For those who feel the wanderlust and want to follow in their footsteps, we also provide a quick guide on getting to these distant, yet alluring landmarks.
The Vaygach icebreaker team raised the flag of the Russian Empire over this island for the first time in 1911. However, it wasn’t discovered by Russian polar explorers, but rather by a British naval officer, Henry Kellett. Kellett first passed the island in 1849, but didn't actually land on it. The island was eventually given the name of Ferdinand von Wrangel, also known as Ferdinand Petrovich Vrangel. His long and colourful career included the founding of the Russian Geographic Society, managing the Russian-American Company and serving as governor of Russian America (modern-day Alaska). The Russian admiral, from a German family, explored the polar extremes of Russia, such as the north-eastern shores of Siberia and the western coast of North America, even as far as California. During his time as governor, Wrangel was a vocal opponent of selling Russian America to the United States. Wrangel Island, deep in the Arctic Ocean, to the far north of mainland Russia, has been a UNESCO protected site since 2004. It wasn’t affected by the last ice age, and is therefore home to a collection of unique flora and fauna. It even has willows which are much smaller than their continental counterparts, standing no more than a metre tall. The island is mainly populated by walruses, polar bears and geese. Scientists state that this is the site of the world’s largest walrus colony, home to 130,000 animals. Wrangel Island, along with the tiny, neighbouring Herald Island, are home to 300-500 “birthing” bear caves.
How to Get There
The island is rarely visited by tourists. However, in 2012 several module houses and other pieces of infrastructure, needed to facilitate tourist travel, were delivered and installed on Wrangel Island. The nature reserve is part of the educational tourism and ecological culture programme. Special all-terrain vehicles allow visitors to travel one of the three routes, each taking a few days to finish. The rules and regulations for visiting the island are available at the official website.
Strait of Magellan
In 1520, the Portuguese sailor Ferdinand Magellan was responsible for a number of geographical discoveries, the most notable of which was the 575-kilometre strait, separating mainland South America to the north and Tierra del Fuego (an archipelago to the south of South America), to the south. It took him a while to find it: Magellan had to explore over two thousand kilometres of shoreline, seeking the coveted break between the countless coves and bays. Just before anchoring for winter, Magellan was certain that he had discovered what he was looking for, until he realized his mistake: it was the Río de la Plata inlet. It was not until several months later that Magellan’s flotilla made it to the narrow strait, leading deep into the continent and beyond. It took the ships 38 days to travel through, and the Portuguese explorer managed not to lose a single one. Along the strait, Magellan discovered the Tierra del Fuego archipelago and gave the name to the ocean west of the Americas, reflecting his experience there – Pacific (peaceful).
How to Get There
It is said that the best views of the strait are from Punta Arenas. You can take a ferry to the other side, Tierra del Fuego, specifically, the village of Porvenir. Or perhaps you’d be interested in “Magellan's Voyage”. If so, then buy a cruise ship ticket, board it and sail through the strait to Cape Horn.
In 1648, Semyon Ivanovich Dezhnev (Dezhnyov) rounded the Peninsula, the eastern extremity of Asia, proving once and for all that China could be reached from Europe via the northern route. He crossed through the strait separating America from Eurasia 80 years before Vitus Bering. Discoveries made by Russian pioneers largely went unnoticed at the time, so the old world did not recognise the new geographical feature until it was claimed by Bering. Even the cape received the name of its discoverer only in 1879, when the Swedish mineralogist Nils Gustaf Nordenskiöld christened it Cape Dezhnev after the Russian explorer. Until then, the cape bore the somewhat generic name of “Eastern Cape”.
Cape Dezhnev is one of the harshest environments in the Chukchi Peninsula. Rocks are piled high, often enveloped in thick fog with never-ending fierce winds. Despite its remote location, the cape has some man-made landmarks, such as the Dezhnev Lighthouse and the ancient wooden Orthodox cross. The cape was home to a small whaling village, Naukan (it existed from the 18th to 20th centuries, until the operation was shut down during the Soviet era). But the main attraction for the adventurous tourist is its unique fauna: countless bird colonies, walrus and a seal dens and even polar bears visiting in spring time with their cubs. On top of this, orcas and grey whales occasionally pop up by the shore.
How to Get There
Uelen, just south of the Arctic Circle, is the closest populated area to the cape at only 10 kilometres away. The closest airport is over 250 kilometres away, at Providence Bay. It has regular flights to and from Anadyr, the administrative centre of Chukotka Autonomous Okrug.
Mount Cook (Aoraki)
The highest mountain in New Zealand ( 3724 meters) is located in the Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park. It’s a land of vast valleys, tall glaciers, clear lakes and the Southern Alps (the mountain range extending along New Zealand's South Island). The air is crisp and cold and the weather extremely changeable: sunshine can turn into rain in an instant. The foothills are home to dozens of varies of wildflowers, which are replaced by ice and snow as you climb higher into the mountains. The rock is named after one of the most famous explorers to have ever graced the Seven Seas – James Cook. The British navigator visited the shores of New Zealand during his first journey around the world in 1768-1771. He discovered the strait between the North and South islands (which was also named after Cook) and proved that New Zealand was a country in its own right, and not part of a previously unknown continent.
How to Get There
Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park is a 330 kilometre drive from Christchurch, the largest city on the New Zealand's South Island. Renting a car is the best way to get there: it will take just three hours, but the drive alone will be an experience to remember.
The strait connecting the Pacific and Arctic oceans and splitting Russia from the United States is named after Vitus Bering, a Danish-born Russian naval officer. He was an established navigator, leading two expeditions in the 18th century through Kamchatka, discovering some of the Aleutian Islands. He was the first European seafarer to traverse the strait in 1728.
