Whale Watching in Northern Iceland

North Iceland’s’ advantageous weather and sea conditions make it an ideal setting to seek out the largest mammals on the planet. The number and variety of species in the Icelandic waters makes spotting them an almost guarantee.

When making plans to travel to Iceland, whale watching was high on our list of things to do. We didn’t want to book a spot on a tour before we from Reykjavik in our van, as we had no plan but to drive, and to take each day as it comes. So we had no idea when we were going to have a chance to do it.

We’d been travelling a few days when we woke after a night out in Akureyri, Iceland’s second city. A little tender from the night before, we headed to the peaceful, blue fjord front where the whale watching companies are based.

Docks in Akureyri’s Fjord

The beautiful fjords are peaceful and tame, and so they are perfect for the morning after the night before!

Unfortunately, due to a severe decrease in tourism, we arrived to shuttered and locked doors. It seemed they were not running from here today.

Not to worry, as we had a secondary plan! Husavik is another town infamous for it’s Whale Watching tours, but from what we’d read online, there was only one tour today at 10am so we needed to be quick. It was about an hour’s drive to the Northern coastal town, and it was approaching 9am!

As we drove through the slippery, snowy roads, we were worried we’d miss our chance! We arrived at the small shack and rushed in from the van, barely having time to grab our masks or warm weather clothes!

There were thankfully someone taking bookings and we asked if there was space, bracing for the worst. We were in luck, the person behind the counter was running the tour we wanted and booked us on!

We grabbed our forgotten items from the van and ran down to the docks where our boat was waiting for us. We boarded to find all the embarked passengers ready suited and booted for the tour.

Our friend from the front desk handed us warm suits and the boat started moving. It was only now that we realised the weather didn’t look that great and we were due to be on this boat for 3 hours.

Our boat and guide

As we moved further and further away from the dock, the boat moved more sporadically up and down, side to side. The contents of our stomachs lurched with each bump.

I started to feel very queasy, but keen to see some whales, I focussed on the mountains passing me by and practised some deep breathing!

We were about thirty minutes in when we spotted our first whale blow through the surface of the water. We could see the spitting fountain of droplets and the sun refracting through to create a rainbow.

The crew changed course towards the sighting location. We were all pleasantly surprised to find two humpback whales travelling together. According to our guide, this is a rare find as humpbacks are fairly independent creatures.

After following them for a few minutes, they dived in the most beautiful, tail-flipping way and we cut our engines to wait for their resurface.

A Whale Tail

As the waves washed over the boat, we were not coping well with the sickness and three passengers spent the rest of their time at the back of the boat being very sick over the side.

This is not enough to turn back when you are whale watching though! We continued towards the outskirts of the bay with the weather looking more and more menacing!

We caught up with another whale, starting its journey to warmer waters. It gave us some more blows, sights and tail flips before the snow came. We looked up from the choppy waters to the sharp snow storm making its way towards us.

The waters got wavier and the wind picked up as it started to snow, hard. This was also not enough to turn around apparently! We were holding onto the railings desperately looking for the shore to focus our vision on while we rode out the storm.

It passed fairly quickly as we reached the other side of the snow clouds which seemed to be making their way to Husavik. ‘We’ll deal with that later’, the words passed through our heads along with the joy of being able to focus on the mountains again!

Whales and Storm Clouds

We found our pair of whales from earlier in the trip as we turned back towards the other end of the bay, and we watched them for a little longer.

Our guide informed us later on that the villages we were going towards, at the other side of the bay, were actually abandoned as they are unable to be accessed from land, only by boat. We made a mental note that this may be something we’d want to see on a future trip, but right now, we were praying we were heading back soon. It was cold and we knew it was snowing in Husavik.

We had surprisingly already started back towards the small town and were taking it easy in case we spotted any more whales. We did not, but we did spot the snow cloud we’d been through ravishing the shoreline.

Getting off the boat and the abrupt weather change

The boat pulled into Husavik harbour. We had to strip down the warm suits we were given which meant the snowy wind felt particularly nippy on our suddenly exposed limbs. We thanked our guide and ran to the nearby restaurant for some warming coffee and a vegan mushroom pasta!

Whale Watching Advice

We were particularly lucky with our ‘wing-it’ approach in many ways, so I’ve listed my top three tips for when you go whale watching!

1. Book In Advance

We were lucky they were even running tours on the day we went! With tourism at an all-time-low in Iceland, and the world, they’d reduced their sailings significantly. And if we’d gone any later in the day or in the week, we wouldn’t have had a place. Booking in advance would have given us security that the tour was going ahead and we wouldn’t have been rushing to make the boat!

2. Pick a Good Weather Day

In Iceland, as long as it’s not overtly dangerous, the tour will go ahead. If it’s raining or windy, you’re likely to still go out there. A good weather day in Iceland is tough to predict so this is a hard suggestion, but if you can go in the summer when you’re less likely to have any of the

3. Fjord or Bay?

If you get sea-sick, try getting a time on the fjord rather than the bay. The sea in Iceland is rough at the best of times. The fjords are peaceful and calm, even if it is windy, you’ll have a better time than on the sea. However, if you enjoy an adventure, although it was bumpy, we don’t regret it. Just don’t do it after a night out!

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