It is a question that I have received a thousand times, “so what is different about East Iceland?” Well, each part of Iceland has its distinctive features and history that set it apart. But here are five things that set us here in Austurland apart from the rest of Iceland.
Maybe the most distinguishing factor about Austurland is the fact that we are the only part of Iceland where wild reindeer live. Initially, reindeer were not part of the indigenous wildlife in Iceland. Much like other mammals that now live here, they are imported (the only mammal native to Iceland is the arctic fox).
Experiments importing them from Norway began in 1771. From 1771 to 1787 groups of various sizes were released in different parts of Iceland. But in the end, it was the only the last group that that was brought here in 1787 that managed to populate and thrive in the long run. That group of reindeer was released in Vopnafjörður in East Iceland. Today Austurland is home to about 5.000 reindeer, and they continue to be both a source of inspiration and pride to us.
Now, for a word of warning. When I’ve been showing guests around Austurland most of the time, they ask if they’ll see reindeer. And the answer is, it depends. During summer, that snow recedes in the highlands, and the earth becomes green and fertile. During this time the reindeer seek higher ground. So the chances of seeing reindeer over the warmest months are slim. You’ll have a better chance during the colder months (and if you want to go on the look for them in the Frozen Highlands in a super jeep tour that is available on Meet the Locals.
The eastern fjords of Iceland are many of whom surrounded by tall and imposing mountains. During winter this means that most of them go through a period when the arctic sun can’t reach above the peaks. On the day the sun again reaches the villages, it became a tradition to celebrate with pancakes. These pancakes were called sólarpönnukökur (please tell me that you tried saying that out loud) or sun pancakes. Although this custom spread to other parts of Iceland, it originated in the fjords of Austurland.
In a land that has little to no forest, the largest one is Hallormsstaðaskógur (a recent statistic stated that only 3,2% of Iceland is covered in woods). Now the saying is that you should never bring a foreign guest to an Icelandic forest. They are just not that impressed by them.
I confess this is a rule that I have broken on multiple occasions. Although I’m sure it must seem small to many, I’ve always felt that Hallormstaður had much beauty and tranquility. My favorite place to visit is the arboretum in Hallormstaður that is home to over 70 types of trees and interlaces with walking paths.
Unfortunately, Google maps have not yet discovered the arboretum at Hallormstaðir, so I can’t give you a direct link to the parking lot (it’s on the right-hand side when you drive from Egilsstaðir). But if you would like to know more about the forest or walking/hiking paths in it, I recommend this brochure.
We might not have much woods in Iceland, but we have more than enough of mountains. The tallest of which is Mt. Snæfell at 1.833 meters or 6.060 feet. Here in Iceland we usually refer to it as the highest peak outside the glaciers, and it is indeed the fourth highest point in Iceland. But as freestanding mountains go, it is the tallest. An old central volcano it is debated whether or not it should be classified as active. Either way, Snæfell has not awakened from its slumber in over 10.000 years so you should feel safe in its presence. On a clear day, the view from the mountaintop is beautiful to behold.
5. The flower bluebell
If Austurland had an official flower, it would be the bluebell.
Finding it in other parts of the country is rare. But in Austurland you never seem to have to wander far to come across it. They especially like nestling in the lowlands but are also found on higher ground.
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