Westman Islands, Iceland

Aug 02, 2019 - National Geographic Explorer


Our last day exploring Iceland brought us to the southernmost town of Iceland, Heimaey, the largest of 15 islands of the Westman Islands archipelago. Before visiting Heimaey, we paid a visit to one of the newest islands on Earth, Surtsey, which was formed in a continuous, four-year volcanic eruption from 1963 to 1967. This did not conclude the history of volcanic activity in the Westman archipelago. In 1973, Heimaey erupted and the whole population of around 5,000 had to be evacuated.

Our morning started with a beautiful showcase of wildlife around Surtsey. Guests had the opportunity to see a pod of killer whales fishing for shoals of herring. Northern gannets joined in and soon this feast became one of the most memorable wildlife sightings of our circumnavigation. We sailed around Surtsey, listening to our onboard geologist, Andreas, who told us about the volcanic eruption that formed the island.

Next up was the island of Sulnasker, which was covered in a white carpet of nesting seabirds. This is where Iceland’s largest colony of northern gannets lives.

Finally, we headed toward the main island, Heimaey, which has one of the most impressive harbors in Iceland, a harbor that was almost lost in the 1973 eruption. Once docked, guests disembarked for either the panoramic tour of the island’s landscape and sightings of immense puffin colonies, or for the volcano hike that brought our guests to the top of Eldfell (Fire Mountain) which is the remaining crater from the 1973 eruption.

Local guides brought the history of the island to light and our tours ended with a visit to the Eldheimar (World of Fire) Museum that tells the story of how the locals dealt with the eruption of 1973.

Another option was the cultural tour of The Brothers Brewery where they brew a wide selection of beers, which is interesting since Iceland had a total ban of beer until 1989.

The weather didn’t fail us, and guests spent the final hours of the day enjoying a beautiful sunset in downtown Heimaey where many of the locals were preparing for Iceland’s biggest music festival, Thjodhatid.

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About the Author

Stefan Thorgeirsson

Cultural Specialist

An avid hiker and outdoor enthusiast with a passion for languages and culture – Stefan is a Viking with a twist. Born in Reykjavik, to a family from the Westfjords of Iceland, Stefan’s upbringing has allowed him to experience the best of both worlds. During most of the wintertime, he lived in Reykjavik and got to know the city. When the summertime came, however, he would go hiking, camping, climbing and fishing in the beautiful nature of Iceland.

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