Route: Seattle—Reykjavik, Iceland
My flight departs from Seattle at 3 PM and it is a direct flight to Reykjavik, Iceland. Richard Salas is coming from California to fly the same flight I am on. We meet up at the gate and off we go. The flight is not full so we are able to share a row between the 2 of us. It is 7 hours straight thru on Iceland Air. This is a no frills airline. You have to be careful when purchasing your ticket. The super budget ticket didn’t get you any checked bags or a seat. The next level at least got you 1 checked bag and a choice of seat. I did have to purchase 2 additional bags at $110 each. And this was cheaper to pre-pay than to wait until you got to the airport. Even though it is an international flight, you have to purchase food and alcohol, but soda and water were free. You could at anytime though hit the flight attendant button and they would bring you food. The 2 rear toilets did however “fill up” towards the end of the flight so everyone had to go to business class bathrooms. They did not look too happy. Once we landed, no paperwork just a passport control stop before picking up your luggage. Make your way outside to the “flybus” which is the transfer company to take us to our hotel. When we approach the bus the driver asks Richard and I if we are moving to Iceland due to the amount of luggage we brought. Three checked bags each plus carry ons, I can understand why! The transfer took about 45 minutes with 1 stop at the bus depot to put people on different buses to get them to their hotels faster. We are staying at the Center Hotel Midgardur, located just on the edge of town so easy walking distance to lots of things. We arrived at 5 AM, so by the time we got to the hotel it was about 7 AM. Our rooms aren’t ready but we do have early check in as soon as they get them cleaned. However, we are just in time for the buffet breakfast. After eating we decide to wander around town. Plenty of tourist shops and a nice walk down along the waterfront. It’s brisk out, but feels good to walk around and stretch our legs. At 10:00 AM the penis museum opens. Not sure it’s worth the $15 to get in to see all animal and even human penises. Good for a chuckle and some photos. We decide to check back with the hotel and our room is ready so I check in and unpack. I get my camera set up for wide angle as the first dives we are doing is Silfra and that is wide angle. I laid down for 2 hours to rest and decide it’s best to get a bite to eat. Richard and I wander down thru town to the famous Icelandic hotdog stand. You order it with everything which is fresh onions, fried onions, lamb dog covered with a remoulade (sauce made with mayo, capers, mustard and herbs) and brown mustard. They were quite tasty with a good snap to them. A little window shopping on the way back to the hotel where we are meeting the rest of the group for happy hour and pre-brief for tomorrows events. Brace yourself as everything in Iceland is expensive, hotdogs were probably the most inexpensive food you can buy at about $4.50. Everyone has arrived safely and we are introduced to Byron from Magma Dive. We load onto the van and they take us to Magma office for a bite of dinner and explanation of how tomorrow will work. There is traditional Icelandic food for us which was the dried cod fish, fermented shark (no thanks) and we had to have a shot of Brennivin (original iclandic spirit—Aquavit). Everyone is winding down so back to the hotel to get a good night’s sleep.
