Whale watching on the brink of the Arctic Circle


By Karlie Marrazzo

We made it to Husavik, another perfectly picturesque Icelandic town, just in time for our 14:00 whale watching tour, run by a company called North Sailing. The beautiful oak schooner Haukur, built in 1973, was awaiting us in the harbour. Once our group of 12 passengers boarded along with two crew members, we were given big, heavy, warm overalls to wear. Even though the weather on land was gorgeous – blue sky with only a few clouds, little wind – we would absolutely need this warmth very soon.

As we set out into the bay, everyone was eager and alert to spot whales, although it was more likely that we would see them further out where the water is deeper. The tour we were on was called Whales, Puffins and Tails, so we were also all on the lookout for those funny little birds. I still hadn’t seen any puffins up close, so my hopes were very high. About 30 minutes after setting out, we reached Lundey, nicknamed Puffin Island. Finally, there they were! They were so much smaller than I realized they would be, flitting through the air, some of them looking like they were about to drop out of the sky. The crew turned off the engines and we floated around the island for a bit, watching the puffins while the captain told us more about the birds.

Photos by Dave S. Clark

By this point the sky was getting cloudier and I could already feel the temperature dropping. Once we set out again, until we arrived back on land, I completely lost track of time. I couldn’t tell you how long it was between the time we set out again and when we saw our first whale, or until we saw him again, or until we saw the next one. But I can tell you that the first moment I saw a humpback whale appear out of the water, I almost burst into tears. I didn’t expect that reaction at all! The moment was so brief, but so powerful.




We continued to follow the humpback for a while and spotted it a couple more times. Later on we also spotted a smaller minke whale. Although I was excited about the experience, the longer we were on the boat, the worse I felt. As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, I don’t do well on boats, so this is not a reflection of the tour company. I can admit that I don’t have a very good sense of direction, so I was getting quite dizzy and disoriented. And, even though we were wearing the big warm overalls, with the wind and cloud cover factored in, it felt like -15C. At some point on this excursion, I was the furthest north I have ever been, close enough to say I was just shy of the Arctic Circle – only 19km, or 66.67187N, according to the GPS on my camera. I was huddling into myself, trying to keep warm, only jumping up (and trying not to fall overboard) when a whale was spotted. As we started to approach land, the crew cut the engine and hiked up the sails, and then came around with a thermos of hot chocolate and cookies for everyone, which I devoured. There was the option of adding a nip of rum to warm up, but I had to pass.

My husband Dave helping raise the sails.

Once on land, we ate a simple dinner of fish and chips from a place on the harbour aptly called Fish & Chips. We hit the road to Hvammstangi, only stopping at the stunning waterfall Goðafoss, which means waterfall of the gods, along the way. We had been there a few days previously, and even though it was crowded with tour buses and oversized strollers, we instantly fell in love with it. This time we had it all to ourselves, and it was incredible. One of those little moments that travel gives you that you can never plan for. I dozed in the car on and off, and we finally arrived at our guesthouse at 22:30. I fell into one of the three single beds and slept until morning.


Hvammstangi gave us another one of those little travel treasures the next morning. As we had been approaching, we kept seeing signs saying that it was the ‘seal capital of Iceland’. Dave and I went to the seal centre, right beside the water, to get info on how and where we might glimpse seals. We talked to the nice lady for a few minutes, while her husband and two cute little kids were hanging out. When we went back outside, they were standing very close to the water, pointing out. There were a ton of birds hovering over one spot in the water. When birds do this, it is a tell tale sign that a whale is nearby, because that is where the whale is looking for food, so there will be food for the birds, too. All of a sudden, there it was – another humpback! The sky was clear and bright, the air was crisp, and there were only four other people around. Another perfect moment in Iceland.


7 thoughts on “Whale watching on the brink of the Arctic Circle”

  1. This was so beautifully written. I couldn’t help but burst into tears as I read your reaction to seeing your first whale! Thank you for sharing & for the wonderful pictures to go along with the story 🙂 Loved it!!!!

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