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A unique yachting adventure, provides Mark Porter with a whistlestop tour of the best of Iceland’s activities, everything from kite skiing to kayaking.

Iceland to the Extreme

Aboard the Aurora

Up on the glacier the ice was hard as concrete but the deep frozen snow was still virgin white. Down below, across the bay at the foot of a distant range of mountains, Isafjordur’s airport tarmac was beginning to melt. It was the hottest day in Iceland’s recorded history and we had sailed across the bay in Aurora, Robin Knox-Johnston’s old round-the-world racing sloop (type of sailboat), before clambering up the mountain and onto the Drangajökull glacier. From here we would slither, hike and ski down to the bay the other side, where Aurora would be waiting to pick us up before venturing further afield.

The West Fjords protrude into the Atlantic like a dragon’s head from the body of Iceland, connected to the mainland by a narrow neck of land. This coastline, with its tortuous bays and dozens of sea lochs, makes up half the country’s coastline even though it’s only a small proportion of the total land mass. It was late July and I was checking out a variety of activities just before the economic storm broke and rocked the nation harder than any weather front ever has. As luck would have it, their misfortune was our gain: Iceland is now nearly 50 per cent cheaper than it was then, so such holidays are much more affordable.

We clambered aboard the Aurora, changing wet clothes for full sailing gear. Despite the sweltering conditions, the North Atlantic is no respecter of such things. Within minutes a biting wind, blowing in from the Arctic, made a mere memory of the heatwave. Good weather in these parts is a false friend and seasoned navigators take it with a pinch of salt. The Aurora is one of the only yachts registered in this maritime nation, where man’s links to the sea seem restricted to commercial fishing. Until three years ago the 20-metre Aurora belonged to Knox-Johnston and competed in no fewer than four Clipper Round the World races. Now it has been converted to take ten guests, plus Runar Karlsson and Sigurdur [Siggi] Jonsson, who own and run it. In the winter they specialise in extreme skiing in the glaciers, kite skiing, rock climbing, abseiling and trips to Greenland and the neighbouring island of Jan Meyen, the world’s most northerly active volcano. ‘It is entirely bespoke. We will do exactly what our guests fancy doing; for some it is extreme challenge, for others it can be something much gentler,’ says Runar, a geographer and highly trained outdoorsman who runs trips for special forces troops when not taking tourists. ‘Basically the boat belongs to the party for as long as they charter it and we make it possible – within reason – for them to do whatever they wish.’


Glacier-Walking-IcelandHolidaymakers have ranged from children as young as nine to a 76-year- old French woman. Summer activities include photographic expeditions to the Hornstrandir Nature Reserve, mountain biking, sea kayaking, snorkelling, wildlife watching, glacier hiking – most of which are fine for older children. Indeed, we are travelling with wives and children aged between four and 11. In the winter, parties hike up to the snow fields to ski down the often precipitous valleys deep in snow, while Siggi the skipper, chef and engineer, sails the Aurora round the coast to join them. Routes vary radically in difficulty and if you fancy literally taking off as well as getting assistance on the long lift-less uphill sections, then kite skiing is a great adrenaline-edged option.

We spent four days exploring a small section of the vast West Fjords, kayaking, fishing and hiking before mooring up in isolated coves. Here the thunder of waterfalls is occasionally punctuated by the bark of the Arctic fox, and the fragile green hillsides are speckled with wild flowers and black basalt boulders. Everywhere the skies teem with birds and song, and seals lounge on skerries while whales and dolphins play to an outrageously scenic backdrop. While the boat makes for a relatively comfortable floating hotel (Siggi is a great cook, making the most of the local larder), there is also the option of winter camping in igloos and snow caves. There can be few purer ways of observing the Northern Lights, though you don’t have to be a purist to enjoy the myriad of outdoor opportunities offered by Siggi and Runar’s company, Borea Travel.

Trip Notes:

Top hotels:

Hotel Borg

Standard double rooms around £140. Art nouveau and stylish.

Hotel Odinsve

Modern, comfortable and efficient. Standard double rooms around £80

Grand Hotel

Great views. A 15 minute walk from downtown, but very comfortable. Standard double rooms from £125


Icelandair flights start from £218 per person departing from London Heathrow, Manchester or Glasgow.

Icelandexpress from Stansted from £69.

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