#visiticeland

 

Icelanders have always had a dislike for the beautiful Hvalfjörður fjord. Until 1998, when traveling away from Reykjavík to enjoy the western or northern part of the country, they had to endure a 62 km detour around the fjord on Highway 1. It was an irritating detour. Few were inclined to admire the splendid nature surrounding them, while driving along a gravel road. There was simply too much dust. For those traveling to Reykjavík, the detour was wasted time. Then, in 1998 the tunnel Hvalfjarðargöng was opened to traffic. The dust in Hvafjörður settled, and this beautiful area rejoined nature. Nowadays, the Icelanders are learning to appreciate its wonders and its hiking trails are fast becoming quite popular.

At the innermost part of Hvalfjordur, you'll find two valleys, Brynjudalur valley and Botnsdalur valley. High above Botnsdalur valley rises the mountain Hvalfell (852 m above sea level) and behind it lies the mountain lake Hvalvatn that is the fourth deepest in Iceland.

Giant glacier tongues formed the two valleys. During ice age an eruption formed the mountain Hvalfell. It filled up the bottom of the valley and formed a natural barrier that impounded lake Hvalvatn. The outflow channel of the lake is named Botnsa River. From this river cascades down the highest waterfall in Iceland, known as Glymur, a 198 meters tall.

The fjord's name, Hvalfjörður means the Whale fjord. It is derived from a large number of whales that used to make the fjord their habitat. Iceland's largest whaling stations is still operating there.

During World War II, a naval base of the British and American navies could be found in this fjord. The Hvalur whaling company today uses a pier, built by the United States Navy.

The innermost part of the fjord shows an interesting mixture of volcanic mountains and green vegetation in the summertime. At Botnsá you will find Lupines, different sorts of wild flowers and moss, as well as small forests of Birchwood and Conifers.
 

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Below is the location of Hvalfjörður on the map of Iceland

The fjord's name, Hvalfjörður means the Whale fjord.

In Iceland, it is hard to bring the words tranquility and waterfall into one sentence. Still, amongst the hundreds of waterfalls scattered all over the country, there is one, Hraunfossar (Lava Falls), which may best be described as tranquil. By Route Nr. 518 on your way to Húsafell, the beautiful falls cascade gently from under the moss-covered lava. The turquoise water tumbles down a series of rock steps into the Hvítá River.

An unusual sight and unique waterfall

Hraunfossar Falls is a rare phenomenon, even in the vast flora of natural wonders in Iceland. Located at the edge of the Hallmundarhraun Lava Field, the clear, cold springs of subterranean water seep through the lava and run as tiny waterfalls and rapids into the Hvítá River.  It is a magnificent sight and a joy to watch all year round as the falls and the surrounding takes on a different shape in different seasons.

Hraunfossar is naturally a popular tourist attraction

The Falls are certainly among the most photographed natural wonders in Iceland. An easy trail along the river provides excellent viewpoints of the enchanting falls. It is quite usual for people to stay by the falls throughout the day to capture the lights and shadows playing their magic. Casting different hue over the riverbed, enhancing rainbows near the water, where the sparkling lava and the rich flora are always taking on new shapes, displaying a new photo-moment at every turn.

Hraunfossar is a place of ethereal beauty where time stands still.
 

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Below is the location of Hraunfossar on the map of Iceland

Hraunfossar Iceland

 

When you are at Hellnar, it is difficult to imagine that this tiny hamlet on the south coast of the Snæfellsnes Peninsula used to be one of the largest fishing villages south of the glacier. With only a few people living there permanently today, it doesn't look like an ideal location for a fishing station.  Currently, the tiny hamlet is more like a small tourist village.  The attraction is the rocky shore, cliffs and strong currents bashing the shoreline.  And by the coast, there doesn't seem to be much room to maneuver a rowboat, let alone a fishing vessel although a small dock still exists.

The shoreline and the magnificent lava formation

But, mind you, the shoreline has been corroded during the ages and today you can spend a long time by the rocky beach enjoying all the magnificent formations resulting from the battle between the ocean and the rocks.  And Hellnar is also a charming destination for those who seek the thrill of being in the company of the elements.  Possibly elves and trolls as Hellnar has a reputation of being a favorite place for such creatures.  Being so near the majestic glacier and the home of Bárður Snæfellsás who still protects the area around Snæfellsjökull glacier, while enjoying the ocean's mighty currents and observing the abundant birdlife is an excellent way to pass the day.

