HÚSAVÍK is a small, likeable town of 2500 inhabitants hunkered below Húsavíkurfjall on a rare dip in the coastline, the blue-green bay out front patched by cloud shadows and a couple of islands. The ninth-century Swedish rover Garðar Svavarsson wintered here while making the first recorded circumnavigation of Iceland; the shelters he built gave Húsavík (House Bay) its name. It’s also said that two of his slaves decamped during his stay and established a farm, though later historians – looking for nobler lineages than this – tend to overlook the possibility that they were the mainland’s first permanent residents.
The area’s economy focused on sheep farming until hit by the nationwide depression of the late nineteenth century – caused in part by the 1875 eruption of Viti in Askja – when many switched to fishing or emigrated to Canada or the US. Nowadays, Húsavík has become Iceland’s premier centre for whale watching; the town is now so dependent on this summer income that Húsavík led criticism within Iceland of the government’s decision to resume commercial whaling in late 2006.