Iceland, Part III: Into the Westfjords and Dynjandi

Part I: Introduction
Part II: Snaefellsness Peninsula
Part III: Into the Westfjords and Dynjandi

So here’s the thing about driving in Iceland: it doesn’t seem like it’s going to take that long to get places.  It’s a relatively small island, after all.  But then there are areas with really cool names like ‘the Westfjords’ that are just ridiculous.

The Westfjords

The more astute readers will have surmised by now that the Westfjords probably represents a group of fjords in the western part of Iceland.  Those readers are exactly right.

The Westfjords area is isolated, remote, and cut off from the rest of Iceland for much of the winter because the roads are impassable.

My plan for the day: from Snaefellsness to the Westfjords

My day began in Stykkisholmur and would end at a random village called Djupavik in the eastern part of the Westfjords.  The research I had done indicated this would be about a 4-5 hour drive.  There was an option for an out-of-the-way enormous waterfall which is on the western side of the Westfjords but that would be a gametime decision.

How the day ended up

I decided to wake up super early in Stykkisholmur to see if driving back out to Kirkjufell for sunrise would be worth it.  The winds finally had died down from the day before and I wanted to see if I could get some drone footage around Kirkjufell.  On my way over to Kirkjufell the morning light was lovely and the roads were empty so I decided to get some test footage for the Mavic 2 Pro and see how its ActiveTrack mode would track a car (you can see how it did at the link)

The drive over to Kirkjufell was absolutely stunning but unfortunately I was staring at some rain clouds blowing in.  Not only were they blowing directly towards the iconic mountain but the wind was also picking up.  So basically womp womp.  I made the call to turn around, head back to Stykkisholmur to eat breakfast and get started on my journey to the Westfjords.

Along the way, though, I stopped for what turned out to be an epic sunrise along the north coast of the Snaefellsness Peninsula!

Decision time: do I go to Dynjandi?

One of my advisors for this trip was my buddy Mike.  I shot him a Facebook message and asked if Dynjandi was doable on my way to Djupavik.  He said definitely not.  CHALLENGE ACCEPTED MIKE.

Here’s what the route ended up looking like.

So there were really two options: catching a ferry in Stykkisholmur and relaxing on my way across the bay or driving down the peninsula back onto the mainland, turn north on a gravel road, drive for quite a while until I reached some fjords, then drive for a few hours more.

A smarter person than I would’ve taken the logical choice and gone with the ferry.  I’m neither smart nor logical and figured to myself “the scenery will probably be prettier on the drive!  Good idea Andy, absolutely no way this will backfire!”

Satisfied with my approval of my own idea I hopped into the car and drove.  Then I drove some more.  And then some more.  FINALLY I arrived at…the turn northward you can see on the map.  Google had told me the drive to Dynjandi would be about 4.5 hours.  I pulled up Waze and it said, at that point, THAT I HAD SIX HOURS TO GO.  Surely Waze couldn’t be right, right?

Waze was right.  It took six more hours to get to Dynjandi.

Here’s the thing about driving on roads other than the Ring Road in Iceland

Iceland gets winter’d right in the face every year.  Snow and ice wreaks havoc on paved roads so many roads off the Ring Road tourist routes are gravel.  If you have any experience driving on gravel highways (in Chilean Patagonia, for instance) you’ll know that there is one consistent theme to gravel highways: potholes.  There are potholes EVERYWHERE.  You absolutely have to go slow or else you’ll risk popping a tire or even ripping the front bumper off your car (I literally saw four front bumpers discarded on the side of the road during my trip).

Many of the coastal roads will take you up and down fjords over and over and over and over and over again.  Oh, and also many of these cliffside roads do not have barriers, so go too fast and you get to take a fun and happy one-way trip off the side as if Toonces were driving.

Ok we get that the drive was a beating, how was the scenery?

It was absolutely phenomenal.  Every turn revealed a different world.  The only real tough part was there weren’t really a lot of opportunities to pull over and take pictures, and also I was in a bit of a time crunch.  At a certain point I was pretty sure I was actually on a different planet once I got close to Dynjandi and got a cool drone shot of the landscape.

Finally I got to Dynjandi!

I pulled into the parking lot tired, sore, dizzy, and excited.  Why did I drive all the way out there just to see a waterfall?

It. is. MASSIVE.

I couldn’t wait to take pictures of it and get some great drone footage but then I saw the big No Drones Allowed sign at the entrance to the trail.  BUMMER OF A LIFETIME.

But there were still pictures to take.  The Dynjandi complex actually has quite a few waterfalls aside from the mega one.  As you begin walking the trail you can get some cool shots of the waterfall “stack”.

A note about waterfall photography

I’ve received some questions about taking pictures of waterfalls to get the “smooth water effect”.  Basically you need to slow the shutter speed of the camera down to 2 seconds or slower.  On sunny days (or even most cloudy days) this can be really tough to do.  Many would say to close down your aperture to f22 or whatever the smallest aperture your lens has, but this can degrade image quality due to light diffraction.

I used a Lee Big Stopper neutral density filter for all of these shots.  It allows me to keep the my aperture in the lens’s wheelhouse (f5.6 or thereabouts) and still slow down the shutter speed for the desired effect.

I kept exploring the Dynjandi trail.  After sitting basically entirely still for the past six hours it was a nice and hilly trail to get some blood moving back through my legs!

The waterfalls were gradually getting bigger and bigger with the Big One constantly lurking in the background.  I found a cairn at a well-worn photography spot and grabbed a quick shot.

And then it was time to walk over to the Big One.  It’s over 300 meters tall (about 1000 feet in Freedom Units) and is incredibly powerful, the sound is almost deafening!

There was mist all over the place so I didn’t take my cameras out but on my way back to my car I stopped and got a picture of a person standing where I had been to give you a sense of scale.

Simply massive.

Ok enough of Dynjandi, off to Djupavik

Ok so here’s where I made a pretty large critical error.  For some dumb reason I thought there would be a route across the mountains in the middle of the Westfjords to cut across to Djupavik.  There is not, it’s all coastal roads.

In order to get to Djupavik I basically had to backtrack for 2.5 hours and then drive another 2.5 hours to get to my hotel.  When Waze told me this my heart sank.  At this point I was tired and jetlagged and was concerned about driving while fatigued like that.  I mainlined some coffee at a petrol station about an hour from Dynjandi and did the best I could to stock up on supplies for the trek.

Long story long: I made it to Djupavik safely.  I’m still not sure how, but I made it.  I had called the hotel earlier and told them I’d be arriving late and asked if they could cook me a sandwich or something and leave it in my room for when I arrived (they did and it was delicious).

I arrived to the incredibly unique Hotel Djupavik, wondering why my buddy Mike had suggested it, but way more than that I was ready to get some sleep.

To answer your question: no, I do not recommend stopping by Dynjandi on your way to Djupavik.  I’m lucky I had enough energy to make it safely and, in retrospect, it was a really dumb decision to push it.  Driving on some of those Westfjords roads was dangerous enough during the day, driving them at night while critically exhausted wasn’t a good decision.

That said, I made it.  The agenda for the next day: rest.  And the next day made me absolutely fall in love with the Westfjords after a rough introduction to them.

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