July 13, 2021 – Iceland Day 5
To view short video clips of this day, click here.
Every day of this trip, I was convinced that nothing could top what we’d already seen and every single day, I was proven wrong! This day was our warmest yet with mad sunshine and highs around 66F. We had but one primary location to hit before ending the evening in Husavik: Studlagil Canyon. Instead, we packed in multiple, amazing, jaw-dropping moments that neither my pictures nor my videos could adequately capture.
Since visiting The Giant’s Causeway in Ireland with my son a couple of years ago, I’ve been somewhat obsessed with basalt columns. They are such a unique and fascinating natural phenomenon that I was delighted to learn that Iceland had loads of them. From the pictures I’d seen online, I knew I had to see Studlagil Canyon and the nearby Studlafoss waterfall in person, even if it meant taking a slightly daunting and very stressful gravel road to get there (which it did.)
I was too focused on making my way back down the narrow gravel road and missed out on taking a picture of Studlafoss. I later learned that the canyon itself was only recently discovered. The river had previously filled it, hiding the columns until 2007 when a hydroelectric plant and dam were built and greatly reduced the river’s flow to reveal one of Iceland’s largest collections of basalt columns on land.
We departed Studlagil around 3pm with a 2 ½ hour drive ahead of us to Husavik. About 1 ½ hours into our drive north, we spotted a parking lot full of cars. We didn’t immediately see what the attraction was, but pulled over to find out and quickly smelled something before we saw it. Námaskarð, Hverarönd/Namafjall Hverir is a geothermal area also described as an artic dessert that has boiling mud pots, smoking fumaroles, hot springs, colorized sulfur crystal surroundings and a seriously strong egg smell. Walking the pathways, smelling the sulfur and hearing the sounds of the fumaroles was a primordial experience.
We drove around Lake Myvatn until we came upon the Hverfjall Crater. Rather than ascend it we opted to search out Grjotagja, a small lava cave nearby. Though the trail was clear and the cave was supposed to be about a mile in, we gave up after a good 30-45 minutes of hiking. It was close to 7pm, so we grabbed a bite to eat at a nearby campground café and headed to Husavik.
There are a number of coastal cities all over Iceland that offer whale watching excursions. Husavik, however, claims to offer the best chance of sighting one at 99%. Even with those odds, we planned to spend up to two days there, if necessary, to see the whales.
We arrived in town around 8pm. Though most things are closed by this time of day, we immediately spotted an open tour shop. I walked in and asked when the next tour with openings would be and was shocked to discover that we could board one immediately. I could not believe my ears. I fully expected to go sometime the following day, assuming they weren’t already fully booked.
We were told by the other passengers, most of whom were college students there doing research, that we’d been incredibly lucky to get on this tour. Apparently, this was the tour operator’s first night tour since the beginning of Covid. Not only that, but we had incredible weather (the next day was yucky!), were escorted by a couple of dozen dolphins racing our ship (see video link at top of post), spotted 4-5 rare whales off in the distance whose name escapes me AND spent a good 1-2 hours captivated by 3 different humpback whales who frolicked and dove right near our ship. It was one of the most breathtaking experiences of my life and could not have been more perfect if planned!
We were back on dry land around 11pm and drove less than 5 minutes up the road to a campground and crashed for the night.