July 2008


An Iceland Holiday

An Iceland Holiday - In July 2008 I spent 3 weeks in Iceland, half that time with a group from REI Adventures hiking and touring the south coast and the other half solo touring the Westfjords on an adventure called Birds of Land and Sea organized by West Tours.

Certainly a wonderful experience, this photo album highlights that adventure. It does not however show the degree of delight I had of the superb food I devoured throughout my holiday. For those interested in their own Iceland holiday, I have included links to the places and restaurants I considered special.

The photo collage left to right: (1) View from Kristínartindar in Skaftafell NP of Vatnajökull Glacier and Mt. Hvannadalshnjúkur, (2) Landmannalaugar, (3) Puffin,(4) Vigur Island, (5) Svartifoss, (6) Redshank, (7) Bárður Snæfellsás, (8) Mother & child, (9) Arctic Tern.

Hveragerði Thermal Canyon

Hveragerði Thermal Canyon - East of Reykjavík on the route 1 Ring Road is a geothermal area where we spend a short afternoon hiking one of the canyons. At places within the canyon were areas of sulfur steam vents and mud pots. We walked up the canyon and ultimately climbed its flank for some grand views.


Skógafoss, a waterfall on the Ring Road east of Reykjavík.

Dyrhólaey Lighthouse

Dyrhólaey Lighthouse commands a stellar view of the ocean atop a seaside cliff. Below the cliff is a colony of Puffins, and beyond and jetting out into the sea is an impressive natural rock arch. A great place to gawk and for a picnic lunch.

Jökulsárlón Glacial Lagoon

Jökulsárlón Glacial Lagoon is a place to hop onto a boat which meanders about the lagoon. While there you use your imagination to interpret the myriad of ice shapes. This one I call After the War, but there was also a very large bunny - watch out Jimmy Stewart, the frozen one was larger than Harvey!

Great Skua

Great Skua - After the tour on the Jökulsárlón Glacial Lagoon we walked along its river to the ocean with birding views of Arctic Terns and Great Skuas.


Svartifoss - This day we hiked in Skaftafell NP. The day's highlight was the view at (or in my case the saddle near) the summit of Kristinartindar. On the way we passed the dazzling Svartifoss, a waterfall with dramatic hexagonal basalt columns.

Kristinartindar View

Kristinartindar View - The day hiking in Skaftafell NP was mostly to overcast skies, but as we approached the saddle near the 1126m peak of Kristinartindar the skies miraculously cleared. We were treated to a panoramic view, a slice the Vatnajökull (Iceland's largest glacier), and Mount Hvannadalshnjúkur (Iceland's highest peak, 2119m). Click here to view a large panoramic view.

Group on Kristinartindar

Group on Kristinartindar - While on top it was time for the obligatory group photo. We were lucky in that there was another soul on the saddle to take our picture, but as we lined up for our mug shot fog rolled through only to clear just afterwards when our guest photographer had left.

Back row from left to right: Christine, James, Bill, Liz, Richard, Herb (photographer), and Abbo. Front row: Pétur (Iceland guide), Dale, Sherry, and Brenda.

Núpsstaður Chapel

Núpsstaður Chapel - This historic chapel from the 18th century is part of a small farm settlement. The chapel and similar buildings are very well preserved and provide a great glimpse to the past. While there, I observed two pieces of modern machinery - a very old jeep and an equally old tractor - I suspect both were still operational, but then again there was a lot of tall grass growing around them.

Holaskjol Waterfall

Holaskjol Waterfall - At a lunch stop near Holaskjol we took a short side trip to this delightful waterfall. The fissure where the water falls is quite narrow and moderately deep.


Landmannalaugar with its vibrant-colored mountains, wandering lava fields, contrasting snow, and bountiful rivers made this one of my favorite places in Iceland. With 2 days here we spend a full day exploring canyons and mountain tops amongst perfectly contrasting blue skies. With so many places to explore, another day or so here would have been ideal.

