Iain Mallory discovers whales and waterfalls in Iceland
This is the first of two blogs by Iain Mallory, adventure travel blogger and photographer, who went on a road trip from the North to the East of Iceland and shares some of his highlights.
This was my third visit to the land of spectacular scenery and unpronounceable names, visiting largely the less well known region of East Iceland as well as the North.
I was excited to be returning to explore a new part of the geothermal island. I flew from Reykjavik into Akureryi, the northern capital. After picking up a car at the airport, and making a stop at Bláa Kannan, possibly my favourite coffee shop in the world, I was soon on my way to Husavik, the whaling capital of Iceland.
Time had to be made however, to stop and photograph the impressive Gođafoss waterfalls, literally the waterfalls of the gods. The thunderous waters of the river Skjálfandfljót (try saying that after two pints of Viking lager!) as it careers over the cascades never ceases to impress. There’s a reason these falls are the backdrop to all Mallory On Travel brand images, it’s like returning to an old friend, and dipping my fingers in, just to feel the icy meltwaters felt strangely comforting.
Once in Hüsavik, I was introduced to my bed for the night, or more accurately my berth, as I was sleeping aboard Hildur one of North Sailing’s oak framed, two masted expedition schooners, which are also used to sail to Greenland. It was quite an experience, which is currently only available to Discover the World guests. The cabins are cosy even for one and perhaps you’d have to be close friends or family to spend an extended time on this ship. Fortunately, North Sailing also use other schooners for these expeditions, offering private cabins, however, this was to prove to be the best night’s sleep on the road trip.
The following day, aboard Opal, a carbon-free schooner, which employs an electric engine as well as sails, we were at one point surrounded by three humpback and two minke whales, plus the shy harbour porpoise. This was by far the best whale watching I’ve ever been fortunate enough to enjoy with breaching and tails flukes everywhere. It was difficult to know where to look at times, the ship whale spotting guide literally telling us there were whales at fore, aft, midships …… everywhere! It was incredibly exciting and over all too quickly.
The road trip was off to a flying start and it seemed the rest would have a lot to live up to. Next stop was the fishing hamlet of Bakkagerđi, Borgarfjörđur Eystri, apparently, the furthest north East of any significant Icelandic town. It was late evening by the time my car pulled in, but in Summer this is the land of the Midnight Sun – it never actually gets dark. There was a thin strip of mist splitting the mountains of the fjord in half and with the peaks poking high above it was an impressive welcome.
After spending the next morning photographing the abundance of seabirds, there was plenty of time to enjoy a fish stew in the local café. Here I met a young Australian couple, who in common with many other visitors, had taken the hour long detour to the fjord hoping to see the puffins for which it is famous.
Having waited so long, to see my first puffin recently in the Shetland Islands, it was strange, but exciting to be watching them again so soon. There is a viewing station which works on a ‘honesty’ basis, guests leaving payment before entering. However, it’s really not necessary, as the comical, little birds nest within metres of the main viewing platforms and are easy to see and photograph.
Any regret at leaving this pretty little town the following day was soon extinguished along the scenic roads of the East. I took another detour off the main route to visit the lovely town of Seyđisfjörđur. The reason for this detour; sushi at Norđ Austur, fresh Icelandic produce served up by New Yorker and head chef Johnny. I was joined by owner David Krisstenson, who owns several businesses, which specialise in sympathetically converting old houses, such as the bank and school into hotels, who showed me around town.
Next stop Nestkaupstađur, taking the twisting high roads. Driving in this part of the world can be a challenge, although the roads are relatively quiet, the scenery is so captivating, so distracting it takes effort to concentrate on the road, and stops for photographs are plentiful. I have honestly never seen so many jaw dropping waterfalls in one place.
Start Planning Your Trip
You can follow in Iain’s footsteps on our 7-night Northern Highlights itinerary from Egilsstadir in the East Fjords to Akureyri in North Iceland. Alternatively, explore the Arctic Coast Way – a new touring route taking visitors off the beaten track along the north coast of Iceland, which opened in summer 2019.