Saturday, July 11, 2015

Day 4 - Westfjords - Winding Roads, Mountains, Puffins, and a Ferry

Ice and barren landscape driving over the Westfjords.

What should have been a quick day through the fjords began with us being stranded on a small island and ended with midnight sun on puffin-covered, ocean cliffs.  The Westfjords of Iceland are often overlooked by tourists because it is away from the popular Ring Road, and slow winding (and usually gravel-road) driving.  We were fortunate to explore the wild Westfjords by car and ferry.  Below is our adventure...

The Wild Westfjords - Winding Roads, Mountains, Puffins, and a Ferry

The morning started pleasant enough...we got up early and drove to the town of Stykkishólmur to catch our morning car ferry to the Westfjords. The ferry is a three hour voyage - broken up after two hours with a drop off/pick up on the small residential island of Flatey.  The three of us were all under the impression that the ferry spent 30 minutes or so on the island and that we were free to walk around and see it before moving on to our final destination.

Flatey Island Town
At the island, we disembarked to explore with a large group of fellow passengers.  The island is small (2 km by 1 km) with a hotel/restaurant and small shop. We walked down the island for ten minutes before turning around to return to the boat (just to be safe).  When we turned, we saw OUR FERRY in the distance.  It couldn't be!!!  It just couldn't!  Our car!  Our luggage!  Everything was on the ship!  

We ran back to the dock.  There was no one there and sure enough, the ship was gone.  We ran into the shop/coffee shop.  "We are supposed to the be on that boat!"  I said to the teens behind the counter.  They stared blankly back.  An adult shop worker came to our rescue.  She called the ship and found that they would be coming back for one more run that day.  Luckily, our car was parked on the side of the interior, making it possible for the other cars to get around us.  This just meant that we had a two hour wait, followed by a two hour ferry back to Stykkishólmur, followed by a three hour ferry again to Brjánslækur.  Sigh.  It wasn't optimal, but it sure beat stranded on a 2 km island in the North Atlantic for the night!   So this is what we did.  It was a long wait but we eventually got to Brjánslækur.  

Resting Sheep on Flatey Island
We prayed this would be the only mishap we'd have on the trip.  I am extremely grateful to the woman at the Flatey cafe/shop who helped us by contacting the boat and negotiating our return.  I am also extremely grateful to the crew of Seatours who could have easily been furious with us and charged us for our mishap (they didn't even charge us for a second return!) One crewman also sat with us and consoled us on our return.   Two pet peeves of the experience - the boat announced that we would having a short stop at the island but didn't say not to disembark.  AND ... the rude Americans who thought our misfortune was hilarious and then three of them took my photo (without permission) before while laughing and piling into their SUV.  Really?!

Flatey Island
It was such a relief to get off the ferry.  A friendly crewman had spoken to us about a geothermal public hot tub near the ferry landing, in Flókalundur, that was made of rocks on the ocean.  We decided to check it out.  When we arrived, the hot tub was beautiful, but the cold wind and lack of shelter chilled us and we decided not to take the dip.  

We drove on to our hostel in Patreksfjörður called Hostel Radagerdi.  Besides our stay at the Icelandair Hotel, this Hostel was by far our nicest accommodation.  Our room came with a private bathroom (most of our guesthouses did not).  It also had a superb breakfast spread in the morning with French-pressed coffee.  Mmmm.  

After check-in, we decided to see two more sights - the Red Beach and Latrabjarg cliffs.  We didn't realize due to gravel winding roads, this trip would take hours and we wouldn't return until after midnight.

To access Raudassandur (Red Beach), we had to take the windy, gravel, and steep Rt 614 over the fjord to
Check out the road behind me.  This for miles!
the remote beach.  The drive is accessible without 4-wheel drive (we didn't have it), but be careful of the cars that do - they barrel up and down the road and kick up gravel that can crack your windshield (it happened ... a story for another time).  Driving down the mountain, we got a glimpse from above of the gorgeous red sand bar stretching around the fjord. When we made it to the base, we were unable to discover how to access the sandbar offshore by foot without getting soaked.  Perhaps it's best accessed at a low tide?  If any readers have insight, please leave comments.  Either way, we still enjoyed the thrilling drive and the views from above.

From the Red Beach, we drove back on Rt 614 and took Rt 612 through more windy roads and sleepy towns to Latrabjarg - a well known seabird nesting area.  We arrived around 10:30 pm.  There was still a small tour bus of bird-enthusiast photographers as well as a couple other cars.  Approaching the high cliff edge, we saw hundreds of razor bills, gulls, puffins, and terns flying and resting on the cliffs.  Some puffins rested near the edge and it was easy to get within 2 feet of a bird.  *Our hostel hostess informed us that the puffins are "friendlier" in the evenings.  

We drove the winding fjord-hugging road back to our hostel in Patreksfjörður.  It was the first time we saw the sun dip low in the sky.  At 1 am, when we finally crawled into bed, it was still light outside.  It was an exciting and adventure-filled day.  

Latrabjarg Cliff

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