Day 104: taking the long way around

Today was a day my wife and I had planned to spend together, our twenty-third wedding anniversary.  Unfortunately, there were developments at home that made it impossible for her to travel just now, so we had to reschedule her visit to next month.  Still, I had some free time, so I decided to spend it doing something a little out of the ordinary:  I took a drive around Hvalfjörður.

Hvalfjörður (“whale-fjord”) is located just north of Reykjavik.  It’s a long, fairly deep body of water; it was visited frequently by US Navy and British Royal Navy ships during World War II, when there was a refueling station there for ships escorting convoys of men and materiel transiting between North America and Europe.  Some of the old buildings and fuel tanks still remain, but the facilities are largely abandoned.

Hvalfjordur - map
Hvalfjörður in western Iceland. The link across the mouth of the fjord is a 3-1/2 mile long undersea tunnel. Image credit: Wikimaps.

Until 1998, if you wanted to go to Akranes or Borgarnes, or further to the Snæfellsnes peninsula or to the Westfjords, you pretty much had to drive around Hvalfjörður.  It’s not a difficult drive – the road is in good condition – but because it follows the shoreline closely there are lots of twists and turns and it’s much longer than you might expect.  Also, it’s drop-dead gorgeous, so how can you not stop along the way?

In the late nineties, though, Icelanders built a tunnel under the fjord, cutting hours off the journey to the north.  Because it’s so much more convenient to use the tunnel, traffic around Hvalfjörður dropped to almost nothing.  On the one hand, that’s good, because there’s a much smaller impact on the natural environment.  On the other hand, though, it’s a shame – because fewer people actually get to see and enjoy the fjord when crossing it 500 feet below the water.

The fjord is surrounded by craggy mountains, which can either serve as a shelter against the wind or as a funnel turning the fjord into a wind tunnel … or sometimes both, alternating back and forth in a matter of minutes.  On this particular day the air was calm, and the mountain peaks spent most of their time playing hide-and-seek in the clouds.

Although the whales no longer make Hvalfjörður their home, there are schools of herring that thrive there.  I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised at finding this fellow sunning himself at the end of a makeshift pier after a big meal, but I was:

Seal of disapproval
That baleful look he gave me earned his nickname: the Seal of Disapproval.

I think he was surprised to see me, too.

As I headed deeper into the fjord, the sun began dipping below the taller mountains, making for some interesting interplay of light and shadow.

It also began cooling off a bit, which is why when I came across these sheep packing on some winter weight, I made a mental note to buy a sweater soon.

I’ve never seen an Icelandic sheep who looked cold.

I stayed at the end of the fjord to watch the sun go down.  There were no northern lights that evening, but perhaps that would have been overdoing things a bit.


After calling my wife to wish her a happy anniversary, it was time to head back to Reykjavik.  The sun had already set when I reached the mouth of the fjord, but it wasn’t dark; the memorial to John Lennon lit the way home.

Imagine that

Just imagine that.

All images by author except as specified in captions

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