Beautiful Hvalfjörður – the backyard of Reykjavík

Last year I was doing some work in West Iceland that took me to Hvalfjörður for the day. The weather was gorgeous (gorgeous!) and when one of my meetings got postponed I ended up spending a good hour interacting with a sheep and her lamb I found on the way. I know, I know,  I should write it but she just felt more like a she.  I slowly crawled towards this wary new mama while she gave me an evil look as to let me know to stay clear of her youngling. For a while I actually worried that she was going to attack me but instead we had an intense staring competition which ended with me looking away to get my camera. As crazy as it sounds this is one of my favorite memories from last summer and this little moment between me and the apprehensive sheep resulted in the image below (which also happens to be one of my favorites).

The wary mama

The leery mama

Once upon a time, if you wanted to travel west or north of Reykjavík you would have to drive the Hvalfjörður fjord to get there. The road was somewhat terrible and it seemed impossibly long, especially when you were returning from a long drive from Akureyri or somewhere even further. There was also a boat that went from Reykjavík to Akranes, called Akraborg, and despite getting quite sea sick (probably due to the fact that people would smoke on the boat) I was always very disappointed when my parents decided to drive Hvalfjörður instead of taking the boat. If I remember correctly they always played Tom and Jerry cartoons in the children’s corner which may have added to my frustration. This, of course, was way before the time of the iPads.

In 1998 Hvalfjörður tunnel (5770m long, 165m below sea level) opened and the dreaded drive through Hvalfjörður was no more. The tunnel made the drive much shorter and everyone was so glad to get this new road under the ocean that they kind of forgot about the fact that Hvalfjörður was actually quite beautiful (you know, when you weren’t scared out of your mind because of icy roads) and filled with interesting history – not to mention some legendary road shops that one by one closed down because of the lack of traffic. Hvalfjörður, we thought, who needs that wretched place.

The backyard of Reykjavík

This winter I’ve been fortunate enough to work with a few companies in Hvalfjörður who want you to know that there’s more to Hvalfjörður than this history of a long and windy road that never ends. The fjord really is beautiful and it’s super conveniently located – practically in the backyard of Reykjavík but also close to some of the most amazing things Iceland has to offer. It’s also the home of Glymur, the highest waterfall in Iceland, which you can even hike to and marvel at. So when we thought about how to go about telling you about everything that makes it a worthwhile place to visit it seemed only natural that the boyfriend and I would visit the area and tell you about the things we’d find along the way.

Me and my beau

Me and my beau being silly in Hvalfjörður

So we set off on Friday May second (like you may have noticed if you follow me on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram) and spent a long awaited quality weekend together. I had been working non-stop for two months without a single day off so it was very welcomed! Like most times when I do these kind of trips the companies offered me complimentary accommodation, services and food but like always I told them them this would not affect how I would write about them and that my opinions were not for sale. Because this project takes me away from other paying projects they also offered me a financial compensation (although I’m very thankful for this I can also tell you that it doesn’t even cover half of the time that I’ve spent on this) so I could take the time out and do this with them. The reason I’m telling you this is that I’ve never before taken any money for the things I do so this is definitely a bit of a shift in direction for the blog. I don’t know if I’ll ever accept money for this kind of work again but I also know I couldn’t have done it without it. The damn burden of having to eat and all that.

So I just wanted to have this clear and in the open – full disclosure and all that. Now on to the fun stuff.

The I Heart Reykjavík Hvalfjörður Take-Over

For the next few days I’m going to tell you all about our trip to Hvalfjörður and give you some ideas about what you might want to check out while you are there. We had a wonderful time and it was exactly what I needed to recharge my batteries for the hectic time that followed and the coming weeks that will keep on being very busy. Although this post is more thought to introduce this project to you I’m going to end it with the story of Rauðhöfði or where Hvalfjörður (Whale fjord) gets its name from. In the interest of saving space, since it’s quite long, you’ll have to click on the link below if you want to read the story.

The story of Rauðhöfði - warning: it's quite long but it does contain elves

Once upon a time (that’s how every good adventure starts) a few men from what we call Suðurnes (which is basically where Keflavík Airport is located) went to Geirfuglasker (Great Auk rocks) to capture a Great Auk. When it was time to go back to shore they discovered that one of them was missing and no matter how they searched they couldn’t find him. The other men all left and deemed the lost man dead. A year later they went back to Geirfuglasker and found the man alive and in good health.

It turned out that he had been taken in by elves or hidden people that took good care of him. He didn’t want to stay with the elves and decided to go back with the men. He had been a bit naughty so one of the elf ladies was pregnant with his child. She made him promise to get the child baptized or Christened if she would bring it to a church where he was attending service.

A while later he was attending mass in Hvalneskirkja (a beautiful church just outside of Sandgerði) when a cradle with a baby rocked up (this story has a few holes, doesn’t it?) but there was a note in the cradle that said: He who is the father of this child will make sure it gets baptized.

Everyone in the church were really taken aback by this but the priest had a sneaky suspicion that the man who had been lost for a whole year while frolicking with elves was the father of the child. He asked the man repeatedly whether he was the father of the infant but the man always refused it.

As for magic a great and vigorous woman showed up just next to them. She turned to the man and said something along these lines: I hereby put a spell on you so you will become a great evil whale in the sea that will destroy many ships. Next she grabbed the cradle with the baby and vanished and no one ever saw her or heard of her again. The people who had watched this spectacle decided that this must have been the elf-lady from Geirfuglasker where the man had been while lost.  

After this the man went mad, ran towards the sea and jumped of a cliff into the ocean. He immediately turned into a great evil whale that would get the name Rauðhöfði (red head) because the man had been wearing a red hat or hood when he threw himself into the ocean.

The whale turned out to be very foul tempered and obtrusive and it is said that it sank 19 ships between Seltjarnarnes and Akranes before it met its death. Many people lost a lot because of it. As time went on it started hanging out in a fjord between Kjalarnes and Akranes and because of that the fjord got the name whale fjord or Hvalfjörður. 
 
But wait, the story isn’t over!
 
As these events took place there was a priest living in Saurbær in Hvalfjörður (we actually visited the church there, very nice) but he was both old and blind. He had two sons and one daughter that were all grown and good people.  
 
The priest was old fashioned and very wise and he knew more than most (the Icelandic version of the story says he knew further than his nose). His sons often went out to the fjord to fish and one time they got beaten down by the evil Rauðhöfði and they both drowned. The loss of his sons was very hard on the priest. One day he asked his daughter to lead him down to a small fjord close to the farm where they lived. He found a cane and stumbled with the help of his daughter down to the beach. He put the cane down into the tide line and leaned forward on to it. He then asked his daughter what the ocean looked like and she answered that it was very still and beautiful. A while later the priest asked his daughter again how the ocean was looking and the girl answered that she saw a streak black as the night further out in the fjord, like a shoal of big heading towards them. And when the girl told her father that the streak was very close he asked her to lead him further into the fjord by the shore line and she agreed to that. The streak followed them all the way into the bottom of the fjord. 


When the fjord got shallower the girl saw that the streak was actually a very big whale that swam into the fjord like it was being lead there or herded. When they had reached the bottom of the fjord the priest asked his daughter to lead him along the west side of the river Botnsá. That she did and the old man tottered up the mountain while the whale kept on swimming up the river. It’s became more and more difficult for the whale to keep up as it was very big and there was not a lot of water in the river. When the whale reached the gorge where the river comes down from Botnsheiði mountain it got so tight for the whale that the whole earth trembled. Finally when the whale went up the waterfall the earth trembled so much that it was like a great big earthquake and a lot of noise came from the rock walls around it. That’s were the waterfall Glymur, Iceland highest waterfall, gets its name but the word glymur means loud rumble in Icelandic. 

But the priest didn’t stop (man this is a long story )until he got the whale up to the lake where Botnsá, the river that Glymur is in, starts and ever since the water has been named Hvalvatn of Whale lake. 

When the whale finally reached the lake it exploded from all the effort it took it to get up there. No one has heard of the whale since but people have found great big whale bones by the lake which they  took as a proof that this story is the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

After the priest had lured the whale all the way up to the water he tottered back down from the mountain and everyone thanked him for the favor.  

I hope you join us on this little journey and maybe next time you come to Iceland you’ll decide to go explore Hvalfjörður instead of driving straight through the tunnel. Happy Hvalfjörður Take Over Week (that can totally be a thing!)

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5 thoughts on “Beautiful Hvalfjörður – the backyard of Reykjavík”

  1. Elly says:

    Looking forward to finding out what you thought! x

  2. Jem says:

    During our March visit we travelled back from Snæfellsnes via Hvalfjörður. Lovely trip but can imagine how scary it would be with icy roads! Stopped off at some ruins next to a waterfall on the southern side – curious to know what they are.

  3. Ade says:

    Hi Auđur,
    I will be in Reykjavik in September and would love to visit Hvalfjörður while I’m there but is it easy to get to without a car? I read that the Straeto bus only runs to the end of August

    1. mm Auður says:

      I’m afraid the only way to get there is by private transportation but maybe if you contact the companies in the area they have some options for you.

  4. Ade says:

    Takk Auđur, i will contact some companies nearer September

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