Saturday, 28 August 2010

Iceland - Day 6

Saturday 24th July

As I've mentioned previously, there is a huge 4X4 'culture in Iceland and given the terrain, quite rightly so. As well as the adventure tourism industry, just getting around in some parts of Iceland during the winter probably wouldn't be possible with out one. From small Suzuki jeeps right up to huge monster trucks there is a size and type to suit everyone. Just across the road from the hotel was a fuel station/supermarket where lots of the off roaders would call in. The picture below is of just one of average size which was there filling up as we going out for the day. I wouldn't want the bill for filling up the tank !

Today we were off to Husavik around one hour north of the hotel for a whale watching trip organized by Ian - it was a trip I'd been looking forward to ever since the trip was mentioned.

Once out of the village where we were staying, the road soon turned to a gravel road - but much better than the one we travelled on a few days previously. Even though the landscape was still pretty barren, there were now a few more hills.

Husavik was a nice mix of both being a working town and having attractions for tourists. Whale watching is obviously a big draw as there were quite a few companies offering trips out in seach of the 'gentle giants'. We were due to go out just before midday so there was time to have a wander around and also get a few pictures etc.

 - and this sort of 'graffiti' I don't mind !

I think that there was an eager anticipation by all on board as to whether we'd see and cetaceans today. Someone suggested that if none were seen, then you get an alternative date to go out - not much good for us as we would be driving back to Akureyi tomorrow and then flying on to Keflavik. Well the crew must be pretty confident when they offered this as, within minutes of leaving the harbour our first cetaceans were seen in the shape of 3 Harbour Porpoises (or Neesicks as they're called here in Shetland). My own experiences with them here in Shetland is that you have to be pretty quick with the camera as they only surface for a couple of seconds and then they can disappear for ages. Whether these animals were slower or on this particular day my reactions were quicker I don't know but I managed a number of shots while they were in the area.

Harbour Porpoise

Ever though there were quite a number of people on board, the boat we were on didn't feel too overcrowded - except when the animals were in front of the bow ! On these occasions, the skipper would position the boat side on to give more people a better view.

A boat similar to ours

Very shortly after this, we had our first sightings of two bigger whales - these were two Minkes  and were fairly close to the boat. Minkes are one of the commoner larger whales that are seen in the north Atlantic, certainly around Shetland anyway. These animals would surface for air 3 or 4 times and then dive for ages and it was anyones guess where, or how far away, they would surface again. I've seen a few off of Shetland but only once as close as these were.

Minke Whales
It wasn't just cetaceans we were seeing, there were also lots of birds around - if there is food for large mammals then you would presume that also there would be food for fish-eating sea birds. We numerous Fulmars, Gulls, Puffins and Skuas - mainly Arctic Skuas but also one or two Great.

Heading a little further out of the bay we past Puffin Island where there are normally tens of thousands of Puffins nesting and as we past, hundreds were wheeling around the island over our heads.

Moving off again, we had another sighting of fins breaking the surface, this time it was 3 White-beaked Dolphins. Despite being much larger than the porpoises we'd seen earlier, these animals were also very quick at surfacing and then diving again. It became a bit hit or miss as to where they would surface and also whether or not I'd got the camera pointing in the right direction. Our guide on the boat told us that more often than not, they would be quite inquisitive - even playful - when any boats were in the area, not much of a consolation for us as today they were not being 'co-operative'.

White-beaked Dolphins

After around three and a half hours we returned to the harbour, for me at least, it had been a great trip out. Back in Husavik, a festival had started and there were hundreds of folk around the harbour and on the streets.

As we left, there were still whale watching trips out on the bay, I then thought of those peoples anticipation and hopes for seeing the whales and dolphins just I had when we left the harbour earlier in the day.

Back at the hotel and after dinner, we took a walk in the pleasant evening sunshine; however, I forgot to put on the Avon stuff and was plagued by Blackflies for most of the walk. Despite this, it was a cracking evening with virtually no wind and the sun was still quite warm.

Cotton grass

 Looking back towards the hotel


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