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Sea Kayaking in Iceland’s Hornstrandir Nature Reserve

In the Westfjords area 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 possess right, they cascade from lava-topped plateaus 1000’s of toes over. There are merely also quite a few to depend. I get rid of keep track of at 23. Place both equally hands together and the areas involving your fingers signify all the fjords ripe for checking out.

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

It hits me on Day four of a 6-working day sea kayak excursion by means of northwest Iceland’s Hornstrandir Nature Reserve that it’s my daughter who ought to be the author.

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

“Remember that one area we had lunch—the place without a waterfall?” my daughter asks me at one issue. Deep in Iceland cataract state, which is the only way to slim it down.

How to Get to Iceland’s Hornstrandir Nature Reserve

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

A brief, forty-moment flight from Reykjavik to the seaside village of Ísafjörður leads us to our kayaking group at the warehouse headquarters of Borea Adventures—led by our Polish guides, Anula and Piotr. This 6-working day excursion is the company’s most superior paddling offering. Our fellow crew members, all sea kayakers at heart, arrive from all over—including Germany, Denmark, Israel and the U.S.

Shortly we’re loading our sea kayaks aboard Borea’s boat “Bjarmi” and motoring throughout the fjord toward Hesteyri, an outdated homesite identified as the “Doctor’s House” (pictured over).

Formerly owned by the only doctor in the area and now transformed into Borea’s bunkhouse, it’s one of the several outdated structures continue to standing in the full reserve.

Borea is owned by Rúnar Karlsson and his spouse, Nanný Guðmundsdóttir, both equally born and raised in Ísafjörður. A former Boy Scout, Rúnar is a basic Icelandic do-it-all-er. He’s an avid skier, paraglider, ice and rock climber, and sea kayaker, who leads mountaineering and avalanche programs for the Icelandic Rescue Team Association.

Selecting Your Borea Adventures Endeavor

Although the greater part of Borea excursions are hiking- and backpacking-connected, the clothes shop hosts a truthful quantity of sea kayaking excursions in the course of peak time. With a four-star kayaking certification from the prestigious British Canoe Union, Rúnar, who’s also led paddling expeditions to close by Greenland, retains these sea kayaking adventures close to his heart, in particular these in his beloved Hornstrandir.

“Hornstrandir is just a globe of its own—there’s no other region in Iceland like it,” states Runar, whose father was born below as effectively as Nanný’s grandmother. “Its untouched shoreline, fjords, bays and cliffs are so joined to the histories of our ancestors who lived below isolated for centuries,” provides Runar. “The fjords have no indicators of human presence—not even a fence post. It’s thoroughly guarded. Nature principles the land.”

Ideal on cue, a humpback whale surfaces off the boat’s port facet and a pair of dolphins arc together the horizon. A great number of seal heads later on, we place the “Doctor’s House”—a lone white sq. standing out like a golf ball on a placing inexperienced. Towing three kayaks at a time, we shuttle to shore in a Zodiac to a dock matching the overcast sky.

Stashing our gear on the front porch, we enter the tiny, outdated cottage. The mudroom hints of the abode’s ancestry. Future to outdated-faculty scissors and suture kits, jars on a shelf display labels from yet another period: “Chloroform,” Formaldehyde,” Spiritus Forte,” “Lidocain,” and “Chloral Hydrate.”

Black and white Arctic puffin
Jonatan Pie/Unsplash

A indication on the picket wall reads “Laeknishusid Hesteyri”—Doctor’s Home. It’s as if we stepped back again in time 100 many years.

In the afternoon, we test paddle our empty boats up the fjord. Tomorrow they’ll be packed with gear. Ideal absent we know we’re in for a address. Even the waterfalls get reflected off the fjord’s mirror-like water—crystal clear—falling twice as much.

That evening 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 over outdoors, sniffing for scraps, though our guides, Anula and Piotr, share stories of elves and troll folklore, sea kayaking Greenland, and even polar bears.

The past such ursus to float about on an iceberg and land in Iceland was five many years in the past. There have also been some amusing false alarms.

The Coast Guard just lately responded to an ostensible pile of polar bear poop on a close by peninsula. It turned out to be from a swan. Yet another “bear” report concluded with a Yeti-like sheep that had dropped its flock and wintered solo, emerging with a significant, shaggy wool coat.

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

The upcoming early morning, following a Euro-breakfast of toast, hardboiled eggs, ham, cheese and jams, we paddle eighteen kilometers throughout the fjords of Hesteyrarfjörður and Veiðileysufjörður. Spying quite a few puffins en route, we understand that people do, in fact, take in these birds “down south.” This, of training course, prompts a collection of jokes about Puffin McNuggets and Kentucky Fried Puffin. But they’re also cute to even mull such ideas.

Kayaking to Kviar

I go 7 waterfalls in just 100 strokes, all ribboning down from the ice cap high over. It’s one of the country’s quite a few glaciers, including Vatna, Europe’s premier at 3,000 sq. miles and 3,000 toes deep. Here, they’ve all receded ample that only the ice cap continues to be. Rounding a issue, the wind picks up, swallowing the tranquil seas. We group up before our upcoming crossing.

