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CIRCUMNAVIGATING ICELAND


CIRCUMNAVIGATING ICELAND


For historians, Iceland is a relatively new discovery, if you can call 1000 years since settlement by the Vikings new. Lying in the North Atlantic ocean, the Viking age of exploration drew labour from surrounding countries like Norway, with seafarers having in-depth knowledge of survival in such a harsh land. Many were forcibly removed from their homeland along with a large number of Celts. And so it began, the formation of a new settlement with vivid contrasts in culture, climate and of course, unsettled geography. 


To experience Europe's largest Glazier - VATNA - the shortened English version- is awe-inspiring. Any good journey must begin in the capital, and Reykjavik is as good a place to start as any. There are no skyscrapers to tempt earthquakes. Instead, you are surrounded by buildings clad in corrugated tin painted in rather subdued colours like moss green and pale earth with the occasional electric blue to break the pattern. Surrounded by snow clad mountains, it might be surprising to know that the weather is quite mild as it is warmed by the offshore Gulf Stream. Mild in Icelandic terms but still chilly for those of us living in warm temperate climates. 


With so many geysers, it is a pure delight to relax in one of the many Hot Springs surrounding Reykjavik. The Blue Lagoon is of course, the most famous, with copious amounts of pictures depicting steaming aqua waters in a languid setting surrounded by a pristine backdrop. However, being geothermal there is hothouse agriculture all year round and amazing hot pools to soak away your travel weariness. If you are not worried about being at the top of the range pools then I would like to recommend the baths that we visited - that of SECRET LAGOON. Not only is the entry fee cheaper, but there are fewer people to share the warmth with. Be aware though that full nudity in the segregated showers is considered normal. 


Gulfoss Waterfall, Iceland Travel Guide Gulfoss WaterfallI won't linger too long in the surrounding areas but there are geysers on the road back into the city which are worth a look, and the KERID VOLCANIC CRATER provides an insight into the unstable nature of mother earth in Iceland. It is the enormity of water that will take your breath away at the GULFOSS WATERFALL as it displays its great power.

We chose to circumnavigate the island on a WINDSTAR Cruise. The Star Legend is one of the small ships of the fleet with just 312 passengers onboard and is the only ship in the fleet with an ice rated hull. 



Our sailing takes us from Reykjavik to Grundarfjordur, situated near Snaefellsness Peninsula to the west. Best known as a fishing village, it has just over 800 inhabitants. Surrounded by sweeping snow-capped mountains where you will have no trouble viewing one of the many glaciers in the area. The information hut nearby has a bus that will take you there if doing a guided tour is not your thing. Caving in the Snaefellsjokull National Park is silently rewarding as you spiral down to a cave floor. The VATNSHELLIR CAVES are best booked ahead and can be done so even before you leave home. As long as you know the date you will be there, it will save time as the numbers are restricted for each visit. 


I am in love with Isafjordur, our next port - even if it is raining. The mists swirl around us as we walk into the mesmerizing small town. The first encounter is with the Maritime Museum looking more like a large log cabin that you would find in an outpost. The heavy fog lies across the entire structure, conjuring up a vision that could easily be a setting for a movie. According to recorded history, the town began as far back as the 9th century but really came into being in the 12th century as a merchant trading post. Today it is the largest settlement in the Westfjords. On a clear day with the sun shining, it is one of the prettiest towns in the Northwest. I will add they have a great Op Shop on the way into town   


The weather improves as we cruise into Akureyri on the northern tip of the island. We are very excited knowing that the town is home to several pods of humpback whales that we plan on seeing. What happens next was unexpected and I must say would not be allowed here. Once suited up for the wet, we board an inflatable sub-skimmer and proceed after safety instructions out into the harbour and beyond in search of these amazingly intelligent beings. Wrapping our arms around the safety bar, the 'boat' picks up speed. The engines stop abruptly as a giant ripple appears to the right of us, which as it happens, is the side I am on - yes! The ripple quickly becomes a splash as one of the giants of the sea breaches revealing barnacles on the underside of the tail as well as a pattern in black and white which we are told distinguishes each one of them to the marine team. Studying those that present themselves throughout the morning, we are able to learn much about pod habits and markings. The absolute magical moment came when a humpback swam under the inflatable, so close that we could almost touch it. As I mentioned this would not be allowed in our waters, but we felt very safe given that our team are seasoned marine experts and know their whale's habits better than anyone, their sounds, their movements and their beautiful curiosity. Close to the harbour there is a small Scandinavian shopping mall where you can buy coffee and light lunches, as well as souvenir shop  

Akureyri, Iceland. Going whale spottingHumpack Whale at Akureyri, Iceland Travel Guide



Lots of chatter ensued once back on the ship, but I think our adventure surpassed that of the other tours by far. We assisted the Captain of the Windstar Legend to find those pods again on our way out of the harbour. One of the best things about this company - you can go on the bridge whenever you like with their open bridge policy. Going to sleep dreaming of whale pods was a great way to end a spectacular day. 


Just two ports left and our journey around Iceland will end. Not about to dwell on this fact, we dock at mid-morning in the small fjord town of Seydisfjordur blue church, Iceland Travel GuideSeydisfjordur Blue Church Seydisfjordur. Everyone is on deck as we watch the Captain maneuver the Legend slowly and meticulously into the barrier. Once the ship is secured to the bollards, it is time to disembark. An easy walk into town and on to the Blue Church where we are now treated to a musical concert. The Scandinavian church is just big enough to fit us all in with an upper loft area allowing us better access to look down on the group of musicians and their choralists. Aware of there being much more on the other side of the town, we engage a local to drive and guide us to what can only be described as picture book scenery. The Vatnajokull Museum has so much to offer, like the habits of the white fox, so cute and yet a pest, and the movement of the glaziers in the region and of course more about the wildlife which always fascinates me. A day well spent and topped off with a cocktail party sampling local wines at the local printing museum.


Not to be outdone in the wow factor, is the largest island of Heimaey in the Vestmannaeyjar - Westman Islands. Well known for the January 1973 Eldfell Volcano eruption which lasted for 153 days, almost all of the 5,000 inhabitants were safely evacuated. Much of the island was covered in ash and hundreds of homes destroyed. As the lava began to flow towards the harbour, the ships that stayed, pumped seawater along the edges of the flow and miraculously stopped the run. The museum is a sobering reminder of Mother Natures' fury and how fragile our homes can be. 


The airport in Reykjavik is surprisingly busy as we wait to board our flight to Amsterdam. Allow plenty of time before your flight as it is a good half-hour drive from the city. Staying in Reykjavik - check out the 'Black Pearl' and don't forget to see the Whale Museum, easy walking distance from town. 


We chose to cruise with Windstar Cruises (Australia) and as a Certified Specialist, I would love to assist in the planning of your journey, even if you decide all land is better. Get in touch today.





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