East Iceland – the land of puffins

East Iceland is one of the least visited regions of the island by tourists. Although it seems a bit forgotten, for some reason omitted, not attractive – East Iceland has a lot to offer. You can find there, among others, picturesque fjords, breathtaking views and hundreds of waterfalls. Here the longest lake in Iceland is located, where the “sister” of the Loch Ness monster is said to live. There is also the largest forest on the island.

East Iceland is not only a fantastic flora but also an amazing fauna. You can find here not only herds of sheep but also puffins and reindeers. It is also worth adding that the climate is mildest in East Iceland, and in the summer months, there are some warm days, which is an exception compared to the rest of the island. It is also a region where earthquakes are less frequent than in the rest of the country.

East Iceland – going North of Hofn

Hofn – Road no. 1 – Djupivogur – Gledivik – Route no. 939 – Egilsstadir

East Iceland begins with the town of Hofn. Next, national road No. 1 leads north to the island. The route from Hofn follows the ocean’s coastline. It is worth taking your time on this road as the views are fantastic. There are several small coves on the route where you can park your car and enjoy the views. It is also worth stopping in a few small towns that you pass along the way.

Djupivogur

Although Djupivogur is a small settlement, it is a very picturesque one, situated between two fjords. There is one of the most important fishing ports on the island and one of the oldest commercial ports in Iceland. The one in Djupivogur has existed since the 16th century.

East Iceland - Djupivogur
East Iceland, Djupivogur

Old, historic houses also attract attention. The oldest house (red building), was built in 1780, and the next one (the black one) in 1848. One of them houses a small museum and a restaurant.

East Iceland - Djupivogur
East Iceland, Djupivogur

In 2013, Djupivogur joined a small group of Cittaslow cities – the International Network of Cities where Living is Good. The inhabitants of Djupivogur pay special attention to protecting the environment, promoting local products, and improving the quality of life.

It is worth stopping for lunch here. The Framtid hotel restaurant guarantees a table with a view of the bay and mountains and offers tasty local delicacies.

Iceland, Djupivogur, hotel Framtid
Djupivogur, hotel Framtid

When leaving the town, it is worth paying attention to the mountain in the perfect shape of a pyramid (1069 m above sea level), which is the symbol of Djupivogur.

Iceland, Djupivogur
Mountain in the perfect shape of a pyramid – symbol of Djupivogur.

Gledivik

A few kilometres outside the town of Djupivogur, it is worth stopping in the small village of Gledivik, commonly known as “Merry Bay”. There is an example of contemporary art. The granite sculpture “The Eggs of Merry Bay” by Sigurd Gudmundsson depicts 34 bird eggs that nests in Iceland. One of the eggs has a different colour and symbolizes a bird called the red-necked diver, considered the ornithological symbol of Djupivogur. It is a quaint tourist attraction.

Route 939 – “hidden treasure”

If you have time and do not have to get anywhere at a specific time, it is worth taking the main road No. 1 onto the local road 939. That is a variant of the route that will give you a pleasant surprise. Although you won’t find a description of this route in tourist guides, I think it’s worth making this trip. East Iceland offers many roads similar to road 939. if you get to this region, it is worth staying here for longer.

East Iceland, Road 939
East Iceland, Road 939

Because road 939 is gravel and bumpy, it can only be travelled by 4WD cars. This route is approx. 30 km long. You enter the top of the mountain range at an altitude of about 500 meters above sea level. It’s a great tour and has breathtaking views. Along the way, you can see a dozen waterfalls, small swift streams and flocks of sheep. This road is rarely travelled, so the chances are good that you will be there alone! There is silence everywhere, with the sky on all sides reaching as far as the horizon.

Egilsstadir

East Iceland has only one large city, Egilsstadir, which is unofficially known as the eastern capital. In 2021, this small town was inhabited by just over 2,500 people.

The city has developed well in agriculture and industry, and in recent years also in tourism. There is also a well-developed commercial network and accommodation facilities, including hotels, campsites and camping. The town also has a large swimming pool and a golf course. There are also several clubs here: jazz, theatre, opera studio and city choir.

Egilsstadir is also well connected with the rest of the country. The bus can take you to the north (Akureyri) and to the west (Reykjavik). There is also an airport that mainly serves domestic flights, but in an emergency, it is a substitute airport for international planes.

The great attractiveness of this place is influenced by its location on the eastern shore of Lake Lagarfljot. The legend has it that in the waters of this lake lives a monster, the sister of the famous Loch Ness monster.

Iceland, Egilsstadir, Lagarfljot Lake
Egilsstadir, Lagarfljot Lake

There are many smaller rivers and streams in the area where you can fish, for example – salmon and trout. That makes Egilsstadir more and more popular among tourists and fishing enthusiasts.

The largest campsite in this part of Iceland is immensely popular. Its great advantage is a very well-developed sanitary facility with access to a shared kitchen and laundry room. The laundry also can be used by people who do not live at the campsite. Just take a handful of coins with you to start the washing machine and dryer. There is the same fee for washing and drying. For each service, pay the equivalent of 800 KR (approx. 25 PLN).