This will be the only morning that we get to sleep in to 9 AM. I’m in the first dive group so we head to the lake for the check out dive. The weather this morning is decent with clouds and a few sun breaks. The outside temp is probably upper 40’s to low 50’s. The check out dive is called Davids crack and we have to swim a good distance to reach the actual crack to gain any depth. It’s a shore dive so having your shore dive strap for fins is a must. I also brought a mesh bag so my dive luggage bag would not end up wet when I have to pack at the end of the trip. Everyone gets weighted and off we go. The temp in the lake is about 45 F, but once we hit the crack and I descend I start to see that my computer is dropping to the 30’s. Suddenly my regulator is starting to free flow slightly and then it steadily is getting worse. I signal my dive guide Lena that I need to ascend so up to the safety stop and after we are 2 minutes into it my reg freeflow is slowing down and then stops. Odd. Lena says she has never seen that before and neither have I. When we get out it is now raining so we scramble to try and keep most of our stuff and clothing dry. We scramble back on the bus and head out for touring. The crew provides hot chocolate, cookies and bananas after the dive. I would suggest packing some protein bars or trail mix to eat on the bus. On our way we make a stop at Hakid, this is a viewpoint to overlook the tectonic crack looking down on Silfra. We are doing the golden circle tour so our first destination is Gullfoss. Along the way we see a beautiful rainbow so we quickly pull over to take some photos. Gullfoss is a huge waterfall that is absolutely amazing. Next stop is the natural Geysir, here we have a late lunch where there is 3 restaurants to choose from. We are starving! We spend some time wandering around and the big geyser erupts every 6 minutes and it is impressive. The day is now clear skies and sunny. Really stunning afternoon. We leave there to go to Faxifoss which is Rons (our driver for the day) secret waterfall and the sun is hitting it just perfect. We practice all our photo techniques that Richard is telling us to try to get the best shots. It is getting pretty late so we head back to the hotel to meet up with the other half of the group. Byron reports that the Aurora is going to be good tonight. We grab a fast bite to eat at the hotel since all the surrounding restaurants are busy. I finally talk Richard into going out the shoot the aurora so we head down to the waterfront to give it a try. It is around 10:30 PM, so we get all set up with our tripods. The city lights are pretty bright but we give it our best try. Shortly after setting up we start to see some green in the sky. Here we go! We have great luck and this is the first time Richard has ever seen the aurora. We are so excited we are not even tired anymore. There are a lot of people down here watching it as well. I’m pretty sure that Iceland never sleeps. There is just way too much to do. It is now getting close to midnight so we call it since our morning is starting around 7:30 AM. Back to the hotel to try and get some sleep.
A little groggy from lack of sleep as we finish breakfast and then load on the bus for Silfra. The entire group is diving together today. When we arrive there is a small parking lot for the dive/snorkel operations. This is a UNESCO World Heritage site and protected under the Icelandic Natural Parks. It is very controlled and there is a park ranger at the entrance to the parking lot. There are nice benches to put your dive gear on and to just back into your gear. There is a bathroom with 2 toilets, but no changing rooms to speak of. The majority of companies here are snorkel tours rather than diving. The rules are each guide can only take 3 divers with them. Each group is sent in about 10 minutes apart from each other so you don’t get all jammed up and you can get pictures without a lot of people in them. Be prepared to gear up, walk a good distance (100 meters) to some benches where you sit and wait for your groups turn. Now this can take a while depending on how many groups are already standing there waiting. Finally, our time is up so down the steps to the entrance. Here we put on our fins and masks and then enter the water. Unfortunately for me my regulator starts to free flow right from the start. This is not good. Byron tries shutting it off and turning it back on, nope, no luck. This is terrible. My group comes back to wait for me as Byron quickly changes out my regulator. Shortly I am back up and running so in we go. The water is crystal clear and cold. I have my 11mm hood on and am very thankful for that. I am wearing the Blueheat system as well and it is perfect for this, especially for my hands. If you are going to do this dive and you don’t have Blueheat, bring drygloves or 7mm 3 finger mitts. This is what most guides are wearing. The deepest point of Silfra is about 90 feet in the Cathedral. It does go to about 90 meters at the beginning but no one is allowed to dive into this cave system. The entire dive takes about 35-40 minutes to reach the end. The most daunting part is the walk back to the parking lot which is about 500 meters. This might not sound far but trust me it is! A quick change of tanks and then back in the gear for dive 2. The second dive was a bit more comfortable since my reg was not free flowing. It is a beautiful day out here with the sun shining and not much of a breeze. We wrap it up and jump back on the bus to go back to the hotel for a quick break because we are going back to dive Silfra at night. Faith and Byron bring in pizza at Magma dive while Richard gives us a lecture about lighting our photos for both underwater and topside. Time to go back to Silfra for our night dive. Byron has special permission for us to dive and we are the first group ever to do a night dive in Silfra. We quickly gear up and we still have to follow the same guide rules. Richard has a free flow problem so another reg change and then we are back in business. The night dive was pretty cool and there were a lot of fish that came out. It also gave me a better chance to really concentrate on the structure of Silfra itself. We are exhausted but we have 1 more trek back from the exit point. The only thing to make this tolerable is if aurora appears. I ask Lindy if he has seen them yet and he said no. Bummer. But soon after I started walking back, low and behold there it is. The sky starts to glow green. This really makes me pick up my pace. Once I reach the parking lot it starts to really put on a show. It is dancing in the sky and now not only green but we see the purple mixed in. I have never seen a light show like this one. I can’t get out of my gear fast enough. No time to grab the camera, I just look to the sky and enjoy the show. It is so dark out here that it is mind blowing. Once we change we grab our cameras and try and get some shots. However, the main show is over and we just have light green. Byron says he has a great spot with a church to put in the foreground while trying to see if the aurora comes back. We have a pretty good showing of a band of green but nothing like we saw earlier. It is now close to midnight and we really have to get going. On the drive back we see it one more time and pull over to get a few more shots. Back at the hotel we crawl into bed for about 4 hours of sleep before our day begins all over again tomorrow.
