Discover the incredible beauty of Iceland’s Westfjords, remote and seldom-visited Jan Mayen island where you will see the world’s northernmost active volcanic island, and Svalbard’s northwest coast. Take in dramatic bird cliffs and puffins nesting on ledges, marvel at volcanic geology, Zodiac cruise through impressive glacier-filled fjords, stretch your legs on tundra hikes, search for polar bears on the pack ice and walrus hauled.
Arrive in Reykjavik, Iceland and make your way to the group hotel. Reykjavik is a beautiful city with many lovely restaurants. You may wish to visit the Gullfoss waterfall, Geysir and the tectonic plate boundary where North America and Europe are pulling away from each other. You can do these activities on a Golden Circle Tour. You may also want to take a ride on the beautiful Icelandic horses famous for their fifth gait.
After breakfast at the hotel, a transfer is included to the pier to board your ship, the Greg Mortimer. Sail into Hvalfjördur, a beautiful fjord just north of Reykjavik with wide areas of flat verdant land along majestic mountains, and beaches cut with creeks. The fjord is approximately 30 kilometres long and five kilometres wide. The area is rich in bird life and is home to seals, perfect for Zodiac cruising, kayaking and hikes.
Historically, Hvalfjörður was home to one of the main whaling stations in Iceland, with ships heading out into Faxaflói Bay. It was one of the most important naval stations in the North Atlantic during World War II, when Iceland was occupied by the Allies after the Nazis conquered Denmark. The old whaling station and a war museum can be found in the fjord.
Stykkisholmur is the starting point of your adventure on the Snaefellnes Peninsula, gateway to Snæfellsjökull National Park. Stykkishólmur is located by Breiðafjörður Bay on the north of Snæfellsnes Peninsula and is surrounded by wonderful views of the innumerable islands. One of the defining landmarks in Stykkishólmur are the old houses in the old city centre, some of which were owned by Danish traders, and every year in August there is a Danish town festival in Stykkishólmur called Danskir dagar or Danish days. The oldest house in Stykkishólmur is the Norwegian house, which dates back to 1832. The inhabitants take great pride in preserving the old houses and walking in the centre of town is like walking in another era.
An area of diverse landscapes, characterised by lava fields and glistening fjords and home to bird-rich Breidafjordur Bay. The area is crowned by the magnificent, ice-capped Snæfellsjökull volcano, a 700,000-year-old dormant subglacial volcano, visible from Reykjavik on a clear day and immortalised in Jules Verne’s Journey to the Centre of the Earth.
Disembark the ship at approximately 8.30 am to commence a full day (7 hour) excursion visiting the following areas:
Arnarstapi, an important trading post in the past which had a much bigger population than it has now. Columnar basalt, ravines and grottoes surround the Arnarstapi pier. There is a large arctic tern colony in the village itself, and a walk along the coastline is a great way to see birds such as kittiwake, arctic tern and fulmar. You will also pass magnificent lava formations. The seaside and the cliffs between Arnastapi and Hellnar were made a Natural Reserve in 1979. A sculpture of Bardur Snaefellsas by Ragnar Kjartansson stands by the beach at Arnarstapi. At Bjarnarhöfn, you will enjoy a guided tour of the shark museum and have the opportunity to taste the famed cured shark.
Though Grundarfjörður is not the most well-known town in Snæfellsnes, Mount Kirkjufell is certainly one of the most famous mountains in Iceland, if not the world. It is not unusual for photographers from all over the world to make their way to Grundarfjörður for the sole purpose of photographing this unique landmark which has even starred in a number of films. However, there is a lot more on offer in Grundarfjörður than just Mount Kirkjufell. Nature abounds, with vibrant birdlife and spectacular waterfalls.
En route to Isafjordur, sail past the immense Látrabjarg cliffs, Iceland’s westernmost point and home to a huge population of razorbills and puffins.
Over the next two days, explore the Westfjords region featuring outstanding landscapes with jaw-dropping views of dramatic fjords carved by ancient glaciers, sheer table mountains that plunge into the sea and pristine North Atlantic vegetation. The region features attractive towns such as Isafjordur, the famous Dynjandi waterfall, and spectacular fjords offering kayaking excursions, hiking trails, and bird-watching.
In true expeditionary style, the itinerary is kept flexible to allow for spontaneity based on weather and sea conditions. The plan is to visit Hornstrandir peninsula, one of Iceland’s remotest and most pristine regions filled with many deep and dramatic fjords, towering bird cliffs, stunning natural beauty and opportunities for wildlife encounters. Enjoy the bountiful silence and magnificent landscapes seen only by the few adventurers that make their way here.
Picturesque Akureyri is Iceland’s second largest city outside the capital with a superb snow-capped mountain backdrop. Explore the old town, with its beautifully maintained period houses before heading inland to nearby Mývatn region – an area said to be the most geologically active area in Iceland.
Shore Excursions (choose one of the following):
Option One (up to 9 hours)
The Goðafoss waterfall is one of the most spectacular waterfalls in Iceland. In the year 1,000 the Lawspeaker Þorgeir Ljósvetningagoði made Christianity the official religion of Iceland. After his conversion, Þorgeir threw his statues of the Norse gods into the waterfall earning the waterfall its name – waterfall of the gods. Námaskarð is well-known for its sulphurous mud springs called solfataras and steam springs called fumaroles. Even though you won’t find any pure spring water in this wonderful geothermal site of Iceland, the beauty of the colourful minerals and the gigantic mud craters are truly impressive. Dettifoss is a waterfall in northeast Iceland and is reputed to be the most powerful waterfall in Europe. The falls are 100 metres wide and have a drop of 44 metres down to the Jökulsárgljúfur canyon. Ásbyrgi is a forested horse-shoe shaped canyon in Oxarfjordur. Asbyrgi is a part of Jökulsárgljúfur, within the Vatnajökull National Park.
