Whirlwind Roundtrip of Iceland’s West Fjords

In this guest post, Eygló Svala Arnarsdóttir, the editor of IcelandReview.com describes her trip through the West Fjords in Iceland.

“There are a lot of fjords in the West Fjords. So many that driving in and out one fjord after another on bumpy gravel roads, staring right up a rocky mountain slope or down a precipice into the treacherous waters below, while trying to get to a wedding in time, will make your head spin and stomach twirl.

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Dynjandi, West Fjords largest waterfall

Finally, a bridge! Thank God, or rather, the Public Roads Administration… But, no! It hadn’t opened yet! (The bridge over Mjóifjördur opened on August 20, 2009.) And now our kilometer count is all wrong. Oh dear, when does that wedding start again?

Mjóifjördur is one of countless fjords my boyfriend and I encountered on the way to Ísafjördur, the capital of the West Fjords, where we had been invited to a wedding in early July.

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View from Strandir, West Fjords, Iceland

Instead of driving straight there, we decided to take a detour to Strandir on the eastern coast of the peninsula and camp one night “Where The Road Ends” (as one inhabitant, author Hrafn Jökulsson, dubbed the region in his eponymous book).

We were told that the drive from Hólmavík, the largest settlement in Strandir with its 369 inhabitants, to the end of the road would take around two hours… It did not. How fast do the locals drive on these impossible roads?

While low-hanging clouds blocked the full view of the majestic landscape, they also added to the air of mysticism that has always surrounded Strandir. It has an eerie beauty like no other place in Iceland.

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Strandir view, West Fjords, Iceland

Locals are reputed to have resorted to sorcery to survive in this hostile environment and, after having experienced it on my own skin, that didn’t seem entirely unreasonable. In celebration of that reputation, Hólmavík boasts a Museum of Icelandic Sorcery and Witchcraft, its exhibitions reaching Bjarnarfjördur, where you can visit the Sorcerer’s Cottage, and Kistan in Trékyllisvík, a cleft where three convicted sorcerers were burned to death in 1654.

In spite of its dark history, Trékyllisvík is a peaceful and green oasis in the desert. It is the largest place of settlement in Árneshreppur in the northern part of Strandir—there are only around 50 inhabitants in the entire municipality.

Other settlements are Djúpavík, which used to be a thriving fishing village but has now been reduced to a ghost town where the only all-year inhabitants are the local hotel owners, and Gjögur, where, surprisingly enough, an airport is located. The road to Árneshreppur is often closed in winter, so inhabitants rely on supplies being flown in.

Taking a breather in Gjögur was a bizarre experience: first an airstrip in the middle of nowhere and then this cluster of houses and not a single person. The Arctic terns seem to have taken over the place, judging by their hostile welcome. Ah, the screams! And then they skydive to peck your head. I thought it best to seek shelter in the car and keep moving.

Nordurfjördur, north of Trékyllisvík, has the region’s grocery store and offers scheduled boat trips to Hornstrandir, the northernmost part of the West Fjords, now only inhabited by wild creatures. Road number 643 continues to Eyri in Ingólfsfjördur, where abandoned fish factories are reminiscent of a once blooming industry.

Jeepers can move on to the next fjord, Ófeigsfjördur, but from there, travelers must rely on their own two feet to reach the desolate Hornstrandir.

If you take a different turn by Nordurfjördur, the road leads you to the most extraordinary outdoor swimming pool at Krossnes. Located on the beach, you can feel your weariness melt away as you listen to the waves crash against the shore and watch the ocean merge with the sky far away on the horizon.

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Krossnes outdoor swimming pool, West Fjords, Iceland

Back to Mjóifjördur. The clock was ticking away and yet we couldn’t move any faster along the gravel road. The weather was clearing with rays of sunlight peering through the gloomy clouds and sunny spells in between showers.

There were rainbows everywhere and lots of greenery compared to Strandir, and it seemed impossible to be in a hurry amidst such beauty. Besides, drivers must be mindful of stubborn sheep on the road and cheerful farm dogs that chase the car.

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Driftwood close to the road, West Fjords, Iceland

Suddenly we spotted a seal lazing on a rock in the middle of the fjord—what an adorable and unexpected sight.

Out of Mjóifjördur and we still had four fjords to go. They all lead out of the larger Ísafjardardjúp, which almost splits the West Fjords peninsula in half.

The scenery is absolutely breathtaking. In sunny and calm weather, the steep mountains are reflected in the fjord’s smooth surface. Bubbling springs fall over cliffs and into the ocean and the islands Aedey and Vigur on Ísafjardardjúp are a delight to the eye. Boat trips to these islands are offered from Ísafjördur.

Hamlets like Súdavík (pop. 181) nestle between the seashore and the steep mountains, their multicolored rooftops gleaming in the sun.

Suddenly we noticed something ripple the ocean’s smooth surface from the car window. A reef? No, that’s not it. Could it be? Indeed, a whale had decided to surface right before our eyes. Amazed, we stared as the massive animal took a dive and then waved goodbye with its gigantic tail. Excited, we waited to watch it resurface—and then all we needed was an eagle and a fox to complete our safari. Unfortunately, we had no time for safaris… we had a wedding to go to!

Finally, we entered Ísafjördur (pop. 2,975). After all these tiny villages along the way, the capital of the West Fjords looked like a big bustling city. We made it just in time.

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Ísafjördur at midnight in July, West Fjords, Iceland

What a day to get married! The sun shone brightly on the happy couple as they said their vows in a flowery garden up in the hills with a view of Ísafjördur and the mountainous backdrop mirrored in the ocean.

On such bright summer days so close to the Arctic Circle night never falls, and so the party continued into the wee hours of the morning, when we finally crawled into our tent.

Note to self: Don’t be in a rush when visiting the West Fjords next time.”