Hellnar shoreline is a wonerful place to view lava and rock formation

The many formations of rocks by the shore at Hellnar tiny hamlet

The walking track from Hellnar to Arnarstapi

The cliffs between the Hellnar and Arnarstapi villages are a Natural Reserve and the two and a half kilometer hiking trail over the lava field, along the cliffs and shoreline offers an exceptional experience.  At Hellnar, you will find an excellent café, practically on the tempestuous beach, and a lovely eco-friendly hotel.  The track is a great destination for photographers.

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Below is the location of Hellnar on the map of Iceland

The cliffs between the Hellnar and Arnarstapi villages are a Natural Reserve

 

For the longest time the Glymur waterfall with a cascade of 198 m, was the tallest waterfall in Iceland. Then in 2011 it was surpassed by a new waterfall by Morsárjökull glacier due to an eruption. Glymur is part of the river Botnsá in Hvalfjörður and falls alongside the Hvalfell mountain into a steep canyon. The waterfall is accessible from a parking area by the road. For the best view, it is quite pleasant to hike to the top of the waterfall along marked trails.

You can only observe the waterfall from the east side. The trail begins by passing through a gate and a short walk along a road marked by yellow-painted rocks. A few hundred meters along the road, the trail drops over a small cliff face and descends through a cave down to the river. During summer, a small wooden pole is laid across the river with and adjacent cable for a handhold, where hikers can cross to the eastern side. Here the trail climbs steeply through muddy, rocky and loose gravel areas and at times it skirts steep drop-offs. In 1-2 km, you will reach the area most ideal for viewing the waterfall. You can, of course, hike further upwards to fully enjoy the spectacular view of the Hvalfjörður fjord, its unusual flora and fauna and, of course, the majestic mountains.
 

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Below is the location of Glymur on the map of Iceland

For the longest time the Glymur waterfall with a cascade of 198 m, was the tallest waterfall in Iceland.

 

The Glanni waterfall in the river Norðurá is believed to be home to elves and gnomes. And believe you me, that is of g importance to the Icelanders who have great respect for those invisible beings coexisting with humans in perfect harmony. Glanni is by no means the most beautiful waterfall in Iceland, nor the largest. But, it is the source of the water flow for Norðurá, one of the greatest salmon fishing rivers in Iceland.

The landscape around Glanni is quite diverse due to its location near to an ancient lava field. But, as Borgarfjörður is the most genial area in Iceland, whereas weather is concerned, you will also find fragrant woods and colourful fauna nearby. Hiking from the parking area at the Birföst village, the Glanni area is ideal for a picnic. It is a most tranquil experience. From a bluff by the river's edge, you will get excellent views of Glanni on your way to the waterfall. It is one of those perfect photo spots.

Once at the waterfall you cannot stand by its edge as it is too close to the river's deepest part. But then again, your visit is not about experiencing the edge, but rather about enjoying the beauty.

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Below is the location of Glanni on the map of Iceland

The Glanni waterfall in the river Norðurá is believed to be home to elves and gnomes.

 

Breiðafjörður to the west of Iceland is adorned with islands and islets, skerries and pillars. A few of them have been inhabited throughout the centuries and even today some of them are being utilized as farmland and nesting sites for eider ducks. Only one island, Flatey, is still inhabited. It has between five and ten permanent inhabitants, but during summer population increases considerably.  In 1942 Flatey (The Flat Island) carried 120 inhabitants going about their daily lives, farming and fishing. But, times change and so do people's priorities. During the next twenty years, nearly all the inhabitants moved away. Living in Flatey was considered not too cool. Of course, no one could sell the island properties. They were simply left to rot.

But, as we know the tides are constantly turning. Suddenly, in the 1970s Flatey became quite the rave. Everyone wanted to visit. Gradually, property owners returned to renovate their houses. The old hotel was spruced up and reopened. Ever since everything has been upwardly. And Flatey is most certainly worth the visit. It possesses an extraordinary atmosphere and an ethereal stillness.

The island is merely two kilometers long, and its width is less than one kilometer. Cars are prohibited on the island, which has only one gravel road leading from the ferry dock through the old village. The village consists of several beautifully restored old houses, a hotel with a very decent restaurant, a church, and a library. And this remote library holds one of Iceland's greatest treasures: Flateyjarbók, Iceland's largest medieval manuscript.

To get to Flatey, you simply board the Baldur ferry in Stykkishólmur on the Snæfellsnes Peninsula or at Brjánslækur on the south coast of the Westfjords.

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Below is the location of Flatey on the map of Iceland

Only one island, Flatey, is still inhabited.

