October 6, 2022

Lepet It Bistrot

Caring for Life

Sea Kayaking in Iceland’s Hornstrandir Nature Reserve

12 min read

In the Westfjords region of Iceland—a giant, serrated peninsula jutting out of the country’s remote northwest—the only factor probably outnumbering the jellyfish are the waterfalls. Like tentacles in their own appropriate, they cascade from lava-topped plateaus hundreds of feet earlier mentioned. There are simply just also quite a few to depend. I shed monitor at 23. Set the two arms with each other and the areas involving your fingers characterize all the fjords ripe for exploring.

“Dad—look! There is a chandelier of jellyfish down there.”

It hits me on Working day four of a six-day sea kayak vacation via northwest Iceland’s Hornstrandir Nature Reserve that it’s my daughter who should really be the writer.

Her description is place on. Hovering in the sea under us is an illuminating carpet of huge, slimy lion’s mane jellyfish, their orange tentacles draping into the depths. Confident, they may lack brains, blood and hearts—but they make up for it in tendrils that move like Medusa.

“Remember that a person put we experienced lunch—the place devoid of a waterfall?” my daughter asks me at a person position. Deep in Iceland cataract place, which is the only way to slim it down.

How to Get to Iceland’s Hornstrandir Nature Reserve

Icelandic village

You can fly from Reykjavik to the seaside village of Ísafjörður in beneath an hour.
Joel Rohland/Unsplash

A brief, forty-moment flight from Reykjavik to the seaside village of Ísafjörður qualified prospects us to our kayaking team at the warehouse headquarters of Borea Adventures—led by our Polish guides, Anula and Piotr. This six-day vacation is the company’s most state-of-the-art paddling providing. Our fellow crew associates, all sea kayakers at heart, come from all over—including Germany, Denmark, Israel and the U.S.

Soon we’re loading our sea kayaks aboard Borea’s boat “Bjarmi” and motoring across the fjord towards Hesteyri, an aged homesite recognized as the “Doctor’s House” (pictured earlier mentioned).

Formerly owned by the only health practitioner in the region and now converted into Borea’s bunkhouse, it’s a person of the handful of aged buildings still standing in the entire reserve.

Borea is owned by Rúnar Karlsson and his spouse, Nanný Guðmundsdóttir, the two born and lifted in Ísafjörður. A previous Boy Scout, Rúnar is a classic Icelandic do-it-all-er. He’s an avid skier, paraglider, ice and rock climber, and sea kayaker, who qualified prospects mountaineering and avalanche courses for the Icelandic Rescue Crew Affiliation.

Deciding upon Your Borea Adventures Endeavor

Although the the greater part of Borea outings are mountaineering- and backpacking-relevant, the clothing store hosts a good variety of sea kayaking outings for the duration of peak year. With a four-star kayaking certification from the prestigious British Canoe Union, Rúnar, who’s also led paddling expeditions to nearby Greenland, retains these sea kayaking adventures near to his heart, primarily these in his beloved Hornstrandir.

“Hornstrandir is just a planet of its own—there’s no other spot in Iceland like it,” claims Runar, whose father was born in this article as very well as Nanný’s grandmother. “Its untouched coastline, fjords, bays and cliffs are so connected to the histories of our ancestors who lived in this article isolated for generations,” provides Runar. “The fjords have no signs of human presence—not even a fence write-up. It is totally shielded. Nature procedures the land.”

Correct on cue, a humpback whale surfaces off the boat’s port aspect and a pair of dolphins arc alongside the horizon. Numerous seal heads later, we place the “Doctor’s House”—a lone white square standing out like a golfing ball on a placing green. Towing a few kayaks at a time, we shuttle to shore in a Zodiac to a dock matching the overcast sky.

Stashing our gear on the entrance porch, we enter the tiny, aged cottage. The mudroom hints of the abode’s ancestry. Following to aged-college scissors and suture kits, jars on a shelf screen labels from another era: “Chloroform,” Formaldehyde,” Spiritus Forte,” “Lidocain,” and “Chloral Hydrate.”

Black and white Arctic puffin
Jonatan Pie/Unsplash

A signal on the wood wall reads “Laeknishusid Hesteyri”—Doctor’s Dwelling. It is as if we stepped back again in time a hundred several years.

