Day 5: Driving the Ring Road in Iceland | Mývatn to Akureyri
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The drive from the Mývatn region to Akureyri was the shortest, even with a detour to Húsavík. Most of our time was spent on a miserable Whale Watching tour in the cold pouring rain. There were no whales to be seen. Our day started to look up after getting to the magnificent Godafoss waterfall. In Akureyri, the 2nd largest city in Iceland, we visited one of the northernmost botanical gardens and their church upon the hill.
Whale Watching at Húsavík
Whale Watching in Iceland was quite the experience – just not the experience I was hoping it would be. We got the tickets the night before and the forecast showed rain later in the day so we thought we were safe. No luck. We woke up to a downpour. People in Iceland love to say "If you don't like the weather, wait 5 minutes." There was still hope the weather would turn around, right? Checking the weather again, the forecast stated the temperature wouldn't get above 2º. To be prepared, we put on 4 layers of clothes to keep warm. Once we arrived in Húsavík, we checked in and got on the boat. We were given another 2 layers of thick outerwear. 4 other people got on the boat with us.
The next 3 and half hours on that 100-year old boat can only be described as absolutely miserable. It did not stop raining for one second, but it did start hailing. With freezing cold wind that pelted the rain against my face. At least it masked my tears. Intense waves straight out of the Deadliest Catch. I had to wrap my arms around the boat to prevent from being thrown overboard. I am not one prone to sea-sickness at all, but the nausea was definitely getting to me. Two people had to go down below due to vomiting. It was definitely an experience I will never forget. By the way, somehow 6 layers of thick clothing still weren't enough.
During the first hour of the boat ride from hell, I was still optimistic that at least we would see whales. After that hour, my main goal was to just survive. In the end, we saw no whales. No wildlife at all except for a puffin or two for max 10 minutes. Worst part: we were promised hot chocolate and donuts after and they gave us nothing! Not even a refund.
I normally like focusing on the positive and being grateful for my experiences. I mean, I was still in Iceland and on the boat, we probably got the farthest north I have ever been. However, I also want to be honest. If you look up reviews for whale watching in Iceland, the vast majority are positive. The whale watching companies boast a 99% sighting rate. I guess we fell into the miserable 1%.
Watch the video below to see our experience.
If you decide to take the risk and do a whale watching tour, wait to book until the day of and check the weather! There are multiple companies operating and there will be availability to hop on a boat the same day.
TIME SPENT: 3 hour and 30 Minutes
Cost: $95 per person
One of the most impressive waterfalls in Iceland, Goðafoss is the 'Waterfall of the Gods.' You can visit the waterfalls from both sides to get two different perspectives on it. It essentially is a smaller version of Niagra falls or a larger version of Selfoss. It was still pouring when we visiting Godafoss, but on a nice day, you could spend a bit longer walking around.
Godafoss is connected with the conversion of Iceland to Christianity in the year 1000. It is said that Thorgeir Thorkelsson, a law Speaker of the Icelandic Parliament and a pagan priest, decided to become a Christian. Having lived nearby, he threw all of his old pagan god statues into the falls.
TIME SPENT: 20 minutes
Akureyri Botanical Garden (Lystigardurinn)
We arrived into Akureyri a bit early to be able to check into our Airbnb. To kill time, we stopped by the Akureyri Botanical Garden. It is one of the most northern botanical gardens in the world. It has 6600 non-native and 430 native species of plants. It was a nice park to walk through and see plants only in Iceland. Nearly everything was in bloom when we visited at the beginning of June.
There is a cafe and bathrooms on site and plenty of signage around.
It is open from June 1st to September 30th from 9.00-22.00. Free to enter.
TIME SPENT: 40 minutes
When we arrived at Akureyrarkirkja there was a funeral in session. Not 5 minutes after the funeral ended, everyone left the church, and the flag was raised from half-mast, visitors were allowed inside.
This concrete church sits atop a hill with an imposing modern style. Inside there is a dramatic organ and nice stained glass windows.
It is free to enter and you might be able to find free parking nearby.
TIME SPENT: 15 minutes
So now that you know what we saw, why don't you watch it: