Hornstrandir Wild Life
Adventure seeking in Iceland?
The Hornstrandir Nature Reserve offers adventure seekers the perfect opportunity to fulfill their dreams. Situated on the NW tip of Iceland, the area has been uninhabited for more than 60 years and the only way to get there is by boat. On this trip we'll use our expedition sailing yacht Aurora as mother ship and experience new things every day while anchoring in a new magical place each night. You will find lush valleys filled with wild flowers, beautiful sandy beaches, deep fjords and towering cliffs. Great hiking and walking routes wind their way between the desolated fjords and bays, with spectacular views from the mountains to the sea.
The island of Vigur is a very unique place where man and nature have coexisted in balance and harmony and where thousands of birds such as Puffins, Arctic Terns and Black Guillemots come to breed during the short summer. Hesteyri has rich history and here are opportunities for wonderful hikes such as over to Aðalvík bay to the north. From here we will sail along the northern capes to the spectacular landscape of Hornvík bay. Here are two of the largest bird-cliffs in Iceland with the world's largest colonies of Guillemots, but also major populations of Kittiwake, Razorbill and Fulmars. This is also the kingdom of the Arctic Fox and the only place in Iceland where they are fully protected, leaving them fairly relaxed around human visitors. We believe the time spent exploring Hornstrandir will leave you fascinated and inspired.
- All food onboard and during day activities, except alcohol
- Accommodation onboard
- Use of sailing clothing (Gore-Tex jacket and pants), life jacket and safety harness
- Kayaking gear (boat, paddle, dry-suit top and life jacket)
- Travel to and from Ísafjörður, Iceland unless specifically mentioned in itinerary.
- Food the first day until boarding the yacht in Ísafjörður
- Personal medical insurance
- Personal equipment as shown in "What to bring"
Difficulty: Easy to Moderate
Departure from Ísafjörður at 19:00 on the sailing yacht AURORA. 1-2 hours sailing to Seyðisfjörður fjord and anchor either at Eyri or Folafótur.
On the way there and/or with a short walk onshore we have an opportunity to see different species of birds such as: Puffin, Black Guillemot, Whooper Swan, Eider, Fulmar, Oystercatcher, Ringed Plover, Golden Plover, Common Snipe, Common Redshank, Glaucous Gull, Great Black-backed Gull, Arctic Tern, Pied Wagtail, Redwing, Raven, Cormorant, Shag and many others.
Short sail to the small island of Vigur where we will go ashore. This is a very unique place where man and nature have coexisted in balance and harmony and where thousands of seabirds come ashore to breed during the short summer.
There are large colonies of Eiders, Puffins, Arctic Terns and Black Guillemots. Apart from these birds there are a few passerine species such as Snow Bunting, Pied Wagtail and Meadow Pipits. With luck a White Tailed Eagle or Gyrfalcon can be spotted. It may also be possible to spot King Eiders. They often pair with common Eider females, producing exquisite looking hybrids.
The island also has a cultural and architectural history worth exploring. There is the only windmill in Iceland and the oldest house on the island at the recently renovated Viktoría House, built in 1860. Vigurbreiður is a rowing boat for eight people, over 200 years old. We will spend 2-3 hours walking around the island and stop for coffee and freshly baked cakes in the Viktoría house.
In the afternoon we will sail towards the Jökulfirðir fjords (Glacier Fjords). We'll sail along the coast of Snæfjallaströnd and around the headland of Bjarnanúpur. There we will be in close proximity to cliffs with large Fulmar colonies and meet other birds on the ocean such as Kittiwake, Arctic Tern and Guillemots. There is an option to hike across the mountain to Grunnavík bay to meet AURORA again there.
We'll enter the Jökulfirðir bay and sail to the abandoned settlement of Hesteyri where the night will be spent at anchor. The last residents of Hesteyri moved away in the 1950´s but many of them maintain their old houses and use them as summerhouses. We may have time to explore the old village a bit and walk along the nice sandy beaches.
We'll keep our eyes open for the Harlequin ducks. Iceland is their only breeding ground in Europe and they are both beautiful and fun to look at. Of course we will keep a sharp lookout for the Arctic Foxes. There we may see birds such as Purple Sandpipers, Ringed Plovers, Golden Plovers, Common Snipe, Oystercatcher and Long Tailed Ducks.
This morning we have a few options of wonderful walks/hikes. We can walk to the ruins of the old whaling station where Norwegians processed around 12,000 barrels of whale oil between 1894 and 1915 when the Icelandic government passed a law on the protection of whales in Icelandic waters. Later Icelandic companies processed herring in the same plant until it was finally shut down around 1940. Here we also have the option of a 5-6 hour hike across to the mountain to Aðalvík or sail with AURORA around.
