Each year, the northern reaches of our world experience a dramatic shift – when the summer sun refuses to set. Hanging low and heavy in the sky, the Midnight Sun bathes these Arctic lands in an aura of intrigue and wonder. It draws the curious, the entranced. But it also draws the animal world, where pods of humpback whales ply their way from their winter refuge in the Gulf of Mexico to these vast northern waters. And then they stop.
Over the years, Iceland has inspired us at every turn. We’ve swum between tectonic plates at Silfra, quad-biked black sand beaches at Reynisfjara, dined inside a volcano at Eyjafjallajokull (and learned how to say it). Now, it’s your turn. Next summer marks a moment to venture north into the unknown on a unique adventure thoughtfully designed to liberate you from months of being cooped up indoors. In a departure from the everyday, you’ll be doing so beneath the blaze of the midnight sun, dressed in a dry suit and in the company of a migrating pod of humpback whales. Rare, wondrous, ephemeral, this is travel at its most remarkable.
Whilst the below experience is undoubtedly unique, it is important to note that it remains subject to the fluctuations of the natural world. Therefore, despite offering guidance as to when this experience is most achievable, it can never be guaranteed. Recent observations have suggested a shift in the migration patters of the humpback whales and as such they may not always be present in the bay. Whilst we understand this may be frustrating, it is important that we respect the rhythms of the natural world. We will continue to monitor the movements of the whales however and will always offer you the most up-to-date advice and recommendations for your trip.
The Experience: Swim with Humpback Whales Beneath the Midnight Sun
On your penultimate evening in Iceland comes the moment your journey has been building up to. As the midnight sun hangs heavy overhead the northern capital of Akureyri, you’ll join your expert marine guide at Strytan and prepare for a unique aquatic experience. An encounter with nature that will set the benchmark for all future experiences. Climbing down into a private RIB, you’ll leave the shore behind as you head out into Eyjafjörður as it plunges its way into the heart of the Arctic Ocean. A touch foreboding? Yes. But it’s also a favorite feeding ground of the whales and the shelter of the fjord will offer you protection from the grip of the sea breeze.
“This is about getting up close and personal with creatures who we might be lucky to see just as plumes and tails glimpsed in the distance. Under normal circumstances.”
Dressed in a dry suit, the arctic waters won’t bite but will give the water an added clarity to truly bring the experience to life. Migrating humpback whales pass through the area each summer, yet it’s usually only the quiet fishing boats that see them at this time of night. Never in this way though, at this proximity. Dry and warm, you’ll have the opportunity to spend two hours getting to know these gentle giants in the most intimate way – with the only interlopers the occasional passing dolphin or minke whale. Of course, there will be a thermal bath waiting when you’re done. Our top tip, time your visit for Sumarsólstöður, or Summer Solstice, for an extra touch of the ephemeral. Intrigued? We thought so. You can read more about the experience here.
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What else will I do at sea?
To start your adventure, we’ll introduce you to the fjord-carved northern coastline from lesser-known angles as you take to the water by jetski from Ólafsvík. Traveling in this way, you’ll be able to access those deeper corners, impossible to reach from land. You’ll do it all surrounded by the rhythmic calls of the seabirds that inhabit the cliffs and alongside the gently bobbing heads of passing minke whales.
You’ll also venture out to the arctic island of Grimsey. Some 25 miles off Iceland’s north coast, and straddling the arctic circle, this remote island is a haven for aquatic wildlife with rich kelp forests carpeting the ocean floor. Clad in a dry suit, we’ll anchor in the secluded sandstone cove of Básavík where you’ll take to the water in the company of an expert marine guide. From this vantage point, you’re poised to capture the spellbinding sight as the puffins dive off the cliff-face into the water in search of their next meal. Fun and playful, it’s the perfect way to prepare for your encounter with the humpbacks the following day.
What else will I do on land?
In the company of Einar, our top private guide, you’ll step beyond the pages of Iceland’s guidebooks to discover some of its lesser-visited scenery as you embark on a journey through Myvatn to the otherworldly Lofthellir cave. Passing in the shadow of Hverfjall volcano and along the pockmarked land of Lúdentarborgir crater row, you’ll swap super jeep for hiking boots to cross lava fields to make your arrival. What awaits you is 370 meters of staggering ice formations, perfectly preserved by the area’s geothermal energy. From frozen in time to centuries of warmth, you’ll then continue onto Jarðbaðshóla, an ancient steam bath visited by Icelanders since the 17th century.
“A country that is very close to our hearts – this kingdom of ice and mountains and unending views.”
Speaking of thermal baths, each arctic experience will be accompanied by one. There’s the unique, which will see you soak in a hot tub filled with Icelandic craft beer. Lauded for the health benefits of yeast and served alongside a refreshing Kaldi beer, it’s our favorite way to unwind after a day out in the elements. There’s also the scenic – overlooking rugged mountains to the west, Skjálfandi Bay beneath the cliffs and the Arctic Circle itself on the horizon. Drawing on geothermal energy, these seawater baths offer the perfect way to unwind with the mineral-rich waters gently caressing the skin.
Where will I stay?
Your trip begins with a quick overnight stay in the Icelandic capital of Reykjavik. Bedding down at the luxurious Sandhotel, you’ll be in prime position along Laugavegur to explore some of our favorite restaurants. The next morning, you’ll fly north to Akureyri where the adventure truly takes hold. Whilst here, you’ll make your home at Hotel Kea. Located in the heart of downtown Akureyri, you’ll have the best of the northern capital’s restaurants and entertainment at your fingertips.
For an extra something special, your final night in Iceland will then be spent back down south amid the all-encompassing luxury and wellness of the Retreat at Blue Lagoon. Enjoy unique floating spa treatments, a private corner of the famous Blue Lagoon and one last glimpse of the midnight sun.
This experience is yours and yours alone, so feel free to customize it however you wish. Might we suggest the wildlife-rich Westmann Islands? A private RIB safari on the glistening surface of Jokulsarlon? Not to mention the iconic splendour of the Golden Circle. There’s an adventure on every corner in Iceland.