This is the 6th post on our trip to Iceland. Find more here.
Day 7 Part 1: Puffins
After spending the night at Hotel Katla (hotel was fine, but the dinner buffet was way overpriced ~$54 per person!), we drove further east. We caught our first glimpse of a “glacier tongue” as we headed past Skaftafell (more on that tomorrow). After a quick gas station lunch we headed to Ingólfshöfdi, an Icelandic nature preserve where you can take a guided puffin watching tour. Puffins are perhaps the most adorable little birds in existence, and the tour “almost guaranteed” that we would get to see some!
The trip started with a tractor ride through a wide black sand estuary. Between the haze and the sand blowing in the wind, it felt like we were on an entirely different planet.
Eventually we reached the coast, where a promontory rose up with steep cliffs on three sides. At the top, the black sand changed to rock and grass, and some large birds immediately made us aware that we were “trespassing” on their nesting grounds. The birds, Great Skau which are about the size of a hawk, would aggressively swoop around the areas where they lay their eggs, loudly screeching for us to stay away. Since they seem to lay their brown, well camouflaged eggs at random spots on the ground, it was helpful that they would keep us from accidentally stepping on them!
A stone pillar atop the cliff also commemorates this spot as the arrival point of Ingólfur Arnarson, the Norweigan viking who first settled Iceland. Apparently it was often a common landing area for capsized vessels due to the dangerous rocky coast, so the hill is topped with an emergency shelter where stranded sailors can find survival equipment, including a puffin catching net. Despite the cuteness of the little birds, they remain an Icelandic delicacy, still featured on the menu of some fancy restaurants (along with whale and fermented shark). We did not partake.
We continued towards the water, where the tall cliff face has the deep crevices that puffins like to lay their eggs in (a much better protected spot than the ones picked by the Skau). We were delighted to find dozens of the birds, happily posing for us and periodically diving over the edge to swoop down and play with their friends. We took a lot of pictures.
Everyone on the tour was enthralled by the little birdies. I was surprised to learn that puffins can live to be over 20 years old, and that the ones we were watching where mostly teenagers–the well developed birds waiting for the children to come back in the next month. When everyone in the group had finally gotten enough pictures of the birds, our guide led us back down to the sandy wasteland below for our return ride on the tractor.