Flatey Island and Grundafjordur, 8/5/2021, National Geographic Explorer
National Geographic Explorer
After a night’s steaming from Akranes, just to the north of Reykjavik, we woke to calm seas and cloudy but rainless skies off Flatey Island. With a hearty breakfast under our belts, a short Zodiac ride brought us ashore at a charming village hosting several colorfully painted houses, a small hotel, and the oldest lending library in the nation. But for many, the real draw was the abundant bird life along the cliffs just beyond the village.
After a fine lunch and a presentation in the lounge, we had a dry landing at the dock in Grundafjordur and set out for one of Iceland’s iconic mountains, Kirkjufell, and its associated waterfall. Along the way we passed lovely hillsides composed of stacks of basaltic lava flows, mantled with bright emerald colored grass.
Dana Johnston is an earth scientist specializing in experimental studies of magmatic and volcanic processes. He earned his doctorate at the University of Minnesota and then joined the faculty of the University of Oregon where he rose through the rank...
We arrived in Saglek Fiord on a windy Labrador day, the dramatic high cliffs of the fiord bearing witness to the sheer power of the glacial ice that carved them. Late August weather in northern Labrador can be uncertain -- the bright sunny days sometimes give way to howling winds and driving rain. But our weather luck held as we were treated to dramatic changes in light and shadow on the multi-hued rocks. The majestic beauty aside, we came to Saglek intent on kayaking the protected waters of the inner fiord. But our wildlife luck from earlier in the trip also held and we saw bears almost everywhere National Geographic Explorer sailed. First, we spotted a mother polar bear and two young cubs scrambling over the rocks and climbing the hill with an adolescent bear following along behind. Before long, someone spotted a black bear and then another polar bear. And so it went, until it became apparent that kayaking in this location wouldn’t be on the agenda! Instead, we took to the Zodiacs. After spotting yet another black bear, we found two red Adirondack chairs marking the start of a trail at the head of the northern fiord. A mother polar bear and her cub snoozed in the sun nearby, almost as if they were waiting to welcome the next group of hikers. In all, we saw eight polar bears and four black bears in a single afternoon. In the absence of pack ice, bears were on the land and sometimes in the water. In the past it was uncommon to see black bears so far north, but they now seem abundant, drawn to the crow berries ripening in the sun on the slopes of the surrounding hills. Location really is everything, and the calm waters of the inner fiord gave way to gusty winds and whitecaps as we headed back to the ship to see what the chef had planned for the evening.
You may not know it, but you’ve probably seen the dramatic Vestmannaeyjar Islands off the south coast of Iceland before. It’s like sailing into an Instagram picture. The uniquely sculpted land is both picturesque and memorable. Heimaey is the most amazing. The harbor here was nearly sealed off by an enormous eruption in the late 1970s that demolished many of the houses in the town at the water’s edge. Today, we climbed the remaining lava pile, still warm from the magma lurking beneath the island’s surface. The blue sky gave us broad views, and the strong winds gave us a true taste of the local life. After dinner, we got a closer look at Surtsey—a volcanic island that is younger than many of us on board. It’s a bittersweet but fitting end to our explorations of the land of fire and ice.
After a late night yesterday at the Arctic Circle on Grimsey, we woke this morning to part sun, part cloud, gentle breezes, and calm seas. Since leaving Grimsey, we travelled to the northeast corner of Iceland and then to the south along Iceland’s east coast. Guests enjoyed a bit of a sleep-in this morning, a hearty breakfast, and presentations by Birna Imsland, our cultural specialist, on Icelandic Sweaters: Armor of the North , and Dana Johnston, our geology specialist, on Glaciers and Glacial Landforms . Our afternoon began with an on-board visit from the directors at Skalanes. They explained its rich archaeological record, documenting a subsistence lifestyle extending back over 1,000 years. While they spoke, the clouds dissipated, and we had perhaps the best weather we’ve ever enjoyed at this site. We split into two groups, one on shore visiting the archaeological sites, and the other Zodiac touring the geological wonders of the nearby cliffs. While both were immensely fulfilling, most agreed that geology ruled the day. Highlights included: magnificently exposed columnar basalts showing clear evidence of having been deformed by flow (photo A); igneous dikes, representing feeders for the overlying lava flows (photo B); brick-red baked layers, representing soil horizons overridden and baked by subsequent lava flows (photo C); a brilliant green area of hydrothermal alteration now consisting of bentonitic clays (photo D); and even an example of a basaltic dike cutting these brilliant green clays (photo E).