This year, the youngest Russian national park ‘The Russian Arctic’ is planning to receive twice as many visitors as last year. The results of the first tourist season in this northernmost reserve in Eurasia were 11 Arctic cruises aboard 7 ships from three countries carrying 865 tourists from many parts of the world.
Russia boasts 40 national parks but ‘The Russian Arctic’ is undoubtedly the most amazing one. It was opened in June 2009 and is situated 900km away from the Arctic Pole, in the northern part of the Novaya Zemlya archipelago and on the islands of Franz Josef Land. Those parts were closed for visitors for many years and became available to tourists only after the army left.
The park has an area of almost 1.5mln hectares of uninhabited land giving shelter to many rare species of animals that are included in the Red Book of Endangered Species, such as the Greenland whale that almost became extinct in the 18th -19th centuries, the floe rat and the northern seagull. The region is famous for its seashore bird colonies (there are about 60 of them) and walrus rookeries. Polar bears, the largest animals in the Arctic, choose those parts for bringing forth and raising their young.
Tourists visit the national park from June until September when the weather conditions are favourable for visiting high latitudes of the Arctic. 90% of the tourists are foreigners from China, Japan, the US, Australia and European countries. The trip is expensive: the cheapest 12-day cruise costs $10,000-12,000. A trip to the Arctic Pole that includes visiting the park is twice as expensive. One can only reach ‘The Russian Arctic’ by sea from the northern Russian cities of Murmansk and Arkhangelsk. Even though the ice-breakers and ice-breaker class ships are very comfortable, this is considered to be extreme tourism, Vice Director of the national park Viktor Kuznetsov says.
“The requirements are difficult. People have to go ashore in rubber boats and the ice situation on the shore differs on each cruise. Sometimes we have to urgently collect the tourists from the shore if Polar bears appear in close proximity. This has happened several times.”
Tourists who have visited ‘The Russian Arctic’ acquire much more than bright impressions of amazingly beautiful Polar landscapes and rare animals, -Viktor Kuznetsov continues, - they feel like discoverers.
“During one of the cruises, a Polar bear climbed to an almost vertical rock in search of bird eggs. A US lady-tourist managed to get it on film. Later she sent those photographs to a competition and won a prize and broad fame.”
Champ Island, which belongs to Franz Josef Land, always fascinates tourists with its famous stone spheres, which are perfectly round stones of various sizes, from tiny ones to several metres in diameter.
‘The Russian Arctic’ also has a rich cultural heritage. Many places there are associated with the history of the discovery and colonization of that land by Dutchman Barentz and Russian seafarers Sedov and Brusilov.
Several support outlets are planned to be organised in the national park in the near future with the aim of developing tourism by sea. They include visitor centres, heated observation platforms, special tourist routes and transport vehicles.