In the afternoon, we test paddle our empty boats up the fjord. Tomorrow they’ll be packed with gear. Correct away we know we’re in for a take care of. Even the waterfalls get mirrored off the fjord’s mirror-like water—crystal clear—falling two times as far.

That night we feast on a supper of lamb shank with cabbage, peas, and potatoes with butter sauce. In the window, a brown Arctic fox scampers all around outside the house, sniffing for scraps, although our guides, Anula and Piotr, share tales of elves and troll folklore, sea kayaking Greenland, and even polar bears.

The previous this kind of ursus to float above on an iceberg and land in Iceland was 5 several years ago. There have also been some amusing false alarms.

The Coast Guard lately responded to an ostensible pile of polar bear poop on a nearby peninsula. It turned out to be from a swan. Another “bear” report concluded with a Yeti-like sheep that experienced lost its flock and wintered solo, emerging with a substantial, shaggy wool coat.

Above clean rhubarb pie for dessert, the hut’s caretaker, Hrólfur Vagnsson, a skilled musician, pulls out an accordion and sings a morose song about a thief caught stealing sheep for his spouse and children. Afterwards, he grabs a lamgspil, a form of Icelandic violin, down from the wall and performs a song whose notes are as drawn-out as the neighboring fjords.

The subsequent morning, soon after a Euro-breakfast of toast, hardboiled eggs, ham, cheese and jams, we paddle 18 kilometers across the fjords of Hesteyrarfjörður and Veiðileysufjörður. Spying numerous puffins en route, we understand that people do, in fact, consume these birds “down south.” This, of program, prompts a collection of jokes about Puffin McNuggets and Kentucky Fried Puffin. But they’re also sweet to even mull this kind of ideas.

Kayaking to Kviar

I pass seven waterfalls in just a hundred strokes, all ribboning down from the ice cap large earlier mentioned. It is a person of the country’s quite a few glaciers, like Vatna, Europe’s biggest at three,000 square miles and three,000 feet deep. Below, they’ve all receded adequate that only the ice cap remains. Rounding a position, the wind picks up, swallowing the serene seas. We team up right before our subsequent crossing.

Soon we see our subsequent hut, a mere thirteen waterfalls away.

A harbor seal escorts us to shore, in which we pull our kayaks on to a cobblestone seaside.

On the top of a compact hill bordered by a creek in a restricted ravine is our dwelling, Kviar, nestled in the Kvíadalur Valley. Like Hesteyri, it’s a person of the only cottages in the entire maintain. Constructed in 1921, the farmhouse has been owned by the very same spouse and children given that 1948—now outfitted with bunks to slumber 12 and a Danish-made diesel oven for heat. Elsewhere, geothermal power could’ve heated the dwelling, as it does eighty five % of all Icelandic houses.

A team of hikers is by now there, waiting for a boat pick-up. Perfect time for a brief stroll up the creek behind the cottage right before a supper of lamb shank stew with clean rhubarb jam.

Afterwards, we hop in a wood-fired sauna, dropping different oils into the water bucket, which we dab on, building aromas of eucalyptus and lavender. Very small, stone troll collectible figurines look at from the windowsill.

Soon, we’re running down the route and cannonballing into the midnight ocean.

On the subsequent day’s paddle, it usually takes a although for the to start with waterfall to display. But when it resolutely does, like a peacock’s tail feathers, some others before long follow—their plumage cascading from large earlier mentioned. Heading versus a sturdy wind coming off the ice cap and up into Lónafjörður fjord, we come to a decision to break into two groups, befitting a place which harbors the world’s oldest democracy. Although a person occasion returns back again to the cottage, we push on to the close of the fjord.

Soon a lush, green oasis appears, bordered by ribbons of white. A gull feather arcs above the water like a rainbow, its reflection completing a fluffy circle. Beneath still another cascade at the compact bay of Sópandi is a seal colony—its associates periscoping up out of the kelp with curious glances.

Below Arrive the Swells

Four days in, our arms and shoulders are now common with the schedule. We paddle an hour across Leirufjörður fjord (translation: “silty” for its glacial river). Spying the Drangajökull glacier to our left, we head to a far peninsula in quartering winds, aiming our bows at a sliver of snow large on the mountain. Like a doorman, a harbor seal welcomes us on the other aspect. Turning to parallel the coastline, we see a few Arctic foxes, two brown and a person white, tumbling and wrestling down the hillside.

