If there is one thing I will regret about having spent an academic year in Vladivostok, it will be not spending an entire calendar year here. The winter truly does have a beauty unto its own as the ocean freezes and unfolds a new landscape unto the pedestrian explorer. On the other hand, being the maritime peninsula that it is, the amount of oceanfront territory simply begs for the ideal summertime weather that was just on its way out when I arrived in early September. So ever since winter finally broke after the heavy mid-April snow shower, I’ve been doing everything I can to experience the nearby natural wonders in which the surrounding micro-region so splendidly abounds.
With a little help from the public transportation system and your own two feet, all of the following are comfortably commutable to and from campus in a single day’s outing. While some of these destinations are already café encrusted to varying degrees, in my experience, the most worthwhile journeys offer very little in the way of civilized amenities. So when you are planning your outing, make sure to supply yourself with enough food and water to span the day. Trust me, when you make it to these places, you won’t want to come back anytime soon!
The first three locations are located on the Уссурийский залив and are all accessible by buses that depart from the спортивная/луговая area.
The first stop is a closer, undersized version of Shamora (Шамора; see below). This fairly lengthy beach located on Stoat Bay (бухта Горностай) is, for the most part, lined with a dirt parking area for those who have come to relax (отдыхать) and grill kebabs (жарить шашлыки) car-side. The small town that sits at the far end of the beach seems to host little in the way of amenities for visitors (or, as the Russians often say, “those who relax” – отдыхаюшие). While there is a cost to use the parking lot (платная парковка), those who arrive on foot are welcome to enjoy the beach and its scenery for free. There is also a separate area for those who wish to stay the night in tents (палаточный городок). While I’m sure the summer’s greenery will add considerably to the locations aesthetic appeal, the enormous parking lot and small village located at one end of the beach detract from the “getting away from it all” mentality with which I seek destinations outside of the city. It’s also not excessively appealing in terms of cleanliness. It would take some convincing to get me to swim in the water here. The main plus is that it is only about 6 miles (10 km) outside of the city.
Tralovaya Street (улица Траловая)
Just a bit further down the road from Щитовая (above) is a smaller bay outfitted with an even smaller town. As my searches for the name of the area came up empty, I’ve used the name for the residential street that intersects the main road and forms a small cluster of homes of year-round inhabitants. The village offers a banya (баня) to its visitors. Although it is free, there is very little nearby parking; visitors are much less numerous and the cleanliness of the area noticeably benefits. All in all this area offers a nice, quiet, though rocky beach located on a small, enclosed bay.
I’d also like to note that not too much farther along the shoreline is a rock outcrop jutting vertically out of the ocean that looks like a cool destination. I unfortunately was not able to make it there myself. The rocks are referred to as the Three Brothers (Три брата), and have a surrounding local legend of three brothers who stood in the bay against a tsunami to protect their village, were turned to stone in the fight, and now perpetually guard the area. The rocks, regarded as a major natural landmark, are located in Desantnaya Bay (бухта Десантная).
By far the most renown of Vladivostok’s nearby getaways, Shamora is a fairly large beach by local standards (3km in length) and less than an hour’s bus ride outside of the city. A popular destination for recreational sports, beachside camping and oceanfront dining, people come here for the afternoon or a long weekend. Various little villages of rentable huts (домики) are located all along the shore separated by rows of restaurants and small shops with new ones going up all the time. If you’re looking for all the modern comforts in your escape to relax in natural surroundings (отдыхать на природе), this is without a doubt your destination. For information about booking, you can check the beach’s website, though you can also just arrive with a group of friends and rent your own private домик at any of the kiosks (киоски) advertising «сдам домики». Even if you choose not to stay the night, at least visiting the place to which hometown rock icons Mumiy Troll (Мумий тролль) dedicated an entire two-disc album to (Шамора) is an absolute must.
Russian Island (Русский остров)
The remaining four destinations below cover locations on Russian Island (Русский остров). There are many buses that make the trip from the Izumrud stop in the center of Vladivostok (остановка Изумруд) as well as from VGUES (ВГУЭС) at the Gogol stop (остановка Гоголя) to the campus of the Far Eastern Federal University (known in Russian as ДВФУ), which is one of the Island’s main attractions. The largest of these busses is big yellow number 15. However, the majority of these locations will require you to go much further. For these destinations, buses 29д and the smaller 63 are your current options. The latter, however, travel much less frequently, so plan your trip according to their schedules listed under «расписание или интервал движения» here.