Landmannalaugar Camp

Landmannalaugar Camp - With no formal accommodations, our group tented 2 nights here. It certainly was luxury camping since we had flush toilets and hot showers, and even a hot spring and creek for an afternoon soak.

Getting here was another story. We came from the east (more difficult) and left towards the west, both routes over unpaved roads. Our arrival route included many rigorous river crossings where the water was sometimes 1 meter deep. Fortunately, our great driver had a 6th sense for reading the water when crossing. I very much enjoyed the adventure of the journey, not to mention the scenery along the way.


Gullfoss translates to Golden Falls. It is wide and deafening, dropping 32m (105ft) into the gorge of the river Hvítá.


Strokkur is a geyser whose name translates to The Churn. It spouts every 10 minutes to a height of about 20m (66ft).

Kittiwake Gull

Kittiwake Gull - Upon completing my REI group adventure, I ventured solo by car to tour the Westfjords for birds and photography. First I traveled to a region called Vesturland, to the peninsula on the south side of the bay Breiðavafjörður. Here I circumnavigated the peninsula on routes 54 and 574 and 57 stopping along the way at Arnarstapi to view interesting rock formations and birds. On the cliffs were a breeding colony of Kittiwake Gulls. This photo shows parent, chick, and non-surviving sibling.


Redwing - The region of Arnarstapi is predominately a small fishing village surrounded by creeks, bogs, and grassland to the delight of various land birds. This Redwing was hopping along in search of a meal.


Whimbrel - Prevalent at Arnarstrapi were Whimbrel. As with most birds, they like to perch at the highest point, and in Iceland this is often a fence post.

Taking Flight

Taking Flight - From fence post to flight, it was fascinating to watch this Whimbrel with its muscular magnificence in its struggle to take flight.

Bárður Snæfellsás

Bárður Snæfellsás - This sculpture represents a mythological figure who makes his home in Snæfellsjökull glacier and is believed he ended his days by descending into the glacier and becoming a spirit of the land. Novelist Jules Verne began the quest in his novel Journey to the Centre of the Earth by entering the volcano/glacier near this area.

White-tailed Eagle

White-tailed Eagle - After a grand dinner (and lunch the next day) at Narfeyrarstofa and spending the night in the port town of Stykkishólmur, I boarded a boat for the 2-1/4 hour Unique Adventure Tour. The tour visits many of the tiny islands that dot bay Breiðavafjörður to view birds and unique geological features and to enjoy the bounty of the sea with caught-as-you-watch scallops and sea urchin.

This photo shows the mighty White-tailed Eagle and two chicks (upper right hand corner).


Shag - Along the cliffs of one of the islands of the bay Breiðavafjörður was a breeding colony of shags.

Basalt Pillars

Basalt Pillars - Yet another set of interesting basalt columns, common in Iceland because of its volcanic origins. These are located on one of the islands in bay Breiðavafjörður.


Kleifabúinn - The Ferry Baldur transported me from Stykkishólmur to Brjánslækur, a southern gateway to Westfjords. Driving east on routes 62, 612 & 615, I headed toward the Látrabjarg Cliffs for birding. At the 62 summit I passed cairn Kleifabúinn (Mountain Dude). It was erected in 1947 when the men who constructed the original road thought it deserved a monument.


Shipwreck - On the way to the Látrabjarg Cliffs on route 612 from 62 is this rusting hulk of the fishing boat Garðar near the head of the fjord.


Razorbill - At the most western point of Europe (and of course Iceland too) are the Látrabjarg Cliffs. Dramatic and stunning, the cliffs are home to a variety of breeding sea birds - Puffins, razorbills, guillots, gulls, and others in unbelievably large numbers. The cliffs rise to about 400m and extend for some 12km along the southern coast of the peninsula. Access is easy over moderately sloped pasture land where sheep graze, you need not travel far for exciting views.

I have to admit that my favorite attraction were the 10,000s of puffins. Some were sufficiently tame to allow you to approach within a few feet. Less tame were the razorbills, but this guy wasn't modest, rather it wanted it's picture taken.


