The Westfjords and Flateyri, the Christiania of the Westfjords

I´ve been to the westfjords before, and the remote, uninhabited Hornstrandir has been pulling on my heart all summer. The problem is, summer hasn´t really arrived yet, with snowfall in June and average temperatures of around 6°C around the westfjords. Hiking for days with enough supplies for a winter expedition didn´t seem appealing, so I put together a last minute road trip instead.

the old school in Ólafsdalur

I drove from Reyjavik to Isafjörður in one day with a french couchsurfer/hitchhiker I call Tony. We drove in pretty much a straight line, except for one detour to Ólafsdalur, since its location, in Gilsfjörður, is the fjord that separates the Western Iceland and Westfjords districts. We crossed into the Westfjords and then the real adventure began – hunting down hottubs, and hotdogs, while avoiding the hundreds of runners taking part in the marathon festival we didn´t know was going on.

the only windmill in Iceland, looking down at the westjords from Vígur island

I killed a baby Eider duck and still feel remorse over it, which wasn´t helped by the fact that two passing roadtrippers stopped be just to wail and scream about this baby duck they saw me murder in cold blood, as if I had done it on purpose. The road was supper narrow and swerving would have either put me into the ocean or head on into their car.

desserted farms turned summerhouses at the end of the world, Skálavík

After trying and failing to get into the country´s smallest hottub (its now locked by the landowners), not feeling enticed by Reykjaneslaug (filled with 30 middle aged Germans), we passed by the little pool on the side road down Mjóifjörður and realized someone had just started refilling it. We jumped in, but left before it was filled, in fear of having to make someone else share that magical space.

turf houses in Bolungarvik

I camped a night in the rain in Tungudalur, and picked up a new roadtrip companion the next morning at the Isafjörður airport. We spent the day in Bolungarvík, driving to the end of the road to Skálavík. I lost 5000ISK at the Bolungarvik swimming pool, but it was still worth it – their dry sauna is spa worthy.

colourful Flateyri

We spent the rest of our Westfjords trip unable to leave Flateyri. Once an isolated, lonely little fishing village, an avalanche in 1994 nearly emptied the settlement. It wasn´t until a tunnel was built in 1996 (connecting it to Isafjörður all year round in under 20 minutes) that people really fought to stay, but a few years later, real life was breathed back into this dwindling town.

Hálfdan catching the first cod at 23:00

Hálfdan Pedersen bought a house back in early 2000´s after scouting it out on movie production. There was a roof, but no floor, and snow fell in through the glassless windows into the bedrooms downstairs. He bought it for 5000kr. Now the home is featured in architecture books and home design magazines, and a trail of artsy and alternative lifestyle seeking Icelander´s have trickled in behind him.

(c) Hálfdan Pedersen

Huldar Breiðfjörð, an Icelander who walked the whole wall of China and author of ´Múrinn í Kína,´ has a summer house in Flateyri. A man named Eyþór, photographer and filmmaker, also runs the oldest continually open shop in Iceland in Flateyri. Dagur Sigurðsson, coach of the men´s German Handball European champions in 2016, is currently renovating a house there. Designer Kórmakur of Kormákur & Sköldur men´s clothing has a bunch of homes there, and other film industry and random health-food/dietician stylists are also in the mix. All this in a town of only a couple hundred people.

Fishing under a midnight sun in Önunda

We were going to visit Hálfdan and his family, and went fishing in the fjord to catch dinner with him on the only sunny evening I can remember in July. Hálfdan and his partners run and own the only bar in town, Vagninn, and his chef was throwing her 50th birthday party that weekend. We weren´t actually invited to it, but Linda P was, and making the comment that even Linda P is attending is always brushed aside as a joke. The weekend we were there, we shared Hálfdans design home with Linda Petursdottir, Miss World 1988, and that sealed the deal: Flateyri is really the place for anyone who´s anyone to be  in the westfjords.

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Checking out Hornstrandir

Spending an entire summer in Iceland on horseback is always fun, but its still work. During my vacation days, its fun to roadtrip or boattrip and camp in the highlands or fjords or by the seaside.

black sand beaches are a common sight in Hornstrandir

black sand beaches are a common sight in Hornstrandir

The Westfjords are a common destination in Iceland, especially for roadtrippers, hitchikers, and campers, but you’ve got to drop the car if you want to get to Hornstrandir.

the old whaling station at Hesteyri

the old whaling station at Hesteyri

Hornstrandir is one of the most remote parts of Iceland, the furthest north-western part of the country, uninhabited and road-less. You can only get there by ferry boats – most of them leave from Isafjörður and depending on the day of the week, can shuttle you to one 7 or 8 fjords in Hornstrandir. Some of them leave on you on the beach or just the side of a mountain, but other places with a little more infrastructure have boat docks, a few local summer houses owned by family descendants (from the days before 1960’s when Hornstrandir was still populated), campsites and outhouses.

