north iceland: whale-watching with arctic sea tours in dalvík

Wednesday, August 17:  We arrive back at the town of Dalvík, a village on the western shore of Eyjafjörður in the valley of Svarfaðardalur, just in time for our 3:00 whale watching trip with Arctic Sea Tours.

As soon as we check in, we’re given arctic suits and told to hop into them.  It’s actually getting quite warm this afternoon, so it’s too hot to be wearing these suits.  Many people keep the tops unzipped and folded down over their behinds.

Mike in an Arctic suit :-)
Mike in an Arctic suit 🙂
me in my Arctic suit
me in my Arctic suit

When everyone has arrived, we all march down to the marina to board the boat.  The marina with its backdrop of snow-capped peaks is charming and picturesque.

marina in Dalvík
marina in Dalvík
marina in Dalvík
marina in Dalvík
marina in Dalvík
marina in Dalvík
marina in Dalvík
marina in Dalvík
marina in Dalvík
marina in Dalvík

We aren’t going out into the Greenland Sea but will stay in Iceland’s longest fjord, Eyjafjörður, measuring 60km from head to mouth.  The tour is for 3 hours.

The fjord is surrounded by hills and mountains on both sides; the mountains are taller on the west side.  The mountains pictured below on are the east side.

Eyjafjörður
Eyjafjörður
Eyjafjörður
Eyjafjörður

Freyr Antonsson is the man in charge.  After we’re underway, he shows us photos of the creatures we might encounter, especially the great humpback whale, white-beaked dolphins, minke whales, small harbor porpoises and possibly even the majestic blue whale.  Today, we’ll see only humpback whales and harbor porpoises.

our boat captain from Arctic Sea Tours
our boat captain from Arctic Sea Tours
Eyjafjörður
Eyjafjörður

Even though it was warm on land, it’s quite cold and windy out on the fjord.  Luckily we’re bundled up in our Arctic suits and winter hats.

Aboard Draumur
Aboard Draumur

We can see the tip of the island of Hrísey in the middle of Eyjafjörður.  It is the second largest island off the coast of Iceland and is often referred to as “The Pearl of Eyjafjörður.” It has a population of approximately 120 people and has been continuously inhabited since the Settlement of Iceland (Wikipedia: Hrísey).

Eyjafjörður
Eyjafjörður

We can see the western mountains on Tröllaskagi, the “Troll peninsula.”

Eyjafjörður
Eyjafjörður
Eyjafjörður
Eyjafjörður
Eyjafjörður
Eyjafjörður
Eyjafjörður
cloud artistry over Eyjafjörður

The mountains surrounding the fjord are treeless and capped with snow.

As we approach the mouth of the fjord near the Greenland Sea, we start to see some humpback whales.  Their backs rise out of the water and we can sometimes catch a glimpse of their tails before they submerge again.  When they’re just under the surface of the water, we can see a flat area in the water with bubbles rising.

glimpses of whales in Eyjafjörður
glimpses of whales in Eyjafjörður
boat and gulls on Eyjafjörður
boat and gulls on Eyjafjörður
boat on Eyjafjörður
boat on Eyjafjörður

Sometimes when they surface, their backs are just slightly above water, but other times, they curve out of the water in a nice hump.

humpback whale
humpback whale
humpback whale
humpback whale
humpback whale
humpback whale
humpback whale
humpback whale

I’m excited to finally capture one decent tail picture.  It’s very difficult to capture the whales on camera as you have to be looking at the sea in the exact spot where they rise up unexpectedly and you have to have your camera ready to shoot.  Often, they are simply too far away to get a decent picture.

humpback whale
humpback whale

During the trip, the crew hands out hot chocolate and cookies for a warming-up snack.

Eyjafjörður
Eyjafjörður
glimpses of whales
glimpses of whales
whale spottings
whale spottings
Eyjafjörður
Eyjafjörður

As we head back to Dalvík, the crew passes out fishing poles all around and people toss their lines overboard.  It’s amazing how quickly they start to pull in fish.  Different people on board pull up cod and three other types of fish.  This young man catches a big one!

A catch!
A catch!

Mike even tries his hand at fishing but doesn’t catch anything.

Mike goes fishing
Mike goes fishing

The captain cleans all the fish on board, tossing the heads and entrails overboard, while seagulls flap along overhead hoping to catch some scraps.

Eyjafjörður
Eyjafjörður
Eyjafjörður
Eyjafjörður

We arrive back at the marina and head back to the Arctic Sea Tours office.

