Thursday, June 26, 2008

Northwest Iceland: Húsavík 14 May

14th May 2008

Imagine when u reach a place in total mist the day before and when u woke up the next morning to this breathtaking scenery. This is what I like about Iceland, never fail to surprise and thrill. I am absolutely dumbfounded the instant I open the door of the cottage and am never expect to such a treat. This is Húsavík, the most north on earth I have ever been to.

It is 9am in the morning. The temperature is 11°C and the sun is scorching hot.

This bay, originally created by glacial activity, is called Skjálfandi. It means "trembling" which might refer to earthquakes which do occur quite frequently. Though most of them cannot really be noticed; they are only registered by seismographs. This is where we will go for whale watching later of the day.

The mountain range on the other side of the bay is called Viknafjöll, whose top is covered with snow year round. The highest point reaches around 1100m. Like most mountains in Iceland, they are of volcanic origin.

What is lacking here is a small boat....

Our car and cottage, with verandas overlooking the bay. Such an idyllic life, I would love to stay here for the rest of my life....

A glance at the main town of Húsavík, 2km away.
5 minutes drive from where we are.

This is the name of cottage we stayed. If we have not spotted this in the mist last evening, we would have missed the small road leading to it.

Húsavík Harbour

Whale Watching, 10am with North Sailing
The gentle giants highlights today are Humpback Whale, Minke Whale and Habour Porpoise.

Tickets Booth
The place where we picked up the tickets, reserved on their website a month before the trip.

At the background is the picturesque Skjálfandi bay and the Viknafjöll mountain range.

The boat, Bjössi Sör we are taking on the whale watching trip is on the right.

Close up on Bjössi Sör
Bjössi Sör was constructed in Akureyri in 1975, it is one of the last oak boats to have been built in Iceland. Sailing from Akureyri, Bjössi Sör was enagaged in minke-whaling along the northern coast of Iceland and even here in Skjálfanda Bay. Now it is put in better use in promoting eco-tourism.

Off and further as we go....
View of Húsavík Town shrink gradually.

and heading towards the centre of Skjálfandi bay.

Our guide on board, introducing the various types of whales.
The first whale appears at the horizon kicks off the frenzy mode onboard. The thrill of the 'chase' is a big part of the trip as the whales don't appear on cue. Everyone get busy looking out for telltale signs or a surfacing whale. The guide uses the 'clock' system that we used in the army, with the stern of the boat at 12 o'clock. Everyone runs from side to side, cameras clicking, trying to get a glimpse of the whales before they dive into the deep.

The first whale we see is the Minke Whale.

The first humpback whale appeared at the far horizon.

Below are the continuous shots of this curious humpback whale, the only one of the three we saw which swims to the side of the boat, raising its fluke and put up the greatest show in nature.

Raise its flippers to slap the water surface, playfully.

View of its flippers and belly as it dives underwater. It can remain underwater for 5 - 7 minutes at a time.

The guide tells us this female whale comes back yearly and in 2004 she was back with a baby. It's really good to know that after all these years, it's still safe and well, and even has a baby. Humpback is identified by the distinctive black and white pattern on its fluke, which differs individually just like our fingerprints. They migrate to their breeding grounds in the Caribbean and return shallow waters around Iceland during summer and come often into the fjords and bays in search of food.

Facts on Humpback Whale (megaptera novaengliae)

They are baleen whales, like blue, fin, sei and minke whales. They primarily feed on plankton, krill, but also small fish, such as capelin. The migratory routes and whereabouts during the winter months are well known. Traveling about 6.000km one way, this is one of the longest journeys known of any mammal.

