Westman Islands, Iceland

Aug 20, 2019 - National Geographic Explorer


Our last day circumnavigating Iceland found us in the Westman Islands, where we headed toward the largest of 15 islands that make up the archipelago and the southernmost town in Iceland, Heimaey. In windy conditions, our captain and the local pilot skillfully navigated one of Iceland’s narrowest harbors, re-sculptured by a major volcanic eruption in 1973.

During this eruption, the whole population of around 5,000 had to be evacuated and 65% of their homes were lost. Once docked, our guests disembarked for either the panoramic tour of the island’s interesting landscape or for the volcano hike that brought them to the top of the crater Eldfell (Fire Mountain). Local guides brought the history of the island to life 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 1973 eruption. Afterward, guests were able to enjoy a cultural tour of Brothers’ Brewery, where they brew a wide selection of beer since Iceland relaxed its total ban of beer in 1989.

Next up was the island of Sulnasker. Our onboard ornithologist described what we were observing: Iceland’s biggest colony of northern gannets, which covered the island with a white carpet of nesting seabirds and accompanying guano!

The weather didn’t fail us and our guests spent the final hours of the day enjoying a cruise to one of the newest islands on Earth, Surtsey, which was formed during a four-year, continuous volcanic eruption that lasted from 1963 to 1967. We sailed around Surtsey, listening to our geologist. We were treated to a beautiful showcase of wildlife around the island—a pod of killer whales fished for shoals of herring. Northern gannets were accomplices to the carnage and soon this feast became one of the most memorable wildlife sightings of our circumnavigation.

Our fantastic voyage ended with the captain’s farewell cocktails and a final sumptuous dinner before we finished our packing and prepared for an early departure.

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About the Author

Chris Croxson

Naturalist

Following a distinguished business career with Unilever PLC, Chris obtained a master’s degree in marine biology at the National Oceanography Centre (NOCS) at Southampton University in the U.K. and graduated in 2007 with first-class honours. From there he attended a post-graduate certificate of education course and taught high school biology.  

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