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West Iceland’s Hvalfjörđur: Worth A Detour

I‘ve been thinking about our little detour around West Iceland’s Hvalfjörđur (Whale fjord) a lot lately. I don’t know why. It could be that I’m just missing Iceland in general and the drive around Hvalfjörđur was the last item in our itinerary before we headed down to Reykjavik to spend the last two nights of our two week road trip around Iceland, so it was one of my last memories of Iceland. But it could also be because it was surprisingly beautiful. Like, breathtakingly beautiful.

Hvalfjörđur used to be a busy route because it used to be the only way for people in Reykjavik to get to the town of Borgarnes, which is like the gateway to the beautiful Snaefellsnes Peninsula. However, in the late 1990s, the tunnel Hvalfjarðargöngin was opened for public. For a small fee, people are now able to bypass the 62 km detour around Hvalfjörđur by taking the tunnel. When we were there two years ago, the Hvalfjörđur route had very little traffic. Driving around the fjord on a drizzly and foggy day, I felt like we were the last two people on Earth!

Most tourists take the Hvalfjörđur way because it’s the only way to get to Glymur, Iceland’s highest waterfall. We took it because it sounded a whole lot more fun than taking a tunnel. We already drove through enough tunnels when we were in northern Iceland anyway. Our first stop in our self-drive Hvalfjörđur tour was the church Hallgrimskirkja. No, not the big one in Reykjavik, but both churches are named after the same person, Hallgrimur Petersson, a 17th century Icelandic poet and clergyman. It was an interesting church, but I thought that the church tower looked a bit like an afterthought. What do you think?

Hallgrímskirkja í Saurbæ church.
Hallgrímskirkja í Saurbæ church.
Another side of the church.
Another side of the church.
Built in 1957.
Built in 1957.

Driving away from the church, we saw a group of Icelandic horses, grazing on a nice field with a stunning background. Did I mention it was a foggy day?

Hey, look! One of them actually has its head up!
Hey, look! One of them actually has its head up!

Then we saw these large oil tanks that look like they could’ve been from the Second World War era when the U.S. and the British used to have naval bases there. The dreary weather really enhanced the post-apocalyptic feel brought out by these metal constructions.

The road leads to a bridge with some significant.
The road leads to a bridge with some significant.
Doesn't this scene look post-apocalyptical?
Doesn’t this scene look post-apocalyptical?
You can still make out the Esso logo.
You can still make out the Esso logo.

Near the far end of the fjord is the start of the trail that leads to the waterfall Glymur. However, it’s a 2-hour hike to the waterfall, we were tired, and the weather wasn’t the greatest, so we decided to save it for another visit. There was a tiny waterfall near the main road and, close to it, an abandoned building that was partially covered by graffitis. The building looked like it could’ve been a convenient store from a time before the tunnel.

The abandoned building.
The abandoned building.

Once we were back on the main road, it was the far end of the fjord and the view was beautiful. Unfortunately, there were other cars on the road behind us and we couldn’t stop to take better pictures of this spot, so this will have to do it.

The far end of Hvalfjörđur.
The far end of Hvalfjörđur.

I was really excited about visiting Staupasteinn because of the elvish back story. I mean, who wouldn’t be excited about the prospect of seeing an elf? ;-) We weren’t really sure about the exact location of this supposedly elf residential home and I was worried we might have missed it, but after passing the far end of the fjord and continuing driving along it for a little longer, we saw it! Unfortunately, we didn’t see the resident elf, though I heard he is quite a friendly chap.

The home of the elf Staupa-steinn.
The home of the elf Staupa-steinn.

We saw another waterfall and the ruin of an old Viking settlement not too far from Staupasteinn. Since we already visited Akranes that morning, we decided to take a sideroad to get to Mosfellsbær, but not before I took a few more pictures of Hvalfjörđur and its surroundings.

More cute Icelandic horses with the lovely fjord in the background.
More cute Icelandic horses with the lovely fjord in the background.
This river looks like a good salmon river.
This river looks like a good salmon river. Mmm, salmon…

So, if you’re wondering if the Hvalfjörđur route is worth a detour, I would say it is. If you have the time, definitely take this route and marvel at its beauty. If you only have a few days, by all means, take the tunnel and either spend more time in Snaefellsnes Peninsula or in Reykjavik, depending on which way you’re going (we came from Borgarnes and were heading to Reykjavik).

Hope you enjoyed this photo tour of the Whale Fjord! :-) I know I enjoyed putting this post together. Now I’m just really excited about our plan to visit Iceland for the second time next year. Can’t wait!

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