Downwind swells carry us alongside, even as we pass via a giant, double arch. We pay for this shortly later on with an upwind paddle to camp in Grunnavík bay off the fjord. Additional seals usher us into camp.

Sans iodine, we fill our bottles from a creek around camp, subsequent to dandelions bobbleheading in the breeze. Our beer from a brewery in Ísafjörður was touted as becoming “percolated via 14 million several years of lava rock.” Over us rises this organic filter, in the sort of giant, flat-topped mountains still basking in alpenglow at 11:thirty p.m.

Paddling down the coastline another fifteen miles the next day, my eyes take in eight waterfalls at the moment devoid of transferring my pupils. The picture is about a person two-hundredth of the country’s three,000-mile coastline, but it feels like its own large planet.

Camp is in a flat grassy spot crammed with a Stonehenge of giant, white swan feathers and golfing ball-esque, puffy white bouquets. Higher earlier mentioned us, four waterfalls vanish into the ground right before re-emerging as four a lot more, then a few, right before ultimately cascading into the ocean.

Yet another cascade, the towering Möngufoss waterfall, a crown jewel of the reserve, thunders just down the coastline.

The waterfalls owe by themselves to the two the glaciers that feed them as very well as the impervious lava cliffs that drive them into freefall.

Above the previous five hundred several years, a 3rd of the planet’s lava move has come from Iceland’s two hundred volcanoes. Its finest-recognized, Hekla, erupted four instances in the twentieth century, most lately in 1991. Eyjafjallajökull blew in March 2010 for the to start with time given that 1821 and all over again in April 2020, disrupting global air targeted visitors.

We’re in a land of raw, earthen power.

Dinner tonight takes place at nearly midnight. None of us intellect. Who desires this day to at any time close?

Our longest open-water crossing—about five.five miles—is reserved for our last day.

Paddling this rough, grueling stretch, we’ll be being in as restricted a formation as the Arctic terns traveling earlier mentioned us. These outstanding birds have the longest earthly migration possible—up to 44,000 miles for every calendar year, from Antarctica to the Arctic and back again. Our crossing is relatively shorter—thankfully, specified the two-foot-large swells rolling in from in which the North Atlantic fulfills the Greenland Sea.

This is the very same stretch the Vikings sailed when they launched the place in the ninth century. Following up, the Norse and Celtic seafarers, who generally staged in this article to explore Greenland.

Hunting west to in which Greenland someplace lies, I spy only churning sea and a couple of dolphins.

Safely across, we head west, paralleling the coastline to another fjord, in which we see our to start with street in six days.

It usually takes a sharp switch, maybe, as folklore maintains, detouring all around a stubborn boulder rumored to be inhabited by trolls.

Another flock of birds swarms us—this time a chunky convoy of cartoonish puffins, nun-like with their white underbellies, black tops, and orange beaks matching the sclera of their eyes and webbed feet. Flapping madly to help their football-shaped bodies and outsized expenses triumph over gravity, they dart like Star Wars starfighters, seemingly posing and grinning as they fly overhead.

It is a formation, I muse, that nearly resembles a … chandelier.

Blue Lagoon Iceland

Blue Lagoon Iceland
Courtesy of Blue Lagoon Iceland

Know Ahead of You Go

Receiving There

Icelandic Air presents immediate flights from 10 significant U.S. towns, from Seattle to Boston. At the time you get there, catch the FlyBus from the airport to downtown Reykjavik, in which you can stroll to dining places, bars, museums, the wharf and a lot more. Taxis are widespread and welcoming — maybe mainly because there is no Uber (‘It’s also high priced to drive,” explained our cabby, Sam).


If you go to a person restaurant in Reykjavik, make it The Fish Co. in the heart of downtown—voted the city’s finest seafood nine several years running. Headed by operator and master chef Lárus Gunnar Jónasson, it blends Nordic fusion with Icelandic delicacies. Test the sushi platter, salted cod, or soften-in-your-mouth, slow-cooked Arctic Char with apple jam, smoked emulsion, beer-glazed sunchokes, and a dill, vinaigrette beer foam. It is all served by a welcoming workers in the stone-walled aged Zimsen dwelling, a previous retail store created in the 19th century.


