Whale watching trip on North Sailing's wooden fishing trawler 'Nattfari'

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April 5th 2015
Published: April 27th 2015
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In the morning I pack up my stuff ready for my hostel switch - luckily I only have my small daysack. It's a different guy on reception and he's a bit bemused by my terse complaint about the room situation and tries to make out that I should have known that the hostel wouldn't be quiet as it's in a downtown location. Funny that, I'd just spent almost a week of peaceful bliss in Reykjavik DOWNTOWN hostel - Reykjavik - that's the capital city - maybe you've heard of it! The sarcasm was flowing thick and fast - not sure his English was up to my nuanced tirade of sleep deprived wit, but he eventually refunded my my stay - or at least that's what I thought he'd done - I found out later he'd only refunded one night not realising I'd booked and paid for 4 nights! He also tried to make out there were no buses running today - Easter Sunday - yeah like I haven't checked! I bid farewell to the Akureyri Backpackers Hostel with a slam of the door and head off to wait for my bus to Husavik where my whale watching tour is leaving from.

As I sit waiting I really hoped it's me and not the hostel guy who's right about the bus and I do start to have doubts as it approaches half nine. But yes, there it is, a little mini bus complete with sullen driver. I was the only passenger so maybe he wouldn't have had to go if I'd not been at the bus stop. Anyway I paid my £12 - ouch - well it was an hour and a half's drive so I guess I ought to have expected a steep fare. The drive takes us all along the other side of the fjord and then ducks us inland a bit before skirting back to a coastal path. All around us are snow covered mountains. The snow has started melting a little and they are streaked with tiger striped patterns. I can also see a lot of yellowed dead grass revealed from beneath the heavy weight of snow its had on it for months, awaiting patiently for spring sunshine to bring it to life again. We pass the odd farmstead that punctuates the otherwise uninhabited countryside. I don't know what they farm and I've still seen no sign of any livestock other than the hardy Icelandic ponies. There's plenty of the round bales of hay covered in white plastic so maybe their animals are kept indoors over the winter months.

I'm surprised we don't stop at any villages along the way to pick up passengers and after our long journey we eventually arrive in Husavik and no-one gets on there either! I can't believe my £12 even covers the petrol, never mind the bus driver's wages. I have a few hours to kill before my whale watching trip so start to have a wander around Husavik. This takes about 15 minutes! It's tiny and everything is shut for Easter! Luckily I have a couple of geocaches to have a hunt for and spend ages looking around the sides of the very cute church. It looks kind of Swiss in style and a service is going on for Easter. They must wonder why on earth I'm rummaging around the side of the building looking under the staircase! Sadly I don't manage to find this cache - it may have gone walk about - or I may just be unlucky today and not getting a good signal off my gps. I head down towards the harbour and take a few photos of the beautiful oak boats belonging to the North Sailing company. They have converted a load of herring fishing trawlers and schooners, some with rigged sails, to take visitors out to see whales and puffins or to just go sailing out at sea on a beautiful old boat.

As I'm looking for (and finding!) the geocache near the Husavik Whale Centre I realise that it isn't closed as I'd first thought so decide to have a look inside. There's loads of fascinating information and exhibits. There is even an Easter related tale. The story goes that the Irish Saint Breanainn, or Brendan, sang Easter mass on the back of a giant whale that rose from the ocean at the Almighty's bidding! There's a great picture illustrating the story showing a fantastical whale like creature spouting water while a whole ship is parked near its tail and a group of clergy standing pontificating on his side with the altar on his back! There's also a film room set up to look like you are in the bows of a boat and I watch some amazing footage of whales in the wild. The humpback whale's unique bubble fishing technique is shown and it's pretty damn clever. Nothing like I'd imaged from the written descriptions I'd read about at the Whale exhibition in Reykjavik. The bubbles make an impenetrable barrier that the fish can't swim through and the whales crash into the middle of the trapped shoals, mouths wide open, and scoop up their dinner. In another part of the museum there's some pretty gruesome looking harpoons and equipment for whale fishing on display and some heartbreaking photos of the whales being cut up. rivers of blood all around. Human beings can be so damned arrogant, heartless and cruel to their fellow creatures. We really don't deserve to share this planet with them. I'm so often ashamed at what is done by the human race. We can be such a stupid species as a whole. Thankfully there are many lovely people in the world that counter the trash element, but reminders like this make me so sad. There is an upper gallery with skeletons of the many different whale species. It's fascinating seeing their flippers looking just like hands and their nose/facial bones looking like a bird's beak. These skeletons all come from whales that have washed up on shore, none were killed to get their bones for display.

