Iceland - Jan Mayern Island Circumvention Expedition Cruise. Iceland is an island of contrasts. Its volcanoes, glaciers, coastline and inland desert form an inspiring landscape. On our circumnavigation, we visit the Westman Islands, home to thousands of seabirds and a volcano which took everyone by surprise in 1973. We explore tranquil fjords and go ashore to observe the birds which breed on Iceland’s lakes and moors.
Day 1: Keflavik. Late in the afternoon we board ship in the port of Keflavik, just a short way from the international airport, to begin the circumnavigation of Iceland. The largest of the North Atlantic islands, Iceland's volcanoes, icecaps, rugged glaciated mountains, fjords and coastal cliffs and beaches together form one of the most inspiring landscapes on earth. We sail north to the Snaefellsnes Peninsula, which is crowned by a beautiful snow-capped volcanic cone, 1442m high Snaefellsjokull. In the mellow evening light (at this time of year it is light all night) it is worth staying on deck to watch for whales in this often very productive location.
Day 2: At Sea. We arrive in the broad and shallow bay of Breidafjordur, which is peppered with thousands of islands and skerries. If we are very lucky, we may glimpse the White-tailed Eagle among these historic islands, from where Erik the Red set sail to discover Greenland. We land on Flatey and explore its delightful fishing village, strolling among the many well-preserved traditional timber buildings and visiting the church, with its paintings by the Spanish-Icelandic artist Baltasar Samper, and restored library. On and around Flatey, Black Guillemots, Puffins, Common Eiders and Red-necked Phalaropes can be seen.
Later we land on Klofningur a basalt island with breeding Shags, Fulmars and Great Black-backed Gulls. Sailing to the north side of the bay, we use the Zodiacs to cruise the cliffs and sea caves of Lotrabjarg, at the westernmost point of Iceland. Home to the world's largest Razorbill colony, Iceland's most extensive bird cliffs are 14km long and rise to over 400m in height. Our expedition naturalists will point out the other bird species that nest on the cliffs and also the seals on the rocks.
Day 3: Isafjordur. Today we explore the Isafjordur Peninsula, geologically the oldest region in Iceland, its imposing basalt mountains scoured out by Ice Age glaciers. We sail into Adalvik in the Hornstrandir Nature Reserve. Once farmed, this beautiful, sheltered fjord has been deserted for 50 years. As sheep no longer graze here and the human impacts are minimal, fauna and flora thrive on a scale unknown in other parts of Iceland.
We continue our voyage by sailing along the Hornstrandir Peninsula, spotting the remains of other farmsteads along the coastline of golden sand beaches set between sheer basalt cliffs. We aim to land at Hornvik, where we can follow an old path, used by fowlers, to reach the top of 300m high Hornbjarg. From the dizzy heights of this cliff we can marvel at one of the biggest seabird colonies in Iceland, with tens of thousands of Bronnich's Guillemots and Kittiwakes.
Day 4: Isafjordur. If the East Greenland pack- ice, will be less than 100 nautical miles north of Iceland, and the weather will be good, we will sail towards the edge and spend some time in and near the ice. During our 24 hours at sea, there will be plenty of time to watch for the spout of large whales, and to observe the northern migration of skuas and other Arctic birds. When we sail along the pack ice edge, we may also see Harp Seals.
If the pack-ice will be more than 100 nautical miles north of Iceland we will land at the east side of the Isafjordur Peninsula in Furufjordur, Tharalotursfjordur and Reykjafjordur, from where we will have a good and near view on the northern side of the glacier Drangajokull. Walkers can make a hike of a view hours from one fjord to the next on an old trail with cairns. In Furufjordur we will find bogs and lakes, and in Reykjafjordur hot pools, in which we can take a bath. Harbour Seals and Grey Seals are common in this fjord.
Day 5: At Sea. In the early morning, if the weather allows, we sail past Kolbeinsey, a tiny island north of Grimsey, formed from a submarine eruption. Later we land on Grimsey, an island off the north coast and the only part of Iceland which lies within the Arctic Circle (the Circle crosses the island). The island is home to huge colonies of Kittiwakes, Razorbills, Puffins, Fulmars and Arctic Terns, who far outnumber the human inhabitants, numbering just 100. A zodiac cruise along the western cliffs will afford us the opportunity to also admire the seabirds from the water. Later we may sail along the bird cliffs of Raudinupur.
Day 6: Borgarfjordur. If weather allows, we go ashore on the wild and windswept volcanic sands of Heradssandur, formed from debris washed down by mighty glacier rivers. On the marshlands of its braided channels, Whooper Swans, Greylag Geese, and several species of ducks and skuas breed. The see near the mouth of the river is teeming with Harbour Seals. In the afternoon we call at Borgarfjordur. A friendly small village, where people work on Jasper, a precious stone only found in this part of Iceland.
We will try to visit a farm with a Common Eider breeding colony, where the birds are protected for down collection in this time of the year. If the conditions at Heradssansur are adverse we will not land there, but land after Borgarfjordur, at Alftavik, in the natural harbour Lotna, where people lived until 1904.
Day 7: At Sea. Heading down Iceland's east coast we reach Skrudur, a bird island (Gannets) of 160 m high, where we can not land, but where we will cruise around in zodiacs and enter a huge cave. Later we sail to Papey, where Irish monks made a living in the 9th century. This beautiful, now uninhabited island, is home to thousands of Puffins and other seabirds.
Day 8: At Sea. We land on Heimaey, an important fishing port and the Westman Islands only permanent community. A short walk allows us to see the results of the surprise 1973 eruption, which destroyed one third of the town and almost sealed off its vital harbour. A highlight of our time ashore will be the multitude of Puffins that breed along the grassy cliff tops and are still harvested annually by the locals. When we have left Heimaey we use the Zodiacs to cruise among the other Westman Islands. We will circumnavigate Surtsey, an island born in 1964 from volcanic activity, and Sulnasker and Hellisey, which have large breeding populations of Northern Gannets.
Day 9: Keflavik. After breakfast we disembark in Keflavik.
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