Avalanche Warning in the Westfjords

The Icelandic Met Office has issued an orange warning, the second highest rating, for the Westfjords due to weather conditions that include the danger of avalanches.

A yellow warning is currently in effect for the entire northwest quadrant of Iceland due to high winds and snowfall. In the Westfjords, winds ranging from 15 to 23 metres per second are expected, along with heavy snowfall. Those winds are expected to intensify over the night.

Heavy snowfall and high winds over an area characterised by tall and steep mountains has the combined effect of all the conditions for an avalanche, and the Met Office has issued an avalanche warning for the northern portion of the Westfjords.

Mercifully, it is not believed that these avalanches will reach near any human settlements, although that may change. Roads may find themselves suddenly cut off due to avalanches, and given the forecast weather conditions, rescuing anyone trapped on the roads in an avalanche would be very challenging.

As with any orange warning, it is strongly advised that any travel plans in the area during this time are cancelled. Conditions are expected to clear come Tuesday but, as is often the case with weather in Iceland, this too may be subject to change.

Exploring the Westfjords in 24, 48, and 72 hours

Summer in Hornstrandir, Westfjords.

With many unpaved, narrow and meandering mountain roads, the Westfjords are a place of slow and careful travel. Seemingly short distances can be long in reality, which will be your main obstacle when visiting the Westfjords with a limited amount of days at hand. Having a predetermined plan with estimated travel times can come in handy to tackle this, but being flexible is also key. Most importantly, though, enjoy the scenic journey, not just the destinations!

Day one

7-9 AM

Make your way to the Westfjords. If you have a long drive before reaching them, for example, travelling from Reykjavík, we recommend heading off at 7 AM to make the most of your day. The itinerary includes lunch and dinner stops where you can buy food, but pack something to snack on between meals. 

11:30 PM

Your first stop will be for lunch at Flókalundur in Vatnsfjörður fjord. If you brought your own lunch, head up to the campsite picnic tables or spread out on the grass by the shore. You can also purchase lunch at Hótel Flókalundur. 

12:30 PM

Depart from Flókalundur and drive to your next destination: Rauðisandur Beach.  The journey will take a bit more than an hour. Rauðisandur, or Red Sand, is a truly magnificent place picked as one of the top 100 beaches of the world by Lonely Planet. The beach, stretching for 12-13 km [7.5-8 miles], gets its name from the uniquely pink and reddish shades of its sand, stemming from the shell of the Icelandic Scallop.

A mountain road in the Westfjords.
Photo: Golli. A mountain road in the Westfjords.

2:30 PM

Head off to your next destination, which is the renowned Dynjandi Waterfall. 100 metres [328 feet] tall and spreading out on the cliffs like a veil, it‘s a spectacular sight. You can hike up to the waterfall on a rocky path, passing by several other smaller waterfalls on the way. The area is a natural protected monument, so please stay on the paths to help preserve it. To take in more of the Westfjords’ unique landscape on the way to Dynjandi, opt for road 63 rather than 62, which you drove from Flókalundur. The drive will be about 2 hours. Should you be in need of an atmospheric snack spot before you arrive at Dynjandi, stop by the Abandoned Barn of Fossfjörður fjord. 

5:30 PM

If you‘re not planning on staying the night in the Westfjords, this is the time to circle back. If you are staying, drive the 50-minute drive to Ísafjörður for dinner at Húsið restaurant. Their fish soup is particularly popular among guests and a must-try if you haven‘t had Icelandic fish soup yet. For those not ready to go to bed after dinner, we recommend driving to the Bolafjall mountain viewing platform, which has an absolutely breathtaking view of the mountains and ocean lying before it. For lodgings, we recommend The Little House or Einarshúsið Guesthouse in Bolungarvík, a small village 15 minutes from the platform. 

Day two

8 AM

Start your day off with a Kringla and Kókómjólk at Kaffihús Bakarans bakery in Ísafjörður. This is a classic Icelandic combo of torus-shaped carraway bread and chocolate milk. 

9:30 AM

Head off on a guided trip to Hesteyri, a tiny village deserted in 1952. Now, it serves as a summer resort for local owners and is a popular starting point for hikers exploring the Hornstrandir Nature Reserve. Due to its isolation and lack of inhabitants, nature has been left mostly undisturbed. As a result, you will experience Iceland’s most pristine flora and fauna, with wildflowers spreading over the entire area and arctic foxes running between them. You can bring lunch or order it from the local cafe, The Doctor‘s House.