Dalvík marina
Dalvík marina

Click on any of the pictures below for a full-sized slide show.

Back at the Arctic Sea Tours office, Freyr Antonsson fires up the grill and barbecues the fish we caught and he cleaned.  We each get a small portion of the various fish cooked with a butter spice topping.

our captain cooks up our fish catch
our captain cooks up our fish catch

After enjoying our snack, we get on the road back to Akureyri and the Lamb Inn.  At the inn, we soak for a while in a hot tub behind the inn and talk with a couple from Bucks County, Pennsylvania, Ray and Marybeth, who are enjoying their holiday in Iceland.  They are quite the talkers. 🙂

We have 8:00 dinner reservations at the Lamb Inn and we find our dinner to be one of the best we have in Iceland.  I order traditional fish gratin (made with cod) “dressed up” with butter and rye bread.  It’s delicious!

Traditional fish gratin "dressed up" with butter and rye bread
Traditional fish gratin “dressed up” with butter and rye bread

Mike’s meal of slow cooked lamb shank with chives, mashed potatoes and wild mushroom sauce is also wonderful, and I’m not generally much of a meat eater.

Slow cooked lamb shank with chives, mashed potatoes and wild mushroom sauce
Slow cooked lamb shank with chives, mashed potatoes and wild mushroom sauce

We’ve had a busy day with our drive all around Tröllaskagi, our hike around and above Siglufjörður, and our whale-watching tour.  Tomorrow we’ll sadly have to leave Akureyri for the east of Iceland.  We should definitely have planned more time for our trip.

Today’s steps: 12,650, or 5.36 miles. 🙂

north iceland: a day trip to siglufjörður on tröllaskagi, the troll peninsula

Wednesday, August 17:  This morning, we enjoy an excellent breakfast at the Lamb Inn, and then brace ourselves as we head out into overcast skies and spitting rain. We’re heading up Tröllaskagi, or the Troll Peninsula, which lies between Eyjafjörður, the longest fjord in Iceland, and Skagafjörður, a deep bay in northwestern Iceland.  The peninsula is mountainous, with several peaks at 1,000 meters above sea level; this part of the country has the highest elevation outside of the central highlands.  Sparsely populated, residents here base their livelihoods on agriculture or fisheries.

Our first stop is the sleepy town of Dalvík.  We catch views of the snow-capped mountains to the south of town and then head into town where we book a 3:00 3-hour whale-watching tour with Arctic Sea Tours.  As it’s not even 10:00, we should have plenty of time to explore the northernmost tip of the peninsula at Siglufjörður.

south of Dalvík
south of Dalvík
south of Dalvík
south of Dalvík
south of Dalvík
south of Dalvík
red and orange house in Dalvík
red and orange house in Dalvík
Dalvík
Dalvík
Dalvík
Dalvík
cattle drive near Dalvík
cattle drive near Dalvík
cattle near Dalvík
cattle near Dalvík
an Icelandic woman drives the cattle near Dalvík
an Icelandic woman drives the cattle near Dalvík
a seafaring memorial
a seafaring memorial
farmland on Tröllaskagi
farmland on Tröllaskagi
farmland on Tröllaskagi
farmland on Tröllaskagi
farmland on Tröllaskagi
farmland on Tröllaskagi

Three tunnels connect Dalvík, Ólafsfjörður and Siglufjörður.  The first we encounter north of Dalvík and is a 3.4km one-way rock-solid tunnel.   We see there are pullovers on the right side of the tunnel, about every 170 meters. We’re not exactly sure who has the right of way, but as we approach another car’s headlights, we see they pull off into the pull-off on our side of the road.  We find out later that we should have been the ones to pull off, as the southbound cars have the right of way.  We finally figure this out in time for our next encounter; luckily we only meet a few cars in the tunnel.  The map below shows the fjords, the towns and the tunnels.

