>Translated with www.DeepL.com/Translator
(>Pictures at the bottom!)
….against the highlands and in the northwest (Westfjords) of Iceland.
The north coast and the Westfjords are very sparsely populated areas. Sheep and horse breeding is practised on the coastal strips and in the long valleys, and a few dairy farmers complete the picture. In the few towns on the coast, everything revolves around fishing, or what is left of all fishing. Fishing must be in deep crisis here, and a huge transformation process is leaving deep scars in the rural coastal villages. But the farmers are also feeling the effects of the drop in prices for their products and the cost gap is widening more and more to the disadvantage of the producers. In addition to many former fishing businesses, countless farms are disintegrating or about to be abandoned.
In a chance conversation with a farmer who breeds horses – Icelanders eat their horses too – he estimated that the price of his products has fallen by 40% in the last 10 years; and at the same time, expenses have risen dramatically. Many give up because of this, the next generation no longer wants to work in agriculture and migrates.
If you drive a few kilometres inland, the human settlements become fewer and fewer. The many sheep grazing somewhere in the meadows enjoy their independent summer life and are herded in by the farmers before autumn, or the first snowfall; otherwise there is – apart from a lot of nature – nothing far and wide!
In any case, we were looking forward to the great solitude and silence. After the many tourist highlights along the Ring Road (road no. 1), we were both glad to finally leave all the hustle and bustle behind us. Although the whole thing cannot be compared to our tourist hotspots in Switzerland, we were not entirely unhappy to be on somewhat bumpy roads again.
Akureryri and the long valley with its countless farms was already behind us as we headed steeply up into the highlands again. We followed the course of the Eyjafjarđará river and were soon surprised by the difficulty of the track. Only slowly did we go deeper and higher up, so that soon a camp on the side of the road was the order of the day. The fog gave the whole area a very ghostly impression. Only the nearby stream gave us the familiarity that we were still somewhere on earth after all.
The next day, further up, the sun soon smiled at us and we agreed to leave the main track. A side track tempted us a lot and we had had enough of the countless potholes, the annoying “wave plate sections” and the constant vibrations that went through our marrow and legs. Our quick decision brought a wonderful soft road through wide expanses of volcanic ash and the finest gravel; we glided through the vast untouched world as if on a cloud. After this enchanting stretch, we treated ourselves to a warm bath in the natural pool in Laugafell – an oasis in the middle of this stone desert – in the early afternoon and let our strained and jolted buttocks relax in the water. Later, the campground became busy with many other travellers and their off-roaders and the space in the pool became increasingly scarce.
As we continued north-west, we had to give in again to a river course; too high and a too strong current of the glacier river! With only one vehicle in the middle of this pampa, one should avoid certain risks, as by the time a rescue vehicle arrived, our camper would probably have been washed away by the floods. On the way back, we let ourselves be “seduced” by the tracks into the wild landscape and with a somewhat queasy feeling we drove further and further out through an almost untouched landscape. We still don’t know whether these tracks were illegal off-roading, but an arctic fox ran in front of our car and we were able to observe one of these absolutely shy animals right before our eyes; wow, what an experience!
Back on the north coast, we followed the road around the Skagaheiđi Peninsula, where seals can be seen in various bays. After several detours, we were finally able to observe a few sunbathing seals on their rocks, which always stay in small groups. Apart from eating, their main occupation is probably lying in the sun; what a life!
Around Langjökull, another large glacier field in the western highlands, there are said to be many attractions for adventure-hungry tourists. So we again followed a mountain path up into the highlands and, as always, not on the direct route, but on our detours. The fact that we had to spend the night at a glacier river again to wait for the water level to get lower in the morning is something you always have to take into account on such trails.
Dreamlike surroundings of steaming valleys, the smell of sulphur and rock faces that show themselves in different colours on the surface. And at the very top is a glacier that was completely shrouded in mist when we visited. A parallel track to road 35 brought us to Gullfoss (waterfall). First we drove to the waterfall on the opposite side, where no tourist walks the thousand or so metres over the lava fields. The spectacle at the cliff, where large amounts of water cascade down two steps in the narrow gorge, was very impressive and we could somewhat gloatingly wave to the tourists on the opposite side 😉
Today, Gullfoss is one of the great natural spectacles where thousands of travellers stop every year to view this wonder. Gullfoss almost fell victim to a dam project and only because of the lack of rent the wall was not built.