 

If you feel the need for dramatics while traveling in Iceland, Dritvík on the Snæfellsnes Peninsula is the place to go. A place with beautiful landscape and rich history.  Today it is difficult to imagine that Dritvík was one of the largest fishing station in Iceland for centuries with up to 60 fishing boats, dozens of huts and full of life. From the middle of the 16th century up to 400 inhabitants lived here during the fishing season and this continued until the early 20th century. At that time Iceland was more or less an agricultural society with few hamlets or villages.  So from the middle of February until late May, Dritvík was a particularly active place.  Like many places that developed some kind of community by the shore at that time, there were two reasons; rich fishing grounds and good landing place for small boats. But this is a mind-boggling notion because access to this dramatic cove is by no means obvious or simple. Especially as this part of Iceland was relatively isolated at this time.

Dirtvík is mentioned in the saga, Bárðarsaga Snæfellsás

The first settler in Dritvík was the half-man / half troll Bárður Snæfellsás. On the beach, you will find several spectacular rock formations in addition to the beautiful pebble stones. One of the rocks dividing the cove is Bárðarskip (Bárður's Vessel), and another one is Tröllakirkja (The Troll's Church). Their names come from the saga as Bárður landed his ship when he came from Norway some twelve hundred years ago. One of the first things his family and friends did was to worship pagan gods in a cave that can still be found at the rock Tröllkirkja. A few years after his arrival the family had a terrible ordeal that ended in tragedy.  Another place nearby called Rayðfeldsgjá is linked to this misfortune.  At the end, Báður moved his family to a cave in the glacier Snæfellsjökull and is considered to live there still as the protector of the surrounding farms and villages. You can also see his statue in full size at Arnarstapi village.

Tröllkirkja rock at Dritvík

At Tröllkirkja, the rock in the middle, Bárður Snæfellsás and his people worhiped pagan gods

Today Dritvík is an exciting place to visit

Apart from the black beach, Dritvík holds remnants of its past. A rescue hut is the only building standing amongst ruins from times of prosperity and different methods of living off the ocean. Although only a temporary living place for centuries it was considered a desirable place to go to. A place that was different from the dull and dark live by the farm with much richer social life and exciting diversity when it came to work.  In the days of social media and wide internet connection, it is hard to imagine that singing rhymes and lifting the stones at nearby Djúpalónssandur was something young men and women considered thrilling. 

Hike to Dritvík

The hike to Dritvík cove from Djúpalónssandur cove is quite scenic with lava formation

Access to Dritvík Cove

To reach Dritvík you need to drive Útnesvegur road on Snæfellsnes Peninsula nr. 574.  You take a turn to the south when you reach the intersection nr. 572 Dritvíkkurvegur road.  There is a parking lot by Djúpalónssandur. Approximately one kilometer to the west from Djúpalónssandur is a path you need to hike over a rugged lava to reach Dritvík. The walk by the shore is spectacular with many interesting lava formations. But, once there, you are likely to enjoy inspecting the area and taking advantage of the many photos and selfie opportunities. 

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Below is the location of Dritvík on the map of Iceland

For centuries, Dritvík was the largest fishing station in Iceland with up to 60 fishing boats at any given time and 400 inhabitants

 

Djúpalónssandur or Deeplagoonsand is a fascinating place for many reasons. The name is traced back to some of the first settlers in Iceland some twelve hundred years ago.  It was the landing place of Bárður Snæfellsás and his family and crew.  It is also a place where farmers and people at Snæfellsne Peninsula used as a fishing station for centuries.  And last but not least it is a beautiful place with stunning landforms.

The pebble beach, small lakes, and stunning lava formation

When you visit Djúpalónssandur take care as the path to the beach is short, narrow and harsh. But once at the beach, you pass an interesting lava rock with a hole in the middle. On the beach, you will also see many other interesting lava formations and rocks, some that are connected to local stories and folklore.  On the shore behind the lava on your right side when walking the path is a small pond, a beautiful sight.  Specifically, if you are at Djupalonssandur on a clear day with the glacier in the background.  The beach is also quite unique with its many pebbles of various sizes.  It is a great place to take children and give them time to play with the small stones by the beach.

Djúpalónssandur pond Svörtulón

The pond Svörtulón or Black Lagoon is an adventurous place

Take your time at Djúpalónssandur and Black Lagoon

This strange black sand cove on the south coast of the Snæfellsnes Peninsula is curiously close to the Icelandic heart. It is covered with black pearly pebbles, constantly being brought in by the ocean waves. Still, picking them – or nicking them – is strictly forbidden. It's not that they keep a pebble-police at Djúpalónssandur, the Icelanders just don't want their stones removed. Not a single one of them. In the old day, just like so many coves in this area, Djúpalónssandur used to be a fishing station similar to the nearby Dritvík.  And, being the temple of stones in Iceland, on this beach you will find four larger rocks, significant to the cove's history. Those are the four lifting stones where workers at the fishing stations would test the strength. The smallest one is Amlóði (Bungler) at 23 kilos, followed by Hálfdrættingur (Weak) at 54 kilos, then there is Hálfsterkur (Half-Strength) at 100 kilos a last, but not least, Fullsterkur (Full-Strength) at 154 kilos. Half Strength marked the frontier of wimpy and those who couldn't lift it was deemed unsuitable for life at sea. At the beach, you will also see rusted metal from the English trawler Eding, which was wrecked at the Djúpalón beach in 1948.