Everyone is a little beat up since it was such a long day yesterday. Today is all about land touring. We load on the bus at 7:45 AM and off we go. The first destination is Ejyjafjalljokull a glacier viewpoint which was about 90 minutes SE of Reykjavik. Second stop is Skogafoss, a beautiful waterfall (just one of a million here in Iceland). After that we went to Dyrholavegur, Home of dragon stone castle (game of thrones castle). This is also where the big ships would tie up to get supplies. We move to the lower black sand beach for a bite to eat, which we try another hotdog stand which I have to agree with Nick (our driver for the day) that this is the best one so far. This beach is where they do a lot of the filming for the game of thrones series so a lot of the group is very excited about this. I however, no nothing about it. It is a beautiful stretch of beach with amazing columnar stones. There are many warnings about rogue waves coming in which sweeps many tourists off the beach suddenly. Nick says he has done a lot of rescuing of those who don’t listen. Back on the bus since we need to make our glacier tour time frame. We do make a quick stop at a scenic church in Vik, which was the inspiration for the big music hall in Reykjavik called Harpa. This church is for the fishing fleet and its famous stained glass windows which the sun is always shining through any side at any given time. Back on the bus for the short ride to the glacier hike. We get crampons, ice axe, climbing harness and a helmet. Our guide, Pietro (from Italy) gives us a quick brief and away we go. It is a bit of a walk before we get to the base of the glacier. Here we stop and get our first lesson in putting crampons on correctly. We lace up and off we go. You sort of walk with a stomping motion so your crampons stick to the ice. Once you trust them you are good to go. We meander our way up to the top known as the ice cap. This glacier is not so pretty as it is covered in black volcanic ash. Still fun and pretty cold on the top with the wind blowing. We take a lot of photos and then back down we go. It is not a super strenuous hike but you do need to have good knees and leg strength as some spots are a bit steep. We are the last group off the glacier today and by the time we hit the parking lot it is almost empty. No bathrooms now since it is closed, so we quickly start the 20 minute drive to the nearest one. This is Seljalandsfoss, another waterfall only this one you can walk behind. Put all your rain gear on because you’re going to get wet. The sun is low in the sky so this should be perfect. Before we hike to the back of the waterfall we grab a quick bite to eat, so I try the lamb soup which was delicious. We don’t have much time because the sun is setting so away we go. You will get wet, so you need a rain cover for your camera as well. It is a spectacular view from the backside of the waterfall looking directly toward the setting sun. Back on the bus, Richard needs a shot with a Puffin and since all the Puffins have left for the season we find 1 large plastic Puffin that will have to do. A quick group shot and then we are headed for home. We have about a 2 hour drive back to the hotel. It is almost 10 PM by the time we get to our room. Nope, no time for sleep because we have to pack up to depart first thing in the morning. I do consider going out to see the aurora, but I just can’t do it. It is nearly midnight by the time I am packed up and port changed over to macro. Laying down has never felt so good.