Shortly we see our upcoming hut, a mere 13 waterfalls absent.

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

On the top of a little hill bordered by a creek in a limited ravine is our home, Kviar, nestled in the Kvíadalur Valley. Like Hesteyri, it’s one of the only cottages in the full preserve. Built in 1921, the farmhouse has been owned by the similar loved ones because 1948—now outfitted with bunks to slumber 12 and a Danish-made diesel oven for warmth. In other places, geothermal ability could’ve heated the home, as it does eighty five per cent of all Icelandic properties.

A group of hikers is previously there, waiting around for a boat choose-up. Best time for a brief stroll up the creek driving the cottage before a supper of lamb shank stew with clean rhubarb jam.

Later, we hop in a wood-fired sauna, dropping different oils into the h2o bucket, which we dab on, making aromas of eucalyptus and lavender. Tiny, stone troll collectible figurines enjoy from the windowsill.

Shortly, we’re operating down the path and cannonballing into the midnight ocean.

On the upcoming day’s paddle, it can take a though for the initial waterfall to demonstrate. But when it resolutely does, like a peacock’s tail feathers, some others soon follow—their plumage cascading from high over. Heading towards a robust wind coming off the ice cap and up into Lónafjörður fjord, we decide to crack into two teams, befitting a state which harbors the world’s oldest democracy. Although one social gathering returns back again to the cottage, we push on to the conclude of the fjord.

Shortly a lush, inexperienced oasis seems, bordered by ribbons of white. A gull feather arcs about the h2o like a rainbow, its reflection completing a fluffy circle. Beneath but yet another cascade at the little bay of Sópandi is a seal colony—its members periscoping up out of the kelp with curious glances.

Here Come the Swells

4 days in, our arms and shoulders are now acquainted with the program. We paddle an hour throughout Leirufjörður fjord (translation: “silty” for its glacial river). Spying the Drangajökull glacier to our remaining, we head to a much peninsula in quartering winds, aiming our bows at a sliver of snow high on the mountain. Like a doorman, a harbor seal welcomes us on the other facet. Turning to parallel the coastline, we see three Arctic foxes, two brown and one white, tumbling and wrestling down the hillside.

Downwind swells carry us together, even as we go by means of a giant, double arch. We pay back for this soon afterwards with an upwind paddle to camp in Grunnavík bay off the fjord. More seals usher us into camp.

Sans iodine, we fill our bottles from a creek close to camp, upcoming to dandelions bobbleheading in the breeze. Our beer from a brewery in Ísafjörður was touted as remaining “percolated by means of fourteen million many years of lava rock.” Over us rises this all-natural filter, in the kind of giant, flat-topped mountains continue to basking in alpenglow at eleven:30 p.m.

Paddling down the coastline yet another fifteen miles the subsequent working day, my eyes consider in 8 waterfalls at after without going my pupils. The image is about one two-hundredth of the country’s 3,000-mile shoreline, but it feels like its possess extensive globe.

Camp is in a flat grassy region filled with a Stonehenge of giant, white swan feathers and golf ball-esque, puffy white bouquets. Superior over us, four waterfalls disappear into the ground before re-emerging as four much more, then three, before finally cascading into the ocean.

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

The waterfalls owe them selves to both equally the glaciers that feed them as effectively as the impervious lava cliffs that force them into freefall.

Above the past 500 many years, a 3rd of the planet’s lava movement has arrive from Iceland’s 200 volcanoes. Its ideal-identified, Hekla, erupted four periods in the 20th century, most just lately in 1991. Eyjafjallajökull blew in March 2010 for the initial time because 1821 and once again in April 2020, disrupting intercontinental air visitors.

We’re in a land of uncooked, earthen ability.

Evening meal tonight happens at approximately midnight. None of us intellect. Who wants this working day to ever conclude?

Our longest open up-h2o crossing—about 5.5 miles—is reserved for our final working day.

Paddling this rough, grueling stretch, we’ll be staying in as limited a development as the Arctic terns flying over us. These outstanding birds have the longest earthly migration possible—up to forty four,000 miles for each year, from Antarctica to the Arctic and back again. Our crossing is somewhat shorter—thankfully, presented the two-foot-high swells rolling in from where the North Atlantic fulfills the Greenland Sea.

This is the similar stretch the Vikings sailed when they launched the state in the 9th century. Future up, the Norse and Celtic seafarers, who usually staged below to examine Greenland.

Hunting west to where Greenland someplace lies, I spy only churning sea and a few of dolphins.

Properly throughout, we head west, paralleling the coastline to yet another fjord, where we see our initial street in 6 days.

It can take a sharp turn, potentially, as folklore maintains, detouring all over a stubborn boulder rumored to be inhabited by trolls.

Yet 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 toes. Flapping madly to assist their soccer-formed bodies and oversized costs overcome gravity, they dart like Star Wars starfighters, seemingly posing and grinning as they fly overhead.