The lifting stones where workers at the fishing stations would test the strength

Access to Djúpalónssandur Cove

To reach Djúpalónssandur, you need to drive Útnesvegur road on Snæfellsnes Peninsula nr. 574.  You take a turn to the south when you reach the intersection nr. 572 Dritvíkkurvegur road.  There is a parking lot by Djúpalónssandur cove.

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Below is the location of Djúpalónssandur on the map of Iceland

This strange black sand cove on the south coast of the Snæfellsnes Peninsula is curiously close to the Icelandic heart. It is covered with black pearly pebbles, constantly being brought in by the ocean waves.

The Snaefellsnes Peninsula is one of the most Saga invested parts of Iceland. Every part and every place have a reference to one of the major Sagas; the most prominent being Eyrbyggja or the Saga of the People of Eyri and Laxdæla. Sagas and stories that were written six to nine hundred years ago about the settlement and medieval times in Iceland.

The lava field Berserkjahraun

On this Peninsula, you will find the impressive and beautiful Berserkjahraun, or the Berserk Lava Field. The lava is located in the county of Helgafell, near to the Stykkishólmur town. Its sources are four prominent but differently sized scoria craters forming an east-west row from the Ogress Pass (Kerlingarskard).  They erupted at short intervals approximately 3600-4000 years ago. The lava flows created two lakes on their southern side and added to the serenity and beauty of the landscape.  Like many lava fields in Iceland, the lava is a joy to view but always tough to walk. 

Berserkjahraun is an ideal place for peaceful camping

This beautiful area is ideal for recreation, hiking, angling and mountain climbing.  When driving along a dirt road that you can see on the map below, the one that leads into, and around the lava field you'll find small areas of grass ideal for camping. You might even be able to spot a White Tailed Eagle nest in the rugged lava field.  A hike up to the nearby mountains will give you a spectacular view over the Breiðafjörður bay and all the thousands of islands. 

What does the name Berserkjahraun tell us?

And the name Berserkjahraun? It comes from the Eyrbyggja Saga where Vermundur, the farmer at Bjarnarhöfn brought two berserks from Norway in 982 - with unforeseen consequences.  You can read about their misfortune in our article about the Berserks at Berserkjahrun.  Two dudes that became victims of love.

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Below is the location of Berserkjahraun on the map of Iceland

The Berserk Lava Field

 

Eyrbyggja Saga tells us about two Swedish Berserks, Halli and Leiknir, who Vermundur the Slim, a farmer at Bjarnarhofn, brought to Iceland from Norway in 982. Vermundur meant to use them to stand up to his powerful brother Styr the Slayer. Of course, this wimp didn't have what it took to deal with the enormity of the Berserks' temper. Soon after arriving in Iceland he had to ask his brother to take them off his hands. Styr the Slayer reluctantly obliged but soon faced some problems. The Berserk's killing sprees and uncontrollable temper were the least of them. What happened was that Halli dared to fall in love with Styr's precious daughter and asked for her hand in marriage.

The contract

After seeking advice from some wise friends, Styr told the Berserks he would give Halli his blessings after they had finished a few tasks. They had to clear a bridle path through his rugged lava field, building a boundary fence across it, and a sheep pen. The Berserks completed their tasks in no time at all, but while they were slaving away, Styr prepared an underground sauna for them. The sauna was covered with sturdy rafts with a hole in the middle, for pouring water into the sauna to create hot steam. When the Berserks returned, Styr invited them to relax in the sauna. They accepted. No sooner had the Berserks entered the sauna than Styr had big boulders stacked on top of the sturdy rafts. Through the hole, he poured excessive quantities of boiling water. The sauna soon became unbearably hot, and the Berserks wanted out!

The killing of the Berserks

It took all their power to break the rafts and make away with the boulders. At that point, their strength was considerably diminished. Still, they were set on revenge. But, Styr had spread wet and slippery Bull hides on the ground around the sauna. The Berserks were totally incapacitated, and Styr managed to kill both of them.  Styr had the Berserks' bodies w removed to a basin in the lava field where they were cairned close to the bridle path. The cairn is still visible today.

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Below is the location of Berserkjahraun on the map of Iceland

Eyrbyggja Saga tells us about two Swedish Berserks, Halli and Leiknir,

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