Strolling around the old harbour in downtown Reykjavik one can‘t help but marvel at the changes the area has undergone in the past few years. Not too long ago the area was pure old school, full of fisherman‘s sheds that were well on their way to becoming run-down. Now whale watching boats rule supreme.
Today, the harbour is alive with bustling activity around the many new restaurants that have opened and, the reason for our presence here today, the many whale – and puffin watching boats that take eager passengers out into the Faxaflói bay to try and spot the gentle giants of the sea.
Even though the sky is overcast and threatening rain, we are still excited as we pick up our tickets and make our way to the docked boat that serves as the Elding whale exhibition and gift shop. Walking through the exhibition only takes a few minutes but gives you a clearer sense of the size of these incredible animals that we will hopefully get to see on the tour today. Since the whales of Faxaflói bay aren’t actually employees of the Elding whale watching company and are therefore not on the clock, sightings can never be guaranteed. But even if we’re not in luck whale-wise today there will still be plenty to see as the bay is full of birdlife, with puffins, terns, auks filling the air and sea and populating the many small islands of the bay.
We are soon called over by a friendly staff member and after a quick security briefing, we step onto the actual boat that will take us on our 4 hour voyage to experience the wildlife of Faxaflói. We are offered thick overalls to defend against the chill on this Icelandic summer’s day but we decide to brave the elements and take a seat on the upper deck in the rear. As we start your journey our seats offer us a stunning view of Reykjavík as it recedes into the horizon. Our guide gives us information about the bay and the many species of animals that live there. It’s soothing watching the sea all around us and thinking of the many aquatic societies thriving underneath the surface. However, we soon have to admit that it is getting a little chilly and we head downstairs to the cabin to put on the overalls and have a cup of coffee from the bar, where they also offer sandwiches, sweets and stronger drinks for those feeling a little unsteady on their feet (although that might just make you even more unsteady so proceed at your own risk). Reinvigorated, we head back out to the upper deck and just in time too, as our guide announces that a humpback whale can be seen “at ten o’clock”. Using this clock system makes it extremely easy to find the right spot and sure enough we see the back of the humpback whale. Now even with just a glimpse of its back, there is no mistaking the size of the animal. It is breathtaking. As if sensing our awe the whale goes for a deep dive, showing us its tail in a picture perfect moment my phone isn’t good enough to do justice to.
The mood on board is one of excitement. Even if we don’t see any other whales, the trip has already been a success. As we sail further into the bay, a group (a swarm? A murder? A puff?) of puffins fly and dive all around the boat, looking for fish or just going for a swim. Our guide comes back on the microphone and tells us that a couple of minke whales have been spotted nearby. As if on cue, the sun finally comes out. We turn towards the left and have only gone a short distance when the minke whales’ fins peek out from the water on the side of the boat. They’re feeling a bit shy and quickly go for a dive again, but just as we lose sight of them we spot another humpback whale close by. The astounding fact that we’ve only gone about an hours’ sail away from the city and yet here we are, sailing next to one of the most remarkable creatures on Earth, really makes you appreciate the wonder of Iceland. After another Kodak moment of a tail flash from the humpback whale, we start heading back to Reykjavík. We sail past another couple of minke whales on the way that swim alongside the ship for a while until they head off on their adventures. By this time we almost feel spoilt, we were only really expecting a nice boat ride and maybe a couple of puffins. But Iceland has a way of surprising you and an overcast, rainy day can quickly turn into a sunny sail in the company of humpback whales.
After reaching the harbour again we say our thank-yous to the lovely staff and head into the afternoon (with the slight wobble of the chronic landlubber) for a refreshing drink at one of the harbour’s many restaurants. The perfect Reykjavík afternoon.