Last week I traveled to Southeast Iceland. It was a two-day round-trip, flying to Egilsstaðir, driving to the coast across Breiðdalsheiði mountain pass, making a stopover in Djúpivogur and Höfn and returning to Egilsstaðir the next day via the East Fjords with a stop in Stöðvarfjörður.
On May 13 and 14, winter had not quite let go of the region with stormy conditions, pouring rain, later turning to snow with mountain passes being slippery. I had left Reykjavík in sunshine and mild temperatures and wasn’t really dressed for such weather.
Fortunately, the short trip didn’t include much outdoor recreation. I was there to write an article for the upcoming issue of Iceland Review, and was mostly busy with meeting people and admiring the landscape from the window of the car.
Southeast Iceland is unlike other regions in the country. The mountains have distinct peaks and are more rugged because the ice age glacier didn’t pass over them, rubbing them flat and smooth.
Djúpivogur’s landmark mountain Búlandstindur is a spectacular sight, stretching 1,069 meters, rising straight from the ocean on both sides. It seems too steep to climb but apparently there’s a hiking path there somewhere.
Approaching Höfn, once the weather had cleared up a bit, Vatnajökull, Europe’s largest glacier came into view, sparkling white from the recent snowfall.
It rests on top of mountains with outlet glaciers flowing down to the lowlands. The glacier is constantly on the move and although it doesn’t move fast, it almost seems as if it threatens to flood the peaceful fishing town.
The ‘Lobster Capital of the North’ is also worth a visit on overcast days for the delicious langoustine served at five different restaurants in the 1,700-person town.
But what I found most remarkable about the region is the herds of wild reindeer that graze along the Ring Road, just there, in clear view, along with sheep and horses.
It surprised me how small they are, smaller than horses. All of them have a light beige color and most of them horns, the males more stately ones, that are dark brown and have a moss-like texture.
Apparently, the reindeer of Southeast Iceland are smaller than those further to the east. They don’t exist anywhere else in the country.
However, you can only spot reindeer so easily in off-season. Once summer arrives, with the hunting season, the move on to the eastern highlands.
Another thing that surprised me is the local passion for stone collecting. All three towns that I visited, Höfn, Djúpivogur and Stöðvarfjörður, have stone museums.
I wasn’t too keen on visiting them at first but once I realized what treasures they preserve I could totally understand the attraction of collecting stones.
The region is rich in special and colorful stones—Teigarhorn, near Djúpivogur, is one of the areas best known for zeolites in the world, and Helgustaðanáma in northern Reyðarfjörður is famous for Iceland spar—because, along with part of the West Fjords, the East Fjords is the country’s oldest region with dormant volcanoes.
The sawed and polished stones resemble abstract works of art. It’s amazing how colorful they can be on the inside when they look so ordinary on the outside.
The largest and most notable is Petra’s Stone Museum in Stöðvarfjörður. Petra Sveinsdóttir (1922-2012) passionately collected stones throughout her life, heading for the mountains after work on weekdays and spending most her free time looking for new colorful examples of rock.
Her home and garden make up the museum, with innumerable stones filling every shelf, lining every flowerbed and filling every empty space.
Petra’s children now run the museum and are still unpacking stones left by their mother, washing them and trying to find a spot to place them.
Southeast Iceland certainly left an impression on me. As I drove on to catch my flight from Egilsstaðir I was caught up in my thoughts, assessing my experiences and felt a little absent-minded… stoned, perhaps?
Eygló Svala Arnarsdóttir – firstname.lastname@example.org