Accommodations in Reykjavik operates the gamut from hostels to chains and stylish boutiques. Our fave: the a hundred-calendar year-aged Borg Lodge, appropriate on the downtown square with accessibility to parks, dining places, bars, museums the wharf and a lot more. At the time the web page of classic dance balls, it presents a classic Icelandic breakfast buffet, a full bar (generally with stay new music), and quaint rooms with porches overlooking the square.

Famous Spas

Opening in May, Sky Lagoon is Reykjavik’s newest springs and spa, finish with a incredibly hot spring-crammed infinity pool overlooking the ocean, incredibly hot spring waterfall, and seven-phase spa procedure showcasing cold plunge glass-walled sauna overlooking the bay interesting mist space sea salt/sesame oil body scrub steam space shower and incredibly hot spring soak (check out its swim-up bar).

Soaked in by locals for a lot more than 1,000 several years, the a lot more famous Blue Lagoon also presents geothermal seawater, spa activities, and even a skin treatment line. Named a person of twenty five Miracles of the Globe by Nationwide Geographic, a 2018 growth made the Retreat at Blue Lagoon, introducing a 62-space luxurious lodge, subterranean spa and two dining places. Reward: Just about every soak will come with a a few-mask procedure of silica, algae and mineral.

The Best Gear for Sea Kayaking in Iceland

Green, two-person tent
Courtesy Impression

1. Hilleberg Tents

Hilleberg Tents are what people use up north. Their magnificence: the fly and body are attached—meaning you can set them up in the rain devoid of the inside of receiving wet. A vestibule nearly as big as the interior is effective wonderful for stashing everything from drysuits and drybags to boots.

[From $595 hilleberg.com]

Discover a lot more

Big Agnes Sidewinder Sleeping Bags

Major Agnes Sidewinder Sleeping Luggage
Courtesy Impression

two. Major Agnes Sidewinder Sleeping Luggage

Bagging numerous Editors’ Decision awards, the new Sidewinder SL and Camp sleeping baggage from Major Agnes—with treated down for water repellency—are made primarily for these who like sleeping on their sides. A extended, ambidextrous zipper stays out of your way when rolling from aspect to aspect. This aspect is primarily handy when pivoting to peek out your tent to look at seals and distant whales.

[From $149.95 bigagnes.com]

Get it

Sea to Summit Drybags

Sea to Summit Drybags
Courtesy Impression

three. Sea to Summit Drybags

Sea to Summit’s twenty-liter compression sack drybag is perfect for condensing sleeping baggage down to the sizing of a cantaloupe to fit into your kayak’s bow hatch. Waterproof and air-permeable Celebration fabric, with a watertight, hypalon roll-top closure, retains the water out even when waves from two-foot swells permeate your storage hatches. The lighter fat drysack also proves handy for day goods bungeed to the deck rigging.

[from $21.95 seatosummitusa.com]

Get it

Level Six Odin Drysuit

Amount Six Odin Drysuit
Courtesy Impression

four. Amount Six Odin Drysuit

You really do not want to go into the consume in the North Atlantic, but if you do the entrance-entry Odin (and women’s Freya) drysuit from Amount Six has you covered. Constructed of its hardest water resistant-breathable nylon, Exhaust three., it shrugs off abrasion although trying to keep the things in which they belong. Characteristics incorporate a stealth double tunnel, three-ply created-in socks, articulated spine, reinforced knees and elbows, relief zipper and adjustable waistline-belt. Fleece-lined zipper pockets enable you arrive at equipment although British latex wrist and neck gaskets hold you bone dry.

[$900 levelsix.com]

Get it

Kokatat Habanero Liner

Kokatat Habanero Liner
Courtesy Impression

five. Kokatat Habanero Liner

The Habanero from Kokatat is a paddler-made, a person-piece drysuit liner with a extended entrance entry zipper and a 2nd waistline zipper that acts as a fall seat. A flap fly presents entrance relief, although the women’s liner has an “invisible” zipper for use with woman urination gadgets. Heavyweight, four-way stretch fleece in the major body and lighter fat grid fleece in the underarms, cuffs, neck, and ankles is perfect for paddling. We lived in these liners—even at night time.

[$180 kokatat.com]

Get it

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