I am back to tell you about the must-see nature sites of East Iceland.
As before I attach a disclaimer to this article. Austurland has beautiful nature, so I am drawing from a large pool which means some places well worth noting will be left out. But don’t worry, I’ll keep trucking along, and you can expect more post like this.
1. The canyon of Hafrahvammagljúfur
This just might be the “best-kept secret” of Austurland. Somehow the canyon Hafrahvammagljúfur (also known as Dimmugljúfur) hasn’t made it onto most travelers radar. The truth is that this is one of the more beautiful places you can visit here in East Iceland. This imposing canyon is about 200 meters tall and stretches on for about 3 kilometers.
When I was growing up, we went to it to it stood on the banks and enjoyed the view. But things changed drastically in 2007 with the completion of the highland dam at Kárahnjúkar. Majority of the glacier water that ran through the canyon was redirected into another path. This has opened up a whole new world, as it is now possible to go into the riverbed and hike along it (but we recommend doing so with a guide that knows the area and to toot our own horn a bit, a hike like this is bookable at Meet the Locals).
The construction of the highland damn means that there is an asphalt road all the way from Egilsstaðir to the damn at Kárahnjúkar. But once you cross over the damn the road becomes a lot rougher and is best suitable for 4×4 vehicles.
A word of warning, when the water levels rise in Hálslón (the reservoir the highland damn creates) it is often necessary to release the water down its old path through Hafrahvammagljúfur. This often happens late summer/early fall.
2. Saxa the sea geyser near Stöðvarfjörður
In the land of the geysers, there is no denying that the most famous of all is the one we spell with a capital G, Geysir in Haukadal. But here in Austurland, you’ll find a geyser of a different kind. Near Stöðvarfjörður is the sea geyser Saxa. When the wind blows from the east, the ocean water is forced into the rock crevice until it can go no further and then it shoots into the air. Seaweed, driftwood and other objects floating in the sea that are drawn into Saxa get chopped up against the rock face. Hence the name Saxa, which in Icelandic means to chop. Just outside Stöðvarfjörður, you’ll find Saxa.
3. The nature reserve at Hólmanes
Between Reyðarfjörður and Eskifjörður, on road 92, you will find the peninsula of Hólmanes. In 1973 Hólmanes was declared a nature reserve and is beloved by the locals in the area. The peninsula itself is known for diverse birdlife and unusual rock formations.
Now all depending on your interest or timeframe, you can both enjoy Hólmanes for shorter or a longer period. It is a great place to grab a quick photo and enjoy the view. And if you like to explore it better there are hiking paths leading into it. Just keep in mind that as nature reserve guest are kindly asked to disturb neither fauna or wildlife there. If you would like to know about fauna, wildlife or geology in Hólmanes there are information signs at the parking lot.
Where: Between Reyðarfjörður and Eskifjörður is where you’ll find Hólmanes.
4. The deserted cove of Vöðlavík
No one has inhabited Vöðlavík since 1968. Then the last family living there packed up their things and left. Although now deserted, Vöðlavík is far from forgotten. The cove is known for tranquility and natural beauty. And it is a sanctuary for many of those you are seeking a little bit of peace. Indeed many of the descendants of the families who used to live there, still own their families estates there and use them as summer homes. In 2003 the local hiking club, Ferðafélag Ferðamann, open the hut Karsstaðir where hikers and travelers can book a sleeping bag accommodation.
If you go to the black sand beach by the ocean, keep an eye out for the bridge from the rescue boat Goðinn. It has been sitting there since it washed ashore in 1994 and serves as a stark reminder of how unforgiving the elements can be in Iceland.
Please keep in mind that Vöðlavík is far from the beaten path and that the road to it is rough (and you need to cross unbridged rivers). So you’ll need a good sturdy jeep for your travels (or acquire the service of a guide on a super jeep).
Where: Past Eskifjörður and a left turn on the right spot (sorry, I didn’t find any map I could share with you).
5. The highlands of Austurland
Alright, I’ll admit it. This one is a bit vague and hard to put into words. The highlands are wast and include many nature sites there that could easily be on this list, all in their own right (to name a few, Hvannalindir, Kverkfjöll and Víti). Nonetheless, I don’t think that any list that is supposed to cover what is unique about nature in Austurland can be without it. Iceland is home to Northern Europes most extensive wilderness and Austurland is a great starting point to explore them. There is just something special about exploring the serenity and tranquility of the uninhabited wild.
Please keep in mind that there are few things that Icelanders
are as sensitive to as off-roading. Our nature is very fragile and any damage that travelers, foreign or domestic, create can take a lifetime to heal. So if you do venture on your own on a trusty 4×4, please take care to stick to marked and authorized paths.
If you would like guidance exploring them, there are plenty of options available to you. The Wilderness Center offers hiking and horseriding tours, Laugarfell offers accommodation and hiking tours right in the heart of the highlands with many beautiful waterfalls in their vicinity (and you don’t need to worry about the road to Laugarfell, all but
2 kilometers of it are asphalt). If you would like to explore the Frozen Highlands or venture to the geothermal area at Kverkfjöll, either in a two-day hiking tour or a jeep tour into the land of Ice and Fire, we offer here at Meet the Locals. Jeep tours also provide a Highland Circle during summers. And the list goes on and on. If you want to explore the highlands of East Iceland, there are many options available, only a few of which have been mentioned here.
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