July 28, 2013 – Iceland: Húsavík and Jewels of the North
Posted on July 30th, 2013
‘Le Boreal’ docked in the small town of Húsavík as breakfast was being served, during which Icelandic migration and customs formalities were conducted quickly and efficiently. Today, we were scheduled for an exciting coach tour to several amazing sites in northern Iceland. On the horizon were many peaks, which retained much of their winter snow cover.
The part of town was around the harbor was active with boats but, for many of the inhabitants it was a sleepy Sunday morning. Even the church, built in 1907, was not open until later.
We headed first to Húsavík (‘House Harbour’) and its Whaling Museum. The latter had a series of galleries with displays of whaling history from the old days to modern times, when whale watching has replaced whale catching. Indeed the town is very much the center for whale watching in Iceland with an excellent record of sightings.
The museum currently currently houses a skeleton for every known species of marine mammal, save for the blue whale, the largest animal species that has ever existed. Recently, the museum had been pursuing the possibility of completing its collection by purchasing an 82-foot-long skeleton of a blue whale. We were fortunate to be part of a special ceremony, whereby our Cruise Director Jannie Cloete presented the museum’s Curator, Einar Gísla, with a check for $14,000 from A&K Philanthropy to assist with this major project.
We set off next for Godafoss, enjoying green and luxuriant agricultural scenery on the way with Icelandic horses, many sheep and a few cattle. As we approached Godafoss our guide related the derivation of the name (Waterfall of the Gods) and how the images of the Norse gods were flung into the falls when a decision to adopt Christianity was made about a thousand years ago. The falls were impressive with a fast flowing river descending through narrow volcanic clefts and continuing along a steep canyon. We followed it by walking across the cliff tops and crossing an old bridge, rejoining the coaches further down.
The journey continued through farmlands with many rivers of various sizes. Mývatn was reached for the next stop. We took the opportunityto walk along several tracks and see the variety of birds breeding here. Around were many flowering plants, in bloom at the height of a pleasant warm summer’s day. Pseudo-craters abounded and offered spectacular views.
The countryside changed rapidly after we left Mývatn and volcanic phenomena became more apparent. Some of this was seen in the larva blocks used to make walls for sheep pens. Dimmuborgir was our destination, a site known for its legends of trolls who had prolonged parties resulting in their petrification when the sun arose and they were too late to avoid its light. The larva cliffs, towers, canyons, arches, and many other weird shapes were fascinating.
The tectonic rift between Europe and North America was also remarkable here; we could stand astride it with half of our body on each distinct plate.
From Dimmuborgir we returned to Skóllbrekka, towards Mývatn for lunch. The delicious meal was very much a local affair, with tomatoes and salad grown in geo-thermally heated greenhouses, trout from the river, local new potatoes, and skaer, an Icelandic milk curd (similar to yogurt).
Back aboard the coaches and traveling westbound, the scenery changed once again as we entered a highly volcanic region with scant vegetation and many fumaroles. The coach crossed the continental rift and we stopped in Námaskarõ. Here the smell of sulphur permeated the atmosphere and coincidentally a very rare phenomenon anywhere in Iceland began: a good flash-crash-bang thunder storm. Lightning bolts descended in several directions to the surrounding peaks and loud thunder was frequent from the shy. We followed our clearly marked paths as large drops of rain rain fell and turned into steam on the hot ground. It was an amazing spectacle — something we felt fortunate to experience as it more fully completed our understanding of the volcanic geology of Iceland.
Back aboard the coaches, we made a brief stop at some ‘nature baths’ where many people were enjoying a swim in hot water swimming pools, said to be similar to the well-known Blue Lagoon. We continued travelling to the other side of Mývatn over extensive scoria larva fields remaining from the disastrous Lakí eruptions of the late 1700s.
We returned to ‘Le Boreal’ around 5 p.m. This left plenty of time to prepare for our next event: Captain Patrick Marchesseau’s Farewell Cocktail Party. After Jannie made introductions, the Captain presented all the crew whom we had come to know during the voyage, and whom we greeted with cheers and applause. The evening concluded with an “Ou la la Paris” show by a surprising and brilliant array of talented dancers, musicians and other performers on board.