Ultima Thule Expeditions Keeps Focus on Adventure, Nature

Reed Travel Features

REYKJAVIK, Iceland -- Ultima Thule Expeditions, based here, has been taking travelers in search of adventure on sea- kayaking, trekking, whale- watching and ice-climbing tours since 1993.

The company started with kayaking expeditions and has branched out to other areas of adventure travel.

Although the operator takes hundreds of visitors into Iceland's wilderness, it is careful to adhere to the company goal of "being committed to low-impact travel in a country where a single footprint can leave a lasting impact for centuries," said Baldvin Kristjansson, co-owner of the company.

In order to minimize the impact on the environment and still provide individuals with an in-depth experience, group size is no larger than 12 and usually averages about eight, Kristjansson said, and each tour is accompanied by two experienced guides.

UTE is still the only local outfit offering sea-kayaking excursions in Iceland, according to Kristjansson.

Clients can choose to explore nature on the firm's 10-day camping programs or enjoy the wilderness by day and spend their nights in a lodge on an eight-day itinerary.

All of the programs are designed for people who are reasonably fit, excited about trying new activities and expect the unexpected, he said.

Kristjansson pointed out that the long daylight hours of the northern summer, together with flexible schedules and small groups, enable participants to respond to sudden challenges that occur when traveling in remote areas.

The backgrounds of UTE's participants vary, from those who have traveled the globe in search of adventure to those who have never ventured outside the U.S.

The average age of UTE's clients, mostly couples, is between 45 and 65; singles tend to be a bit younger, he said.

Kristjansson also pointed out that a high number of single participants are women.

UTE organizes separate departures for its European and American clients because the pricing varies.

For example, Americans tend to want more extras, like backup equipment on excursions and extra meals, he said.

Food preparation and dining are an important part of the adventure. Each of the guides has his own favorite menus, he said.

Participants might find themselves gathering local herbs or vegetables for soups and salads, harvesting mussels or catching salmon or trout, buying a cake from a local farmer or making crepes in the camp kitchen.

Group members are invited to share their cooking tips.

UTE operates 10-day camping programs from the end of June through August and eight-day lodge programs from May through September. Fourteen-day programs also are available.

On the 10-day Sea Kayak Hornstrandir Wilderness Park expedition, the group paddles from fjord to fjord, exploring the ecosystems of the far north.

The Hornstrandir, settled by the Norse, was the home of thriving communities for more than 1,000 years.

Every mountain along the way is associated with a legend of past generations, trolls, ghosts, dwarfs or the "hidden" people.

Before setting off, the group explores the main town of the Westfjords, learns basic sea-kayak skills in a heated pool and visits the local history museum.

A chartered boat brings participants out to the Jokulfjords, the sheltered south coast of the park.

The group is based for up to three nights at each campsite during the journey.

Participants discover the Hornstrandir in a quiet and relaxed manner, taking care not to disturb the remote environment.

Having been abandoned for more than 40 years, the park now shelters large numbers of Arctic foxes, seals and numerous seabirds.

The mountains provide a backdrop for short excursions on foot.

The price of the kayaking programs ranges from about $160 to $180 a day, per person.

This includes two highly qualified English-speaking wil-derness leaders; transfers; domestic air transfers; all expedition equipment such as tents, sea kayaks and skis; all specialized personal gear such as paddling jackets and pants, and all meals (except when in Reykjavik).

Air-inclusive packages are available through Icelandair and other operators in the U.S.

Basically, all clients need to bring in terms of equipment is their toothbrush and sleeping bag.

Ultima Thule Expeditions works closely with tour organizers in the U.S. and offers commissions ranging from 12% to 20%, depending on the number of bookings and marketing agreements, Kristjansson said.

Travel professionals are invited to visit and familiarize themselves with the adventure product in the spring and fall, he added.

An information kit, with tour itineraries, weather, food and other details as well as a booking form can be ordered from Ultima Thule Expeditions at (011) 354 854-7798; fax (011) 354 421-4768 or E-mail ute

@islandia.is.

The company also can be reached via the Internet at

http://www.islandia.is/ute.

Other programs include Walking & Sea Kayaking in Breidafjordur Conservation Area, Trekking & Whale Watching at Gjsgur and sea-kayaking excursions in Greenland.

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