Russian Island is still very much underdeveloped. With its breathtaking ocean-sprayed sheer rock faces, secluded beaches and rolling grass fields partitioned by linear hill ranges, getting lost here is not such a bad thing. Exploring the campus of DVFU can also be exciting – you can read more about that from SRAS graduate Ian Blair here.
Beam Bay at Far Eastern Federal University
(бухта Балка в ДВФУ)
While there is a lot to do at the FEFU campus in and of itself especially during the summer and fall, it is also a good starting point for an easily accessible nature excursion. As you approach the ocean coming from the main building, take a right and walk the oceanfront until you arrive at the boundary fence (забор), which can easily be navigated around. I felt like I might be breaking some rules the first time I did this, but having since seen many a student do so on several occasions, I’ve decided it is at least a fairly minor crime. Roaming this area along the shoreline provides an easily accessible and peaceful getaway from the hum characteristic of the city and even the small bustle on campus. The intimate, enclosed bay is especially calm as it is well protected from the blistering winds with which residents here are so familiar. After a day of renting and riding bikes (a very popular activity) around the extensive campus, this would be a perfect spot to cool off away from the crowds.
Cape Vyatlina (мыс Вятлина)
Cape Vyatlina is the first of two exceptional promontories jutting out into the Sea of Japan (Японское море) as one heads away from the FEFU Campus (the other is Cape Tobizina, below). For these destinations, you’ll need to seek out the buses that continue past the campus or be prepared to hike a healthy trek. Vyatlina is the more popular of the two capes as it is easily accessible by car and offers fairly impressive escarpments accompanied by accessible beaches. A popular place for car-side cookouts, when the weather is permitting it would also be a great place to pitch a tent and spend the weekend.
Cape Tobizina (мыс Тобизина)
Cape Tobizina hosts the most spectacular landforms I saw in my journeys around Vladivostok. Reaching this destination requires about an additional hour of walking when compared to Vyatlina. You will in fact by-pass Vyatlina on foot and continue along the dirt road that will likely have cars parked along it, stopping as they realize they are not equipped to continue along what tends to be a treacherously rutted roads. You will find the destination to be well worth the hike though, as not only is the landscape unique, but it also hosts a handful of bird varieties that nest along the cliffs and perform vertical dives along their sheer faces. Unlike Vyatlina, this is not a popular place for a campsite and tends to be a day-hike exploration trip. Talking with locals, I learned that it has become vastly more popular in just the last year, so the sooner you get here, the better chance you have of not finding it inundated with people. I have also heard from friends that winter trips here are worth the effort as the surrounding water freezes, providing a navigable route to many of the otherwise inaccessible inlets.
Shkota Island (Остров Шкота)
Rounding out my list of destinations here is the Island Shkota. Located farther along the shore past the previous two destinations, this will be the most challenging to get to. Once you have boarded your bus (29д or the smaller 63)that goes beyond the FEFU campus, you will eventually come to what is currently the end of the paved road. You should ask the driver to stop at the upcoming fork in the road (расвилка). Though this was not a problem for me, if the driver doesn’t concede to your request, it means you will likely have to do a little backtracking from the next bus stop. From there you will want to follow the main dirt road. You will pass an abandoned camp (заброшенный лагер) where stray dogs have made themselves at home. This can be bypassed through the forest, though I encountered no problems with the furry locals. Further will be signs for various attractions (база отдыха Прибой, бухта Джигит) that will try and lead you astray, but just continue on your way. You will eventually find yourself amongst a little group of homes and a gate arm (шлагбаум) that may or may not be raised. When I arrived, I was immediately greeted by the local residents who said I was welcome to continue onwards despite the gate blocking the path. However, for my safety’s sake, they urged me not to continue to the island as the narrow sand barrier (коса) that usually connects the island to the larger Russian Island had been inundated with water. Fairly disappointed, I heeded their requests and turned tail back into the woods.
While I myself was not able to make it to the island, for those of my friends who have been there, it is unanimously their favorite. As the trip there is a good ways, there tend to be few other people there. And the scenery is said to top that of Tobizina. If you find your path blocked as I did, all is not lost. The hike in itself runs through the gentle hills of the wooded island and you are surrounded by little else than undisturbed nature. Tobizina and Vyatlina are also easily accessible on the return path.