Note: The trip to Hesteyri can only be made from the beginning of June to the end of August. 

An arctic fox on a beach in Hornstrandir, Westfjords.
Photo: Golli. An arctic fox on a beach in Hornstrandir, Westfjords.

2:30 PM

When you get back, take a walk around town and pop into the Westfjords Heritage Museum to gain a better insight into the Westfjord‘s culture and maritime history. If you‘re cold and tired, you can also make your way straight to your accommodations for the night: Heydalur farm guesthouse. There, you‘ll be able to take refuge in their unique swimming pool and natural hot spring before having a delicious locally sourced dinner. If you‘re yet to try the Icelandic lamb, we highly recommend having the lamb fillet. The drive from Ísafjörður to Heydalur will take a bit less than two hours. If your plans do not include another night in the Westfjords, you can start your journey back after dinner.

Day three

8 AM

For your last day in the Westfjords, you‘ll head over to the north side for an adventure in Strandir straight after breakfast. Your destination is Krossneslaug, a small swimming pool on a beach in the middle of nowhere. It‘s probably the most remote swimming pool you‘ll find in Iceland. It‘s been in use since 1954 and has a terrific view of the ocean, where you might be able to spot some whales if you‘re lucky. The drive will take about 3 hours, which sounds like a lot but don‘t worry; half of it is on the most scenic road you can take in Iceland.

Note: Due to road conditions, Krossneslaug can only be reached from mid-May to the end of August.

Krossneslaug swimming pool in Westfjords.
Photo: Golli. Krossneslaug swimming pool in Westfjords.

12:30 PM

Begin the 50-minute drive to Djúpavík, a historical, abandoned and enchanting village where you can have a late lunch at Hótel Djúpavík and a guided tour of the old herring factory. The village is known for its ability to take you back in time and was one of the filming locations of the 2017 Justice League.

3:30 PM

It‘s time to venture back to civilisation for the last stop of your Westfjords tour. The Museum of Icelandic Sorcery and Witchcraft is located in Hólmavík, and it will take you approximately an hour and a half to get there from Djúpavík. The museum offers you to step into the time of Galdrafárið, the witch hunt hysteria, and learn about the lives of people in Strandir during that period. The latest time to enter is 5:30 PM, so make sure to leave Djúpavík no later than 3:30 PM. This should give you about an hour to explore, as the drive takes approximately an hour and a half. End your day with a scrumptious meal at Café Riis in Hólmavík, which serves high-quality Icelandic classics and pizzas. 

Coastal Fishermen Oppose Lumpfish Quotas

lumpfish

Coastal fishermen in Patreksfjörður, the Westfjords, oppose the introduction of quotas for lumpfish, RÚV reports. They say the current system can be improved without resorting to a quota system. Previous experience shows that quotas consolidate in the hands of few owners, the fishermen state.

Arguments for quota don’t hold water

Gunnar Ingvi Bjarnason stated that the current coastal fishing system is accessible to newcomers, with a licence costing just ISK 22,000 [$160, €147]. “If a quota system is set up, people will have to buy quota,” he stated. Einar Helgason of the coastal fishing association Krókur, based in Patreksfjörður, says that coastal fishermen are generally against quotas and that the arguments for setting a lumpfish quota are weak. According to Einar, lumpfish are not a species that is overfished, which is what quota systems are put in place to prevent.

Gunnar Ingvi adds that quota setting will not address the issue of bycatch, another concern expressed by authorities.

Read More: Taking Stock of Iceland’s Coastal Fishing Industry

The coastal fishing system was established 16 years ago with the goal of creating opportunities for smaller, independent fishers. It is not based around a quota system like open-sea fishing is in Iceland and has a relatively low cost of entry. Coastal fishing has a positive economic effect on many rural areas across Iceland.

Iceland Weather: Storms, Road Closures, and Avalanche Risk

winter tires reykjavík

Iceland’s Ring Road (Route 1) is currently closed over Öxnadalsheiði heath, between Akureyri and Reykjavík, due to weather. Yellow weather warnings have also been issued across much of the country today due to strong winds. The Icelandic Met Office declared an “uncertainty phase” in the East Fjords this morning due to the risk of avalanches.

