The sea defines Iceland. Since Vikings first arrived in 874 AD, the waters surrounding this North Atlantic island have provided food, work, and now, fun activities for summertime tourists.
Join them by heading to North Iceland where whales, seals and herring flourish.
Many travelers opt to take a short excursion from the capital city of Reykjavik. A 45-minute flight, aboard Air Iceland, from the domestic airport on the outskirts of the city will bring you to the country’s second largest city of Akureyri.
As Air Iceland’s fleet is mostly smaller 50-passenger Fokker planes, do yourself a favor and leave your larger luggage at your hotel or guest house. A smaller bag like Samsonite Black Label Cosmolite Spinner with the side handle is the answer to packing light and moving fast.
Located on the western end of the Eyjafjörður Fjord, Akureyri’s charms are found in its Nordic quaintness. Set against jagged mountains and close to the Arctic Circle, it serves as a perfect northern hub. From here you can rent a car or board a bus and springboard to Husavik, Siglufjördur and along with the Vatnsnes Peninsula where the region balances the diversity and fragility of the marine ecosystem.
Heading east, you will notice the increase in plumes of steam across the landscape. This is caused by the island’s famed geothermally heated waters cracking the earth’s surface. Aside from heating their homes and pools with it, the locals also bake bread in steam-filled pits. Almost any restaurant or café will offer meals with their own specially made dark brown rye bread.
Called “The Whale Spotting Capital of The World,” Husavik is your destination for their renowned whale museum. Inside the museum, located on Skjálfandi Bay, the sagas of these mighty beasts of the North Atlantic are told. You will learn how the blue whale is the world’s largest mammal, and that the commonly seen minke whale has a white diagonal stripe across its flippers.
Summer whale watching tours, particularly mid June to the end of August, happen daily and can be arranged at the museum or other whale watching companies. High concentrations of minke fin and humpback pods are seen. Starting in April and lasting through October, white beaked dolphins and orcas also make occasional appearances.
North of Akureyri and along the same fjord lies the town of Siglufjördur. During early 20th century this was a boom town for the herring industry. Called “Gudsgjöf,” or “God’s gift,” the smoked or salted silver fish were found daily on dinner plates from Scandinavia to Scotland.
Visit the Icelandic Era Herring Museum for a glimpse into the past without a time machine or fishy smell. Called Róaldsbrakki, the four story former salting factory allows you to meet the real people who lived and worked here through a collection of old movies and black and white photographs. On weekends the action extends to the wharf, where costumed actors reenact the process of salting fish. Balancing the work is dancing done to the spirited music of an accordion. Feel free to join in.
Seals, like humans, consume herring. The mammals dot the Icelandic coast, especially harbor seals and, to a lesser degree, grey seals. Within a 90 minute drive west of Akureyri, you will find the Icelandic Seal Centre.
Be sure to pack a pair of binoculars in your luggage for this attraction. Situated along the Vatnsnes Pensinsula the Centre’s viewing hut at the Illugastaðir farm allows you to fully experience the wonder of witnessing the seals in their natural summer environment. For the best viewing, the Centre advises you be very quiet and avoid any sudden movements.
Your time with the wildlife of Iceland is a treasure to be treasured forever.
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Iceland Photo © Wikimedia Commons