It´s summer in the West Fjords of Iceland and our expedition sailboat Aurora has been busy exploring her favourite areas in the Hornstrandir Nature Reserve. This part of Iceland was settled more than a thousand years ago and people lived in harmony with nature until the last inhabitants moved away in 1952. The decades before were times of major changes in the Icelandic society, people moved from the more remote areas into the towns and it became obvious that Hornstrandir could never provide the living conditions that they were looking for. There were no roads and no proper harbours in the area and most people based their survival on subsistence farming combined with small boat fishing and hunt for seabirds and collection of their eggs.
For almost seventy years now the area has been left relatively untouched by humans. The families of the last farmers still maintain their old houses as summer houses and a few new cabins have been built. But no sheep are grazing in Hornstrandir and no hunting is allowed. Even the Arctic Fox, the only original/native land-mammal in Iceland is protected here. This has led to a unique ecosystem which must in many ways resemble what parts of Iceland could have looked before man started interfering.
The vegetation is surprisingly lush. Over two meter high Angelica grows down to the coast, and the lowlands and slopes are decorated by spreading patches of Wood Crane’s-bill, Fleabanes, Cotton Grass, Lady Smock and a profusion of other wildflowers. In the rocky and sandy areas we have flowers such as Wild Thyme, Oysterplant, Arctic Poppy, Roseroot, Moss Campion and Thrift. Later in the summer we find abundance of Crowberries (Blackberries) and Blueberries (Bilberries).
Two of the largest bird-cliffs in Iceland are around Horn with major populations of Guillemots, Kittiwake, Razorbill and Fulmars. On lakes and ponds you can find Red-throated and Great Northern Divers, Red-necked Phalaropes, Whooper Swans and various ducks. Along the coasts you´ll find Purple Sandpipers, Eider ducks, Long-tailed ducks and the ever active Arctic Tern. On land there are Snow Buntings, Meadow Pipits, Plovers etc. Between 30-40 bird species regularly nest in Hornstrandir. On the rocky beached the seals enjoy the short summer and off shore whales and dolphins swim around.
Even if nature practically rules unchallenged in Hornstrandir now it´s just as fascinating to explore the history of the area. See how people lived off the land for generations but also take a look at remains from more recent activities such as British and American radar stations from the middle of last century and Norwegian whaling station from early 1900´s.
And… all of this of course sets the stage for a fantastic outdoor playground. As usual we will use our expedition sailboat Aurora as our “mother ship” or basecamp to explore the region. The boat will allow us to experience new, inspiring adventures every day, while anchoring in a different magical place each night. Hiking, sea-kayaking, SUP paddling, scuba diving, trail running, photography, wild-life watching… the list of things to do is endless. And after a great day playing outdoors Aurora is always a good place to come back to with a nice dinner from local ingredients and a comfortable sleep.
If you are planning to visit Iceland, Hornstrandir is absolutely one of the best places to go. Check out our description for one of our scheduled Hornstrandir Wild Life trips or drop us a line to develop a special itinerary for your group.