Meeting time is 8 AM with all bags downstairs and ready for transport. Whatever you need for diving in one bag everything else will be delivered to your cabin in Akureyri. Our drive today is 6 hours so other than bathroom/snack breaks it is straight thru. These stops are like gas stations with small mini marts. Don’t worry you will eat your requisite hotdog, but some have espresso, ice cream and much more. We will go straight to the dive center to set up for diving so we can get one dive in today. We pull into Strytan dive center and the Magma dive team is waiting for us with all our gear laid out and ready to go. We have 2 zodiac style boats so the plan is to dive in 3 groups. The first 2 will get in the water and then one boat will come back and pick us up. By then the first 2 groups will be almost done with their dives so then the last 4 of us will be down by ourselves. The dive site, Little Strytan, is marked with a big buoy, so we are fully geared and it’s just an easy back roll into the water. That’s where it all started to go wrong for me. First my fin came off and it is floating away with the surface current. The captain yells at me so I grabbed it just in time. Getting back to the zodiac with one fin is another story. I grab hold and the captain puts my fin back on. Now I need to swim to the bow and I am really having to work at it. I hold onto the buoy to catch my breath as I am breathing like a freight train and meantime the group has descended without me. At this point I am really considering calling the dive as I’m quite the shit show right now. I start to descend and at least Nick comes back looking for me to meet up with the rest of the group. There is barely a current down below so after about 5 minutes I am good to go. I spot my first Wolf Fish and it has the most amazing menacing teeth. They stick out of the mouth unlike the Wolfeel in our area. I start to take some photos and I did actually run across about 4 of them but none were out of their dens. They do warn you that they are not as friendly and will bite you. I see someone’s light flashing and there is the holy grail of Lumpsuckers swimming right towards me. It is quite large and a mottled golden and brown coloring. Andy and Mike are shooting it as well and we all have macro on. It’s a bit big for macro, but you have to try. After they leave it is difficult to get around to the front of it as it just keeps swimming away from me. This divesite also has a small hydrothermal chimney that has hot fresh water pouring out of the chimney and cracks all around the site. Nice and warm if you put your hand over it. The water temp is running 45/46 degrees which is quite warm compared to Silfra. Once back on the surface you pull out your weight pockets and hand them up and then your gear. There is no dive ladder so you have to kick yourself up and land like a beached whale. By now I’m laughing so hard I can barely make it. A few helpful tugs from the crew and off we go back to the dive center. There is a hot tub outside the shop so we jump in with our drysuits on to warm up. The dive shop has a nice bathroom, shower and changing area that is toasty warm. After changing we head back to check into our cabins for a quick shower before heading into town to have dinner. We are staying at Fagravik Cabins http://www.fagravik.is/english/ which are these little cabins with full kitchens and great views of the surrounding mountains and water. The restaurant is called Bryggjan and its pub food serving pizza, ribs, fish etc. It is 8:30 PM when we show up and it is almost a ½ hr before we even get a drink. They took our order at the same time and our food did not come out until after 10 PM. Everyone is a bit unhappy, so we eat quickly and get the hell out of there. Not sure if it was an off night, but they didn’t seem overly friendly and lacked good communication skills. Back to the cabins to call it a night. No aurora as the clouds have moved in.
Another 8 AM meet and today we are splitting into 2 groups. Half the group will go diving and the other half will go snorkeling. My group is on team snorkel today so we drop the other half of the group off at the dive center and we grab our drysuits and snorkeling gear and away we go. It is a good 90+ minutes to get to the first site. It is pouring down rain today, so motivation is pretty low right now. We do make a stop right before to grab food for lunch and use a bathroom. Our first site is Nesgjá in Husavik, North Iceland, which is like a little Silfra. It is a crack in a farmers field where cold glacial water is coming through and it is really clear. However, we can spend as much time as we like taking pictures. We have a lot of fun floating thru the channel and into the salty bay. A hike back up to the van and we decide to load back up on the bus wearing our drysuits to the next stop. It’s a 10-15 minute drive but we did get lost and had to turn around. We are now at Littlaá in Husavik, North Iceland where we stop to pay the farmer for letting us jump into his pond. It is super shallow as we belly snorkel over the weeds in about 1 ft of water. Once on the other side you start to see the sand boiling up like a lava pit and there is escaping gas bubbles everywhere. It looks like champagne water. Pretty cool. Back on the bus and it is another good 90 minutes back to Aukeyri. We stop to eat at the Aukeyri Fish & Chips, which had good battered fish with French fries. A single order is very large so either share with someone or order the childrens portion. Add a cold beer and we were in business. We finally get back to our cabin at a descent hour to enjoy our hot tub on the deck. The scenery is beautiful as we sit and melt in the hot water. All I need now is a glass of wine. I blinked and it is 11 PM so off to bed. I did check for aurora before going to bed and there wasn’t anything.
