August 14, 2022
View from the Kaldbakur Top

A Tale of Two Fantastic Fjords, Tunnels and a Dangerous Mountain Road

It is a characteristic of the Westfjords fjords that the lowlands are rather small. In my opinion, there are two incredibly beautiful fjords in the northern Westfjords that stand out in this respect. These fjords are side by side, separated by a beautiful road pass. They also have in common that they are two of the most beautiful fjords in Iceland, in my opinion. And they have a lot more in common when you look closely.

These are the fjords of Onundarfjordur and Dyrafjordur. When coming from the south of the Westfjords, you first go to Dyrafjordur through a new tunnel between Arnarfjordur and Dyrafjordur. When coming from the north, you go through the Westfjords Tunnel from the town of Isafjordur and first go to Onundarfjordur. Between the fjords is a beautiful road pass called Gemlufallsheidi.

Onundarfjordur and Westfjords Tunnel Entrance

Dyrafjordur

When driving down from Gemlufallsheidi on the north side, you see Dyrafjordur in all its beauty along with mountains that the West Fjords in everyday life call the Westfjords Alps. The mountains in the Westfjords are usually rather flat at the top, but the mountains between Dyrafjordur and Arnarfjordur stand out with their beautiful peaks. The highest mountain in the Westfjords is one of them, and it is called Kaldbakur. It is rather easy for most people to climb Kaldbakur if you follow a well-known hiking trail. The view from the top is magnificent.

The Westfjords Alps
The Westfjords Alps

By the fjord to the south is the village of Thingeyri. In recent decades, the number of people in the village has decreased significantly because the fish quota was sold locally and fish processing was largely discontinued. But now positive winds are starting to blow on Thingeyri again. A few years ago, a vigorous aquaculture program was started, which provides jobs for many villagers and has helped the community to resist and develop further into the future.

Dyrafjordur Fjord

On the north side of the fjord is a remarkable place called Nupur, which was formerly a boarding school. In recent years, hotels have been run there during the summer, but intermittently. What makes Nupur so significant, in my opinion, is that it is the first botanical garden in Iceland. The garden is called Skrudur and it can be said that he also created a new word in the Icelandic language where the word “skrúðgarður” has since been used in everyday speech for botanical gardens.

Skudur Botanical Garden

For my family, Dyrafjordur is an endless source of fun memories. There you can drive around and see nature and the landscape, walk in the fjord, experience the wonderful vegetation in Skrudur or stop the car and find comfortable or demanding mountains to climb. All kinds of events are organized in Dyrafjordur this summer, and you can see what is available here.

Viking Arena Thingeyri Dyrafjordur

Onundarfjordur

Whether you come from the north or the south to Onundarfjordur, the fjord and the beautiful, majestic mountains are visible everywhere you look. In Onundarfjordur there are many beautiful valleys and there is one of the largest lowlands in the Westfjords. Inside the bridge that crosses the fjord is a lagoon where there are floods and tides. There is a lot of bird life, and it is fun to walk on the beach and see nature in its most primitive and beautiful form.

When driving around Onundarfjordur, the white sandy beach, named after the Holt vicarage, is very prominent. The beach is, to say the least, one of the most wonderful places there is. There is an annual sandcastle competition for merchants’ weekend where young and old make the most incredible works of art. There is a very picturesque pier which played an important role when a human avalanche fell on the village of Flateyri in 1995 and people and supplies had to be transported as the roads were closed due to snow.

The Iconic Pier in Onundarfjordur

The village of Flateyri has been going through a difficult time since the avalanche. As in Thingeyri, the fish quota was sold from the village some time ago and there was a large decrease in population as a result and due to the avalanche. Prominent in the village is the huge avalanche protection that was set up to protect the village. Recent avalanches have shown that the fortifications are insufficient and further improvements are being made.

The Village of Flateyri as seen from the Avalanche Barrier

Breidadalsheidi Mountain Road and Westfjords Tunnel

Before the Westfjords Tunnel was opened in 1996, the only way to Isafjordur from Onundarfjordur was over a difficult and dangerous 610 meter high mountain road called Breidadalsheidi . The mountain road was often closed due to snow, especially in one place called Kinn (Cheek). Today, this old mountain road is a popular hiking trail. We hiked it last year from Onundarfjordur and came down to Skutulsfjordur, where the town of Isafjordur is located. The hiking trail is easy for most, but steep, and there has been a lot of rockfall in the famous Kinn.

The Famous Kinn (Cheek)

This old mountain road has been a part of our family. 33 years ago, my sister had to go to the hospital in Isafjordur to give birth. The mountain road was closed due to snow and bad weather, and it was decided to cross it by snowmobile. Fortunately, everything went well, but this shows the situation that people lived in not so long ago.

The Westfjords Tunnel has truly been a breakthrough in transport in the northern Westfjords. The tunnel connected settlements that were closed for many months of the year due to snow and storms. The tunnel is the longest tunnel in Iceland as it has three arms and two of them are single-span. The reason was that the choice was between building these tunnels, which were 15% cheaper than double-wide tunnels, or not, and the result was the Westfjords tunnel. Despite these shortcomings, they have fulfilled their role with splendor and improved road safety, communication between settlements, and made the northern part of the Westfjords a single business area.

Westfjords Tunnel Entrance in Isafjordur

Construction of the Westfjords Tunnel was at one time delayed because a large waterfall opened underground in the middle of the tunnel. Although the waterfall delayed the work, it was a great blessing because now this underground waterfall provides the residents of Isafjordur Town with fresh, clean water as well as the drainage has been harnessed to generate electricity.

River Running from the Westfjords Tunnel

If you visit the Westfjords, I hope you visit at least one of these previously mentioned places. I recommend them all and you will not be disappointed because a day in two fantastic fjords and hiking the Breidadalsheidi mountain pass is a day you will never forget.

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