Kamchatka, roughly the length of Italy at just under 800 miles, is a peninsula shaped like one of the region's plentiful fish, with its head pointed down toward Japan and its tail attached to the rest of Russia.
In late summer, Kamchatka’s abundant rivers run red with the crush of salmon racing upstream; it is the only place left where all six species of wild Pacific salmon return to spawn. An estimated 20,000 brown bears roam its enchanted forests of Russian rock birch and other trees, growing fat and mostly happy off salmon.
Giant Steller’s eagles wheel overhead while offshore, orcas cavort and Kamchatka’s king crabs grow bigger than footballs. During the brief window between the last snows of May and the first in mid-September, a rich variety of plants bloom at turbo force, adapted to their short, spectacular lives. The plants exude an unexpected tropical luxuriance.
Emerald forests and mauve tundra cover the foothills amid volcanoes in various hues of gray and dusty red, most dotted with glaciers and snow. Alpine meadows burst with blossoms and colors including yellow rhododendron, purple mountain heather, pink azaleas, fuchsia fireweeds, and the white stars of the eschscholtzia. Lower down, fields of wild grass can grow more than 11 feet tall.
Kamchatkans insist that this is where Russia begins, where the first of her 11 time zones wakes up. In previous centuries, it took a year to reach the peninsula from Moscow. To this day, no paved roads traverse the swampland separating it from mainland Russia.
Kamchatka’s isolation has gradually ebbed, with tension emerging between preserving it and developing its natural resources. Visitors come for its unusual, pristine nature and the plethora of outdoor activities in a relatively compact area — trekking, fishing, rafting, surfing, mountain climbing and helicopter skiing in winter.