Shanghai Belugas Whales Arrive at Their New Sanctuary in Iceland

With all the doom and gloom going on in the world, we’re pleased to announce a tear-jerker (in a good way) of a story to kick off your week.

Over several years, the new SEA LIFE Trust Beluga Whale Sanctuary has been created in partnership with the Whale and Dolphin Conservation (WDC). The enormous 32,000-square-metre Klettsvik Bay on Heimaey Island was designated as the site for the sanctuary which opened in April this year. It’s a sheltered bay which protects the wildlife from the harsh Icelandic weather, but still allows scientists to carefully manage and monitor the sea life.
Finally, in recent days, the two beluga whales – Little White and Little Grey – have safely reached their new home, the first open water beluga sanctuary in the world. Both are female, around 12 years old and weigh in at almost 1000 kilos each. They have differing characters too – Little White is shy and reserved, while Little Grey is reportedly more curious and a little mischievous.

The two belugas once lived wild in the Arctic waters around Russia. Many years ago, they were captured by the Changfeng Ocean World and transported to Shanghai where they, like many wildlife parks that still exist today, they were trained and forced to perform tricks to audiences. In 2012, Ocean World was bought out by Merlin Entertainment who began searching for a new home for the belugas which has ended in 2019 with the delivery of the belugas to their new wild sanctuary.

Meet Little-White and Little-Grey

The last 30-hour journey across the world was a logistically difficult project. Local veterinary experts in China prepared Little White and Little Grey for their journey, while marine specialists and biologists closely monitored the whales in transit to ensure their mental and physical well-being. Their new Icelandic waters are considerably colder than they were used too in China, so they were given a highly calorific diet to put on extra blubber in preparation.

Now in their new home, both belugas will be slowly introduced to the local wildlife, helping them to adjust and interact safely with the surrounding sea life which include crabs, shellfish and sea kelp. Unlike captivity, they have more than 30 feet of water depth giving them amble room to swim, dive down and explore.
This is just the beginning for the sanctuary and there are plans underway to introduce new belugas to the Icelandic sanctuary. It’s also brought to light the treatment of animals in zoos and there’s hope that this project will help spur on new sanctuaries in other parts of the world.

Come and visit!

There’s never been a better time to visit the little Icelandic island of Heimaey Island. While this new sanctuary and the beautiful beluga whales are the star of the show, there’s plenty more to see and do from hiking trails to fishing and puffin viewing to museum visits. If you’re sold on a trip to Heimaey Island, our hotel, Guesthouse Hóll, is just minutes away from the sanctuary. We can help plan your whole trip from organising tickets and transport to take you on guided excursions around the island.

How to spend 5 days in Vestmannaeyjar

Vestmannaeyjar is truly one of Iceland’s best kept secrets. This Icelandic archipelago might be small, but what it lacks it size, it certainly makes up for in things to do. In fact, the islands are chock-o-block with wonderous natural wonders and attractions like museums. Most of the archipelago was formed over 10,000 years ago, though the latest volcanic isle, Surtsey, revealed itself in the early ‘60s. With so much to do and see, it can be tricky to know where to start. Thankfully, we’ve created this handy guide for a 5 day stay on Vestmannaeyjar.

Day 1 | Arrival

Vestmannaeyjar might be remote, but it’s a breeze to reach. In the morning, you can either catch a short flight from Reykjavik, self-drive or take a shuttle bus to the port town Landeyjarhöfn, leave your car (or take it with you) and hop aboard one of the daily 30-minute ferry ride to the only inhabited island – Heimaey.
Once you arrive, your friendly hosts can pick you up from the port* and take you to their standout accommodation, but it’s an easy 5 min walk to Guesthouse Hóll. This beautiful 5-bedroom property might be one of the newest kids on the block, but they’ve quickly made a name for themselves. Comfortable, stylish and elegant, there are few places to stay which match up to this tiny boutique. Plus, our inhouse concierge can help you plan and execute your trip on a day to day basis, the perfect way to explore an archipelago which is known for its quickly-changing fickle weather.
In the evening, we suggest wandering down to Slippurinn, a restaurant which occupies an old workshop factory which once served the thriving fishing boat industry. It’s considered one of the best restaurants on the islands and celebrated Icelandic cuisine and produce creating innovative twists on classic dishes.

Day 2 | Puffins & Museum

Wake up to fabulous views from your guestroom window and tuck into a hearty Icelandic breakfast at one of the local cafes. If it’s your first time on the archipelago, it’s unthinkable not to go spotting Puffins, something the islands are known for. A daily small-group adventure departs every day between May and September and offers the opportunity the get up close to these cheeky chappies. On the tour, you’ll hop aboard comfortable vehicles accompanied by an expert local guide and ride around the island stopping at the likes of Stórhöfði to see an amazing puffin colony. You’ll also visit Herjólfdalur to see the famed elephant rock.
When you return in the afternoon, be sure to swing by the fascinating Eldheimar Museum. It tells the story of the infamous lava flow which buried several of the island houses in the ‘70s. In 2005, the site was excavated in a project named Pompei of the North. At the museum, you can find out about the fateful night which saw island families flee and has won several awards for its design.
You might be thousands of miles from Italy, but that hasn’t stopped a local chef brining the flavors of Naples to the tiny island. At Pítsugerðin, you can dive into authentic wood-fired margaritas and rolled calzones in swish surroundings. Feeling indulgent? Don’t skip their signature lobster pizza and sign off the meal wit their Nutella and sliced banana pizza. Head back to Guesthouse Hóll for a comfortable night’s sleep.