Richard got up in the middle of the night and shot the aurora for a couple of hours and got some great shots. Oh well, can’t do everything. We are diving this morning, so the pickup is 8 AM and down to Strytan Dive Center. The other half of the group is on the snorkeling tour just like we did yesterday. The crew sets our gear up and takes it in the van down to the dock. It is a fairly good walk in your drysuit carrying your fins, masks and cameras. There is a bit of a swell coming in today so Erlendur Bogeson (owner) is a bit concerned that we might not be able to dive little Strytan. We head out and surprisingly there is quite the swell coming in today. He gives the thumbs up, so we get ready to splash. Visibility doesn’t look so bad, but as soon as we get closer to the bottom it is now zero visibility. Oh boy, this isn’t going to be fun. I make sure not to lose sight of Ed (dive guide) and Richard in front of me. I almost hit the reef with my mask before I see it. Bummer. Because of the swell it is stirring up the bottom so I look up and it seems the top of the reef is in better vis so we head back up to the top. I looked around for the Lumpfish and he is nowhere to be seen today. All the Wolf fish are towards the bottom and that’s going to be some challenging diving. The vis did come and go during the dive and I did have a Wolf fish get annoyed with me shooting it so it did take a couple of bites at my dome port before it swam off into the gloom. Times up, so Kuba takes me back to the line, thank goodness as I would have never found it. Back at the dock we change our tanks and then walk back to the dive center. Erlendur has prepared for us his special fish soup/stew, which was so delicious and hearty for lunch. Second dive is Big Strytan and the reports are that the vis is better. We jump in and follow the line down to about 90 feet where there is a cross line taking you to the chimney. There are a couple of free-swimming Wolf Fish that we try and get a couple of shots of before moving to a shallower depth. We are diving air so you don’t have a lot of bottom time down here. The jellyfish that the group reported yesterday have disappeared, so we just swim around the chimney checking out the thermal vents. They are white in color compared to the dark brown of the rest of the chimney. You cannot touch anything as Erlendur has warned us that he will dive it the next day to check to make sure we have not damaged it. He is dead serious. He is the protector of these dive sites and he takes that very seriously. The vis was better, I would say 10-15 ft and Kuba says this is good for this dive site. The top of the chimney is 55 ft, so you are edging close to deco so even if you have air you have to go back to the line. Thank goodness I have Kuba who knows the way back to the line as you cannot see it from the chimney. Back at the dive center I pack up all my gear as I will be leaving the group tomorrow as they continue on to Greenland. The dive center has fresh water to wash everything and a nice changing room with showers and bathroom. Back at the cabin, I try to get all my equipment hung up to start drying. We relax a bit and then head over to Faiths cabin because she is making all of us dinner. I can smell the food as we are walking down the road, and it smells amazing. She has cooked enough food for an army! Thank you Faith for such a wonderful meal and great conversation with the group and all our guides (Lena, Nick, Kuba & Ed). It is cloudy tonight so I’m not sure the aurora will be out, but you never know. Back at the cabin I have to start getting the rest of my stuff under control. I filled the hot tub while I was packing so I could have one last soak before we leave tomorrow. It felt so good to sit in the hot tub and relax before going to bed. I set my alarm for 2 AM to get up and check for the aurora. I woke up 3 times in the night and each time it was cloudy so I did not have any luck.
