A trip to Grímsey—Iceland’s northernmost island—from Reykjavík seems less than appealing at first. In order to get there, you have to traverse an entire country, to stand on this micro-island with its approximately 100 inhabitants. Would accommodations need to be secured? Would I need Dramamine for the ferry ride over? The answers to these questions were rather surprising.
AIR TRAVEL: SURPRISINGLY EASY
This particular bird watching tour of Grímsey is operated by Air Iceland, so we naturally embarked from Reykjavík airport (which is conveniently located right in downtown Reykjavík) to get to the island. Domestic air travel in Iceland is nothing like the air travel I have known through my years. My anxieties of getting to the airport early enough to check in, going through security and making it to the gate before it closed turned out to be entirely unfounded.
A domestic flight in Iceland seems more akin to taking the bus (except the planes are usually on time). The tour ticket recommended we show up half an hour before takeoff. Waiting in line to get on the plane at Reykjavík Airport, people were checking in five minutes before the scheduled take off and just stepping into line to get on the plane. There is probably no other place on Earth where air travel is so easy.
The plane we got on was of the smaller variety. This had me nervous, as it is often said that small planes experience the worst turbulence. But this plane ride was one of the smoothest I’ve ever been on. And after this one-hour flight, there’s another forty-five minute flight to Grímsey in an even smaller, 21-passenger plane (the number is deceiving, because it felt like it could barely fit the ten passengers that were on the plane). That flight was equally smooth.
ARCTIC EQUATOR AND PUFFIN CUTENESS AHOY
As soon as we were off the plane, our guide to the bird watching tour was there to greet us. Before we began any bird watching, we were led to a sign with the name of the island, and there were different arrows jutting out from the sign which had the names of major cities on them and how far away they are. This pole marks the line where the Arctic Circle is. Once we crossed the pole, we were officially north of the Arctic Circle, and we got certificates to prove it.
On the trip, there are three separate puffin colonies that can be visited. Grímsey houses thirty different species of birds, but the two we got to see were the Arctic Tern, as it made attempts to bat at our heads (no injuries sustained, they didn’t even really get that close), and the puffin. There were a lot of puffins there, and at the third colony one visits, it’s possible to get quite close to them. We learned that the puffin has been leaving the southern part of Iceland and heading on up to Grímsey in greater numbers, due to the warmer weather down south. For this reason, our guide believes that Grímsey may soon house the island’s largest puffin population (in fact, we were told that around 300.000 puffin reside on Grímsey at this very moment).
Apparently, the puffins all eat at the same time too. Our guide, the knowledgeable Katla Ásgeirsdóttir, told us that at times if the airplane is delayed, people will arrive at the cliffs only to see just a few puffins, because they all fly out to the water to find food at the same time. This seems like it could be very frustrating for bird watching tours as well as pretty embarrassing for tour guides.
LAYOVER IN AKUREYRI
After stopping at the three puffin colonies, we return to the micro-plane for the journey back to Reykjavík. On the way back, though, there is an hour and a half layover in Akureyri, where you can spend your time sitting in the airport or take a cab into town and look around. You will have enough time to do this. The photographer and I stopped in at Brynju ís, which is purportedly the best ice cream shop outside Reykjavík, and even stopped at the church to take the ‘Akureyri challenge’, making it back in time for the flight. This is a good chance to optimise your time in Iceland and truly round out the trip.
The flight to Grímsey left at 10:30 and we arrived home by around 17:30. We went across the country and the Arctic Circle, saw amazing birds, visited the capital of the North, and came back again in around seven hours. Talk about using the time a tourist has in Iceland to its fullest potential!
The ‘Beyond the Arctic Circle’ tour runs from June 15 to August 20, it costs a total of 30.796 ISK from Reykjavík or 21.316 ISK from Akureyri. It can be booked at www.airiceland.is or by calling: 570-3000
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