I remember the first time I ever saw whales in their natural habitat. I was standing on a yacht on the Whitsundays off the North East coast of Queensland in Australia and enjoying the idyllic scenery and sunshine when there were screams of delight from my fellow passengers.
It happened all so quickly, but in the near distance, I could see the whoosh of huge dorsal fins as they slapped the surface of the water. We were so lucky to then be treated to the humpback whales jumping in out and of the sea for several minutes.
As you can imagine, it was an ethereal moment, somewhat surreal but also ‘smack-in-your-chops’ amazing. I was buzzing for hours, heck, for days afterwards, because it was a complete surprise.
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So when we went to Reykjavík, I wanted to recreate that experience and share it with Monkey. Of course, the conditions were completely different – instead of scorching heat, we had arctic winds and below-freezing temperatures, but we couldn’t have been in better hands…
Whale Watching in Iceland
With several whale watching companies situated in the Old Harbour, we opted to go with Elding. Not only is Elding the original whale watching tour operator in Reykjavík since 2000, but its success has been built on decades of experience, and a proven track record for providing responsible whale watching with their strict code of conduct and close relationships with marine biologists and conservationists. In fact, Elding is the first and only environmentally certified whale watching company in Iceland.
Would we see whales in Iceland?
On the day of our trip, we awoke with trepidation about the weather. Luckily, it was clear blue skies – the perfect conditions to go sailing in the North Atlantic. When we arrived at the harbour, we collected our tickets and boarded one of Elding’s five mammoth boats.
Once Monkey had been fitted with his life-jacket, he wanted to head to the upper deck, and there was plenty of space for us to mill about. Right on time, the boat’s engines revved to life and we began our three-hour round trip across the bay of Reykjavík in search of marine life.
What happens on an Elding Trip?
We listened to the tour guide, Megan, explaining the safety instructions and how her previous trip resulted in no sightings. She reiterated how we were at the mercy of nature, and that it was never a guarantee that we would spot whales or any other marine life. Luckily, Elding does provide another boat trip valid up to a year if this happens, but we all crossed our fingers that it didn’t!
We marvelled at the seascape and beautiful scenery as we sailed around the southern part of Faxaflói. Looking back towards Reykjavík and pinpointing all the landmarks we’d already been to was a brilliant way to pass the time. Meanwhile, the majestic Mount Esja was never far from sight.
About an hour in, not unlike my time in the Whitsundays, there was a flurry of excitement when the guide told us to look east – a pod of white-beaked dolphins were headed our way. Due to my lack of photography skills, I wasn’t able to capture them properly, but we spent some time following them as they travelled through the ocean. Monkey was excited at first, but it was hard for him to see them properly and he soon lost interest. It was brilliant to watch these majestic creatures and at one count we spied 12 of them.
After a good 20 minutes, Megan explained that we should leave them be, and not cause them any more stress. By this time, the biting wind was really getting to us and we had to retire below deck and get ourselves a hot drink.
This was the most exciting part of the trip for Monkey. Once we’d warmed ourselves up, Monkey spotted the entrance to the helm of the boat. Before I knew it, the friendly captain had moved a standing box over to the wheel for Monkey to ‘steer’ the ship. The guys were fabulous, even letting Monkey believe he was fully in control. He was in his element.
I, however, was still determined to see if I could spot a whale, so bracing myself for the chill factor, I went up on deck to resume my position. And it paid off… even though I didn’t get to share the moment with Monkey or hubby, it was sublime to catch the last part of a dive from a Minke whale. Unfortunately, it didn’t resurface again but for me, it was enough that I saw one whale in Iceland.
Before I knew it, we were already approaching the harbour and our trip was drawing to a close. I was astounded at how quickly time had passed. It was certainly a bracing experience – we were in awe of Megan who had to stay outside on the deck the whole time. She was also so knowledgeable, not only about the marine life and seabirds but also about Reykjavik and its rich history.
Monkey’s day was made after his ‘sailing’ skills were given the thumbs up by the crew – and even more so when we treated him to model boat from the gift shop on our way out. Although my hopes for him to get wildly excited about seeing a whale didn’t quite pan out, Monkey still had a magical time. And, while I can imagine the trip being much more pleasant in the summer, I was still delighted to have caught a glimpse of these beautiful creatures.
Things To Know about Elding Tours
• Elding’s main office is located in the Reykjavík’s Old Harbour. You can see their departure times as well as purchase tickets there for all their tours including whale watching, puffin watching (in season) and a Northern Lights expedition (in season). Tickets from £55 per adult, £28 per child, while children under six years are free.
• Elding provides life-jackets and warm overalls for all passengers should they wish to use them. Wrap up warm if you’re going on a winter trip. I cannot overstate how cold it is.
• When is the best time see whales in Iceland? Iceland whale watching season is from April to October with the peak season in June, July and August.
• The Elding whale watching tour is subject to weather, conditions and visibility. Therefore the tour could get cancelled at short notice. If this is the case, Elding will contact you with as much notice as possible and try to rearrange for another day.
• Refreshments are available onboard including snacks, hot drinks and alcohol. They accept cash and card payments.
* We were guests of Elding Whale Watching, but as always my thoughts and opinions are my own