Camping Egillstadir is open all year round. More about the campsite on the campegilsstadir website.

Around Lagarfjlot Lake

Egilsstadir – Route 931 – Route 910 – Hydroelectric power station – Route 923 – Road no. 1 – Egilsstadir

When visiting East Iceland, take a drive around Lagarfjlot Lake. That is a half-day trip (4-5 hours). When you start your journey from Egilsstadir, take route no. 931.

Iceland, Road no. 931
Road no. 931

The vicinity of the lake is very picturesque, devoid of urban buildings, quite austere – which makes it truly beautiful.

There is also a tourist information point on the route, with a story about the lake monster, with all dates when locals saw him in the lake.

Then the route runs along road 910. It is worth taking this road slowly, without haste. Be careful, especially since the sheep “rule” the area, and often walks in the middle of the road.

Along the way, numerous smaller and larger waterfalls, rushing rivers, and endless “wilderness” with large boulders scattered around.

Iceland, Road no. 931

This place is called Nordastafell and is part of the stories described in the Icelandic Saga.

Hydroelectric power station Kárahnjúkar

East Iceland, Kárahnjúkar Hydroelectric power station
Iceland, Kárahnjúkar Hydroelectric power station

A dozen or so kilometres behind the lake, you reach the place where there is an impressive and very modern hydroelectric power plant – Kárahnjúkar Hydropower Plant. There is an imposing dam on the shores of a Halslon reservoir. It is 730 meters long and almost 200 meters high and is the largest structure of this type in Europe. The power plant was open in 2009. Was built by the largest aluminium smelter in the country, who is located 75 km away. The smelter belongs to the second-largest aluminium producer in the world – the Alcoa Fjardaál concern.

It is a high-level technical achievement that makes perfect use of renewable energy sources. The power plant project was complex and difficult in terms of implementation. It required the separation of the two largest rivers flowing from the Vatnajökull glacier with five dams and creating three water reservoirs. The water from the reservoirs flows through a tunnel carved in the rock with a length of 40 km. At the end of the tunnel, the water descends from a height of 600 meters, driving six large electric turbines inside the Vaifjofssader mountain. The water flow is 144 m³ / s.

Walking the dam

The dam seen up close is very impressive. You can not only drive your car over the dam but there is also a safe walking path. The ridge of the dam can be walked along its entire length. Therefore, the entire structure can be seen from a close distance while standing on its top. It’s an outstanding experience. No tolls, as the crossing over the dam is part of the 910 routes, where the standard traffic takes place.

Iceland, Kárahnjúkar Hydroelectric power station, Halslon reservoir
Iceland, Halslon reservoir

After crossing the dam, road 910 becomes very demanding – very gravel and bumpy. It is worth having a car with a powerful engine and a 4-wheel drive. This section of the road leads to the top of the mountain range, almost 800 m heigh above sea level.

The route continues as road 923. There are several places on this road that overlook beautiful canyons and waterfalls.

Basalt Canyon – Stuðlagil Canyon

The Stuðlagil Canyon is considered the “diamond of nature” of East Iceland. It was discovered by tourists quite recently, in 2007, after the construction of the Kárahnjúkavirkjun hydroelectric power plant. The postglacial river that once flowed through the canyon – has been diverted by the Kárahnjúkar dam. That has reduced the water level and exposed the basalt walls of the canyon.

It is considered that the stretch of the Stuðlagil River is home to Iceland’s largest collection of basalt columns found on land. The canyon is 500 meters long, and there are basalt columns on both sides of the river. Their height reaches up to 30 meters. The colour of the river in the canyon varies depending on the season. During summer, it has shades of blue-green, but when the dam gets overfill with water and when snow is melting, the colour of the water turns to grey-brown.

Road 923 leads to the canyon. There are parking lots at both ends of the canyon. You can see the canyon from both banks of the river and go down to its bottom. Viewing the canyon from the perspective of road 923 is convenient. An observation deck at the end of the walking path provides a view on both sides of the river.

Where to cross the canyon

You can also view the canyon from the other side of the river, but this tour requires a long walk. To get to the place where there are basalt columns, you need to walk for about 5 km along the canyon edge (on one way). However, it is worth using this option, because there are much fewer tourists on the other side of the river, and you can see this beautiful place from a different perspective. Being on that side of the canyon allows descending to its bottom and swimming in the river.

Below is a map showing the location of the two car parks in detail. Check studlagil-canyon website to get more information.

Iceland, Studlagil Canyon
Image via: https://studlagil.is/location/

The canyon is truly phenomenal and worth seeing. Even when crossing the national road No. 1 – it is worth making up for that road because there aren’t many such places on Earth.

Rjukandi waterfall

Coming back to Egilstadir on the national road No. 1, it is worth stopping by a few waterfalls. There are a lot of them here. Some of them can be seen directly from the road. We stopped at the Rjukandi waterfall. It is 139 meters high, and you can easily climb to its top because there is a marked path to it.