Option two (up to 7-8 hours)
Akureyri Public Park and Botanic Garden
The garden is one of the northern most botanical gardens in the world. The Public Park was opened in 1912 but the botanic gardens section was open in 1957. There are about 6,600 different species of plants grown in the garden, of which, 430 species are native to Iceland. Dimmuborgir is an area strewn with enormous lava rocks and cliffs. The formation of these extraordinary lava cliffs and pillars are the result of molten lava flowing over a pond in the eruption of Lúdentsborgir and Þrengslaborgir some 2,300 years ago. The most famous of these formations is “The Church”, aptly named, as this is a cave, open at both ends and with a dome-like ceiling. The Goðafoss waterfall and Námaskarð is also visited. Mývatn Nature Baths: Drawing on a centuries-old tradition, the tastefully designed complex offers bathers a completely natural experience that begins with a relaxing dip amidst clouds of steam rising up from a fissure deep in the Earth´s surface, and ends with a luxurious swim in a pool of geothermal water drawn from depths of up to 2,500 metres.
Both options will end with a transfer to Húsavik, where you can explore the small town at your own leisure before reboarding the ship to sail to Grímsey Island.
Located approximately 40 km off the mainland, Grímsey is a verdant grassy island, probably best known for its proximity to the Arctic Circle, which cuts across the island. Many people travel to Grímsey just to say they have stepped across the imaginary line. With a tiny population of approximately 100 inhabitants, it’s a fantastic place for Zodiac cruising, kayaking, and photographing seabirds such as guillemots, gulls and puffins.
Leaving Grímsey to return closer to the mainland, spend time scanning the waters of Skjálfandi Bay around Húsavik, a town known as Iceland’s ‘whale watching capital’, home to up to 24 different whale species, as well as dolphins and 30 variety of birds. The largest animal on Earth, the blue whale, has also been spotted in Skjálfandi Bay, and if you are lucky, you might catch a glimpse of this magnificent creature as well as others, such as orcas, fin whales and pilot whales.
Mjóifjördur (meaning narrow fjord) is an 18 km fjord on Iceland’s east coast and is a little-known gem cherished by locals. Hidden between Nordfjördur and Seydisfjördur mountains that provide shelter and pleasant weather, the fjord is known by locals as an excellent place to soak in the peaceful surroundings and for its spectacular waterfalls – ideal for kayaking and Zodiac cruising.
Mjóifjörður is an exceptionally beautiful, tranquil and remote area with spectacular cliffs, and because of the fjord’s still weather it has lush green hills and exceptionally rich flora lining its shores. It also has the impressive Prestagil (The Priest’s Ravine) and the Hofsárgljúfur Canyon with delightful rivers and waterfalls. If it weren’t for the weekly ferry in the winter, the local people would be completely isolated. At Asknes are the remains of an old whaling station, the largest in the world at the time, built by the Norwegians around 1900, with over 200 workers. Today, on the way to the tiny village, Brekkuþorp, where only about 20 people live, a shipwreck on the shore acts as a haunting reminder of the town’s whaling past.
Höfn is a lively fishing town with a healthy population of 1,800, and the gateway to Vatnajökull National Park – one of the most spectacular and special parts of Iceland, home to Europe’s largest glacier, Vatnajökull – our shore excursion for the day. Visit Skaftafell National Park which was established in 1967, but from 2008 it became part of the larger Vatnajökull National Park, Europe’s second largest after Yugyd Va in Russia.
Inside the national park you can find glacier tongues resting on the green fields of the lowland, Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon, a glacial lagoon open to the ocean and filled with floating icebergs that wash up on shore and stand gleaming on the black beach, dubbed Diamond beach. The park also boasts colourful mountains and deep valleys, as well as rich birdlife, reindeers and seals.
Located off Iceland’s south coast, the Westman Islands (Vestmannaeyjar) were formed by volcanic eruptions around 10,000 years ago. Sail past Surtsey Island, a UNESCO World Heritage site that emerged from the sea in 1963 and is one the youngest land masses on Earth. Westman Islands are surrounded by 15 other uninhabited islands and around 30 rocks and skerries offering refuge for a rich array of seabirds. Westman Islands are considered to have the largest Atlantic puffin colony in the world, and when sailing around the islands it is not uncommon to see puffins but also whales and seals.
Heimaey is the main island in the archipelago and it has a population of around 4,200. Ashore on Heimaey, the only inhabited island in the archipelago, see half-buried houses that remain from a violent 1973 eruption and visit the impressive Eldheimar Museum to learn about the volcanic eruption.
Eruptions are a big part of the history of Westman Islands where there are two volcanoes – one that erupted around 6,000 years ago and of course, Eldfell that erupted in 1973, forcing all of the island’s inhabitants to evacuate for the mainland. Serendipitously, due to bad weather the day prior to the eruption, all the fishing boats remained in the harbour and were able to help transport Heimaey’s inhabitants to the mainland. You can learn more about the story of the eruption and the aftermath at the fascinating Eldheimar museum, which includes a display of a house that was buried in ash during the eruption.
After breakfast, bid farewell to the expedition team, crew and newfound friends as you disembark in Reykjavik, where the voyage ends. A transfer to downtown Reykjavik or to the airport is included.