West Iceland’s Hvalfjörđur: Worth A Detour

Whale fjord

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!

Iceland Road Conditions and Weather Information

So you have a road trip around Iceland coming up but you’re not quite sure what the road conditions and the weather will be like (the weather part will also determine whether you need to pack your winter coat or not). The following websites are your friends and they will show you just what you need to know. We found them very useful during our visit.

Road Conditions

For road conditions, make sure you bookmark Vegagerdin (Icelandic Department of Transportation) website. This clickable road condition map is essential. Don’t hit the road before consulting it first. If that’s not enough and you need to know what road conditions are like in (almost) real-time, there are road web cams, ready for your perusal.

№ 18 – Seljalandsfoss, Iceland

We went to Seljalandsfoss before taking a ferry to Heimaey in the Westman Islands/Vestmannaeyjar in the morning. We got there before tour buses from Reykjavik started to arrive, which was a plus because we had the falls all to ourselves. The minus was we couldn’t spend a lot of time there because we had a ferry to catch. I also didn’t want my clothes to be all wet and my boots all muddy on the ferry ride so I didn’t do the walk behind the falls. My husband did, though. But then again, he’s always been more adventurous than me. Seljalandsfoss is lovely and all but it’s not really one of my favourites in Iceland.

I was unable to take pictures of so many Icelandic attractions in all their glory due to the lack of wide-angle lens (the widest I could get with my micro 4/3 camera was around 40mm) and it was quite frustrating for me at times. For those going to Iceland, if you own a wide-angle lens, don’t forget to pack it. If you don’t own one, buy or borrow one from someone! You won’t regret it. The next time we go there, I am so taking my DSLR with an ultra-wide angle lens. Sure it would be heavier to carry but it’s not like we’ll have to go on a long hike or anything. Most Iceland attractions are located right by the side of the road! Just one of the reasons I love Iceland, being a wimpy hiker and all. :-)

№ 13 – Hraunfossar, Iceland

Hraunfossar is a series of waterfalls in West Iceland where the water comes from springs in a lava field. I was unable to capture the whole thing due to the lack of a wide-angle lens. It’s a lot of waterfalls in one and really wide! We kind of stumbled upon it on the third to last day of our trip in Iceland. It was a nice pick-me-up since I was a bit bummed about the trip being almost over, even if we were already waterfalls-d out by then. Iceland just has sooo many waterfalls! There’s another waterfall nearby called Barnafoss but it’s probably my least favourite of all.

Hraunfossar pours into the river Hvítá. The river has a light sea-green colour because it’s glacier-fed. “Hvítá” itself means “white river” in Icelandic. The area around the falls is quite pretty. It’s close to a spot where Icelandic (Reykjavik?) people go for a vacation in the summer. We passed one area with a large number of cottages/summer homes, a few were quite fancy. I think that’s their cottage country.

Of all the waterfalls in Iceland, Hraunfossar is definitely one of my favourites.

№ 10 – Búðir, Snæfellsnes, Iceland

I had been looking forward to taking pictures of this church at Búðir in Snæfellsnes Peninsula because the location is very picturesque, but earlier in the day, the boat that was supposed to take us on a whale-watching tour left without us because apparently Icelandic people are not the greatest at at marking places so we missed the area where we were supposed to board the boat. When we finally found it with a help from a local Icelandic family we met at the harbour, the boat already left even though it was still before the time it was supposed to leave. We’d already had a whale-watching tour cancelled when we were in Northern Iceland (and the tour operator didn’t even bother to notify us about it being cancelled so we had a hurried breakfast that morning for nothing — could’ve had more of that tasty, homemade skyr at the B&B otherwise) so I was feeling extra bummed about it.

Anyway, when we got to Búðir, I was quite the Ms. Grumpy McGrumpsalot and my heart wasn’t really in it when I was taking pictures of the surroundings. We could have taken the path to a nearby beach but didn’t because I was grumpy and now I kind of regret it. Oh well. Some other time. When we go back to Iceland to explore the Westfjords (the only region we didn’t get to see in our first visit), we will have to give Snæfellsnes Peninsula another chance for sure.

Addendum: We’re one-tenth of the way through the 100 Places Project! Hurray!

№ 6 – Hvítserkur, Iceland

Of all the rock formations in Iceland that are said to have been a troll at some point, Hvítserkur is my favourite. It looks like a 15-meter tall monster rising out of the sea. Pretty awesome. We visited it on an unusually sunny day which happened to be the day of the 8th anniversary of our wedding. It was high tide when we got there so we couldn’t get closer to the rock. It was a beautiful spot nonetheless. I loved it and am glad that we found it even though its locations is a bit off the beaten path.

As we were driving out of the area, we were stopped by a young farmer who explained to us in broken English that the road was closed (in actuality, it was blocked by a tractor; it was a narrow, dirt road) because they were trying to get a flock of sheep to another pasture across the road. Three people were involved in the whole ordeal. They looked so frustrated and the flock of sheep so panicky. The whole thing lasted for about 10 minutes but I don’t think we would have minded so much if it had lasted longer because it was actually rather entertaining to watch.

So, if someone asked me how many Icelandic farmers it takes to get a flock of sheep across the road, I’d confidently say: it takes three, and a tractor.

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