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  • Writer's pictureEinar Páll Svavarsson

Vatnsfjörður fjord in the Breiðafjörður bay an important part of Icelandic history

Updated: Apr 2, 2023


Vatnsfjörður fjord
The landscape is stunning, geology fascinating, and lastly, history that goes as far back as the beginning of the settlement

Vatnsfjörður fjord, located in the South shoreline of the West Fjords, Barðaströnd, is a nature reserve and a very important part of Icelandic history. The landscape is stunning, the geology fascinating, and lastly, a history that goes as far back as the beginning of the settlement at a time when no one lived on the island. According to the book of settlement of Iceland, Flóki Vilgerðarson was the first Norseman who deliberately sailed to the west in search of Iceland. He was nicknamed Hrafna-Flóki (Raven-Flóki) and arrived around the middle of the 9th century, a few years before proper settlement started. He had three ravens that he relied on to guide him during his ocean journeys. On his route to the island that was known as Garðarshólmi at the time, he released the three ravens while sailing from the Faroe Islands. One immediately flew back to Faroe Islands and the second one flew straight up into the air. However, the third one guided him all the way to the island that he was searching for. After sailing along the south shore and the western part of the island, Flóki settled in Vatnsfjörður fjord in the Breiðafjörður bay.


A place like a paradise with abundant resources

Vatnsfjörður fjord
Vatnsfjörður fjord view to Breiðafjörður bay

It is no surprise that Flóki chose Vatnsfjörður with its wonderful vegetation, the rivers, the sea full of fish, great variety of birds in the air, and geothermal facilities. It must have been like finding paradise. Flóki had brought his family and friends with him and they apparently settled in Brjánslækur and enjoyed the summer. The supply of food was everywhere, the weather was calm, and the area was beautiful in its prime time of summer. The group took advantage of the food and hunted fish and birds. However, on the other hand, they did not plan for winter and got stuck in a beautiful place that changed dramatically as the cold with its severe storms settled in. Although they lived through the winter, they lost all their livestock due to lack of hay collection in summer. In spring, Flóki walked up to a hill and looked at the ice covered Breiðafjörður bay and decided to call the island Iceland instead of Garðarshólmi. It is interesting that throughout the eleven centuries, since Flóki had his winter stay, Vatnsfjörður has not changed a lot. So, when you drive the shoreline or hike the area by the lake and the hills in the fjord while travelling in summer, you are looking at a place similar to which Flóki and his family experienced.


Interesting, but a different kind of geological animal

Birds in Vatnsfjörður fjord
Vatnsfjörður fjord has a great variety of birds

The bedrock in the area is part of the Tertiary Basalt Formation, dating back 10 to 13 million years. In addition, the landscape has been shaped and molded by Ice Age glaciers as the mountains in the West Fjords clearly display. It is like the East Fjords, the oldest part of Iceland, and you will find glacial dikes throughout the area as well as natural geothermal pools. Unlike the inland, the highland, Reykjanes Peninsula, and the northwest, no volcanic activity has occurred in this area for millions of years. Therefore, this is the oldest part of Iceland.


Stopping and hiking in Vatnsfjörður

Vatnsfjörður fjord
Evening in Vatnsfjörður in summer view to Snæfellsnes Peninsula

Vatnsfjörður is a great place to stop and hike in the West Fjords. It is a good place to halt for the night, both at the hotel and guesthouses in the Flókalundur and Brjánslækur areas. The area also offers many interesting hiking trails and places of interest. With a mild climate and warm summers, Vatnsfjörður sports a magnificent bird life. The Eider Duck is a common sight on the fjord and you will certainly spot the Harlequin duck during May and June. Occasionally sighted are the Sea Eagles and the Gyrfalcon; the Arctic Fox roams the area, and Seals inhabit the reef on the Hörgsnes Peninsula.






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