Puffin - Bright orange feet, yellow dimples, poignant eyes, a large mutli-colored beak, and a wonderful stature make the puffin a delightful bird to watch. The fact that their breeding area at the Látrabjarg Cliffs is home to 10,000s and that they don't mind the many gawking camera toting tourists make them a favorite for all.

Dinner and a Sweater

Dinner and a Sweater - Sharing the Látrabjarg Cliffs with the sea birds are numerous grazing sheep. Certainly very cute, especially when young, but I suspect the owners have other things in mind.


Puffin - Well, you too would squawk if so many tourists were taking your picture ... or maybe he's just constipated from all that bounty from the sea!


Breiðavík - With 2 days at the Látrabjarg Cliffs, I stayed at the nearby Breiðavík Hotel, it was the only choice. The accommodations were similar to a small guesthouse - B&B with à la carte dinners.

The dinner menu (had one existed) would have looked similar to that shown here. The chef, I am told, graduated from the Viking Culinary Academy for Galley Slaves. A 3 course dinner, large quantities, certainly more than you dared to eat! But this bit of adversity was a small price, except maybe for the 3,500ikr ($45) per dinner, to be so near the Látrabjarg Cliffs.

It is noteworthy to mention that between 1950 and 1980, Breiðavík was a home for behaviorally disturbed children. Maybe the chef was a resident, I didn't have the courage to ask.

Dynjandi Waterfall

Dynjandi is the largest waterfall in Westfjords. The falls are a series of 7, known as Fjallfoss (mountain falls), with each given it's own name, the largest called Dynjandi. The waterfall is at the head of the northern arm of Arnarfjörður and drops 100m (328ft) while fanning out to a width of 60m (197ft).

Roads From Highland

Roads From Highland - Sometimes when driving across the fjord finger peninsulas the scenery was moonscape, other times it was lush. The top photo was taken while in the highlands south of Dynjandi and the lower photo was taken traveling north from Dynjandi Waterfall.


Oystercatcher - I timed my travels to reach the base of fjord Önundarfjörður at low tide. At this time the muddy shores are rich in bird life. Of course rich often means viewable only with binoculars and otherwise difficult to photograph. I was, however, able to catch this oystercatcher in flight.

Little Gull

Little Gull - For 3 days I made my home in the pleasant town of Ísafjörður, it is by far the largest Westfjords town (pop. ~4000) and is the hub for numerous activities. West Tours, who organized my solo trip, makes their home here.

While in Ísafjörður I took a day tour to Vigur Island, traveled to nearby Bolungarvík for birding at lake Syðridalsvatn near the golf course, cultured myself at the Westfjords Folk Museum, and had an absolutely wonderful dinner at Tjöruhisið (Tar House) next to the folk museum.

On my first of two visits for birding near lake Syðridalsvatn I was treated to an active colony of Little Gulls. Although they were at one time a rare sight in Iceland, they are now more common. This is certainly a handsome gull with its distinctive black head.


Redshank - Driving down the road from the Bolungarvík golf course is the small lake Syðridalsvatn on one side of the unpaved road, while on the other side and past the lake are several farms. The farm land was a good place to view land birds, while the lake was good to view water foul. I have read that the lake is also a good place for fishing. Beside the ever present Eider duck, I viewed the Gossander duck, Scoup duck, and probably others, but ducks are often difficult to identify. I was also honored to a sighting of a Great Northern Diver.

But the Redshank was certainly fun to watch. It's activity was 3 fold: (1) Perch at the highest possible point, which in Iceland's case is most likely a fence post, (2) When you in a car slowly approach it leaves its perch to fly a loop while singing a repeated cry, and (3) Landing on the unpaved road immediately in front of the car. Then as I inched the car forward the Redshank would toddle (rather than fly) away in hopes of escape. Of course this behavior only occurred while using the car as a blind, go figure!

