“Welcome to Húsavík, there is lots to see here,” our pilot announced after touching down on Húsavík airport’s single landing strip. After a 45-minute flight from Reykjavík it is only a fifteen-minute drive from the airport to Húsavík, a small town on the shores of Skjálfandi Bay.
Húsavík is known as the whale watching capital of Iceland. On the way to the harbour where the obligatory whale watching boat awaits us our bus driver tells us that, “Húsavík was the first place in Iceland settled by a Norse man, Garðar Svavarsson, who stayed there for one winter in 870 A.D.” It only became an official town in the nineteenth century. “In 1907 the church was built with 400 seats but there were not enough inhabitants to fill them. We’ve come a long way since then, now hosting a population of more than 2.200,” he says.
Out to sea
Our boat takes off and gradually picks up speed, while heading out to sea toward Víknafjöll and Kinnarfjöll, the mountain ranges on the other side of Skjálfandi bay. The 1.200 metre high, snow-covered mountaintops offer a picturesque view and are also a go-to area for ice climbing and hiking. We are accompanied by bright and almost warming sunshine as our boat steers into the blue splashing waves.
All wrapped up in warm coveralls, the group on board listens to the tour guide, who tells us that the water temperature is one to two degrees Celsius right now and that during summer it rises to six to ten. Be sure to know whether you have a tendency to get seasick (there is always a first time) before going on board, as jumping overboard during the trip to alleviate the nausea is not an option, as tempting as it may seem. You’ll have to suffer until you reach land again, so bear that in mind.
Even though the bay has good conditions for whale watching, there is no guarantee that you’ll spot the majestic creatures. Our guide explains that the bay’s optimal whale-watching conditions are due to the two streams that run into the bay—Skjálfandafljót, a glacier river, and Laxá, a freshwater river coming from Lake Mývatn (which is famous for the salmon from which its name is derived). “The water temperature, the streams and the rivers’ fauna, create the feeding ground for whales,” she says.
While we learn about different kinds of whales that come into the bay, everyone keeps staring at the water in hopes of spotting a fin or a tail. “The whales are where the birds are because the birds are where the fish are,” she explains. And some people are indeed able to get a glimpse of a harbour porpoise, which is one of the smallest whales in the world at 1,5 metres in length. “Many whales—mainly minke whales, some fin whales, dolphins, as well as porpoises that like to stay close to the coast—don’t migrate south for the winter,” she says.
Back on land
The Húsavík Whale Museum is located next to the harbour. Established in 1997, it is the only informational and educational centre on whales in Iceland. Along with the many species of whales that may show up in Skjálfandi bay, you can also find buzzing bird life. For those who have good sea legs, you can take a boat to nearby Flatey Island, or to Grímsey, also known as “Puffin Island” that lies on the Arctic Circle.
Húsavík is the central starting point for day excursions and travels to many of the most famous places in north Iceland. From horseback riding to super jeep and geological tours to the Diamond Circle, a 215 km circular route that takes you from Húsavík to Ásbyrgi, Dettifoss and Mývatn. The possibilities are endless.
We ended the day at Sigurgeir’s Bird Museum, which holds the largest private bird collection in Iceland with stuffed specimens of almost all Icelandic breeding birds. If you are a bird lover you can even get a glimpse of bird life from the museum’s observation points or on guided tours around the lake area. It is home to a large variety of ducks and other winged species, paddling and flying around after they arrive back in Iceland around May from their winter holiday in the southern hemisphere.
Although it is impossible to cover everything in the Mývatn area in a single day, this gave us a taste for more.
Tour provided by Eagle Air. For day tours and direct flights to húsavík visit www.eagleair.is/