Posted by: neilh10 | July 13, 2011

Driving from the southern to the northern westfjords

This is the first in a series of posts about travelling in and around the Westfjords. One of the many frequently asked questions about visiting the Westfjords is what is the road like from Brjanslaekur and the settlements in the southern part of the Westfjords to Isafjordur, the capital of the northern part of the region. I recently travelled this road, with my friend Arnar, who drives the road at least 20 times a year, and wanted to report back what we found.

(the route from google maps. roughly)

(typical view from the car)

A few general points about the road. Firstly, it is closed from the first snow in Winter (roughly late October/November, but could be later, or earlier, through to April 1st,. when it is opened, but not reliably so). Looking at the state of the roads (as you will see in the pictures in this article), it is seriously advisable to get a 4×4, whatever time of year you are in, and it is an absolute requirement whenever there is any hint of snow. Unless you are a sucker for hardship and adventure, in which case I recommend you hire the cheapest car possible from SAD CARS, and see how you get on.

More seriously, there are a few things you need to know, before you go. Firstly, it is always a good idea to check the road conditions on the icelandic road administration website. More detailed, up to the minute information on the road is availaable on 17777, in office hours. The person that answers will probably a) speak english, and b) be sympathetic to your questions. If you get seriously stuck, you need to dial 112, the emergency number. It should go without saying that you should have a decent map, and a fully charged mobile phone.

But anyway, on to the route, and the things to see and do on it.

The first thing to say is that this is a really amazing road. Breathtaking is not the word. In my mind at least, it ranks with any other experience I have had while travelling. These are lush green hills, snowy mountains, dark seas, and total, complete isolation. I can’t think of anywhere else in the world where you can stop, and look around for hundreds of kilometres in any direction, and just be completely alone. You will see thousands of birds, and maybe, if you are unfortunate, a dust cloud from another car beating its path along the track, around the endless expanse of the fjord, somewhere tens of kilometres away.

The scenery is dramatic, and yet serene, the views from the mountains are nothing short of stunning. Winding tracks guided by fourescent yellow poles, will eventually lead you back to civilisation. If you are driving a nissan primera, rented from sad cars, your journey back to civilisation will be a 30 kmh precarious crawl. If you are a native Icelander, like Arnar, it will be like driving along the M1 north of London. But I suspect the majority of my guests will be like the former. Make sure you plan your time appropriately.

The ferry from Sykssholmur arrives at the port of Brjanslaekur. As all the guidebooks point out, there is nothing in Brjanslaekur. It is basically an Icelandic crossroads, there are a few farms there, along with a hut which is used to sell ferry tickets, and a dock.

NOTE – if you are planning to go on the ferry, particularly in Summer, make sure that you book well in advance. The website for the ferry company is www.seatours.is. Otherwise, you can access the region via route 60, the road around the southern westfjords peninsula.

From Brjanslaeur, if you want to travel north you can either take a shortcut over the mountain to meet up with rte 60 on the shores of Arnarfjordur. Or you could head west to Patreksfjordur, and Latrabjarg. We went west.

The road to Patreksfjordur is easy and paved. To the left, there are a number of beaches. If the weather is receptable, it could be cool to stop and check out the beaches. But given the grey clouds, we powered on. You eventually get to a junction, represented in the picture below, where you can either go to Latrabjarg or Patreksfjordur. The trip to Latrabjarg will be the subject of a seperate post. Needless to say the bird cliffs and beaches there are stunning, and easily justify a full day trip, or longer.

Before getting to Patreksfjordur, you travel over a mountain pass, a pretty easy one. The total drive to Patreskfjordur is about 70ks. You can probably do the drive in under an hour.

Patreksfjordur

The lonely planet remarks that there is nothing in Patreksfjordur for tourists. I can understand this anayalsis. Patreksfjordur is like Bolungarvik in the northern Westfjords, it is a working town. But, in my view that doesn’t make it any less interesting. The views are stunning, it is close to the birds and beaches of Latrabjarg, and, if nothing else, it has the only supermarket (and alcohol shop) within hundreds of kilometres. The only place to head for the usual tourist stuff is the pirate museum out at the dock.