Length: 13–17 meters (as long as our boat!)
Weight: 25–40 tons.
Worldwide population: 10.000–15.000 individuals
Life expectancy: Ca. 95 years

Beautiful Skjálfanda Bay


This 3 hours captivating trip is indeed an eye opening for me. 4 days in the Iceland trip, the seals and whales may have not turned me into an animal activist overnight, but they do inspire me to be one. The sentiments I have on wild life is enormously greater than when I see them in an aquarium or in the zoo. To see them, we should go to them and not bring them home or to our parks. That's when one will understand the true meaning and beauty of freedom and happiness. A poem on the wall of the Húsavík Whale Museum captures my attention and best describes how i feel:

If a turtle loves its life,
what love must a whale have,
for a whale is bigger than a turtle,
and if I grew to respect a turtle,
what a respect I might have for a whale.

Húsavík Town
This is the most typical Icelandic town and it's certainly the prettiest fishing town on the northeast coast. A population of 2500, fishing and fish processing have traditionally been the main bastions of the local economy but tourism is playing an increasing role.

Húsavík Whale Museum

The museum is a comprehensive and well presented exhibition on the history of whaling in Iceland, the future of whaling and whale conservation, and the scology and habits of whales and other marine animals. It is housed in an old slaughterhouse at the harbour, received the UN award for environmental tourism in June 2000.

Enormous skeletons of humpback, minke, killer and sperm whales (all found stranded or trapped in fishermen's nets)

Safnahúsið á Húsavík

The town museum, houses in the same building as the town libray. The museum consists of three sections, folk history, maritime and natural exhibits. We arrive after lunch and it look closed. There is a notice saying visitors should contact the staff. Before we figure out where the staff is, a gentlemen appears, on the lights and lead us in. It's feel great that the museum is opened just for us. Jokes aside, I guess since this is tourists off-peak season, it's clever to open the museum on an adhoc basis. The only problem with this museum is, the writeups are in Icelandic and there is no way I can understand by looking at the interesting exhibits like the re-creation of an early farmhouse, paintings, books, ancient tools and weapons in the folk history and maritime section. In the end, we spend the longest time exploring in the natural history section, since seeing animals do not require any understanding. Nevertheless, it is still an enjoyable and fruitful visit.

Stuffed animals in the natural history museum

Arctic Foxes

Hooded Seal

This polar bear is the pride of this town.
It was shot on the Grimsey Island on 22nd Jan 1969, after a long cruise from Greenland on an ice floe. This is the biggest one caught and still preserved in Iceland. Now the law has been changed and the polar bear is protected and those who confront this dangereous animal are suppose to notify the authorities instead of killing them - unless it is absolutely necessary. Why do I know this polar bear's history? This exhibit has an English writeup, surprisingly.

Deep sea creatures

This cross-shaped church reminds me of the gingerbread candy house in Hansel and Gretel is a landmark of Húsavík. It is constructed in 1907 from Norwegian timber.

The back of the church is not as stunning as the front.

The Icelandic Phallological Museum
It contains a collection of two hundred penises and penile parts belonging to almost all the land and sea mammals that can be found in Iceland. The museum only opens from 20th May to 10th Sept, so we missed it totally.

Streets and sidewalks

Dine Out @ Gamli Baukur
As much as we tried to save money by cooking our own meals, it still good to go out and try the local food. Gamli Baukur is housed in the rustic timber building by the harbour.

The interior has a dose of nautical atmosphere.

Dinner Menu
This is the first full course dinner we had in Iceland. The food is good but the bill is definitely no good. Total bill: IR4600 (S$92.00)

Starter, bread is free.

Soup of the day, Minestrone IR800 (S$16.00) to share

Main Course
Steak Sandwich IR1650 (S$33.00)
Grilled Artic Char IR1850 (S$37.00)

Accomodation: Kaldbaks-Kot

The birds are back in the evening.

Centre: hot pot which one can soak hot water in the open and of cos at low temperature.

This is life....

Interior of the cottage,
Self-contained and furnished. The owner offers cleaning up of the cottage for a fee during check out, else we have to sweep and keep the place tidy before leaving.

It's like a studio apartment

The petite and miserable bedroom

Click to see next - Northwest Iceland: Húsavík → The Mývatn District 15 May


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