Seyðisfjörður alavanche risk

There was heavy precipitation in Seyðisfjörður last night, with continuing precipitation at higher elevations and a strong E-ENE wind in the mountains, according to a notice from the Icelandic Met Office. Precipitation should slow throughout the day, and the wind speed is expected to slow and change direction to a northerly. Experts are monitoring conditions closely.

Strong winds and blowing snow

Gale-force winds are expected today across much of Iceland, including the Westfjords, West, North, East, and Southeast. Wind speeds in these areas could reach speeds of 20 metres per second. Blowing snow is in the forecast for most of these regions as well. Poor driving conditions can be expected as a result of weather, as well as traffic disruptions and road closures.

Travellers and affected residents are encouraged to monitor weather and road conditions before setting out.

Balancing the Scales

escaped farmed fish iceland

Protest On Saturday, October 7, a tractor trundled through the streets of downtown Reykjavík with hundreds of protestors in tow. The procession was headed to Austurvöllur Square in front of Iceland’s Parliament for a demonstration.Several organisations – including Landvernd (the Icelandic Environment Association) and the Icelandic Wildlife Fund – had organised the event to protest […]

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Three New Rescue Ships for ICE-SAR

Jóhannes Briem ICE-SAR ship search and rescue

Three new rescue ships have been added to Iceland’s Search and Rescue organisation ICE-SAR’s fleet recently, including the Jóhannes Briem. The latter ship’s home port is Reykjavík, where it was handed over to ICE-SAR team Ársæll on Saturday. ICE-SAR is working on renewing its fleet to improve accident prevention and response across Iceland.

Jóhannes Briem was built in Finland at the Kewatec shipyards. It has a cruising speed of up to 30 nautical miles and is powered by two powerful Scania diesel engines and worm drives. It contains state-of-the-art equipment including a thermal camera and side-scan sonar, as well as having better crew equipment than the association’s older ships.

Jóhannes Briem is the third ship of its kind acquired by ICE-SAR recently, with the other two going to search and rescue teams in Flateyri, in the Westfjords and Húsavík, North Iceland.

At Jóhannes Briem’s handover, ICE-SAR announced it had already ordered a fourth ship, which is to be based in Snæfellsnes, West Iceland.

Stricter Policy for Fish Farms Following Escapes

Golli. Norwegian divers catch escaped farmed salmon in an Icelandic river, October 2023

Minister of Fisheries Svandís Svavarsdóttir presented the draft of a new legal framework for fish farming in Iceland yesterday. The draft proposes increased monitoring of fish farms and requiring licence holders to pay “a fair price” for the use of natural resources. Escaped salmon from open-net fish farms in the Westfjords have been found in rivers across Northwest Iceland and the Westfjords in recent weeks, threatening the survival of the country’s wild salmon.

“Fee collection from the sector must reflect that [fish farming] is a matter of utilising limited resources,” Svandís stated. “It is fundamental that those who profit from the use of the country’s natural resources pay a fair price for it. But it is equally important that we set ourselves ambitious, measurable goals in environmental matters and set a timetable on the way to those goals.” The objectives and strategy in the draft extend to the year 2040 and the action plan to the year 2028.

Companies can lose farming licences if fish escape

The draft also includes additional funding for research and monitoring of fish farms, to be carried out by the Food and Veterinary Authority (MAST) and the Marine and Freshwater Research Institute (Hafrannsóknastofnun). At a press conference yesterday, the Head Secretary of the Food and Agriculture Ministry Kolbeinn Árnason stated that the new regulations would be enforce through the introduction of both positive and negative incentives.

“With tax incentives on the one hand, positive incentives so that people invest in equipment so that the risk [of escaped fish] will be lower,” Kolbeinn stated. “Then we have negative incentives, which include that the company will bear responsibility for escape incidents. The consequences for a company of such an escape will be in the form of the government stripping that company of a permanent fish farming licence.”

Read More: Damning Report on Iceland’s Fish Farming Industry

The draft regulations also propose limiting farming in each fjord to a single company in order to facilitate investigation in the case of escaped fish and to limit the spread of disease. There are currently multiple fjords where more than one company is operating fish farms, particularly in the Westfjords. Companies would have until 2028 to swap licences so that only one company is operating in each zone.

