I had spent close to twelve months obsessively googling Westfjords, that part of Iceland that remains relatively free from tourism, particularly in the shoulder season. In May 2018, I flew to Reykjavik to go and see it for real. I decided, it turns out unwisely, that a Toyota Yaris would be perfectly adequate for exploring the dirt-track-clinging-to-the-side-of-a-sheer-cliff roads of Westfjords. When I told the lady working the Avis desk that I was going to Westfjords in said car, she paused, looked up and exclaimed “In that?” – nodding to the Yaris outside the window. “Err…yes” I replied sheepishly. “You’re going to need this” she said, unfolding a drivers guide to Iceland and turning it to the page on dirt roads. She wasn’t wrong.
Let’s get it out of the way, this was primarily a road trip. But I experienced 48 hours in a place so excruciatingly beautiful I don’t want to go back in case I spoil the memories. My first destination was the amazing campsite at Melanes. I got in the Yaris, realised the steering wheel wasn’t in front of me. Got out and switched sides. Started the engine. Wound the window down instead of putting it in first gear. Had a right good word with myself, and set off.
I had downloaded a satnav app onto my phone to get me there. At first I couldn’t work out how to get it scrolling automatically. So not only was I driving on the ‘wrong’ side of the car and the ‘wrong’ side of the road, and going around roundabouts the ‘wrong’ way, but every 200 meters I was having to swipe the screen to see where I was going. It didn’t take long to pull over and sort out the settings to provide just a slightly better safety margin. Soon I was away and enjoying the experience.
Once out onto the ring road, soon I was seeing the views I expected from my windscreen. Beautiful, barren landscapes opened up and soon I was in Bogarnes, where I had hoped to find fuel for the car and camping gas for my stove, which I could not bring with me on the flight. I was delighted to find both, and before long I was heading north on the tarmac road, enjoying ever more amazing landscapes through the windscreen.
As I entered Westfjords, the road turned to dirt. Although I was quite a modest distance from my destination, the sat nav suggested I was still 3 hours away. Did the app know something I didn’t? Turns out it did! Soon I was on some of the most terrifying roads I have ever driven, realising why there is a premium for four wheel drive cars. After close to six hours behind the wheel, I found myself driving the final few minutes to Melanes campsite, down a precarious dirt road with sheer drops on one side, praying that nobody was coming the other way.
When I reached Melanes, there was nobody there. Nobody at the little summerhouse that served as a reception, and nobody camping. I had to check I was in the right place, eventually deciding I would just pitch my tent anyway and see what happened. And once I had pitched, I settled down with a cuppa and breathed a sigh of relief. I was here! And what a beautiful place.
Soon someone weaved their way down the road in a 4 x 4 and took my modest pitch fee. £13 to camp here for the night, with a hot shower and views to die for. I spent the evening watching the sea birds and trying not to think of the drive out of here tomorrow!
There was almost no darkness. At midnight it was still like midday, and it was only for about three hours that it was what I described as ‘dusk’ (the photo on the right above was taken at 11pm). I had to pull my hat over my face to sleep. But sleep I did, and in the morning I woke up, had a shower and set off in search of my Icelandic wild camp.
Driving in Westfjords takes approximately four times longer than you might expect. At first I set off to Latrabjarg, the most westerly point of Iceland and home to 400 metre high sea cliffs covered in sea birds (including puffins). The drive was predictably terrifying, but worth it. I saw arctic foxes and loads of birds, before heading back up further north in my little Yaris.
I next headed to Geirseyri for some lunch, then on to Pollurinn Hot Pool, a naturally heated pool by the side of a quiet road in which I took a dip prior to my wild camp. I chatted with some locals, then changed into my hiking clothes and packed my bag, before setting off into the local hills. I walked for a while until the weather started to turn, then pitched my Hilleberg Soulo and enjoyed the views down to the Fjord and the snowy mountains beyond.
I remember three things about this camp in particular. Firstly, almost as soon as I had the tent pitched and was inside, there was a torrential hailstorm, which battered the tent to the point I feared for it’s integrity. I needn’t have worried though, it survived just fine. Secondly, I remember a pair of geese that were occupying the river in the valley, curious about my presence. Finally, and unforgettably, I remember the thunderous sound of a rockfall in the valley, which scared me half to death. After that, things settled down and I enjoyed a quiet night in peaceful solitude, almost inside the arctic circle.
The following day I woke early, had breakfast, and headed back to the Hot Pot. There was a hot spring shower there, so I took the opportunity to use it – what absolute luxury after a wild camp! Soon, I was on my seven hour drive back south, having spent all too brief a time in Westfjords. I wanted to see some of the tourist sites further south, and to spend my last night in Iceland nearer to the airport.
After a long drive, I came to Geysir. I realised quickly that in the seven hour drive I had transitioned from Traveller to Tourist. I joined busloads of tourists and dutifully held my phone up on record waiting for Strokkur to strut it’s stuff. As I inhaled the smell of rotten eggs, shoulder to shoulder with the masses, I immediately wished I had stayed in Westfjords. A beautiful, tranquil, place and a world removed from the Golden Triangle.
I stayed in a local campsite, which flooded from the constant rain all night. In the morning I drove to the waterfall at Gullfoss, a beautiful place and fortunately arrived before the buses, which I met coming the other way as I headed back to Reykjavik.
I enjoyed a nice meal there before taking the car back to the airport. The little Yaris had served me well and I was sorry to leave it behind after the adventures we had had. And before long I was looking down as the plane lifted into the air, hoping that I had a chance to return to this beautiful country.
If you’d like to go hiking in Iceland I thoroughly recommend the Cicerone guide “Walking and Trekking in Iceland”. If you’d like to buy a copy you can purchase using the link below. As an Amazon associate I earn from qualifying purchases. This helps me to maintain this site. Thank you.