It’s a development, I muse, that almost resembles a … chandelier.

Blue Lagoon Iceland

Blue Lagoon Iceland
Courtesy of Blue Lagoon Iceland

Know Just before You Go

Getting There

Icelandic Air provides immediate flights from ten important U.S. metropolitan areas, from Seattle to Boston. Once you arrive, capture the FlyBus from the airport to downtown Reykjavik, where you can stroll to dining establishments, bars, museums, the wharf and much more. Taxis are common and welcoming — it’s possible due to the fact there’s no Uber (‘It’s also pricey to generate,” said our cabby, Sam).


If you go to one restaurant in Reykjavik, make it The Fish Co. in the heart of downtown—voted the city’s ideal seafood 9 many years operating. Headed by owner and master chef Lárus Gunnar Jónasson, it blends Nordic fusion with Icelandic cuisine. Try out 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’s all served by a welcoming staff in the stone-walled outdated Zimsen residence, a former keep created in the nineteenth century.


Accommodations in Reykjavik operates the gamut from hostels to chains and trendy boutiques. Our fave: the 100-year-outdated Borg Lodge, right on the downtown sq. with obtain to parks, dining establishments, bars, museums the wharf and much more. Once the web page of basic dance balls, it provides a basic Icelandic breakfast buffet, a entire bar (usually with dwell tunes), and quaint rooms with porches overlooking the sq..

Famed Spas

Opening in May, Sky Lagoon is Reykjavik’s newest springs and spa, finish with a sizzling spring-filled infinity pool overlooking the ocean, sizzling spring waterfall, and 7-stage spa treatment method featuring chilly plunge glass-walled sauna overlooking the bay amazing mist area sea salt/sesame oil system scrub steam area shower and sizzling spring soak (test its swim-up bar).

Soaked in by locals for much more than 1,000 many years, the much more famous Blue Lagoon also provides geothermal seawater, spa experiences, and even a pores and skin care line. Named one of twenty five Wonders of the Entire world by National Geographic, a 2018 enlargement established the Retreat at Blue Lagoon, introducing a sixty two-area luxurious lodge, subterranean spa and two dining establishments. Reward: Each individual soak will come with a three-mask treatment method of silica, algae and mineral.

The Greatest Equipment for Sea Kayaking in Iceland

Green, two-person tent
Courtesy Graphic

1. Hilleberg Tents

Hilleberg Tents are what people use up north. Their elegance: the fly and system are attached—meaning you can set them up in the rain without the inside of getting moist. A vestibule approximately as huge as the interior operates great for stashing every little thing from drysuits and drybags to boots.

[From $595 hilleberg.com]

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Big Agnes Sidewinder Sleeping Bags

Major Agnes Sidewinder Sleeping Baggage
Courtesy Graphic

two. Major Agnes Sidewinder Sleeping Baggage

Bagging quite a few Editors’ Choice awards, the new Sidewinder SL and Camp sleeping baggage from Major Agnes—with dealt with down for h2o repellency—are made in particular for these who like sleeping on their sides. A extended, ambidextrous zipper stays out of your way when rolling from facet to facet. This attribute is in particular handy when pivoting to peek out your tent to enjoy seals and distant whales.

[From $149.ninety five bigagnes.com]

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Sea to Summit Drybags

Sea to Summit Drybags
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3. Sea to Summit Drybags

Sea to Summit’s twenty-liter compression sack drybag is excellent for condensing sleeping baggage down to the dimensions of a cantaloupe to in good shape into your kayak’s bow hatch. Waterproof and air-permeable Function material, with a watertight, hypalon roll-top closure, keeps the h2o out even when waves from two-foot swells permeate your storage hatches. The lighter weight drysack also proves handy for working day goods bungeed to the deck rigging.

[from $21.ninety five seatosummitusa.com]

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Level Six Odin Drysuit

Stage 6 Odin Drysuit
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four. Stage 6 Odin Drysuit

You do not want to go into the consume in the North Atlantic, but if you do the front-entry Odin (and women’s Freya) drysuit from Stage 6 has you protected. Created of its toughest water resistant-breathable nylon, Exhaust 3., it shrugs off abrasion though trying to keep the factors where they belong. Functions include a stealth double tunnel, 3-ply created-in socks, articulated spine, reinforced knees and elbows, aid zipper and adjustable midsection-belt. Fleece-lined zipper pockets enable you access add-ons though British latex wrist and neck gaskets continue to keep you bone dry.

[$900 levelsix.com]

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Kokatat Habanero Liner

Kokatat Habanero Liner
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5. Kokatat Habanero Liner

The Habanero from Kokatat is a paddler-made, one-piece drysuit liner with a extended front entry zipper and a 2nd midsection zipper that acts as a drop seat. A flap fly provides front aid, though the women’s liner has an “invisible” zipper for use with woman urination products. Heavyweight, four-way stretch fleece in the main system and lighter weight grid fleece in the underarms, cuffs, neck, and ankles is excellent for paddling. We lived in these liners—even at night.

[$180 kokatat.com]

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