Iceland Day 5: A Full Day In the Westfjords

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This is our first day in Iceland with an early morning commitment. We awoke in Suðureyri at 7:30am in order to catch the 8am start of breakfast at the Fisherman Village Hotel. The breakfast was the standard affair of bread, cold cuts, cheese, sliced tomatoes and cucumbers, and some other extras. Unlike other mornings, we made sure to stuff ourselves to the max, since the day’s activities would begin with a 3 hour kayak tour in the calm waters of the fjord around Ísafjörður.

The drive from the sleepy town of Suðureyri to Ísafjörður takes only 20 minutes, but you definitely do not want to be in a hurry when passing through the 3km stretch of single-lane two-way tunnel that separates the the fishing village from the region’s largest town. We arrived in Ísafjörður with plenty of time to spare, also allowing us the opportunity to circle around several times before locating Borea Adventures’ tour meeting spot, which also doubles as a cafe with an emphasis on serving local food from sustainable sources. We met our tour guide Danny, got our gear together, and headed on foot with the group towards the dock. As it turns out, Danny was a fellow Canadian. Ok, his citizenship was not verified, but he did grow up in Cambridge, Ontario, which is good enough for me. He came to Iceland to do a masters degree and was working with Borea Adventures because of his love for the outdoors. He was a great guide as we paddled along the shoreline. He identified various features in the fjord and was very knowledgable about the wildlife in the area (mostly birds), and helped us take many photos with our waterproof camera. The kayak around the fjord was smooth and easy. This was Jaime’s first time in a solo kayak and despite taking a couple minutes to figure out how to maneuver the craft, she became very proficient with the paddles and even commented afterwards that she was glad she was not the slowest one in the group.

The kayak tour finished up around 12:30pm, and on our way back to the cafe, Danny drew our attention to what he called the “best fish you’ll ever have in Iceland”. He was refering to the dinner buffet at Tjöruhúsið restaurant. Although they do not have the buffet at lunch, Jaime and I decided to give it a try. There were two things on the menu for lunch that day: fish soup, and pan fried plaice (a flatfish). We order two starter portions of the soup, and one portion of the plaice, took a seat at a picnic table outside, and waited patiently. To our surprise, the two starter portions or soup came in a single large serving bowl, and it was large. I think there was enough for five or six starters portions there. The plaice came in a sizzling pan accompanied by fresh vegetables. The colours and presentation of the pan was excellent. The soup was very good, but the quality and taste of the plaice completely lived up to the hype. It was seasoned and cooked to perfection. If you enjoy fish and are ever in Ísafjörður, I would highly recommended checking this place out. Anyway, needless to say, we could not finish the soup, but we did pick all the good bits out of it. A shame really, but there was a lot of food, and we were ready to hit the road as we had a long drive ahead of us towards our night’s accommodations in Patreksfjörður.

1:30pm: we headed south towards the next town of Þingeyri (pronounced Thingeyri), back through the crazy single-lane two-way tunnel. The fjords in this region are magnificent, tall with steep hillsides. The light that day was not optimal for photography, so we did not get that many pictures, but seeing the expansive landscape in person is definitely something you will not quickly forget. As we entered Þingeyri, we decided to stop in at the cafe. Our kayak guide had mentioned that the cafe is owned by good friends of his, and craving a little jolt from the shorted sleep cycle the night before, we used the opportunity to take a quick break. One cappucino and one americano later, we’re back on the road heading south again. The road from Þingeyri climbs over the mountain instead of wrapping around it alongside the water like most of the other roads in the region. However, the road does turn to gravel so driving does required heightened attention. However, this being our third day in the Westfjords, these conditions had become the norm and I was able to enjoy the breathtaking views from the cliffsides. Our next stopping point, the Dynjandi falls.

4pm: We arrive at the Dynjandi falls. These falls are so big, you can see them across the fjord about half an hour before arriving. Ok, they are no Niagara or Iguazu when it comes to size and volume, but for a freshwater falls that you can walk up to, they allow for some pretty good photo opportunities. The sky was again not ideal, as it was overcast, but we made the most of it and spent over an hour at the location making the short hike to the base of the falls, and taking photos from various angles, despite all the little flies buzzing around. These things must be either attracted to human heat or carbon dioxide, but the saving grace is that they did not sting or bite so they were really just a big nuisance.

Note from Jaime: I wanted a photo of Nelson up on some boulders close to the falls. I wasn’t happy with the outcome. The pictures turned out too dark.

I took a video of him coming down.

Despite how wet, windy and slippery it was, Nelson went back up and this time, in lighter colours.

8pm: We entered the town of Patreksfjörður and checked-in to our hotel, Hotel Radagerdi. When travelling through small towns in remote parts of the world, you quickly learn to plan timing of meals very carefully. Unlike in Toronto, if you miss “last call” for food at the only restaurant in town, you will be going hungry. There is no 24hr grocery store. There may be a convenience store at the gas station, if the town has a gas station, but even then, you are surrendering yourself to chips and pop, or cookies, basically “snack foods” and not a proper meal. Our day had been non-stop to this point, but there was one more thing we had to do. Iceland is known for its population of puffins, an arctic bird often referred to as the “penguins of the north”. One of the main colonies of puffins in Iceland is located at Latrabjarg, which is only 1 hour from Patreksfjörður. Because we had an early reservation the next day for the ferry crossing to Snæfellsnes, our only opportunity to make it to the puffin colony would be tonight. It may sound crazy, but as it turns out, the best time of day to see the puffins in their nests happens to be after 10pm at night and before the morning, since puffins “go to work” during the day. With all this knowledge in hand, and despite the downpours that were still sliding through the region, we did a quick dinner at local restaurant, got our photo and rain gear together and headed out towards Latrabjarg. The drive turned out to be about 1.5 hours since it was again mostly on gravel roads along cliff sides, and this time, in the rain. Hoping for the best, we got something that was close enough. The rain let up as we arrived at the site. We stayed for about two hours walking along the cliff’s edge and got very closeup views of many puffins. There were only a few short spells of showers during those two hours, and being near the arctic circle, there was still plenty of daylight between 10pm and midnight. In fact, we even got to see a spectacular sunset at midnight, when the sun broke through a gap in the clouds, casting a warm glow onto the entire site as well as neighbouring cliffs. I use the word “sunset” loosely, since sunsets this far north last a long time. As the sun set, we hit the road to head back to our hotel. The sun probably didn’t finish setting until after 1am, so we still had natural light to help us make our way back along the gravel roads.

1:30am: We are exhausted from a full day. Tomorrow’s plan, wake up at 8:30am. Breakfast at 9am. A quick soak in a hotsprings pool before catching our ferry out of the Westfjords.

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