Tuesday, 31 December 2013

So close yet so far!!!

On our last evening at Hotel Framnes we were again hindered by thick cloud and sadly no aurora activity, indeed disappointing but as there is little you can do to affect either we all remained bouyant and in good spirits. The next morning we were due to leave Grundarfjordur early to make our way to the small village of Laugarvatn in the 'Golden Circle'. However, as we came down to breakfast the hotel staff advised us that they were going to run an Orca watching trip at 11am. Needless to say after our trip the day before was cancelled it didn't take long before we made a rapid change of plan and decided to abandon an early departure and booked ourselves on the trip. We suited up with thick heavy overalls provided by Laki tours and waddled our way to the boat. It was still bitterly cold, but the wind had dropped and the skies for the first time crisp and clear as we boarded the small vessel that took only 30 passengers, on this tour just 18 others joined us making a total of 21 passengers on board.

As we started making our way out to sea the captain advised that we were headed to a nearby fjord, where orcas had been spotted already that morning by local fisherman. A ripple of excitment came from all on board as we headed out of the harbour. This was our first opportunity to get a really good view of the mountains that surrounded this lovely little village. The tops of the jagged peaks were revealed and the sight was quite something against the blue sky, where the sun just about poked high enough to cast a beautiful light over the stunning white giants that towered over Grundarfjordur.

It was only around 20 minutes into the voyage that we started to notice the seas becoming far more choppy, the swell seemed to be increasing. As we had left the harbour it was inevitable that we would enter less sheltered waters. However, the boat seemed to list rather precariously as it cut through a swell that seemed to grow minute by minute. Already one or two on board had fallen victim to the undulating waves and were turning green and sadly already seeing their breakfast again!

Despite this we were distracted by the prospect of orcas and our slight concern over the increasing rough waters was well averted when suddenly Angela spotted a fin, shrieking with excitement in the meantime!!! Although not an Orca we soon saw that one fin became several, then a small pod of dolphins appeared and came hurtling toward the boat. We could see they were white beaked dolphins and for a very short time they swam alongside the boat, riding the bow wave with speed and agility that was a sight to behold. Their movement too fast to capture any images (added to the fact that it was near on impossible to hold the camera steady in such rough seas!) but a fantastic sight even so.

As the dolphins left us after a few minutes we suddenly realised our course had changed, no longer did we appear to be heading in the direction of where the orcas had been sighted earlier. Our fears were confirmed when a crew member advised that the seas were just too rough to continue any further and that we were heading back into more sheltered waters. This was disappointing, we had come so close to seeing orcas in Iceland but no sighting is ever worth putting 21 passengers in jeopardy. Despite this once we had ventured back in calmer seas we continued to search for more marine mammals and took in the beautiful scenery. We were not lucky to see any cetaceans but it had been a enjoyable boat ride and we were pleased to have seen the dolphins.

After a short time we were back on dry land, we quickly checked out of the hotel and jumped in the car, as it was time for us to leave Grundarfjordur. Just a few miles out of the village we stopped the car along the fjord where the orcas had been seen. The captain had recommended this could be a good plan in the hope that maybe they had tracked close to the land. We did see a few seals pop their heads up but no sign of the orcas. One day we will return again to Grundarfjordur and perhaps next time lady luck may be on our side.

The wind had certainly whipped up on land, driving snow blew horizontally across the icy roads as we drove through more stunning scenery and headed on the 4 hour journey to Laugarvatn. Here we would spend our last three nights before heading back to a wet and windy UK!

Well insulated in thermal (and ill-fitting) suits!

Our boat

Looking back on the mountains

Partially frozen fjords leaving Grundarfjordur
Beautiful scenery en route to Laugarvatn
Hardy Icelandic ponies


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