What's special about our 'Orcas & Aurora' trip?
Gary Ward travelled on our Orcas & Aurora escorted holiday in Iceland three years running. We caught up with him to find out why the trip has such an appeal.
What was your opinion of escorted holidays before going on the Orcas & Aurora tour?
I had an idea that everything was very regimented and to a rigid schedule. That you’d almost be compelled to do what you were told to do – that there would be no options or choice about it for you.
That perception that wasn’t based on any personal experience (or even experience from friends or family) but sometimes – like we often do – you just pluck an idea out of the sky without actually having any base of facts and, I’ve got to be honest, that’s what I did.
What made you change your mind?
Before the Orcas & Aurora trip, I’d actually been on two city breaks with Discover the World to Iceland. I went on a trip to try and see the northern lights, but unfortunately, I saw nothing so I couldn’t tick that one off.
That’s when the first orca trip was coming up, which at that time was called Killer Whales and Northern Lights and, as I have an interest in wildlife as well, it was ‘kill two birds with one stone’. Unfortunately we were the only group that didn’t see the northern lights – the cloud didn’t break for the four days that we were there – and that’s how trip number two came about! I was like a dog with a bone then, I couldn’t put it down – I had to see the northern lights.
Did you see them on the second trip?
Absolutely! It still stands as was one of the best auroras of 2013 while we were there, which more than made up for the grey skies of the year before!
We were also extremely lucky with the killer whales – there were loads of them in flat-calm waters, blue sky, and we were there for as long as the whales so it was just win-win on all counts. Last year was absolutely excellent.
I had no intention to book a third trip, but January, February, March – it’s like dead time in a way isn’t it? What do you do? There's nothing going on, so I thought ‘I know… northern lights again!’ No-one ever sees the northern lights and thinks ‘oh, I don’t want to see that again’.
What stands out as a highlight for you?
Last year we went out to a hillside near the waterfall just out of the village to see the northern lights and it just came on; it was like switching on Blackpool illuminations, and I’m there – a grown man – with a great lump in my throat. It is just overwhelming to see it in full flow like that – the sky burning green like that was just wow.
Are you worried about going back again after such an amazing experience?
I know there’s every possibility I could go there again and it be another completely overcast four days, but when you’re into wildlife and nature, you know that those sort of things don’t perform on demand; you understand the risks.
Did you enjoy travelling as part of a group?
Yes, everyone was really like-minded – just good, decent people, all with an interest in the same kinds of things, and appreciation of that. They were also perhaps people who, like myself, have travelled a bit further and wider than your typical package holiday, so you can talk about each other’s travel experiences in far flung corners of the world as well as your own. That small, sort of little social circle that you form – well, its just good.
What did the guides bring to your experience?
Cathy [Harlow] is a fantastic guide! Her knowledge and enthusiasm is second to none – that really rubs off on to you and makes you enjoy the whole experience even more. It gets you involved in your surroundings more than perhaps would otherwise be the case if you’re just driving through yourself.
On the first year, there was also Vassili [Papastavrou] the whale expert who was also extremely knowledgeable and very enthusiastic about whales – he just imparted his knowledge to you in a very informal manner, it was a really relaxing education!
I now appreciate that travelling with a guide can be more advantageous to myself in terms of the knowledge you can gather, picking out the best spots and things that you might not know about if you were just to turn up to a location yourself.
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