Hesteyri fjord

Hesteyri fjord

We went to Hesteyri, which used to be a village of 80 Icelanders in the 1930’s complete with a mini-hospital and shop, but now the doctors house is a small hostel/hotel and cafe, and the shop has been turned into a private summerhouse. A few other remaining houses are also used by vacationing Icelanders, but the majority of backpackers and tourists that come set up in the camp site among the ruins of once-upon-a-time homes and yards. Fishing off the boat dock proved there’s still plenty to eat in the sea, and a sea-swim skinny dip brought the attention of at least one curious seal.

the boat dock at Hesteyri

the boat dock at Hesteyri

On the ferry rides between Isafjörður, we were lucky enough to sail in and out of 3 other fjords to pick up other hikers, and saw dozens of seals and even a pod of whales. We were on one of the last boats of the season, August 26, but the season doesn´t even start til early June.

camping without roughing it

camping without roughing it

To plan your own trip to Hornstrandir, check out West Tours for ferry boat schedules, or Borea Adventures for guided day trips (hiking, kayaking, or even skiing in the winter season!).

Photo Highlight: Krossnes and Ingólfsfjörður

 

the fog setting in over Djúpavík

Me and my friend Steve took an impromptu roadtrip to the eastern westfjords, where a gravel road winds north along Húnaflói, through tiny villages and abandoned farms.

 

Steve and Krossneslaug

We saw more sheep than people, one dog, no horses, and a lot of natural hotsprings.  We bathed at Gvendarlaug, Drangsnes, Gjögur and finally Krossneslaug. We met our friends cousins at the Kört museum, and ate coffee and cakes at the only 2 cafes in the region. We passed the deserted herring factory in Djupavik, and ended our trip at another deserted factory in Ingólfsfjörður.

another deserted fishing factory at the end of the road

 

Roadtrip Westfjords

Rauðasandur

Rauðasandur

Day 1: Steve, Liv and I packed up my rusting Kia jeep and left Reykjavik around 10:30. The car was full with sleeping bags, tents, food, rain clothes and eventually some firewood, but we tried to save room for a hitch-hiker. We had a few other to-do’s on our list, like hottubbing every day, summiting a mountain, making a campfire and one of us had to kiss a tourist. We had a slow start, stopping in Akranes and Borgarnes for our last doses of civilization, and then hiked to the top of a volcano in Bifröst.

our home and transport

home

We took route 60 north, stopping in Reykjadalur for our first hottub stop, Grafarlaug. There was a dirt road all the way to it, but we didn´t see it and hiked in past the sheep round-up pen. It has 3 different pools, around 20°, 30°, and 40°C, all filled with slimey green algae that must do wonderful things for your skin. We continued north, past Búðardalur, to Laugar, where we bathed in another hottub named Guðrúnarlaug, which wasn´t quite as comfortable at only 35 or 36°. We met two other tourists there, one which we tried to take with us, but after failing, we set up camp at the tip of Fellströnd and named it Camp Charlie.

Pollurinn

Pollurinn

Day 2: We ate breakfast near Dagverðarnes (which means the peninsula of breakfast, appropriately), and drove along Skarðsströnd to finally reach the Westfjörds, All of the islands and islets in Breiðafjörður grew and shrank with the changing tides, and our next stop was at Hellulaug, a 38°C hottub right on the beach. We went sea-swimming and shared the hottub with some Swedish tourists, and then bathed at Krosslaug, another hottub right on the sea with a 35°C pool beside it.

Krosslaug

Krosslaug

We then drove to the most westernmost part of the westfjords (which is also the westernmost part of Iceland… and Europe), and watched the penguins dance around at Látrabjarg. We set up our Camp Midnight somewhere off route 612, and managed to make another fire from scrap wood we stile from Ásgarður.

our breakfast beach

our breakfast beach

Day 3: We made breakfast on the beach below our camp, before meeting the landowner we didn´t know existed who asked us nicely not to poop anywhere on his land. We daytripped to Rauðasandur, a beach with such blue waters you´d believe you were in the Caribbean. We swam next at Patreksförður´s public pool and had our first real shower in days, and then bathed at the natural hottubs ‘Pollurinn’ in Tálknafjörður. Without revealing any incriminating details, we then set up Camp Threesome in the town´s campsite.

Day 4: We decided to change things up a bit and dip into a glacier river. Underneath the farm Foss (which means waterfall), we ran into the waterfall spray and luckily had the sun to airdry ourselves. Then we spent the entire day having a pool party at Reykjafjarðarlaug, a huge warm pool with a hotter, muddy hottub in the grass above. It was like a scene from Coachella, a bunch of foreign hipsters, a boom box and a full bar, but set in the dramatic westjords, which happened to be sunny and warm for the first time on our roadtrip.

Reykjarfjarðarlaug pool party

Reykjarfjarðarlaug pool party

Day 5: We woke up at the edge of the westfjords, and took down our Camp Forest which was sheltered well from the wind, but not the heavy raindrops that started to leak through our $20 tent. We warmed up at Djúpidalslaug with the family of the owners, then got invited into their barn to check out some sheep, the new-born late comers of the season. One pair was only a few hours old, still covered in yukky stuff, and the mothers were clearly getting stir crazy from still being locked up inside.

We tried to bathe at the end of the road in Reykjanes, but both pools were closed at Reykjhólar and Laugaland has been abandoned and turned cold. Liv had a driving lesson on the way back, as well as some 5 year old kid we passed driving a tractor, and then we finished our roadtrip with a little educational stop at the Settlement exhibit in Borgarnes, Landnámssetur Íslands.

We never got our hitch hiker, but we managed to complete all our other to-do’s. Me, Liv and Steve are leaving for another roadtrip along the south coast next week, s perhaps we’ll find one then.

Patreksfjörður

Patreksfjörður´s airport