATURE, FAR FROM CIVILIZATION, NOISE, AND CROWDS OF TOURISTS.
TEXT: DENIS FEDOSEEV
Let’s get to know the islands of the Kuril Chain a bit better, and find out why tourists from all over the world want to come here. One visit to the only island region of Russia will leave you with unforgettable memories for the rest of your life.
Shikotan — “The Best Place”
According to one legend, the native people of Shikotan, the Ainu, named the island “The Best Place”. One thing is for certain: it’s the northernmost and largest island of the Lesser Kuril Chain. The climate here is mild, the volcanoes are dormant, and the island has no bears. But, on the other hand, it has its own Edge of the World.
The island’s main landmark is Cape Edge of the World. The cape protrudes almost a kilometre out into the Pacific Ocean, ending abruptly in cliffs of 40-50 metres. Looking out over the endless blue expanses and buffeted by a strong wind, you really do feel like you’re at the edge of the word — the nearest dry land is 5,400 kilometres east of here.
Near the cape is Nameless Bay, where the Soviet film “The Life and Adventures of Robinson Crusoe” with Leonid Kuravlyov was filmed. There are small uninhabited islands in the waters around Shikotan.
The Basalt Columns and Volcanoes of Kunashir
Kunashir is the southernmost inhabited island of the Kuril Chain. It is made up on a chain of active volcanoes: Tyatya (1,819 metres), Ruruy (1,485 metres), Mendeleev (886 metres) and Golovnin (541 metres).
It is probably the richest of the Kuril Islands in terms of its variety of landscapes, flora, and fauna, as well as in terms of landmarks. In the language of the Ainu people, the island’s name means Black. It probably earned its name thanks to the abundance of pine forests on the island, as well as the dark cone of Tyatya volcano.
Tyatya, the highest of the volcanoes and also known as “Father-Mountain”, is located in a hard-to-reach part of the island. Tourists don’t often go there, but it is still possible to get there by foot along the coast (a three-day trip, more or less), or, in good weather, by boat (trips take at least three hours). The ascent itself takes around seven hours: three hours to Otvazhny crater, then another four hours to the summit. The descent takes half the time.
Another unusual natural feature of Kunashir Island is Cape Stolbchaty. It comprises of innumerable basalt columns. They make up four-, five-, and six-sided prisms, formed by a volcanic eruption and the slow extrusion of lava, which hardened afterwards. Similar natural phenomena are incredibly rare. The cape also has the remains of cliffs, the outlines of which look like monks wearing cowls.
The Hot Springs of Iturup
Iturup is the largest island of the Kuril archipelago, and some consider it the most beautiful as well. The nature here is incredible: volcanoes stand side-by-side with thermal pools, and unusual white cliffs stand out against the background of emerald forests and dark-grey sandy beaches.
The white cliffs range from a height of 17 to 114 metres. They are formed from grey-white pumice, and have been carved into fantastical canyons and crevices by powerful erosive forces.
There are around 20 different volcanoes on Iturup. Baransky Volcano (1,134 metres) is
a popular tourist destination with a variety of hot springs, mud pools, and steam vents. Atsonupuri (1,205 metres) is considered the most beautiful volcano on the island thanks to its nearly perfect conic form. Yankito plateau is made of solidified volcanic lava. Tourists at the plateau can not only take their most “out of this world” photos, but can also admire the black western coast of the island.
Hot mineral springs, a strikingly exotic local feature, also number among Iturup’s natural resources. They are called “white gold” for their unique healing properties. There are several thermal spa complexes located on the island.
The Therapeutic thermal spa complex Zharkye Vody is located four kilometres from the village of Reidovo in the valley of the Mineralny River. Hot mineral water from deep underground allows for year-long therapeutic and relaxing baths both outdoors and in a tent, where six wooden pools are set up. You can also undergo treatments using healing muds at the complex. This is where you will leave behind problems with your joints or skin. After a therapeutic course of hydrotherapy and balneotherapy at Zharkye Vody, you’ll feel young and beautiful again, and sleep like a baby.
Another thermal spa complex, Vannochki, is the ideal place for relaxation with a view of Kuril bay and water temperatures of around 46 degrees Celsius. It is located on the coast of the Sea of Okhotsk, two kilometres from the city of Kurilsk. The gaseous waters of the complex pleasantly relax and relieve tension. At the complex, you will find peace and tranquillity, and feel strength returning to your reborn body.
There is a camping centre at the foot of Baransky volcano, located on the largest (by volume) thermal river in the world, known as the Kipyaschaya (Boiling) River. The temperature of its water is almost
These are the most picturesque mineral springs of Iturup island, and in addition to their therapeutic and relaxing effects, you will experience the true delight of their bright colours and the incredible beauty of the local nature.
Don’t forget that you need to be careful in visiting hot springs, and before a thermal bath you should consult a specialist.
A journey to the Kuril Islands could become the most remarkable experience of your life — don’t put it off!TLR
HOW TO GET THERE
The Kuril Islands of Kunashir, Shikotan and Iturup are more accessible than they seem. Aurora airline’s flights from Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk to Iturup or Kunashir are conveniently coordinated with the helicopter flights of Aviashelf airlines, connecting the two islands with one another. This creates the possibility of flying to Shikotan through Iturup in one day (on Mondays and Wednesdays), and from Shikotan to Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk via Kunashir (on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Fridays). Aviashelf airlines carries out regular flights on Mi-8 MTV-1 helicopters between the Iturup, Kunashir, and Shikotan islands of the Kuril Chain. The cost of a flight in one direction runs from 2,300 to 3,100 rubles ($30-40).
Aurora advance ticket sales are carried out on their website, flyaurora.ru