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A Week in the Westfjords

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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.

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Only about 7000 people live in the Westfjords today, scattered around a few towns on the coast, but the region wasn’t always so sparsely populated. A century ago, there was twice that number. But people started to leave in the 1960s after a catastrophic decline in fishing stocks. During our week in the Westfjords, we saw a lot of desolate places.

A decrepit herring factory. An abandoned whaling station. A once-thriving town with boarded-up shops. However, there was a sense of optimism lurking under the surface. The herring factory has become an art gallery. The whaling station is a favorite stop for hikers. The fishing town has refocused on a burgeoning tourism industry. In a world that’s always busier, more urban and less exotic, desolation can be a selling point. In open defiance of irony, solitude-seeking tourists have begun swarming in droves to the unspoiled nature offered by the Westfjords.

So it’s impossible to call the Westfjords “undiscovered”; we saw plenty of other tourists during our time there and most of the hotels we contacted were booked out well in advance. But on the open roads of the region’s endless coastlines, even “a lot” of tourists can spread out pretty well, and we often went hours without seeing another soul.

Our trip started in Hólmavík, from where we would make a counter-clockwise circle around the peninsula, up towards Djúpavík, west to Ísafjörður and around south to Látrabjarg… with more than a few stops on the way.

For this roadtrip, we booked a jeep from SADcars

West Fjords Road Trip
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Amazing West Fjords Bay
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August 25, 2013 at 5:05 pm Comments (3)

Þingvellir – The Historic Heart of Iceland

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Reykjavík may be the capital, but the rift valley of Þingvellir (pronounced “thing-vet-lir”) is the true heart of Iceland. Over a thousand years ago, the country’s first parliaments were convened here, adding historical significance to an area of unbelievable natural beauty.

Nomansland Iceland

Þingvellir lies right along the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, where the North American and European continental plates are pulling apart from each other. It’s unlikely that the 10th-century Icelandic councilmen understood tectonic theory when they selected Þingvellir for their yearly assembly, the Alþing, but they couldn’t have chosen a more impressive setting, nor one more symbolic. This is, after all, the spot where Iceland is literally growing.

Our short walk through the park began at the lookout near the visitor center, where we had a great view over the valley. Not far off, we saw the Þingvallavatn Lake (Iceland’s largest), lava cliffs, and narrow rifts like scars scratched across the earth. As the plates drift apart, the rifts are becoming bigger and, standing here, you can almost see the growth happening. It leaves you with a very vivid sense of the earth’s instability.

From the lookout, a path leads down into the Almannagjá gorge, marking the eastern edge of the North American continental plate. We walked along the canyon wall until reaching the Öxaráfoss waterfall. During the days of the Vikings, the Öxará river was redirected here, so that it would splash down into the canyon near the Alþing and provide drinking water for participants.

Þingvellir Waterfall

From Öxaráfoss, we left the cliff and went further into the valley until our progress was blocked by the fissures which have opened in the earth. With amazingly clear blue water filtered through miles of lavastone, you want to jump right in… and in fact, you can. It was inside one of these fissures that we had recently been snorkeling.

Our path now led to the Þingvallakirkja Church. Although the present wooden building was only erected in 1859, this has always been one of Iceland’s oldest and most important churches. While there’s not much to see inside, the front yard is occupied by a lovely cemetery and, around back, you’ll find an elevated, circular grave which houses the bones of two of the country’s favorite poets.

Þingvellir is the first stop on the “Golden Circle” tour and we left the park immediately after visiting the church, in order to have time for Geysir and Gullfoss. Þingvellir has a lot to reward a longer stay, with plenty of hiking trails and opportunities to fish, dive or go horseback riding. It’s fascinating for both its unique geology and its history. And on top of that, it’s simply a beautiful place.

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We booked our rental car from SADcars for this trip!

Þingvallavatn Lake
Bigggest Lake Iceland
Iceland 2012
Þingvellir Viewing Spot
Iceland Blog
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Þingvellir Blog
American and European continental plate
Þingvellir Blog
Iceladn Pulling Apart
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Þingvellir Waterfall
Öxaráfoss waterfall
Þingvellir Church
Þingvellir Fissure
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August 14, 2013 at 2:21 pm Comments (5)
A Week in the Westfjords 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.
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