The Northland: One Reporter’s Adventure At The Top Of The World

The Northland: One Reporter’s Adventure At The Top Of The World

Photos by
Desiree Andrews

Letting Go in Mývatn

There’s really only one thing to say upon driving or hiking through Mývatn – Wow. No matter how many volcanic wildernesses you’ve visited, Mývatn stands on its own as a place unlike any other. The lava formations span out on the horizon like obsidian mazes carved in the landscape. A dusting of green mixed amongst abundant ponds, gives the area a lushness the sparse wasteland would not otherwise have.

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The Mývatn Nature Bath is the kind of place that a traveller feels lucky to have found and that should be kept a secret. Unlike many baths in Iceland, the uncorrupted natural setting is what makes the place so special. A panorama of tranquil pools and steam vents set the mood. Without huge crowds, it is easy to settle in and relax. The dramatic contrast of the electric-blue water and the dark shadows of the valley of lava below are heightened by the setting sun. The effect is stunning. In addition to the baths and steams rooms, massages are also available.

While the natural attractions are enough to satiate the wanderlust in most adventurers, the quaintness of the area makes for a quiet nightlife. The best hotspot for evening gatherings is at Restaurant Myllan. Open late, this low-key café attracts tourists like Mecca attracts pilgrims. They offer the ubiquitous local speciality Geysir Bread, a heavy bread baked within the geothermic heat from the ground and topped with smoked fish. Before you leave town be sure to check out the Vogafjós Cow Shed Café. This novel coffee shop offers a nice latte with a pleasant view of the lake on one side and the cow shed on the other. If you’re lucky you can witness the cows being milked. In any case, keep an eye out for the sheep with the permanently cocked head.

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Mývatn Nature Bath, www.jardbodin.is
Accomidation provided by: Vogar Travel Service, 660 Mývatn
Tel: 464 4399, info@vogahraun.is

Emigration Museum

With the harsh weather and sparse vegetation, people living in northern Iceland have never had it easy. When the volcano Askja erupted in the spring of 1875, the heavy ash fall and poisonous gases killed much of the livestock. This eruption, along with other extreme weather conditions, invading polar bears and poor harvests, triggered a large emigration from the island. By 1914, nearly one fifth of all Icelanders had left the country. They crossed the Atlantic toward the northern territories in North America ready to start a new life and face unknown challenges.

The Icelanders who stayed behind have not forgotten their ancestors who set sail over a century ago. In fact, Valgeir Þorvaldsson, an Icelandic native, started the Icelandic Emigration Centre in the picturesque harbour town of Hofsós in 1990 to celebrate and commemorate his North American bound countrymen. The museum consists of three buildings each housing a different exhibit ranging from an impressive history in photos to a reconstruction of the long voyage across the sea and life in the new world.

If you’ve got, or you think you have, Icelandic heritage, talk to Meredith Helgudóttir, a Canadian who has retraced her family’s journey back to the north shores of Iceland. She has found a new home amongst old relatives and is now an active employee at the museum. Meredith can help you find family members using the museum’s comprehensive record system. She, and other helpful staff members, can tell you when your family left and from what port, using the computer database that contains the names of all registered emigrants and visitors who have come searching for them.

The Icelandic Emigration Center, 566, Hofsos
Tel.: 453 7936, www.hofsos.is
Accomidation provided by:
Sunnuberg Guesthouse, Suðurbraut 8, 565 Hofsós
Tel.: 453 7310, www.hofsos.is, hofsos@hofsos.is

Whale Watching

Whenever I find myself tired of taking the wrong exit on the Ring Road, eating gas-station food for every meal, involuntarily stopping the car to take the same picture of sheep that I have taken at an average interval of 50 kilometres, then I know it’s high time to get to the sea. That is exactly what I did in Húsavík.

Whale watching is always a dubious event for me. While I love being on boats, I find the prospect of chasing a whale somewhat unsettling. I always think back to the first time I saw killer whales in the wild. Leaning off the boat’s bow, along with dozens of other tourists snapping photos, I felt more like a member of the paparazzi than an observer of a natural wonder.

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North Sailing in Húsavík offers a more pure, less invasive way to see whales. While there are still the bustling tourists trying to get their perfect shot, the company does not use radar to pinpoint the whales’ location thereby ensuring a sighting. They use something potentially less reliable but also less prosaic: binoculars and luck, along with years of experience.

The company owns several beautifully renovated traditional oak fishing boats, including the Haukur, a 51-foot schooner I fell in love with on sight. I was not lucky enough to board that sailboat; I settled
for the Náttfari, a more humble but still impressive fishing boat with an upper deck that was perfect for scanning the seas.

For the ease of viewing, the vessel was divided into a clock – the bow designated 12 o’clock, the stern 6 o’clock. When we spotted our first whale, a small minke, the tour guide yelled “Three o’clock,” and
everyone rushed over to the right side. The nautical romantic in me would have preferred “Whale off the starboard,” but you can’t always get what you want.

North Sailing, Hafnarstett 11, 640 Húsavík
www.northsailing.is