Sunday, December 27, 2015

Iceland Adventures: Westfjords – Látrabjarg Cliffs & Rauðasandur

Iceland Adventures – Westfjords – Látrabjarg Cliffs & Rauðasandur – 6 km - 8/24/15

“Ferry Baldur sails all year long over Breiðafjörður Bay from Stykkishólmur to Brjánslækur.”  Which of you can read that aloud correctly?

Fortunately, you don’t have to.  You can just drive your rental car onto the boat.  Which we did.  (If you are planning a trip, the pricing is complicated, depends on the size of your vehicle.  Check here.)

 The 2.5-hour ferry ride saved some time and offered a unique experience crossing the bay.  We grabbed comfortable seats inside the salon area and took turns venturing out into yet another cold, blustery day.  Although we had brought food for lunch, Mike was happy to get pizza from the onboard café.  (Mike is happiest when he can buy a hot meal.) 

Yes, it is daytime and, yes, that is the sun

We passed this small island with its lonely house.  A crew member we were talking with explained that his family owns it.  It’s available as emergency shelter for anyone who needs it in bad weather. 

A midpoint stop crossing the bay is Flatey, the only island with year-round inhabitants.  We didn’t plan a stop, but many people do, taking the first ferry of the day and catching a later one to continue on to the Westfjords.  No cars are allowed on Flatey, but you can send your car ahead and it will be unloaded from the ferry and parked waiting for you on the mainland. (Read more about Flatey here and you will want to see it for yourself.)

When we drove off the ferry at Brjánslækur, we turned left onto Route 62 (the only road), headed to the tip of the Látrabjarg Peninsula to walk on the Látrabjarg Cliffs, the westernmost point of Europe.  The small road skirted along the southern shore and then cut across to join even smaller Route 612, which continued along the northern shore of the peninsula, eventually leaving pavement behind for teeth-rattling hard packed dirt and gravel.  In places the road hugged the steep cliffs so tightly that I felt the urge to lean to the middle of the car to keep us from plunging into the fjord.  We passed an incredibly narrow air strip located between the road and the water. 

The Bjargtangar lighthouse at Látrabjarg Cliffs

Látrabjarg Cliffs is famous for its abundant bird life, cormorants, fulmars, gulls, kittiwakes, razorbills, and what we came to see:  Atlantic puffins, the most populous bird in Iceland.  Sadly, we were a couple of weeks too late for them and saw only their prodigious droppings along the cliff walls.  Paul spotted one black bird with a white belly, perhaps the last one to leave for winter habitat in the waters off the coasts of Greenland and Newfoundland. 

Getting that Cliffs of Moher (Ireland) vibe

Walking along the Látrabjarg Cliffs

Látrabjarg Cliffs

Missing the puffins was anti-climatic, but still here we are in Iceland!  The rawness of the air, the crashing of the waves against the rocks, the complete absence of warning signs and guard rails that plague similar sites in the U.S. were thrilling. 

Mike and me having a look-see at the cliff edge

Walking back toward the lighthouse

Back in the car, we made a brief stop at Breiðavik Guesthouse near Breiðavik’s golden sand beach, considered one of Iceland’s best beaches (photo taken from a moving car).  During our planning we had considered staying here, but opted for the town of Patreksfjördur as a better stopping point to end our day. 
The church at Breiðavik

Backtracking along Route 612 and turning right onto what we decided was Route 614 (no sign, just another rutted dirt road), we felt our way along to Rauðasandur, an exquisite red sand beach highlighted by Lonely Planet.  Parked near a homestead with the obligatory church.

With the requisite cemetery around back.

A field of giant marshmallows (rolled hay bales)

Someone had fun making trail signs across their field toward the beach

Although there were footprints from other travelers, the beach was deserted as we wandered up and down, picking up purple and black seashells.  Walking along any beach draws you further and further along, and here the vastness of the scene, hopeless to capture adequately, the colors of the sand, the smoky clouds obscuring the cliffs, combined to stop time.  Such a spectacular experience.

And then seeing sheep on the beach sent it all over the top. 

We tore ourselves away and headed toward Patreksfjördur and our cute home for the night, one bedroom downstairs, two upstairs, one full bath with a washer/dryer.

A tiny kitchen

And a cozy living room (with wifi!)

Looking out our front door

We enjoyed a late supper of vegetable quiche and more white ale at Stúkuhúsid, a lovely coffeehouse-type restaurant on the waterfront that I found later in the Lonely Planet guidebook too.  (This isn’t because we are geniuses, it’s because towns in the Westfjords are so small that dining options are few, but fortunately are very good.)  Took this photo from the deck of the restaurant.

From Stúkuhúsid I called Jim for the first time on the trip; it felt great to touch base, trying to share some of our experiences.  Afterwards the others dropped me off at our house while they went to restock at the only grocery store and wash our very dirty rental SUV.  I really enjoyed a little down time alone.  Tomorrow it’s the back seat again!

“I often think of that rare fulfilling joy when you are in the presence of some wonderful alignment of events. Where the light, the colour, the shapes, and the balance all interlock so perfectly that I feel truly overwhelmed by the wonder of it.”  ~Charlie Waite

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