Day 3 | Speedboat & Brewery

Your whistle-stop tour of Vestmannaeyjar isn’t over yet. After breakfast, we suggest hopping board one of the daily speedboat tours which will see you cruising around the island’s coastline. Get ready for that adrenaline rush as you join this 1-hour tour on a specially designed rib speedboat. Along the way, you’ll learn about the powerful geothermal activity which helped create the islands, marvel at the impressive rock formations and see plenty of wildlife along the way. In fact, if you’re lucky it’s not that uncommon to spot the old whale fluking around the bay and playful seals basking along the coastline.
Return to dry land and make a beeline for the Brothers Brewery. You don’t need to be in the capital to enjoy a good beer. Fans of the frothy nectar can visit this craft brewer which have been winning awards left right and center. If you time it right, you can even enjoy one of their regular tastings in the Ale House to learn more about the process of beer production by the experts who run the company.
Sign off the day with a delicious evening meal at Gott. This restaurant specializes in healthy, organic fare served up in an elegant setting. The husband and wife team, who have written several cookbooks, create an inspired ever-changing menu which works with the seasons. Expect delicious dishes like cheese and beet salad or spelt-wrapped grilled chicken. If you’re a vegan, there’s simply no place better on the island.

Day 4 | Volcano & Golf

Kick off the day with a hearty breakfast because today is going to be used for a hike across the wild island. There are several tours to pick from and the friendly folks at Guesthouse Hóll can help you organize your adventure in the morning*. Most of the tours are small groups with guests limited to just 16 guests. Most of the tours start from the harbor from which point you’ll be taken to Skansinn. From here, you’ll walk across the lava fields to learn about their human and geological history. Afterwards, you’ll clamber up to the summit of Eldfell Volcano, a journey which takes around 2 hours, and enjoy spectacular view across the island.
In the afternoon, you could make a dash for the golf course which overlooks the magnificent coast and is often considered one of the most beautiful on earth. Hire some clubs and play a round or two on the sunny course and end in the club house for a well-earned drink or two.
More gastronomic treats can be found at the high-end Einsi Kaldi where the Vestmannaeyjar-born chef uses achingly fresh local produce to create innovative dishes. Don’t skip the signature monk fish and lobster or the elegant panna cotta made using Icelandic yogurt called skyr. The perfect end to a perfect day.

Day 5 | Back to the Mainland

After a comfortable night’s sleep, your hosts at Guesthouse Hóll can transfer you to the port* where you can board your ferry back to the mainland or the airport where you can catch your flight back to the capital.

You’ll leave with memories that will last a lifetime.

Now when your Vestmannaeyjar itinerary sample is ready, do not leave without checking our special offer first!

Book here now and get 15% discount by using this code “hamagaganguraholi”.

*All staff service and help mentioned in this itinerary sample is included/free should you book similar amount of days.

7 Things to Know When Planning Your Vacation to Iceland

So, you’ve booked your flight tickets to Iceland, but how to you prepare for your trip? Here’s 7 things you should know to prepare yourself for your Icelandic adventure.

Plan the right itinerary

There are so many things to do in Iceland, it can be tricky to know where to start. The first thing is being realistic about what you can squeeze into the time you have. Those who are time-rich could opt to hire a 4×4 car and drive around the island at their own pace. Others on a flying visit may be better to base themselves in the capital and take days trips out to key sights like the Blue Lagoon. Doing your homework on the places you really want to see can make all the difference to your trip.

Buy the right gear

What to pack very much depends on what time of year you are visiting. However, the country’s weather is surprisingly changeable, so your best bet is packing for all eventualities. Key pieces of gear you’ll need include a fleece jacket, rainproof jacket, gloves, swimwear and a study pair of walking boots. In winter, thermals are a good idea, as are ice grips for your shoes.

Get your camera settings in order

Iceland’s awesome scenery and natural wonders make for one of the most photogenic places on Earth. That said, the quickly changing weather and strong sunlight can also make it one of the most challenging. To maximize the opportunities for photography, your best is getting your camera pre-sets in order, so you can quickly change when required.

Deciding on your budget

Iceland is by no means the cheapest country to visit. Its remote location means much needs to be imported from Europe. Fear not if you are on a budget. With a little research on places to eat and experiences, it’s still possible to do Iceland without giving your credit card a bruising. If you opt for large group tours, they tend to be cheaper and there are several budget-friendly restaurants where you can get a hearty meal in the capital without the high price tag.

Check your visa requirements

Depending on your nationality, you may need to apply for a visa before you travel. European citizens don’t need a visa to travel in Iceland. Those outside Europe may need to apply for a Schengen Visa which takes several days to apply for with the local embassy or consulate.

Book up early

While you might find last minute deals, in general travel elements generally get either more expensive or get booked up. If you have your heart set on a hotel or an experience, your best bet is booking up as early as possible. You may even be able to find early bird discounts if you dig around a little.

Go cashless

Iceland is one of the most card-friendly countries in Europe. Thankfully, that means you won’t be looking around all the time for ATMs on the road. That said, it’s not a bad idea to keep some Icelandic króna cash on you just in case of emergencies. Before you travel, let your card issuer know where you’re going to stop them blocking your card when you arrive.

Use one of the portable modems

You don’t give your phone data a hammering if you pick up one of the 4G portable Trawire modem units which start at just 10 bucks a day. You’ll have full, unlimited coverage in almost every part of the island. Plus, you can link up 10  devices to the same unit.