(inside the pirate museum/cafe)

I got a good coffee there, and they had wifi (the towns wifi network was broken at the time of our visit), by the looks of things, they have a decent range of beers and spirits and occasional live music. A good reason to spend a night in one of the guesthouses in Patreksfjordur. There is also an excellent swimming pool in Patreksfjordur. My feeling is that things will take off a bit more in Patreksfjordur over the next few years.

From Patreksfjordur, you go north, over the mountain to Talknafjordur, about a 40 minute drive. The road is paved, and cleared all year, so it is pretty easy to drive. The views are pretty spectular from the top of the mountain.

Talknafjordur

We pulled in to Talknafjordur. This is another serene and beautiful fishing village, descriped by the lonely planet as ‘Sophorific’.

Talknafjordur felt a bit like being on the shores of a lake, although of course the fjord ran out in to the sea. It is a very small village, but there there are a couple of restaurants, which looked tourist friendly (menus in english and german, etc) – It looked like a pleasant place to stop, and you could see that there were a lot of birds there, and germans (I assume they were germans) taking pictures.

(Talknafjordur)

Bildudalur

Over the mountain from Talknafjordur, you arrive in Bildudalur, the only settlement on Arnarfjordur. Bildudalur suffered heavily two or so decades ago when its fish factory closed, but there is clearly some economic life in the village, based around the school, the shop, and an algae factory, which spews out ‘a bit of smoke’. I guess people have to make a living somehow.

Don’t let that put you off though, Bildudalur is yet another beautiful Icelandic village. It has a youth hostel that gets good reviews. We arrived in the village at about 7pm. Needing the toilet we tried einar ben, the delicatessan in town (yep, the village has a delicatessan. How cool is that?). Arnar made it to the toilet, but while waiting outside, I was told off on his behalf, for using the toilet, because the store closed at 6. It seemed unneccessary and unwelcoming, seeing as a) the door was open and b) we were so far from anywhere. But what the hay.


(view of the road into Bildudalur, from mountain.)

Anyway, Bildudalur has the only remaining commecial airport in the southern westfjords region. There are daily year round flights to Reykjavik (except Saturday). The flights are more reliable than flights to Isafjordur, because they are run on an ambulance plane, operated by Eagle Air. So they tend to go whatever the weather, and they will get you there, but you might choke on your own vomit or have a nervous breakdown along the way, dependent on the wind speeds and the pilots temprement. But as it is an ambulance plane, you’ll probably be in safe hands.

Leaving Bildudalur airport, the road turns to a gravel track. It stays this way for 100 plus kilometres, until you get to Thingeyri.

The next hundred kilometres, takes you around Arnarfjordur, one of the most famous fjords in the Icelandic consciousness.

Picture of arnarfjordur
(road going in to Arnarfjordur)

The first stretch of road goes around the fjord, hits a geothermal pool and a farm. Then you go up over the top of the mountain, a weird rocky mass for several winding kilometres, surrounded by rocks, water, melting snow and the nice yellow poles that keep you on the road. Down the other side, you hit Dynjandi, one of Icelands most famous waterfalls, there is a toilet there, and you can climb up the hill to get a good view of the waterfall. A good place to stop. I dont have a picture but there is this video on you tube, which is fairly representative…

From Dynjandi, you can head around the fjord, past a power station, with three houses (a settlement totally isolated for four months of the year) and a couple of farms. The next ‘stop’ is Hfanseyri, where there is a museum dedicated to Icelandic independence, complete with a canteen. Open summer only.

Finally, there is one more mountain pass and you arrive in Thingeyri. Here, the mountain road ends. if you arrive early enough, you might be able to get a coffee at the gas station, or you could call in at the Simbahollinn, a beautiful converted old house which is now a waffle house and occasional restaurant. The road then weaves around Dyrafjordur, heads over the last mountain to Onunarfjordur, and from here you can either turn left to Flateyri, or head through the tunnel and in to Isafjordur, with its cafes, bakeries, shops and guesthouses.

And if you are considering a visit to the northern westfjords, where better to stay than my apartment? The apartment is located in Flateyri, about 30 mins drive from Isafjordur, and is available all year round. Feel free to email me at westfordsapartment@yahoo.com if you are interested or have any further questions.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Categories

%d bloggers like this: