August 27, 2017
The drive from Ísafjörður to Þingeyri sent me and Mom through a mind blowing underground adventure. Growing up in Hampton Roads, I am use to driving in long underwater tunnels, but nothing like we experienced at Vestfjarðagöng. This massive engineering feat spans just over 9km long or about 5.7 miles with an intersection in the middle. Never in my life have I been in a tunnel where overhead signs direct cars to turn right and continue into another tunnel! The Vestfirdir Tunnel mainly consists of a one lane road for both directions of traffic, but only averages 700 vehicles per day and offers plenty of places to yield to oncoming traffic. Since this was such an overwhelming experience, we were grateful to have spoken with a local who reminded us that we were the ones who needed to give way considering the direction in which we were traveling.
The iconic Icelandic horse is one of the most beloved native animal, so today our afternoon adventure consisted of horseback riding. It is very rare to find this breed outside of Iceland, and we learned that if a horse ever leaves the county, it may never return for fear of introducing foreign diseases. These friendly creatures resemble a petite horse and stand about the same height of a pony; however it is very offensive to Icelanders to refer to their horses as ponies.
Our guide introduced me to a horse with a gentle temperament. A distinctive white pattern on his side stood out against his black fur and I found out that’s why the translation of his name means “little boat.” We embarked on an intimate 2 hour ride through the countryside, crossing streams and various terrains while we weaved around the beautiful landscape. Considering I suggested this activity because I know how much my mom loves horses, I actually enjoyed myself more than I expected.
As we continued to drive west from Þingeyri, the deteriorating weather did not distract from the dramatic scenery. Even through the increasing rain and fog, we could still spot the infamous Dynjandi waterfall on the opposite side of the first fjord we had to drive around. Visiting this colossal waterfall in person felt like we were exploring one individual waterfall after another as we continued to hike alongside the mountain. This would be the first of countless waterfalls of the day; waterfalls flowing in both directions, streaming waterfalls, thunderous waterfalls, waterfalls everywhere you looked. In clear weather, I have no doubt this could have turned into one of my all time favorite drives. It’s just a shame that the visibility reminded me of my second day hiking the infamous Routeburn Track in New Zealand.
We discovered a few more gems in the Westfjords like the Rauðasandur pink swirly sand beach and the Látrabjarg bird cliffs. At the end of a very long, lonely road lie dramatic seaside cliffs that span more than 12km and are home to over one million birds. Fierce winds kept us from exploring the westernmost point of Europe for too long, but we enjoyed a glimpse into the life of the nesting birds. Numerous species of birds found shelter in every nook of the cliff rocks as if to build vertical bird apartments for themselves. This utterly intrigued me and I needed to watch my step as there are no barriers to keep people from falling. The coastline here is also dotted with holes where puffins dig deep burrows to nest which make the cliffs even more unstable. Unfortunately, we visited at the wrong time of year to spot any puffins as they had already left for the season.
A full two days hardly seemed like enough time to explore the wonders of the Westfjords, but I’m grateful for the time Mom and I had together there. When I return to Iceland, I hope to spend more time in this special part of the country. If I ever get the chance to visit in the middle of the summer, I would love to hike in the Hornstrandir Nature Reserve, soak in more hidden hot pots and of course catch a glimpse of the precious puffin.