East Iceland – the land of puffins

Egilsstadir – Route 94 – Vatnsskard Storurd – Njardvik Screes – Borgarfjörður Eystri – Bakkagerði – Egilsstadir

East Iceland is a favourite nesting place for puffins – water birds that lay their eggs on cliffs and raise their chicks every year. Seeing those birds here is a real treat because this species occurs only in a few places in the world.

Puffins inhabit the islands, shores and waters of the Northern and Central Arctic Ocean. Despite the large population, their species are threatened with extinction. Therefore, the puffin population in Iceland is under strict protection. Those birds can be seen from a distance or from dedicated wooden terraces. However, it is not allowed to go to the places where their nests are located.

Puffins arouse great sympathy due to their funny and lovable appearance. It is easy to like them: a small red curved beak, a large round head, white and grey plumage and short red legs. Fun Fact: Scientists recently discovered that the puffin’s beaks are fluorescent. The explanation might be that it helps them during the night fishing and mating season when they want to stand out. A true wonder. More information about puffins at puffins.is

In the vicinity of Egilsstadir, puffins are the easiest to see on the small island of Hafnarholmi, where they nest from May to mid-August. Road no. 94 leads there. On the way, you pass herds of sheep, high mountains, green meadows and beautiful cliffs. Travel time from Egilsstadir is approximately 1 hour each way.

Route no. 94

Route No. 94 is gravel and leads through the tops of the mountains. You enter it to an altitude of about 500 meters above sea level. On the way, it is worth stopping at the place where the magnificent viewpoint is – Vatnsskard – Storurd.

Iceland, Vatnsskard - Storurd view point
Vatnsskard – Storurd view point

From this place, there is a breathtaking view of the ocean shore, mountains and valleys. I recommend it!

At the end of road 94, there is a tiny bay, harbour and the island of Hafnarholmi. There is a small observation deck on-site from which you can admire these extraordinary birds.

Borgarfjörður Eystri

On the way back, we had a short stop in Borgarfjörður Eystri – also known as the Icelandic capital of the puffins. This tiny village has a population of around 100 and has a lot to offer. There is, among others – a small port from which you can take a boat to the island where puffins nest. Such an expedition allows seeing the puffins up close – from less than 2 meters distance.

Iceland, Höfn Borgarfirð
Höfn Borgarfirð

Borgarfjörður Eystri also prides itself on having the most inhabited Elvish settlements in this region of Iceland and a nice variety of hiking trails. That area not only boasts of its spectacular scenery but also offers a good selection of accommodation and services available in the village of Bakkagerði. Borgarfjörður Eystri is Iceland’s most northernmost fjord. It is only an hour away from national road No. 1, but it is a place very rarely visited by tourists. That makes it highly attractive: no crowds, silence, beautiful nature and breathtaking views.

The village of Bakkagerði also has a small church and a charming cottage house with a turf-covered grass roof – the Lindarbakki Turf House.

Iceland, Lindarbakki Turf House
Lindarbakki Turf House

The oldest parts of this house are over 120 years old. Lindarbakki Turf House is still inhabited and serves as a summer house. The last owner, an elderly lady, Elísabet Sveinsdóttir, also known as Stella, lives there from May to August. When you knock on her door, she gladly shows her house to tourists.

You can read more about the Borgarfjörður Eystri region on the website borgarfjordureystri.is.

Iceland, Borgarfjörður Eystri
Borgarfjörður Eystri

Njardvik Screes

East Iceland - Njardvik Screes
Iceland, Road no. 94, Njardvik Screes

We returned to Egilstaddir during the sunset. The road on the shore of the ocean, the setting sun, mountains and a distant horizon in the background – these are unforgettable impressions. There was a feast of beautiful colours, single rays of the sun scattered by the clouds and reflections of light reflected in the calm waters of the ocean. Amazing views and magical moments.

East Iceland - Njardvik Screes
Iceland, Road no. 94, Njardvik Screes

The section of Road no. 94 between Njarðvík (Stórurð Trail Head) and Bakkagerði, called Njardvik Screes, makes a great impression on this route. This narrow road, right on the shore of the ocean, was opened in 1950. Previously, that section of the road could only be travelled on foot or horseback. The road was dangerous, mainly due to frequent avalanches, landslides and the slippery surface covered with volcanic ash. This road was also very dangerous due to another reason. A monster named Naddi lived in a cave hidden in the nearby mountains. It was half-human (waist up) and half animal (waist down).

The monster attacked travellers – robbed their belongings and many times killed them as well. After many years of torment, the monster was killed by a local farmer. He managed to push it into the ocean.

The story of the wooden cross

In memory of those who died from the hand of that creature, the farmer put a wooden cross on the road. In this way, he paid tribute to the fallen. On the cross, he placed an inscription in Latin: “You who are passing here, get down on your knees before the cross in this place and humbly show the sign of Christ worship.”  The legend says that the first cross stood there in 1306, but there are no records on this subject. The cross that stands on the road today stood in 1954 – a few years after the road was open.

There is a small bay on site where you can stop your car to admire this magical place in peace.

Iceland, my other post

I encourage you as well to read my other posts about Iceland

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