On the ocean we sail along the coast of Grænahlíð. There we may see remains of wrecks of two British and one Icelandic trawler that ran aground there in the 50's and 60's. We will sail around the headland of Ritur and into Aðalvík bay where we will anchor at Sæból. Total sailing time today approximately four hours. En route we may see Minke Whales, Porpoises and Dolphins. We may also try some sea angling underway and see if we can catch Cod or Haddock for dinner.
To hike we will walk from Hesteyri to the abandoned farm of Slétta where there is a fantastic view over the surrounding bays. Then we'll hike across the mountain to the old church at Staður where it sits by a lake in a patch of Buttercups. Around the old priest residence there are ankle deep Birch shrubs, Wood Crane's-bill and Lady's Mantle. On the lake we may see birds such as Whooper Swans, Red-Throated Diver and Great Northern Diver. We'll meet AURORA where she is anchored off Sæból.
We are now in the Hornstrandir Nature Reserve where nature rules unchallenged. The last permanent residents moved away in 1952 and now there are only summerhouses, no roads are anywhere in this area and only access is by boat.
The vegetation is surprisingly lush. Over two meter high Angelica grows down to the coast and the lowlands. Slopes are decorated by spreading patches of Wood Crane's-bill, Fleabanes, Cotton grass, Lady Smock and other wildflowers. In the rocky and sandy areas we also have flowers such as Wild Thyme, Oysterplant, Arctic Poppy, Roseroot, Moss Campion and Thrift. In the hills we can find Crowberries (Blackberries) and Blueberries (Billberries) later in the summer.
We will sail from Sæból in Aðalvík bay towards the headland of Straumnes. Underneath the cliffs we will see remains from the wreck of the coaster Goðafoss that ran aground there in 1916. We will continue east and sail past the headland of Kögur and past the bays of Fljótavík and Hlöðuvík.
We will enter the bay of Hornvík under the huge cliffs of Hælavíkurbjarg. In these cliffs there are the world's largest colonies of Common Guillemot and Brünnich Guillemot but also major populations of Kittiwake, Razorbill and Fulmars. We will sail close to shore with the 300m cliffs towering overhead. Weather and sea-state permitting we will sail through the narrow pass behind the cliff of Súlnastapi. This gives us a chance to see thousands of birds up close as well as seeing many birds diving under the boat. In addition to the birds that we mentioned before we may also see others such as Puffins, Ravens, Gyrfalcon and Arctic Skua. More rare are Great Skua and Gannets.
We will continue towards the head of the bay and anchor there. Total sailing time today is approximately four hours. Hornvík is a prime location to see Arctic Foxes and if we are at anchor early we may go ashore for a short walk.
Today there will be no sailing, but we will focus on the magnificent bird cliff of Hornbjarg to check out the seabird colonies there as well as look for the Arctic Foxes. We will walk up to the edge of the cliffs and along the length of the cliffs. This walk will take about 3-5 hours. The birds we will see in the cliffs are primarily Common Guillemot, Brünnich Guillemot, Razorbill, Fulmar and Kittiwake. It is estimated that there are about 1 million breeding pairs of Guillemot in Hornvík and Hælavík.
Hornvík is home to many Arctic Foxes and if we can, we will track down a few dens and try to see some of them and their cubs. Twice every day huge flocks of Kittiwake gather for a fresh water bath in the river and in one particular lake. This is a very interesting sight and we will try to make time for a short walk into the valley to see this. There we may also see Whooper Swans, Ringed Plover, Arctic Skua, Snow Bunting, Purple Sandpipers and Red Necked Phalaropes.
We will leave the anchorage around 9am and head back towards Ísafjörður. Depending on the interest of the group we have an option of sailing a small detour north of the Arctic Circle. The Arctic Circle is only around 5 nautical miles north of Hornvík bay at 66º 33' 39" N. On the way there we may see whales such as Orcas, Minke whale, Humpback whale as well as Porpoises and Dolphins. After about 7-8 hours of sailing we will be back in Ísafjörður, arriving around 16:00.
- Thermal underwear, at least two sets of tops. Pack your spare clothes in a dry bag or plastic bag.
- Wool or fleece thermal mid layer.
- Hiking pants. We recommend no cottons as they take long to dry if wet.
- Waterproof and breathable pants and jacket for hiking onshore. The lighter - the better.
- Wool/fleece hat.
- One pair of gloves.
- 3 to 4 pairs thick wool/synthetic socks.
- Hiking boots. Need to be high up on the ancle for support.
- Sleeping bag. Summer rated.
- Dark sun glasses.
- Sunscreen / after sun cream.
- Swim suit and towel.
- 15-20L backpack for day walks.
- Binoculars is nice to have for watching wildlife.
- Personal medical kit to include personal medication and i.e. band aids, throat lozenges, lip salves, sea-sickness tablets etc. Don't forget regular medication you may need (e.g. Asthma, bring your inhaler, even if you do not always need it).
- Small thermos (optional). Preferably 0.5 liters.
- 1 litre water bottle.
- Don't forget your camera!