The Bering Strait is about 85 kilometres wide at its narrowest point, so due to this relatively short distance some brave souls attempt to either sail or swim. More often than not, the strait's tempestuous conditions put paid to their attempts. Nevertheless, it’s still a place for athletic triumphs. In the summer of 2012, a French athlete and quadruple amputee successfully swam across a 4 kilometre section of the Bering strait between Krusenstern Island (Little Diomede Island) and Ratmanov Island (Big Diomede Island).
How to Get There
The best way to get here is the same as for Cape Dezhnev. Take a flight from Anadyr to Providence Bay airport, found at the village and bay of the same name.
This body of water, which can be called the widest strait on Earth, connects the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, with the narrowest part being 800 kilometres across. Tierra del Fuego is to the north, and Antarctica (the South Shetland Islands) to the south. The passage bears the name of the infamous 16th-century English privateer Sir Francis Drake. Drake's only remaining ship after having passed through the Strait of Magellan, the Golden Hind, followed the wind far to the south in 1578, leading to its discovery. He therefore became the second explorer to make a round-the-world voyage, following Ferdinand Magellan. Drake Passage is a challenge for sailors: it’s full of whirlpools, the weather is often harsh and unpredictable, and there are regularly ferocious storms. Few are prepared to brave it. But some do, and even make it out alive, like the famous Russian survivalist and traveler Fedor Konyukhov, who lead a round-the-world expedition through the passage in 2010, marking the sixth time that he crossed the strait.
How to Get There
The best way to witness the Drake Passage is to board a cruise liner at Punta Arenas. The ship usually passes Cape Horn, giving you a majestic view of the strait. Those who’d like to do it on their own time had best rent a car in Porvenir, a Chilean village located at Tierra del Fuego. Another way is to rent a car in Argentina’s Ushuaia and drive to “the world’s end”.
This enormous body of saltwater in northeastern Canada is often called an epicontinental sea due to the bay cutting deep into the continent. It joins the Atlantic Ocean in the east and the Arctic Ocean in the north.
In the 16th century Sebastian Cabot was the first explorer to visit the bay. A hundred years later, in 1611, the sea was rediscovered by Henry Hudson in tragic circumstances. As was the main desire of explorers at the time, the navigator was leading yet another expedition looking for a way to Asia.
This one was not like the others though: the crew mutinied, turned the ship back and banished Hudson, his son and loyal crew members to a rowboat. The fate of the captain and those close to him remains a mystery. The most likely story is that he perished in the icy waters of the bay, which now bears his name, commemorating his will to endure and discover.
How to Get There
You best bet is the Canadian town of Churchill, a popular destination for arctic tourism. With fewer than one thousand locals, many leave their cars unlocked to help those that encounter a polar bear – frequent guests in this part of the world. Apart from the chance to encounter a polar bear up close, tourists can spot Beluga whales, reindeers and polar foxes. There are trains and flights connecting Churchill with Winnipeg, which take 48 and 2 hours respectively.
The Faddey Islands bear the name of the Faddey Faddeyevich Bellinsgauzen (also known as Fabian Gottlieb von Bellingshausen), the first person to discover the continent of Antarctica. The islands are located northeast of the Taymyr Peninsula. The archipelago was discovered in 1736 by members of the Great Northern Expedition, specifically, by the crew of Vasili Pronchishev. The Russian polar explorer was captaining a wooden ship, sailing along the northeastern shore of Taymyr, mapping the territory at the risk of getting stuck in the ice. Pronchishev was accompanied by his wife, although her presence was kept under wraps. Because of this, she became the first female member of an arctic expedition. Some say that the islands were discovered a long time before that, in 1689. Ivan Tolstoukhov, the first explorer of the Taymyr peninsula, was also supposed to sail through the region, but his ship was destroyed in icy waters. Scientists believe that it was on the Faddey Islands that the crew abandoned their ship. Wading through the frozen waters, the explorers built a hut from what they had salvaged. However, they were unable to survive in the harsh environment, so the claim of discovering the islands belongs to Pronchishev.
How to Get There
There are occasional flights from Khatanga airport (located in the northernmost village of Russia) to Cape Chelyuskin. If you’re lucky and skilled enough, you can ski from the cape to the islands. These expeditions are classed as category six, the category reserved for difficult and dangerous journeys.
The island of Tasmania, off the coast of Australia, was discovered by the Dutch explorer Abel Tasman in 1642. When it was first spotted, the crew did not land, moving east and landing in New Zealand a few days later instead. This was the first time the travellers and Maori natives had met face to face: a meeting which turned into a violent confrontation, leading to the deaths of several crew members.
The explorers pushed on and discovered the islands of Fiji and Tonga. The East India Company was unhappy with the expedition as no new trade routes had been discovered, so Australia, New Zealand and Tasmania were forgotten about for nearly a century, until the lands were revisited by James Cook. Although Abel Tasman had named the island after his sponsor Anthony van Diemen, the Governor of the Dutch East Indies, "Anthony van Diemen's Land", it was renamed Tasmania in 1856 by the local government.
Today most of the island is dedicated to nature reserves. It has some opium plantations, which are used legally for pharmaceuticals. Although there are stories of birds and kangaroos getting high on opium poppies, one thing is true: the land is a sight to behold, no matter the weather.
How to Get There
There are year-round ferries between the island and Australia: Spirit of Tasmania I and II. You can also take a plane from Sydney, Melbourne or Brisbane.