Mother and Child

Mother and Child - At one of the farms near lake Syðridalsvatn were a number of Icelandic horses. Each time I viewed these horses throughout Iceland I was awed by their long manes and striking statue.

Bolungarvík Lighthouse

Bolungarvík Lighthouse - Iceland is dotted with a plethora of lighthouses. This one is certainly colorful.

Vigur Island

Vigur Island is a small inhabited island rich in bird life which can be visited via the Vigur Island Ferry for a 3 hour tour from Ísafjörður. The farm on the island is best known for processing Eider down from the ducks that breed on the island.

This was my second favorite place to view Puffins, the first being the Látrabjarg Cliffs. Unlike the cliffs where you viewed the Puffins from above, here the Puffins were often flying just a few feet overhead. Other interesting birds were the ever present Arctic Terns and Black Guillemot.


Puffin - Any view of a Puffin is a great sighting, they are fun to watch. When they fly they remind me of the bumble-bee, both have short stout bodies as compared with their wings, and you wonder how either can fly. But when Puffins fly they move fast. Vigur Island is an ideal home for them since the winds often blow fast and hard, thus making it easy for them to take flight.

Black Guillemot

Black Guillemot - One of many birds on Vigur Island.

Arctic Tern

Arctic Tern is found nearly everywhere in Iceland with coastal lowlands their favorite for breeding colonies. They are gregarious and expert flyers, and in their breeding grounds they can be ferocious with air raids on intruders, something I can attest to - twice I got bonked on the head. This tiny bit of adversity was worth the show.

Black-tailed Godwit

Black-tailed Godwit - Another day and I was back at lake Syðridalsvatn near the golf course for more birding. This time I viewed a shy Black-tailed Godwit roaming through the grass nearby the lake.

Ringed Plover

Ringed Plover - When I was in New Zealand I felt lucky with a one sighting of a Ringed Plover. But in Iceland they were much more prevalent, I had many sightings throughout Westfjords. This banded Ringed Plover was roaming nearby the road next to lake Syðridalsvatn.

Súðavík Sculpture

Súðavík Sculpture - Time to move on after 3 days in Ísafjörður. I tracked the fingers of the various fjords on my way for 2 days at the wonderful Heydalur on the Mjóifjordur fjord. Along the way I stopped to poke my head out of the car with binoculars to view birds.

Historic Farm

Historic Farm - Near the entrance to fjord Isafjörður on route 633 is this operating historic farm with its stellar views across the bay Isafjarðardjúp.

The next 2 nights I spent at the wonderful Heydalur, a resort offering luxury B&B, fine dining, and various outdoor activities such as hiking, birding, horseback riding, kayaking, and soaking in a natural hot pot.

My extra day here was nearly perfect. I sauntered up the beautiful Heyalur valley viewing numerous land birds, wildflowers, and the striking geology of the river. When I returned 5 hours later, I took a long soak in the hot pot - it felt so good. Then after cleaning up, I sat down with a book and a beer. The day completed itself with one of the finest meals I had while in Iceland.

What Trees?

What Trees? - It is said that when you are lost in an Icelandic forest ... you stand up. So when I saw this road sign time and again I thought, what trees?

Whooper Swan

Whooper Swans were breeding along many of the fjords, this pair in Isafjörður.

I was now on my return to Reykjavík with a stop near Bjarkalundur for a final day of birding. Unfortunately my luck with fine weather had ended. The day's journey was first to Hólmavík where I took in the bizarre witchcraft museum. Afterwards I traveled the unpaved route 605 from fjord Steingrímsfjörður to fjord Breidafjörður over the highlands. In rain and fog and 25m (75ft) visibility the 26km (15 mile) white knuckle drive felt like a heroic experience, I kissed the ground when I reached the far side. But by now the wind joined the rain so my interest in birding waned and I chose not to explore the Bjarkalundur area. All in all, a tiny bit of adversity for an otherwise grand holiday.

A day and a half later my last few hours in Iceland were spent soaking at the most excellent Blue Lagoon near the airport.