Today we were up bright and early as we had a Whale Watching Trip planned for today. We had heard pretty negative things about Whale-Watching in Iceland with many expert commentators advising us to skip them, but we were not finding much faith in these experts who mostly seem to be grumpy, overly risk overt, and just parroting second-hand information. So we had booked our trip and headed out with wide-eyed expectations.
First things first we headed to breakfast. We had been up early every day of our trip, but this felt an especially early wake-up call. The Tour required an 8 am check-in and was a 45-minute drive. We also needed to pack everything up and be on the road. So we hit breakfast at the opening after a 6 am alarm call. Ughh.
This seems the norm for people seeing the island on a tour group and the entire breakfast room was filled with our jolly and loud Swiss Friends. I am afraid this was just all too much for us after a groggy and jarring alarm call. We quickly ate and returned to our room to get ready.
We loaded up the car, checked out, and headed for our tour destination. Most Whale Watching trips in the north sail from Husavik, and we had wanted to visit the town. However, we really did not have the time to squeeze it into the itinerary. Instead, we found the Whale watching tours that are based in Hauganes.
Hauganes is much closer to Akureyri and their trips looked every bit as good. They also offered a little Sea Angling at the end of the trip that really intrigued us.
We Knew Haugness was a small town but really it barely exists, nothing more than just a few hoses and a tiny harbor. We arrived at 7:50 am 10mins early for our check-in. The wind was howling, the ocean was a brutal steel blue with jagged white caps and the entire location appeared devoid of human life. It looked like our trip was not going to go ahead.
We waited in the car until check-in at 8, still no sign of life, 8:10, nothing. No cars coming or going, no life on the tour boats, and not a single soul around. At 8:15 we explored a bit more to see if we could find some existence of human life. There was a soundly closed door that appeared locked, but after trying, it actually opened up to a “welcome” desk. Here we found a fairly startled Member of staff, who quickly confirmed that we were in the right place, the tour was definitely going ahead and there were plenty of other people due to arrive shortly.
We were given a quick intro and asked to start gearing up. The Tour includes the use of survival suits, and while these were recommended, not required, you would have to be a loon not to take up the offer. We Quickly got tucked into our suits as the other guests started arriving. Obviously, the 30mins before tour arrival was largely ignored and people were still arriving minutes before we were due to sail!
Out onto the boat and the deck is definitely very minimal. These are old Fishing boats and there is nothing in the way of luxury or even seats. Just standing room only and a rail to lean on to stop you from getting wet! Fine by us, we like the rustic life!
Soon enough the boat was loaded and the tour started. We headed out into the Fjord in search of Whales. Now for many spotting, a Whale is a Lifetime achievement, a bucket list goal that brings an incredible amount of joy. We however are decidedly spoiled!
We have Whale Watched all over the world and have seen literally hundreds of Whales. We have sailed amongst a Pod of 30-40 Giant Blue Whales in Monterey CA, we have watched amazing displays of breaching Humpbacks in Brisbane, Australia. Watched Humpbacks play off the headlands of Byron Bay while downing Goon Wine, and of course, we have seen incredible numbers of whales frolic from the comfort of our Lanai in Maui during Whale Season.
But while we are spoiled we still adore seeing these amazing creatures and this is a new setting for us as we tend to see whales in their tropical settings rather than the arctic feeding grounds. We are also kind of lucky charms. We tend to get the best out of trips and while many people get an odd glimpse of a whale or a couple of lucky sightings we tend to time it when a whole pod is around and even the Guides are buzzing with excitement. Would we bring our luck with us to Iceland?
The Weather has certainly decided to play ball! While the wind was howling, it was blowing from the south which is less problematic for boats on the fjord. When it’s from the North it’s an uninterrupted blast from the North pole. The Skies were also clear and the mountain tops shining white with the sun on the snow caps.
After around 8 mins we got the first call from the lookout bridge. Whales Spotted, looked like we are in luck again. The Sighting was still distant but we were steaming towards the water spouts in the distance.
After a steam of around 15 minutes, we had closed in on the pod. Around 4 Adult Humpbacks feeding in the FJord. When Whales feed like this the only time you get to see them is when they surface for a breath. They spend around 30 Secs on the Surface breathing then deep dive to feed for around 5-8 minutes.
As we waited between surface intervals the captain had to Guess where the whales might pop up and be as close as possible. There are strict rules about getting too close but if you are in a position and the whales pop up near you there is nothing the captain could do even if he wanted to.
As we played the guessing game, sometimes the whales were close other times the guess was wrong and we had to try and steam over, normally arriving just in time for the deep dive. We quickly noticed that the 4 Whales we actually 2 separate groups of 4 so 8 in total and we were quickly joined by another pod of 3. This was quite incredible and there were near endless water spouts going up and the captain become spoiled for choice into which pod to follow.
We got some really nice close-up views of the whales and endless slightly further away views. Time really flew and before long it was time for hot chocolate and Cinnamon rolls. Before we were due to steam back to the port. As we steamed back suddenly out of nowhere the engines shut off and right by the boat a Minke Whale surfaced! This was completely unexpected and was a fantastic Bonus Whale Sighting!