My roommate Judy is up early to get her packing done. Time to get up and get serious about finishing my packing as the rest of my stuff has finally dried. Everyone’s luggage has to be out by 8:30 AM for pickup to take to the ship. The group will depart at 9 AM for various activities such as a spa day, walking around town or a bus tour with Nick to the lava fields and mountains to look for the elusive Trolls and elves. The trolls live in the caves in the mountains and the elves live in the lava fields. Trolls only come out at night, if the sun shines on them they turn to stone. Elves are to be like small children or tall beautiful humans that are not quite human. Good luck everyone! Kuba comes back to pick Lindy and I up for our 6 hour trip back to Rykjavik where we will be staying at the Hotel Keflavik near the airport. After checking in, my room was nice, clean and very warm. It had a nespresso coffee machine in the room and a coffee machine downstairs in the lobby. I met up with Lindy around 6 PM and we walked along the waterfront to a little restaurant called Kaffi Duus. It had an eclectic menu from Seafood to Indian food. I finally got my lamb chops for dinner and they were delicious. Lindy had the pan fried cod and said it was good, but he should have ordered the lamb chops. Back at the hotel the bar is just newly re-opened but the restaurant is still not up and running. The bartender’s name is Rich and he is very passionate about his newly stocked bar. And after looking around he has stocked an incredible selection of wines and alcohols. I now know more about Gin, Scotch and Whiskey than I ever knew possible. He has a different tonic for every type of gin he has stocked. I don’t drink gin, but I tasted one of the drinks and it was really good. He is a master mixologist for sure. For wine he let me choose whatever bottle I wanted even though I was only having a glass. I highly recommend stopping in at the Kef bar and having a drink and conversation with Rich. Took a final look outside to see if there were northern lights but nothing was happening. The wind has started to howl so standing out on the breakwater at 1 AM did not sound like a great idea. I think I’ll just call it a night.
A leisurely morning before heading downstairs for breakfast. This hotel also has a nice buffet breakfast with some local selections that I wanted to try before leaving Iceland. The first is Skyr, they use it like yogurt but it is much thicker. I then tried the fresh salmon lox, which both were very good. There was cod liver oil to take a shot of but I decided against that one. Time to do one last bit of packing since the hotel check out time is 11 AM. I met up with Lindy at 11 AM after we stored our luggage at the hotel. We walked along the waterfront taking pictures in the howling winds and blowing surf. It is sunny out but pretty brisk with this wind blowing. Reports are that the group that left for Greenland were in some big seas when they left the port. There is plenty of art and statues all along the waterfront. Our transfer is coming at noon so we hoofed it back to the hotel just in time to catch our ride. The hotel does provide free transfers which they do by taxis. Our taxi driver didn’t think he could get all our luggage in his car, but with a little creativity we managed just fine. We checked in and it is very important that if you pre-paid for your luggage make sure you carry a copy of it. I had pre-paid for 2 extra bags and she needed to see my receipt otherwise she was going to charge me again. At security they did not like any of my bags. The Blue heat batteries caused quite a stir and finally a supervisor had to come over to ok them after 2 other agents were looking at them. I did carry the instruction manual with them just in case which was a really good idea. Could have been pretty costly if I had to leave them behind. Off to the lounge to waste time before the flight so I say goodbye to Lindy as his flight home is definitely shorter than mine. Once on board, no issues with the flight and it was direct again with just about 7 hours of flying time. Made my shuttle at SeaTac and home sweet home I go.
I had a great time on this trip. This trip is for the self sufficient diver. This is old school diving, not a 5 star liveaboard. If you need lots of help this trip might not be for you. You will have to walk long distances in full gear (Silfra), do a check out beach dive, and be comfortable with zodiac diving. Bathrooms can be few and far between as well as food sometimes. I did find that making a sandwich from the breakfast buffet in the morning helped me make it to the next food stop. Don’t plan on getting much sleep as there is just too much stuff to do especially if you want to see the aurora. There is a lot of bus time getting from place to place but there is really no other way to do it. The crew at Magma dive did take care of all our dive equipment, moving it from place to place. They all did an incredible job and are all great divers. Your buoyancy needs to be spot on so you don’t stir up silt in Silfra or damage anything on the thermal vent. You have to be comfortable in low visibility as the diving in Akeyuri can change from day to day. Faith and Byron did a great job putting this custom itinerary together and I look forward to see what they will be adding for next years trip. Can’t wait!
Anacortes Diving & Supply
Mesh bag—for carrying mask, snorkel, fins & bits. Shore dive strap for your fins.
Small towel/chammey to dry your hair
Before coming to the cabins, make sure to pick up any beer or wine and any food that you really are wanting. Basic supplies are there—eggs, bread, ask for peanut butter, meat & cheese for sandwiches. You need soap and shampoo.
Rain gear is a must
Dove Little Strytan
Nesgao snorkel—little crack
Little river—geo thermo lake