My exploration of Iceland, Jan Mayen, and Svalbard continues on Aurora Expedition’s Sylvia Earle, now focused on the incredible Westfjords region.
With sunlight pretty much 24 hours a day and a bit of excitement to get the expedition started, I headed to the 24/7 espresso machine for an Americano while I waited for the Rockhopper Restaurant to open.
There are two restaurants, the other – the main restaurant – is called Gentoo.
Like the actual penguin species, ya’ gotta love the Rockhopper, while Gentoo is more the norm; still quite good, but not my favorite. Rockhopper is a smaller venue, a well-curated but fixed menu, with an open galley, great views, and surprisingly few guests (so far) that take advantage of it.
For me having a quieter place to wake up, a menu that won’t cause me to overeat every morning, and a view from the top of the ship on Deck 8, is pretty perfect.
I have been working my way through the breakfasts menu and have not been disappointed: A Croissant with Egg, Bacon, and Sausage; a Bagel with Smoked Salmon; a Breakfast Burrito; and a Granola, Banana & Yogurt Parfait. Each one was delicious and just the right size.
But let me not get ahead of the real reason for me being on the Sylvia Earle!
Aurora Expeditions has two types of voyages: Discovery and Expedition…and a combination of the two.
None of my documentation or the online information set out that this was a combination of the two and that my time in Iceland would essentially be visiting the various sites via small buses.
While this was a disappointment, the more the reason for it became self-evident: As striking as the Icelandic coast is, the really impressive and awe-inspiring things are more inland and fairly well spread apart…especially considering the limited number of roads and steep terrain.
On the bright side, I had previously visited the Westfjords on a trip focused on the Icelandic tourism authority showing me everything there was to see, but not enough time to really see things as much as I wanted to. In addition to which I visited the area in October, so winter cold, wind, rain, etc. was pretty much omnipresent.
Our first landing was via zodiac in Stykkisholmur (You can actually kinda sound it out) for the exploration of the Snaefellsness Peninsula (Best of luck with that one!). I grabbed my seat on the bus, took a deeeeep breath, we set off, and the drone of our very enthusiastic and well-informed guide began. (To be fair, most everyone really enjoyed his near-endless commentary.
There is really so much to understand about Iceland, as it is so unique…and you know I love the place because of it. But as I had heard it all before, it really became white noise.)
I won’t bother with the names of each place we visited, but most of them have a real WOW factor. The first was a breathtaking overlook with a lush, green, waterfall to my left and expansive views of a lake below and mountains above. It is one of those places you just take in, and it keeps giving you more.
Next up was a stop at a beach where I caught up with some birds (Oystercatchers and Ring Necked Plovers)
and some distant Grey and Harbor Seals.
For me, I enjoyed just wandering the beach. Just beautiful.
I did think, “Hey, we could have made a zodiac landing here.” But then I realized, “And then what?”. End of second-guessing and time to sit back and, er’ um, just enjoy the (bus) ride.
And our next stop proved it. Iceland’s dramatic coastline quickly turned from beach to dramatically steep bird cliffs with thousands of Kittiwakes and Arctic Terns,
along with Lesser Black Back Gulls, and the water below with, Cormorants, Eider ducks, and one of my favorite birds: Harlequin Ducks.
Oh, yeah, there are the incredible cliffs!
I had been there before, but the freezing cold winter winds were so strong that the path along the cliffs themselves were closed and I dared not to go out on a viewing platform for actual fear of being blown off of it. Today’s summer day, however, was pretty perfect!
Always on the hunt, I did snag another new Life List entry: Icelandic Boli Beer!
Not done, we then headed to a breathtaking black sand/stone beach. The expedition team started a historical discussion about a shipwreck and stones, but I couldn’t get to the beach fast enough so I rushed by.
I would love to set up camp and live there for a few days. Words just can’t describe it.
Our final stop for the day was at Kirkjufell Mountain, “the most photographed mountain in Iceland”. That sort of hype just turns me off…but marketing is marketing…and it gets people there.
There was a nice small waterfall…and an enjoyable discussion about whether the bird in the distance was a Whimbrel or a Curlew. (Hey, it was enjoyable to me!)
Next up: “Two if by Land…?“