After the waterfall, we continued to the geysers, where countless tourists also jostled for the best place to take a photo; but every 10 minutes, a water fountain shot up against the sky, delighting every photographer or enveloping them in the water mist. As a result of past earthquakes and volcanic activity, the holes no longer gush as they once did or have dried up completely.
After so much hustle and bustle, we retreated back to the “F” roads, lowered the air pressure in the tyres and drove steeply up into the mountains again. The rain and fog blocked our view of the plain that stretches southwest below us to the sea, but further up we were surprised by the sun and its play of light. Fantastic paths through sand and lava rock, countless mountains and extinct volcanoes made the landscape unique and wonderful for us.
After the whole tour, we circled Langjökull (glacier) coming from the north over the east to the south end and west up to the north again. Again, the time of day or our desire to continue was not enough for the whole route, so we settled down at a lake for the night. I didn’t know it was Friday night until a group of locals showed up at night – Chantal was already lost in dreams – and swarmed out with loud music to catch fish. What at first felt almost like chaos and trouble later ended with lots of alcohol. When they left again, I had a salmon in my hands and in the living area of our camper, a trout was still wriggling around, gasping for air. Whether fishing at night with lights is allowed at all was of no interest to me at the moment; the fish still had to be gutted and presented me with a nightly challenge. The next day we reached the north coast again and soon the two fish were sizzling in our frying pan; they were fine delicacies and in terms of quantity we had more than enough. We will probably remember this encounter for a long time.
We followed the ring road in a westerly direction for a short while and then turned north again from this main traffic axis. On lonely coastal roads we continued northwards into the Westfjords, an area that is even less populated than the rest of Iceland and where many tourists cannot drive up due to time constraints. Actually, the Westfjords would be a real tourist destination, where you can experience a lot of nature and original landscape.
We followed the coastal road – there are almost no other options here – as far as it was possible. Pools along our way always spoiled us with lots of warmth and it was a pleasure to step into a warm pool somewhere. However, we skipped the last pool before the end of the road; we didn’t want to pay 2000 IS Kroner (approx. Fr. 15.-) for a short dip in a warm water pool and turned back somewhat disappointed. Instead of following the coast south again, we discovered a path that followed an old power line and the many tracks tempted us to try it after all. The fact that it took us two days to cover the few kilometres says a lot about the difficulty of the route and our jeep was put under a lot of strain in some places.
We continued to follow the coastal road along the many fjords. It was always many kilometres from the outer headland to the bottom of the fjord, only to drive out again on the opposite side. Often the way from one point of the fjord to the next was only a few hundred metres away, but the land route was always very far. On the other hand, we kept spotting seals at various wind-protected spots, so the few kilometres were quickly forgotten.
In Iceland, too, pass roads are replaced by winter-safe tunnels, which doesn’t quite suit our travelling style, so we kept looking for the old roads to drive over or around the mountain. Here, too, we were not always entirely successful, having to turn around again shortly before reaching our destination and drive back to our starting point. On the other hand, we were surprised again and again that roads that had already been abandoned had a lot of traffic and were still used by many Icelanders despite their “non-existence”.
On the west as well as on the south side of the Westfjords, the weather was no longer on its best side; rain, strong wind and cold were more and more our companions. On the coast, the rain pelted down incessantly at times, and in the mountains there was thick fog. So far out at Látrabjarg we saw no puffins, only a lot of fog, and the wind almost blew us over the cliffs.
On another rainy day we reached Stykkishólmur, which actually already belongs to West Iceland and the tourist route of the “Golden Circle” (tourist tour in the southwest of Iceland). After so many days of solitude and deserted roads, we had to readjust to the many people and the busy traffic on the roads.
>Translated with www.DeepL.com/Translator