Museum finished with I do a bit more aimless wandering about trying to kill the time before my trip. There are a lot more people milling about now, lucky people who don't have to rely on public transport. I find the cafe area of the North Sailing operation is open for passengers to sit and wait, sadly no food on offer. I'm still surviving on snack rations, no shops have been open since I arrived in the north! I'm really hoping there's something better later on when I return to Akureyri.

Finally the waiting is over and we all queue up on the jetty, marked by the yellow flag, to board our boat the Nattfari. We all get kitted out in thick boiler suits that will help keep us warm and dry when out at sea. As we are pulling out of the harbour our lady guide tells us a little about their family run business, how they converted the fishing boats and all work together to help visitors see the whales that visit the area throughout the year. She asks the passengers in turn where they are from in the world and it's amazing how many countries are represented. There's people from Iceland, Denmark, Sweden, Germany, France, Spain, UK, America, Australia, New Zealand, Brazil, Philippines, China, Thailand and I've forgotten the rest. There are some funny Chinese girls taking 'yo dude' photos of each other, of themselves, with selfie sticks and doing their favourite 'peace' sign in all of them. We get out of the harbour and set out into the open water. The sea's got a bit of swell and luckily I'm feeling ok (took a sea sickness tablet just in case). We see Puffin Island - or Lundey Island rising out of the sea where in the summer the steep cliffs are a perfect breeding place for puffins, fulmars and other sea birds. It's really cold out at sea and the air is freezing on my face - the only bit not covered with multiple layers. I always get flash backs to my Bardsey Island days whenever I feel the swell of the sea under me and remember the long journeys from Pwllheli to Ynys Enlli when we were returning to the island after our winter break on the mainland. People are spread all around the boat, some up at the bow rising and falling as we move through the waves, some seated on the wooden benches, some leaning on the gunwales and some up in the bit above the captain's cubby hole (don't know the technical sailing term for that!).

We are beginning to wonder if we will see anything at all this trip when all of sudden there is a shout from the front where the guide is our look out scanning with binoculars. A spout has been seen and we change course to go and find the whale that made it. Everyone rushes to get a spot near the edge of the boat. We are given clock directions to try looking for the whale each time it surfaces, so 1 o'clock is just to the right of the bow of the boat etc. I manage to get myself a spot right in the point of the bow and this makes it a lot easier to spot the whale each time it comes up for air. It turns out to be the largest whale of all, the blue whale. There is just one but it is amazing to see this huge creature in the wild with the snowy mountains as a back drop to all the many photos and videos we are all taking. We learn that this species of whale very rarely flukes its tail up in the air when diving, but once we are lucky enough to see this and I manage to get a photo (it will need heavy cropping!). We are able to keep tabs on where the whale has dived by the circle shape left in the water. We spend a long time following the whale, gasps of delight going up every time it surfaces and spouts water. On a few occasions it is really close to the boat and it is breath taking to be there with this wonderful creature, its world and life so very different to our own.

Sadly we have to return to shore so say goodbye to our blue whale. We tuck into cinnamon buns and hot chocolate and excitedly compare our photos. I find out there is a lady and her little boy also going back to Akureyri and she kindly offers me a lift in her car so I won't have to wait the 1 1/2 hours for my bus back. We get chatting and I find out that Cat although she sounds Welsh is actually Czech. She's been working as an interpreter for the police in Wales and like me is a single mum. She also loves travelling, and having a little one in tow hasn't stopped her. She is driving all around Iceland just with her little boy and has had some adventures with the weather making driving difficult at times. We stop at a fast food place on the way back and I am so glad of some chips and a surprisingly healthy salad pita bread thing. I'd not realised how ravenous I'd got from lack of proper food. Nibbling on snacks is ok for a while but doesn't really hit the mark.

I'm dropped off in town and say my goodbyes to the lovely Cat and her little boy. They head off to the thermal swimming pool and I walk to my new hostel and check into my lovely little single room. What bliss to have a bit of private space for the next couple of days. I have realised that Akureyri is really pretty small and so decide that a full day of exploration I'd had planned for my last day here isn't going to be time well spent, so I book myself onto an Icelandic horse trek for that day as the weather forecast is looking pretty good still. I turn up the heat in my little room and thaw out from my fabulous whale watching trip in Husavik. Wow what an amazing trip to Iceland this is turning out to be!

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