Northern Iceland is very remote. For the last few days we have seen only a couple of towns but a lot of farms and some wildlife.
Yesterday morning we had a quick look around the beautiful Lake Mývatn. This is Iceland’s fourth largest lake, 36.5 km2, and it has around 50 islets or skerries in it. The lake is shallow, full of fish, interesting flora and rich birdlife. The lake and the surrounding area is a nature reserve, and a very popular travel destination for both locals and tourists like us.
There is only one, very small, town on the east side of the lake, called Reykjahlíð. It has basic amenities such as a gas station, bank, mini supermarket, health care centre, school, swimming pool and a hotel. Various cafés, restaurants, hotels, guesthouses, summer cabins and a campsite are also scattered along the banks of the lake and by some of the main attractions. Our hotel, The Laxa, was situated on a knoll, little way out of Reykjahlíð.
Most of our day, yesterday, was designed for us to drive about 60 km north to the Whale Watching Capital of Iceland at Húsavík. The receptionist at our hotel suggested that we go the long way around as the road was made but we got a little geographically embarrassed and ended up on a more direct road. This was a rough gravel road that was having some considerable repair work. This made it worse and we felt as though we our car was sliding all over the place on the newly laid gravel the size of bantam chicken eggs. Unfortunately, we manages to find the same road on our return trip.
We found an interesting place near the coast. Here was a thermally heated vegetable farm. It was a very large establishment and turned out to be the source of the salad vegetables that we have been eating over the last few days. The water from a thermal hot spring is used to heat the glass houses, so that crops can be grown, even in winter.
At Husavic, we found a bakery and had a coffee and a bun. (unlike our trip to the USA last May, people here know to make a decent espresso coffee). We had a little time to spare, so we wandered around the bustling little town doing some exploring. We found a little cafe by the wharf for lunch and then found our way to the boat that would take us out into the bay for our whale watching trip.
First, we were fired with immersion suits that would protect us if we fell overboard. They were also nice and warm. The water temperature was about 4C and the wind was bitingly cold. Then we left for three hours on the bay hoping to see spouts, fins and any other evidence of whales that we could find.
We were lucky that we saw three species of whale – Humpback, Minkle and Northern Bottle Nose. The most common was the Humpback which I have previously seen in Antarctica and around the Australian coast. They make a deep dive to feed and that is when they show their flukes. The markings on their tales are all individual and make them recognisable all around the world.
We were very lucky to see the Northern Bottle Nose Whale. These are rarely seen – the last sighting of them in these waters was six years ago. Unlike the Humpback which are baleen whales (filter feeders,) the Bottle Nose Whales are toothed whales (like dolphins). They live in much larger social groups and there were ten of them in the pod that we saw.
We were back to Mývatn in time for dinner and some interesting light caused by some incoming rain and localised showers.
This morning, we headed around the coast to Siglufjörður in the far north. It was a short driving day of only about 185 kms. Our first stop was at a beautiful waterfall called Dettifoss. We sure timed it well! Just as were about to turn left off the highway into the car park, seven tour buses arrived over the one-lane bridge in front of us and took up most of the parking space. They came from a cruise ship that had stopped for the day in the nearby port of Akureyri. Then they disgorged hundreds o/f American Tourists who had no idea where they were, but just wanted to see the waterfall. However, I did manage to get a few photos of the waterfall.
We reached Akureyri about 45 minutes later. It’s the second largest town in Iceland and is bustling with activity. It has a church that was designed by the same architect as the one we saw in Reykjavik. We also visited the Botanical Gardens and found many of the little plants that we have seen along the roads that we travelled.
We stopped at a little village of Hauganes and had lunch in the car over looking the little harbour. We had stopped in Akureyri for a coffee and bought some delicious open sandwiches of smoked salmon and salad. It was far too windy outside although it was not raining (yet).
The last part of our drive to Siglufjörður was across open moorland and though some long tunnels. One was only one lane wide with passing bays every couple of hundred metres. Vehicles coming from the other direction had right of way, so every time we saw oncoming headlights, it was a bit of a game of chicken to see how many passing bays we could continue past until had to pull over and let them pass. The longest tunnel was little over 7 kms.
We arrived in Siglufjörður in mid-afternoon and by now it was raining continuously. Not to be deterred, I put on my parka and wandered around the town taking photos of interesting things. Until the 1960’s this town was the centre of Icelands herring fishing industry. Fishermen would go out for three or four months and bring back barrels of herring that they had caught. Once home, their women folk would salt, can or pack the herring for export. Across the road from our hotel are three remaining factories in which herring were processed. They are now a museum.
Here are a few other sites if this interesting little town.