The splendor and unique qualities of Kuril Lake rival many beautiful lakes on earth. It is located in Kamchatka’s utmost south and is the second largest after Kronotskoye Lake.
Wild rocky shores, impassable scrub, remoteness from the peninsula’s capital make the lake hard to reach. However, thanks to helicopter excursions people can admire this glittering diamond of Kamchatka nature at close range and from bird’s-eye perspective!
A huge freshwater basin of volcanic origin was formed about 8,000 years ago as a result of a strong earthquake. The lake is 12 km long, 8 km wide, and about 200 meters deep.
In fine weather the flight to the lake takes one hour.
By the way, in good weather the glassy surface of the lake reflects volcanoes and mountain ridges, creating fantastic scenery, captivating both from the air and the lake’s shore. Active Ilyinsky Volcano (1,578 m) with a regular canonical dome borders the northeastern shores of the lake. Resulting from its eruptions, lava streams have formed several spectacular coves with lava islets scattered throughout the area. They are Chayachy Lake, Nizky or Low Lake, Alaid’s Heart, and the Samang Archipelago. Their domes rise to 200-300 meters.
The legend of Alaid’s Heart Island
The legend about this island dates back to ancient times. It tells about a tall and beautiful rock Alaid. The surrounding hills were small and nondescript. They envied Alaid and spread rumors about him, saying he obstructed the sun and hampered the crescent moon to rise, as the latter hooked Alaid’s top with its horn ascending the sky; the hills also accused him of giving shelter to the glacier on his slopes…Alaid couldn’t stand these accusations anymore and left the peninsula. Lake water streamed after Alaid, but it failed to catch him. That’s how the Ozernaya River was formed. But before Alaid abandoned his dear homeland, he pulled his stone heart out and put it into Kuril Lake. He finally found refuge at sea, near the Kuril Islands. He is still there, overlooking the place he had belonged to; the place where presently his stone heart lies.
The western coast is set off by an exotic volcanic ridge Dikiy Greben or Wild Crest 1,080 meters high.
Several streams flow into the lake, but only one flows out – the Ozernaya River. Four kilometers from the river source is an extremely attractive monument of nature – Kutkhiny Baty Rocks.
This monument of nature is a fanciful pumice rock formation, 4 km from the source of the Ozernaya River (Kuril Lake). Being 110 meters high, they were formed by periodic water and wind erosion. The legend recorded by Stepan Krasheninnikov says these “boats” (resembling cutout canoes or pirogues) were once placed by the wise Kutkhu crow on a shore to dry, but later he forgot about them. The Itelmens – Kamchatka natives – revered Kutkhu as a supreme deity. The word “Baty” stands for “long boats”, thus Kutkhiny Baty means Kutkhu’s boats. Indeed, the pumice rocks resemble vertically placed boats ready to be used at any moment.
The lake is unique not only by its natural splendor.
On the shores of protected Teplaya or Warm Bay, located at the base of Ilyinsky Volcano, there are hot springs with water temperature reaching +45 ºС. Here, among lava boulders with sparse growth of birch trees and elfin wood bears sometimes swim.
Kuril Lake is one of the world’s largest spawning grounds of wild salmon. Its waters team with millions of sockeye! In August the water surface is “boiling” with running fish.
The spawning period lasts for a long time – from July till March. It accounts for specific fauna around the lake area. First of all, are the Kamchatka brown bears gathering there in hundreds in summer months. Bears are quiet and trustful as they are protected by South Kamchatka Sanctuary and unaware of human treachery and firearms. Scientists, tourists, and photographers come to the lake to watch bears in their natural habitat. Not only bears but also river otters, foxes, and sea eagles can be spotted there feasting on salmon.
It is safe for tourists and KamchatNIRO Institute employees to stay and work in the sanctuary as the territory is enclosed with electric wire preventing bears from going outside.
The bird world of the green islands is diverse. Here is one of the largest colonies of slaty-backed gulls with the population of 1,500 pairs. In winter, birds of prey gather in large amounts there – hundreds of Steller’s sea eagles, white-tailed sea eagles, dozens of golden eagles. Once even a bald eagle was spotted there.
Hundreds of whooper swans and up to two thousand ducks winter in the lake’s open waters. Finally, the lake is a place where numerous passerines stop before they start migration via Lopatka Cape.
Helicopter tours to one of Kamchatka gems – Kuril Lake – are provided by Vityaz-Aero Aviation Company, while tours are organized by Vityaz-Travel Company.
