The Hornstrandir Nature Reserve, in the northwestern corner of Iceland, has been almost completely spared from the corrupting fingertips of mankind. No roads scar the landscape and there are no permanent residents, unless you count the arctic foxes which abound in its hills. We spent a long day exploring a small section of the reserve.
The arctic fox is the only terrestrial mammal native to Iceland. Without any natural predators, the little furballs thrive in the harsh climate of the country’s interior, but are skittish and difficult to spot. Luckily for those of us without the inclination or patience to find one in the wild, there’s the Arctic Fox Center in Suðavík, near Ísafjörður.
As the puffin flies, Ísafjörður was a scant 40 kilometers away, but we were looking forward to a three-hour journey of 172 kilometers. The road leading to the Westfjords’ biggest city hems tight to the coastline, tracing six fjords deep inland and then straight back out to sea. You can drive for an hour and end up two kilometers away from where you were before. Luckily, the incredible nature kept us distracted during what would have otherwise been an infuriating drive.
The Westfjords’ Route 647 ends at Norðurfjörður, a tiny settlement underneath the imposing Krossnesfjall Mountain. After arriving and setting up our tent at the beach-side campsite, we took a short excursion to an amazing pool called Krossnelaug.
After our first month in Iceland, we had hardly scratched the surface. We knew Reykjavík fairly well, and had spent time on the South Coast, the Golden Circle, the Snæfellsnes Peninsula and the Westfjords… With all the hopping from one sight to the next, we barely had the chance to relax and become familiar with the culture. So our relationship with Iceland after a month felt superficial. We were obsessed by its bizarre beauty, but needed to get to know it a bit better.
The first two things you see when approaching Djúpavík are a defunct herring factory and a shipwrecked boat just offshore: rusting shells that set a mournful tone in this tiny northern town. We made a short pit-stop here on our way to Norðurfjörður, and were entranced by Djúpavík’s melancholic beauty.
Bumpy gravel roads, killer avalanches, and jagged mountains carved out by glaciers are among the defining characteristics of the Westfjords, the giant peninsula which makes up the northwest of the country. We rented a jeep, packed our tent, and spent six days exploring one of the wildest and most remote regions in Iceland.
Driving around Iceland with a guidebook and a map can be rewarding, but even the most astute tourist won’t find everything on their own. To reach certain places, you’ll have to enlist the help of experts. That’s what we did, in order to explore a secret lava cave and an amazing hot spring.