WESTFJORDS is the name of a large peninsula in north-western Iceland and an administrative district. It is connected to the rest of Iceland by a 7km wide “isthmus” between GILSFJOROUR & BITRUFJOROUR. The WESTFJORDS is very mountainous, the coastline is heavily indented by dozens of “fjords” surrounded by steep hills. These indentations make roads very “circuitous” and communication by land very difficult. In addition, many of the roads are closed by ice and snow for several months of the year.
The VESTFTAROAGONG road tunnel from 1996 has improved that situation. The cliffs at LATRABJARG comprise the longest “bird cliff” in the Northern Atlantic Ocean and are at the uttermost point in Iceland. The DRANGAJOKULL glacier is located in the north of the peninsula and is the 5th largest of the country, but the only glacier of the region.
The lack of flat lowlands, in the area, limits the potential for agriculture, which is mostly restricted to low-intensity sheep grazing near the “fjords”. Good natural harbours in many of the fjords and their proximity to fishing areas are vital for the local economy. The WESTFJORDS are very sparsely populated : the total population in 2007 was 7,380. The district capital and by far the largest settlement is ISAFJOROUR (population around 4,000). WESTFJORDS is generally the coldest area at sea level in Iceland, because of the East Greenland Current.
Here are a few stunning places to see (recommendations from the locals) Nature rules the WESTFJORDS. Sure, humans have built their settlements here and there, but this remains a “wild, untamed landscape”. But it is also a landscape that “enjoys being discovered and enjoyed.
(1) LATRABJARG ——The “CLIFFS OF ALL CLIFFS”, home to several birds in “unfathomable numbers”. This is really a “line of cliffs” 14k long and up to 441m high.. And, it is as steep as it gets. dizzyingly so. Safe from foxes, the birds are fearless and provide stunning photographic opportunities from close range. The puffins are particularly tame. But, look out, the edges of the cliffs are fragile and loose and the fall is high. LATRABJARG is thus, deservedly, the most visited tourist attraction in the WESTFJORDS. The cliffs are easily accessible by car and when you are there, a walk along the cliffs awaits. The “whirling” sensation will not fade, and neither will the memories.
(2) DYNJANDI ——– It is the WESTFJORDS’ simply enthralling and favourite “front-page model” for decades, and is never short of “breath-taking”. The biggest and widest part of the waterfall is one that gets all the attention and the photos, even though there are impressive, albeit smaller, waterfalls further down the river. In fact, one is formed in such a way that the brave can walk behind it, relatively dry. There is a camping place at the site with basic services. To enjoy, follow this simple step-by-step manual : (a) Stop your car at the parking lot (b) Walk all the way t the widest part of the waterfall, it takes about 15mins. (c) Take a deep breath and enjoy. (d) Whenever ready, go back down to the car.
(3) SAMUEL’S SCULPTURES in SELARDALUR ———- Samuel Jonsson’s outstanding naïve sculptures and buildings in SELARDALUR Valley in ARNARFJORDUR had been rapidly decaying, when a society for its restoration was founded in 1998. The society is a non-profit organisation and has had collaboration with the German sculptor —— Gerhard Konig and some others to work on the restoration during the past years in co-operation with the landowner, the ministry of agriculture. Groups of volunteers, from Germany, have been working together with Gerhard during the past summers. In the summer of 2008, Samuel’s living house was pulled down and a new house was built to serve as a guesthouse for artists and scholars.
WESTFJORDS is also known as the “Wild West of Iceland”, and the reasons to visit include the million of sea birds which use its high cliffs to nest. Places like VIGUR ISLAND are also home to (alarmingly rare) stocks of breeding puffins. The region is an excellent place to encounter Gyrfalcons and Sea Eagles, as well as Snowy Owls. There is also no shortage of breeding land-birds like the Golden Plover, Whimbrel and redshank. Ever seen Whales breaching beside the road as you drive along ? Thanks to the coastal road along deep fjords, the WESTFJORDS might be one of the only places this a regular occurrence. The same goes for Seals casually basking on rocks, totally unconcerned to being watched. The WESTFJORDS is the land of the Arctic Fox. These cute-but-shy mam wild across Iceland, but your best chance of seeing them in the WESTFJORDS ———– especially in the HORNSTRANDIR NATURE RESERVE, where they are protected from hunting and are relatively tame as a result.
Nature is no more evident in the WESTFJORDS than in the landscape itself. The sheltered, crystal-clear sea which fills the fjords is full of fish, and is great for diving, kayaking and sailing. In fact, taking a boat-trip may actually be quicker than driving to some places. The mountains are everywhere. Coated in lush green summer grass and myriad wild herbs and meadow flowers, they provide the ultimate viewing platform atop the world. Between the sea and mountains, you’ll find seemingly endless coast, varying from precarious cliffs to beaches of sand or boulders: VARIETY IS THE KEY-WORD.
WESTFJORDS beaches are an easy walk and an unbeatable place to relax the mind and invigorate the body. And, don’t forget to keep an eye open for interesting shells, stones, glass and pottery. The closest WESTFJORDS gets to flat land is often the many valleys with a warm micro-climate, an abandoned farmhouse or two and no other sign of human interference.