From Iceland — Still Waters And Colourful Jellyfish: Kayaking In Hvalfjörður

Still Waters And Colourful Jellyfish: Kayaking In Hvalfjörður

Published August 1, 2012

Andie Sophia Fontaine
Photo by
Eli Petzold

When I was asked if I would be up for some kayaking, the image that immediately sprang to mind was plunging down frothing, rocky rapids, doing barrel rolls through deadly currents as I swatted aside electric eels and manta rays before rocketing off a steep waterfall, bellowing my war cry while Van Halen’s ‘Panama’ played in the background at full volume. This is not the kayak trip I went on.

Arctic Adventures offers a kayaking tour of Hvalfjörður, a peaceful and picturesque fjord about 40 minutes north of Reykjavík. Rowan, our genial and patient New Zealander kayak guide, took us out to a remote shelter by the water where the kayaks and wet suits were kept. At this point, I should point out to readers that as less-than-hot as Icelandic summers may be, you really shouldn’t wear too much for this trip—the wet suit is plenty warm, to where even a shirt and a T-shirt under my gear made me pretty warm, especially while paddling.

Disco Jellyfish

There was a review of safety procedures, the most important tidbit being what to do in the event you capsize. This was not to be of concern today, though, as the wind was unnaturally still by Icelandic standards; the water like a vast plate of tarnished silver. Ideal, Rowan told us, for the trip we were to take—down a length of fjord coastline and back again.

At this point, I figured alright, so this’ll probably be pretty leisurely to the point of boring. I was fortunately proven wrong. While the paddle down the fjord was nearly effortless, it was anything but boring. The fjord is teeming with life. Jellyfish (which I’m ashamed to admit, after living twelve years in Iceland, I had no idea lived anywhere near here) bobbed along the surface of the water. I have no idea what species they were, but Rowan called them “disco jellyfish” on account of their colour-changing ability. There were also puffins, numerous starfish clinging to rocks (again, to my surprise), sea urchins, and a baby seal watched us cautiously but curiously from a distance.


We went ashore for lunch (sandwiches, juice and cookies—all delicious) and I asked Rowan about any of the dangers one might experience on such a trip. He considered it a moment, before remarking that sometimes groups get too spread out, and it becomes difficult to have people within shouting distance. Also, kayaking trips are cancelled if winds are exceeded five metres per second.

“Really?” I was incredulous. “That sounds like a strong breeze.”

Rowan shrugged. “It is, but you’d be surprised.” Even the mildest winds across the water can make paddling not just challenging but also a bit risky—paddle the wrong way, and you could get taken far from the group.”

A contemplative adventure

There was some socialising going on during lunch, but for the most part, this group of about a dozen were more or less content to paddle in relative silence, taking in the stunning mountains and minutiae of wildlife around us. It was a contemplative adventure, one that quiets the internal, incessant dialogue, if only for a few moments.

The wind speed on the way back was around four metres per second. I scoffed at this faint breath of a breeze as I got back into my kayak and began to paddle back—with a great deal more effort than before. I was puzzled. Surely, I must be doing something wrong here. Why is it taking all my power to move forward? Why is the group moving further ahead of me, but the shore is getting no closer? For some reason, I could not allow myself to be the last person to shore. I’m not competitive by nature, and it’s not like I have a reputation as a stellar athlete to uphold. It was more like a personal challenge, I guess, and one that ended up requiring focus, grim determination, and probably more than three hours of sleep beforehand.

I did not reach the shore last, it turned out, but all I was thinking about on the moment was the magic stillness of the fjord’s world, and the adrenaline rush I felt in bolting my way back through a zephyr that might as well have been a gale force wind for the challenge it presented.

Ultimately, this kayaking tour is a good idea for non-athletes and outdoorsy types alike who want to see Iceland’s natural world up close during a day trip. It’s well worth the experience, even if you won’t be bulleting through the whitewater. Sometimes, your greatest thrills are all internal.

Tour offered by Arctic Adventures. Call 562-7000 or email for booking and more information.

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