Open-net salmon farms dominate industry

Open-net fish farming in Icelandic waters has grown more than tenfold between 2014 and 2021. Yearly production rose from under 4,000 tonnes to nearly 45,000 tonnes over this period. More than 99% of that production was farmed salmon.

The export value of agricultural products in 2021 was more than ISK 36 billion [$254 million; 237 million]. Most of that figure, or 76%, was farmed salmon, according to RÚV. The aquaculture industry has played a role in supporting development in the Westfjords and Eastfjords, but the largest fish farming companies in Iceland are Norwegian-owned. Escaped salmon from fish farms threatens the survival of wild salmon in Iceland through genetic mixing as well as the spread of disease.

Farmed Salmon Caught in Rivers Across Northwest Iceland

aquaculture farm iceland

Escaped farmed salmon may be swimming in at least eight salmon fishing rivers in Northwest Iceland and the Westfjords. Farmed salmon pose a threat to the survival of wild salmon in Iceland. Two holes were found on a salmon farm net in Patreksfjörður in the Westfjords earlier this month. Authorities are conducting DNA analysis to determine whether fish caught in the rivers came from the Patreksfjörður farm.

Risk of genetic mixing

“Just in the last few days the reports have been pouring in and we seem to have at least eight confirmed cases, in eight different fishing areas, and that is a serious matter. And it remains to be confirmed through samples and research if or where these farmed salmon are from, but these are experienced anglers and guides who have handled these fish and it seems quite clear that this is the case,” Gunnar Örn Petersen, the CEO of The Federation of Icelandic River Owners (Landssamband veiðifélaga) told RÚV.

Gunnar says the salmon that have been caught are similar in size to those that were in the salmon farm in Patreksfjörður, though they could be fry that escaped from the sea pen in Arnarfjörður in 2021. He called the situation the environmental disaster that the federation has warned of since open-net fish farms began operating in Iceland.

“Whether we are talking about the diseases or massive death [of fish in the farms] or salmon lice beyond all limits and now it seems to be happening right here in front of your eyes that genetic mixing is happening. And genetic mixing is irreversible damage that no countermeasures can prevent and that we can’t reverse. It is therefore clear that open-net sea farming will be the final blow for Icelandic salmon stocks if the government doesn’t take the reins.” As many as 3,500 salmon may have escaped from the Patreksfjörður farm, which is owned by company Arctic Sea Farm.

Escaped salmon not unexpected, says fisheries spokesperson

Heiðrún Lind Marteinsdóttir, CEO of Fisheries Iceland, stated that escaped salmon in Icelandic rivers were “not unexpected. The fact that salmon enter a salmon fishing river does not mean genetic mixing,” she argued. “The fact that salmon mixes with wild salmon in some cases does not mean that the wild population is endangered. This has to be a sustained significant situation not just for a year but for decades,” she stated in a Kastljós interview.

Heiðrún says that the risk assessment of genetic mix states that the percentage of farmed salmon in Icelandic rivers can go up to 4% without endangering the wild salmon populations. According to Heiðrún, the percentage across Iceland is currently 0.09%. Gunnar Örn argued that the percentage of farmed salmon in some smaller rivers has, however, reached 4%, “and of course, we believe that those salmon stocks are also important.”

What’s the status of the Ísafjörður cruise ship terminal?

ísafjörður cruise ship

In 2022, Ísafjörður, a town with a population of around 2,700, received some 86,000 passengers from cruise ships alone and predictions only have cruise ships increasing in this remote region of Iceland. Ísafjörður, the 13th-largest town in Iceland, is its 3rd-busiest port of call for cruise ships.

Indeed, due to the volume of cruise traffic to the town, Ísafjörður port manager Guðmundur M. Kristjánsson recently stated to Vísir that they have not been able to keep up with demand and have had to turn away some prospective visitors.

Because of the ever-increasing scale of cruise ship traffic, local authorities have begun an ISK 1 billion [$7.6 million, €6.8] expansion to the Ísafjörður harbour.

Construction on the project began in 2021 and aims to expand the harbour by developing the Sundabakki area. Upon completion, the harbour will be able to accommodate two large cruise ships at a time.

In the annual financial plan of Ísafjarðarbær, Ísafjörður Harbor is expected to take in ISK 500 million [$3.8 million, €3.4 million]. Of this total, 344 million ISK comes from foreign parties.