Tröllaskagi
Tröllaskagi

After the 3.4km tunnel, we emerge into the isolated and mountain-locked town of Ólafsfjörður.  All we do in this town is to stop at a gas station to get drinks and use the bathroom.  We see some downhill ski slopes above the town as well as a pretty little cemetery.

cemetery in Ólafsfjörður
cemetery in Ólafsfjörður
cemetery in Ólafsfjörður
cemetery in Ólafsfjörður
cemetery in Ólafsfjörður
cemetery in Ólafsfjörður

The next tunnel is a 7km two-way tunnel.  It seems to last forever.  We emerge from this tunnel at Héðinsfjörður, a nearly 6km-long deserted fjord at the northernmost point of Tröllaskagi before Siglufjörður. Here we stop to breathe some fresh air and recover from being under a mountain for 7km!

view of Héðinsfjörður - a stop between tunnels
view of Héðinsfjörður – a stop between tunnels

Below is the tunnel under the mountain from Ólafsfjörður to Héðinsfjörður.

tunnel from Ólafsfjörður to
tunnel from Ólafsfjörður to Héðinsfjörður
the mountains near Héðinsfjörður
the mountains near Héðinsfjörður
mountains near Héðinsfjörður
mountains near Héðinsfjörður

In the picture below is the tunnel from Héðinsfjörður to Siglufjörður.  This two-way tunnel is 4km long.  These tunnels were opened in 2010 and improved the living conditions of the people of Siglufjörður immensely.

tunnel from Héðinsfjörður to
tunnel from Héðinsfjörður to Siglufjörður

We emerge above the pretty little town of Siglufjörður, called Siglo by the locals.  We stop at a lookout in a stand of pine trees.

first view of Siglufjörður
first view of Siglufjörður
Siglufjörður
Siglufjörður
Trees - a rare sight in Iceland
Trees – a rare sight in Iceland

Further down the hill, we stop at a pretty little cemetery with white crosses.  Finally, we’re starting to see some glimpses of blue sky.

cemetery on the edge of Siglufjörður
cemetery on the edge of Siglufjörður
cemetery on the edge of Siglufjörður
cemetery on the edge of Siglufjörður
cemetery on the edge of Siglufjörður
cemetery on the edge of Siglufjörður

We wander around the picturesque marina at Siglufjörður for some time.  It’s turning into a beautiful day!

harbor at Siglufjörður
harbor at Siglufjörður

Siglufjörður is an excellent natural harbor with good fishing grounds. Fishing and fish production have always been the most important way of living.  Because of the high and treacherous mountains of Tröllaskagi surrounding the fjord, transportation has always been difficult and often dangerous.  The first road to the community opened in 1946, providing a summer passage.  In 1967 a road opened along the north coast through an 800m-long tunnel.  Due to land characteristics and avalanche threat, this road is dangerous and often closed in winter.

Siglufjörður's harbor
Siglufjörður’s harbor

Siglufjörður had  3,000 residents during the herring era, which ended suddenly in 1968.  In 2010, the population in Siglufjörður was 1214 and in Ólafsfjörður was 852.

orange boat in the harbor
orange boat in the harbor
Siglufjörður
Siglufjörður
Siglufjörður
Siglufjörður
Siglufjörður
Siglufjörður
img_0971
Orange boat in the marina
img_0972
The Dalvik

We stroll around outside the Herring Era Museum, but we decide we’d rather go on a hike above the town rather than spend time in the museum.  The museum opened in 1994 to tell the story of herring catching and processing in Iceland.  The three buildings of the museum were part of an old Norwegian herring station, according to Lonely Planet Iceland.

The herring adventure started in 1903 under Norwegian initiative. Within 40 years, this previously sparsely populated village was transformed into a thriving town of more than 3,000 inhabitants.  Until 1968, when the herring disappeared, the entire work and life of the people of Siglufjörður centered around the herring catch and its processing with 23 salting stations and five smelting factories in the fjord.

Herring Era Museum
Herring Era Museum

Siglufjörður was also one of the most important ports in Iceland and on more than one occasion, the herring exported from the town accounted for more than 20% of the nation’s total exports.  With its booming industry, Siglufjörður also became attractive to tens of thousands of workers seeking employment.

Siglufjörður
Siglufjörður

In bad weather, the sheltered waters of the fjord became home to a massed fleet of hundreds of international herring ships.  The streets of Siglufjörður were so crowded, colorful and active that they resembled the teeming avenues of major world cities, according to a sign near the village.

Herring Era Museum
Herring Era Museum
Herring Era Museum
Herring Era Museum
Herring Era Museum
Herring Era Museum

We stop in at the local library/tourist information to find out about hikes near Siglufjörður.

the library in Siglufjörður
the library in Siglufjörður

We find there is a hike that goes above the town, so we decide to spend some time walking under the rare blue skies after we eat our lunch of bread, cheese and cookies at a picnic area along the fjord.