Every tour is conducted by an experienced guide, who meets tourists at the airport and accompanies them throughout the trip. After the first landing on the route the group is met by a federal inspector from Kronotsky Nature Reserve escorting the tourists during the excursion.
A seven-hour trip is fascinating and full of events. In good weather tourists have a boat trip along the shores of Severnaya Bay, the Samang Archipelago, and Alaid’s Heart Island, watching fishing bears. After the trip the tourists have lunch, and then they fly on to the caldera of Ksudach Volcano to walk on a hot beach of Kluchevskoye volcanic lake; the tourists are allowed to take a piece of genuine and plentiful volcanic pumice.
The trip is finished at Khodutkinskye Hot Springs where tourists can swim in thermal waters.
Khodutkinskye Hot Springs are found 130 km from Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky in the valley of the Pravaya Khodutki. The thermal water comes from numerous gryphons and gathers in one stream which turns into a river 30 meters wide and up to 1.5 meters deep. The river doesn’t freeze even in winter making it good for swimming throughout theyear.
The best and most popular season to visit Kuril Lake is mid-July through mid-September.
A trip costs 36,000 rubles for nonresidents and 28,000 rubles for the peninsula residents. The company offers discounts for families, disabled people, participants of WW2, and siege survivors.
Visit Kuril Lake to experience unforgettable emotions!
Close to Nikolayevka village is a comfortable airport belonging to the peninsula’s principal helicopter company Vityaz-Aero.
The airport has modern design and conveniences. The hall is decorated with flowers; there are comfortable armchairs; a VIP lounge; a lounge for mothers and children, and a café. The departure lounge is equipped with TVs.
There are two souvenir shops offering craftwork made by local craftsmen and women. There is an exclusive offer – tourists can be seen off and met by Koritev ethnic youth ensemble. Here, in the place where Russia starts, you will be charmed by dances and tunes performed with drums by Kamchatka natives dressed in ethnic costumes of leather and fur and trimmed with glass beads. You will get acquainted with Kamchatka culture.
Every confirmed passenger is informed by phone about the helicopter and transfer departure time. The clients are provided with a free transfer from a bus station in Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky to the airport. On arrival the passengers are delivered to their hotel(s) on a comfortable bus.
Flight safety is the company’s priority. Its main mission is to provide all Kamchatka residents and guests of the peninsula with affordable transportation and excursions. Unfortunately, high taxes and fuel charges make this difficult to realize. However, a flight is performed even if it is non-lucrative.
By the way
Two helicopters, one crew of three pilots, and twelve employees in total were when the famous in Kamchatka Vityaz-Aero Aviation Company started in 2009.
At present, Vityaz-Aero is one of Russia’s five largest light aviation companies. It has 25 helicopters and over 200 highly-qualified employees having ten thousand hour flying time with a permit to work at the altitude of over 3,000 meters and honorary titles “Excellent Pilot”, “Excellent Aeroflot Pilot”, “Honored Pilot of the Russian Federation”.
Despite its young age, the company has won a sound reputation of devoted to aviation professionals.
The company offers a wide spectrum of transportation: passenger, baggage, cargo, and mail delivery to remote areas in Kamchatka; participation in search and rescuing operation for those who need urgent medical help on sea vessels and hard to reach places of the peninsula. Assistance in finding forest fire sources and their extinguishing; flights for Gazprom and researching organizations; prospecting expeditions for geologists. Cooperation with KamchatNIRO, the Institute of Contemporary Volcanism, Kronotsky Nature Reserve, Yuzhno-Kamchatsky and Bystrinsky Sanctuaries, Volcanoes of Kamchatka Nature Park; transportation of heli-skiers, hunters, and anglers to remote hunting and fishing grounds…
Thanks to the company, several thousand tourists have already visited sacred places in Kamchatka with stops on volcanoes at heights of up to 3,000 meters, including the Valley of Geysers, caldera of Uzon Volcano, and Kuril Lake.
The numbers of tourists showing interest have been growing continually: in summer 2015, eleven helicopters daily flew to Kuril Lake and the Valley of Geysers. In total, the amount of foreign and Russian tourists who visited Kamchatka sacred places with Vityaz-Aero has more than doubled from 2,000 to 5,000 people. A surge in demand for helicopter tours is expected in 2016. The company is ready to accept new guests.
Information about helicopter tours across Kamchatka is available on the phones: 8-914-020-4040, 8-914-020-3434 and on the site of Vityaz-Travel www.vityaz.travel
This article was published with permission from Kamchatka Explore Magazine. Author: Tatyana Nikolayeva