Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Iceland: Puffin and Whale-Watching in Husavik with North Sailing (Eco-friendly)

The quaint town of Husavik is well known for whale sighting, so since we were stopping by, embarking on a journey out to the Arctic Ocean was the most natural decision made. I found out that the Puffin Island was nearby, so to kill 2 birds with 1 stone, we booked ourselves onto the 4 hours Puffin+whale watching tour by North Sailing

        I booked the tour via email about a month ago and 3 days prior to the expedition, some problems with transportation arose so we were forced to reroute. I informed the management about our predicament and she was happy to reschedule us on a later tour.   

         Fast forward to the day we took the tour. After checking in, we still had plenty of time to spare so we walked around the town and the harbor. It was such a beautiful sunny day, it brought smiles to our faces... The weather in the past few days had been terrible. 
        Before boarding the magnificent schooner, we walked down to the dock wide-eyed as we passed by different models of boats. Waterproof sailing suits and boots were offered to everyone. We slipped it on and immediately looked like ghostbusters. We were given clear instructions about safety, which was the prime concern of the company!

       Our guide/ narrator was a knowledgeable young man from Amsterdam. He was very friendly, approachable and had a good sense of humor. As the waiting time could be dreadful, he kept all of us entertained by telling us stories, myths, and jokes about Icelandic vegetation, history and landscape (we loved his story about getting lost in the jungle picking mushrooms)! Although he was not a local, he was able to provide fun insights on all the different species of whales as well as actively pointing out to interesting sights in the fjord. He let the youngest member onboard help to haul up the sails and I believe that made the kid’s day… such a nice touch!

        Turned out that the late boarding time had worked to our advantage. There were only 10 people on our boat and everyone got a good view of the sea without having to stand on objects or squat. We did saw many other whale watching zodiacs and traditional engine boats that evening, but they seemed packed, some body-to-body.  
        Firstly we set off to look for the puffins. As we approach the layer-cake-look-alike puffin island, our guide explained to us about how to spot a puffin-- We identified them by the red beak and their turbo flying speed. Puffins were plentiful that day, however, we were only allowed to look from a distance since it was unethical to go too close to the wild birds. With the help of my camera's zoom lens, I had no problem spotting them but a shot of disappointment stirred up in me due to the lack of opportunity to admire them up close (Well, I know I shouldn't!). 

        We were lucky as the sun shined brightly despite having a little shower earlier that day. The sea was relatively calm with occasional cold winds. The suits worked well by protecting us against the northern wind, keeping us warm and dry. 
        40 minutes off shore, someone let out a cry and we saw our very first humpback whale in the 1 o’clock direction! The captain brought us closer to the whale and stopped in a distance in order not to invade the natural habitat of the wild animal. The whale dived into the water only to surface minutes later nearer to our boat! I love the fact that they didn’t disturb the whales too much. I appreciated their mindful way of approaching the animals, giving us a close-up look. Also, if you are a mindful traveler, you will be glad to know that North Sailing is working hard to become more eco-friendly by improvising their carbon neutral tours on the electric ship. 
       We saw quite a number of whales that day: Humpback Minke… all from afar, but we were still able to get the idea about how big those mammals really were. It was my first time seeing whales in the wild so I was pretty excited. I can’t name them all but we saw at least 4 species. There were also a lot of jellyfishes in the waters. In this tour, we were incredibly lucky to witness at least 6-8 different whales (although it was kinda hard to tell them apart) surfacing and diving, some showing off their flukes and rolling backs as they dived in. We lost count of the whale spouting we saw that day and the full tail of the whale was such a glorious sight… too bad we only manage to see it once! 

       We owe the success of our whale-watching tour to our highly experienced captain, dedicated guide, cooperative participants and the whale-watching community in Husavik. Our guide was constantly communicating with other whale-watching boats out there while keeping an eye on the sea himself. Once a whale was spotted, the crews (from different boats of different tour companies) inform each other about the location of the sightings. I believe this had highly elevated our chances of witnessing more whales. Don’t you just love it when competitors come together to create the best experience for their guest, instead of tearing each other down? 

       We were sooooo caught-up with whale-watching, no one seemed to realize that time was ticking away fast! We ended up having an extended tour (from the initial 4 hours to then 4 hours and 45 minutes).  

       The sea became rougher during our return journey. We had to hold onto the rail tightly while whale-watching and I eventually decided to lie on the lower deck instead of actively looking out for more whales. There were several more sightings while I was taking a break, but I was satisfied with the experience I got… and I didn’t want to risk throwing up. 

       The complimentary hot chocolate drink and cinnamon buns were my saviors. I initially thought I started to feel bad due to motion sickness but turned out, I was just hungry. There were plenty of snacks and chocolate drinks which we all devoured and everyone was encouraged to take a second or third serving. That was not all! To add to our already-amazing sailing experience, the captain got us a huge surprise by presenting a bottle of rum, as what they called “Captain’s Privilege”. Rum added a delightful twist to the already-satisfying hot chocolate, my travel buddy Jeanne loved it so much she told me she will never look at normal chocolate drinks the same way ever again. It wonderfully escalated the experience!
       It was about 10.30 pm when we finally got off the boat. We returned to the reception to pick up our bags and the lady on the front desk was helpful enough to provide us with more insights about the town, telling us what not to miss and what to eat. Once we got to know that she was from Akureyri, we took this chance to ask about the city and she sold us a local’s secret about getting hangovers in Akureyri.   

Things to know before you go: 

  • Firstly, we have to understand one and only one thing. That is, the open sea is not Sea World, so forget about getting nice pictures of a giant whale right next to the boat (although it does happen, see point 7 ). Whales are wild animals so as long as you go with the right expectation, you’ll enjoy the tour. In short, you may not see any whales but will certainly appreciate the experience. 
  • If you are prone to seasickness, be sure to pop some scopolamine before embarking on the journey. Or else, you’ll most likely not be able to get up when a whale is showing up. 
  • I recommend layering your outfit. The waterproof suits will keep you warm enough, but halfway through the tour, I felt a little too hot so I peeled out of the suit to get some fresh air. I saw others did that as well. 
  • There is no bathroom on the boat so do visit a toilet before boarding. 
  • You are entitled to a 10% discount to Gamli Baukur Restaurant and Hvalbakur Café, near to the North Sailing Office. 
  • Puffins leave the island in August, so if you wish to see the cute birds, arrange accordingly.
  • If you are lucky enough to have a whale emerging right next to your boat, you must be God’s favorite child. Feel free to share your photo with me HERE and see me turn green with envy. 

Thank You, North Sailing for the great experience!

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Thank You for Reading! 
Miss Happy Feet was a guest of North Sailing. However, all opinion and photos are as always, my own. 

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