As we neared the Port the Fishing portion of the trip took place. This was a very short “try” at fishing rather than a real integral part of the trip. It has long been a goal of mine to fish in Iceland. I have grown up Sea Angling and the waters around Iceland are far more productive than my home waters. But there was a distinct lack of tourist trips for fishing. We found long all-day charters that looked amazing but were not suitable for Kate and I didn’t want to abandon her for a day. But there were no short 3-4 hour trips like we can find at home.
So this part of the tour looked really appealing. But as we pulled up just outside the harbor, my hopes were pretty low. There were plenty of rods, but it was really basic gear and we were just a few hundred feet from shore.
The Guide explained the basics but I was well versed with this type of fishing. Basic Perk Fishing where you drop a shiny heavy lure to the bottom and hope the Fish Bite. It took about 10 secs until I hit the first fish! The gear is pretty heavy so there is little fighting going on you just wind in. On the surface, I had caught a really fresh healthy Cod, of a pretty good size. The Skipper offered to keep it, but as we were in a hotel there was no way to cook it so I decided to let him live again!
Another drop and I was straight into another Fish! This time even bigger and with a distinct red hue from its Sea Weed Diet. This time another Guest also managed to hook one as well so I was not alone.
After 5 mins or so things had quieted down. And the Skipper told us to reel in. There was obviously a really productive reef just outside the harbor and we were drifting over it. It really is incredible the quality and quantity f fish so close to shore!
As we headed for a second pass on the reef, people wanted to know how I was so lucky. I explained it was less luck and more good technique. It is essential with this type of fishing to keep the lure on the bottom. The Tide and the Current would rip the Perk Straight off the bottom, and in midwater, there was zero chance of catching, so you need to keep feeding line to keep it on the bottom!
Again the second pass I was straight into a Fish, the 3rd out of 4 for the boat. To say I was pretty happy is a bit of an understatement. And poor Kate was going to have to put up with my boasting about being the “Best Angler in all of Iceland” for the next few days!
This second pass was all we were offered and the boat then headed back to the harbor.
There really is very little in Hauganes. The Harbor, a small restaurant and few houses. However, there are some small Ocean Side Hot Tubs! This allowed me to tick off another Bucket List Item one not many have on theirs! A swim in the Arctic Ocean!
I have swum in a lot of cold water. I race triathlon and this has led me to some bizarre swimming locales, some of which have been brutally cold. But nothing quite like the actual Arctic Ocen in late Autumn! A Quick Change into my swimmers and into the water.
This was to be a token Gesture, not a real swim, I had no Wet suit and was just not mentally prepared for a long swim, so really just a few strokes near the shore to say I had done it! Then straight into the Hot Pots to warm up.
We then headed back to Akureyri for a final look around and to grab some Fish and Chips at Mo’s. We had missed out yesterday, and after a morning bagging Icelandic Cod it seemed fitting to have a taste!
The Fish was really good, it’s quite unlike normal Fish And Chips and is instead more breaded and flavored with Tumeric. And the Chips are sprayed with vinegar. It was a really tasty meal and pretty reasonably priced.
We found a nice spot overlooking the fjord to eat them before fueling up and heading out.
The Afternoon was to be devoted to relocating. We were heading into the West Fjord Region tomorrow and really just needed to get closer. Another Night in Akureyri would have meant a colossal 7 hours of pure driving tomorrow, so a 9-10 hour day on the road and that was just not feasible. So instead we pushed on today and had booked a hotel a few hours down the road in …well it was basically nowhere.
The Afternoons drive was just shy of 200km and around 2 and half hours and was absolutely spectacular. As we left Akureyri we must have taken a wrong turn as it appeared we were transported directly to the Alps!
The Skys were stunningly clear and the mountains reared up on either side of the road as we passed through some of the prettiest scenery we had seen all trip. We don’t often hear about this part of Iceland, maybe because it’s not as dramatic and wild as other parts but it is stunningly pretty and very reminiscent of the Alpine peaks of Europe.
It’s actually the Tröllaskagi Mountain Range and seems to be a bit of a hidden gem! We really wish we had more time exploring here! Maybe the beautiful weather we were experiencing helped!
As we pushed on through this glorious landscape things began to flatten out as we left the mountains but still remain stunning as we followed the beautiful Blanda River Valley to the Coast and then back inland towards our layover.
North West – Hotel & Restaurant
We won’t say too much about our overnight accommodation as we don’t like to be too harsh, but it wasn’t the best. We had a terrible room stuck at the back with no view and a noisy kitchen vent. There was no TV Signal and it was very cramped. It was however clean, the bed comfy, and it was after all very cheap!
We dined downstairs in what must be the only restaurant for miles around. It was incredibly busy, and as we ate more and more truckers pulled up making this a very popular spot. The food was good. It was BIG portions and reasonable prices, obviously why the Trucker like it. There was just one guy serving and he was run off his feet.
It was a bit of an odd evening really, but a good experience.
We drifted off to sleep pretty quickly after a really busy day, the skies were quite clear but the KPI Forecasts we for low 1’s so no Aurora for tonight. However, we did notice the weather alerts start pouring in for tomorrow as things looked like they would take a turn for the Dramatic as we ventured really off the beaten track.
Live Blog – Trip Report