We are getting a bit sad…nearing the end of this adventure. But we are starting our biggest challenge. Today we begin the grueling travel we’ve be warned about, heading deep into the rural Westfjords on gravel roads. These unpaved roads have a reputation for treachery–if you go too fast it can be like driving on marbles. Every year they have numerous tourists slide off the road. This can be bad under normal circumstances. But here, the road is often one lane wide, with many 10 % grades, sheer cliff drop offs, and NO rails on the hairpin turns. Yee Ha! The guys will be driving this stretch.
Off toward the famous bird cliffs at Latrabjarg. We leave in rain, gray skies and cold winds to climb the one-lane gravel road from Pingeyri. On the positive side, these sheer cliffs and hair-pin turns give us a great view of the remote western fjords.
The Westfjords often aren’t visited by tourists. They are very remote and the road conditions can be a stopper. We were excited to have the opportunity. And signs do a good job reminding you there’s danger ahead.
As soon as we top the mountain, we see blue skies and sunshine. YEA. Don’t think I would do well in the loooong dark winters here. We stop at the last major waterfall of the trip. Dynjandi is another of Iceland’s top ten.
The Westfjords were formed by volcanic eruptions 14-16 million years ago, laying down layers of basalt and lava slag. Then a galcier from an ice age 10,000 years ago carved the deep fjords and left rocks of differnt levels of hardness. This created the conditions for the Dynjandi waterfall, plunging 186 M to the sea.
Here’s an mild example of some of the roads in the West…not only must you worry about staying off the edge, but in many cases the edge drops off to the sea. If you run off the road, you better start swimming! And those white dots on the hill. Oh yea. The open range sheep are EVERYWHERE so you have to play dodge ’em out here too.
A bit further, we found a sign warning of sea monsters in Sudurfirdit as we head to Bildudalur. Don’t even ask! These towns are so far off the beaten path, everyone’s looking for a tourist draw–ghosties and ghoulies are a natural.
Then we came across a hot cement pool, probably 100 F, complete with cabana, along the road. There’s a lot of geothermal activity in the West Fjords and even though this was not in the best condition, we were amazed to find a permanent pool constructed in this remote area. A group of campers were just packing up as we drove in–complete with swim suits drying on the fence.
These roads put a thick layer of dust on everything. Most of the N1 gas stations had free car wash capabilities. A car this dirty is seen as a safety hazard in Iceland. We became very speedy car washers.
We traveled on a narrow gravel road with an even steeper drop off closer to Hotel Latrabarg.
Around 4 pm we immediately set out for the bird cliffs. We had seen enough bad weather recently not to take chances on a nice day tomorrow. These are the most western point of Europe, facing into the open ocean.
The road was again best in a 4X4 with gravel and narrow, blind corners on sheer hills. The tiny town and campground at Latravik rested on gold sand beaches at the foot of a magnificent cliff.
We took pictures of the setting through two cairns.
The cliffs were off the charts fantastic. First they are a sheer drop over 440 m above the Atlantic, Standing near the edge (I’m not a big fan of heights) I had a sense I was on the edge of the world.
Peaceful, with the wild cacophony of huge numbers of birds; this is one of the largest nesting areas for Razorbill Gulls. Their sounds struck a magical, soothing chord.
And boy, did we met PUFFINS…inches away.
They could have cared less about all the gawkers taking pictures and enjoying their antics. We stayed until almost 8 PM. That seems to be the time huge numbers came back to their nests, tucked in between the top rocks. Some probably still had babies in the nests, but we didn’t see any carrying fish.
We often saw pairs preening and small groups hopping about before they scooted in-between the ledges for the night.
Walking back to our car, we heard an odd “chortle” sound in the grass out in the field. H’mmmmm.
Dinner back at the hotel was lovely. It’s an old converted boarding school and the dining room was in the converted auditorium… Picture a TINY Harry Potter dining area.
Our hotel owner sat with us a while and described the sound of the Arctic fox that roam the area…he macde a sound just like what we heard on the hill. He said they are often behind the hotel late at night hunting birds, making that peculiar noise and driving his dog wild. Little did we know we were so close to them on the cliffs.
We’re off to the red sand beach tomorrow–and the most difficult road we’ve encountered!