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Wild Life

Arnarbæli

Arnarbæli is a district in Ölfus and from the 12th century up until the beginning of the 20th century it was one of the best fields in Iceland to produce hey. Now there are large ruins from the old farm at Arnarbæli that are protected. Due to the wetlands around Arnarbæli you will find many interesting bird species in the area such as a Eurasian Oystercatcher, a Red-necked Phalarope and a Eurasian Wigeon.

Birds of South Iceland

Birds of South Iceland is a program offering excellent year-round services for birdwatchers. South Iceland has a great deal to offer visiting birdwatchers with its wide variety of habitats, including wetlands, seabird colonies, highland oases and unique coastlines. The largest colonies of puffins, pink-footed geesese and great skuas in the world are located within this region, together with Europe's largest leach's storm-petrel colony. South Iceland has a wide range of accommodation from camp sites to 4-star hotels and some within a short driving distance from Reykjavik.

Hornafjörður and Skarðsfjörður are shallow fjords or coastal lagoons on either side of the village of Höfn. The area is home to large numbers of birds all year around. Not only is it an important staging area on migration, but breeding birds are well represented in spring and summer and it is also the region's main wintering area for birds. A rich mosaic of wetlands stretches from Höfn all the way west to the glacial sands of Breiðamerkursandur.

The bird life of the great glacial sands of the south coast has a character all of its own. It is the kingdom of the great skua and is home to the largest colony of this charismatic species on Earth. Wherever there is sufficient water, vegetation sprouts up and attracts a range of birds. The spectacular Skaftafell in Vatnajökull National Park contains woodlands and a variety of species.

The areas Landbrot and Meðal-land support a wide range of birds. The region's wetlands are varied and include flood-meadows, lakes, springs, streams and lava fields. Breeding birds include horned grebe and various ducks. The freshwater springs attract numerous birds in the winter and form important wintering grounds for barrow's goldeneye, common goldeneye and goosander. White-fronted geese are common visitors on spring and autumn passage. Great skuas are conspicuous on the glacial sands.

The valley of Mýrdalur is a rich birding area, with Reynisfjall, Reynisdrangar and Dyrhólaey the chief birding sites. Puffins breed on the cliffs at Víkurhamrar above the village of Vík (the furthest colony from the sea in the world), on Reynisfjall mountain and the headland Dyrhólaey, while common guillemot and razor-bill breed at the sea stacks Reynisdrangar and at Dyrhólaey. There is a huge arctic tern colony at Vík and a smaller one at Dyrhólaey.

Þjórsárver to the south of the glacier Hofsjökull is the most expansive oasis in the central highlands. It is an area of spectacular scenery, with rich swathes of vegetation alternating with barren sands and glaciers. The area represents very important breeding and moulting grounds for pink-footed geese. Other breeders include the great northern diver, the whooper swan, the long-tailed duck, the purple sandpiper, the red-necked phalarope, the arctic tern and the snow bunting. Part of Þjórsárver is protected and a Ramsar site.

Another key birding location in the highlands is the chain of lakes called Veiðivötn. This beautiful and unusual landscape has been shaped by repeated volcanic activity and most of the lakes are located in craters. Great northern divers are particularly common, and other breeding birds include the whooper swan, the pink-footed goose, the scaup, the long-tailed duck, the harlequin duck, the ringed plover, the purple sandpiper, the arctic tern and the

snow bunting. Barrow's goldeneye winters here and has recently bred.

Lakes, ponds and marshes can be found across the lowland areas of Landeyjar and Rangarárvellir. Some of the best birding sites are the lake Skúmsstaðavatn and surroundings, Oddaflóð (protected) and lake Lambhagavatn. Large numbers of wildfowl and waders breed in the area and pass through in the spring and autumn.

Two of the larger lakes in the area, Apavatn and Laugarvatn, along with adjoining wetlands and rivers, are among the best sites for ducks in south Iceland. Barrow's goldeneye, common goldeneye and goosander winter here. Harlequin ducks breed locally and hundreds of scaup, tufted duck and red-breasted merganser stop off on passage and are also common breeders.

Sogið, the river which flows out of lake Þingvallavatn, is one of Iceland's best locations for winter ducks. It is home to the largest flock of barrow's goldeneye outside Mývatn and is the main winter site for the common goldeneye in Iceland. Goosander, red-breasted merganser and tufted duck are common. White-tailed eagles are often seen in winter and harlequin ducks move up the river in spring. Lake Þingvallavatn itself is known for its breeding great northern divers.

The coastline between the mouths of the great glacial rivers Ölfusá and Þjórsá is the largest lava shoreline in Iceland and forms the southern end of the vast Þjórsárhraun lava field which flowed 8,000 years ago and is the largest post ice age lava flow on Earth. Inland there are myriad lakes and ponds. The area hosts an array of birds all year and it is of particular importance for migrants such as knot, dunlin, sanderling, turnstone, brent goose, Eurasian wigeon and various other ducks.

On either side of the estuary of the river Ölfusá there are two large wetlands: BirdLife Iceland's reserve at Flói on the east bank, and Ölfusforir on the west bank. Both are large expanses of pools and lakes which attract numerous birds in the breeding season and on passage alike. The red-throated diver is the characteristic bird of the Flói reserve and dunlin and black-tailed godwit are particularly common here. Ölfusforir is an excellent birding location in winter, attracting large flocks of teal, mallard and goosander, as well as Iceland's largest concentration of the grey heron.

The Westman archipelago has over million pairs of seabirds within stunning landscapes. Here is the world's center of Atlantic Puffins with over 800 thousand breeding pairs. Three nocturnal tubenose species breed in the Westmans, which has virually all the the Icelandic populations. Here is the largest Leach's Storm-Petrel colony in E-Atlantic (around 200.000 pairs), and a large European Storm-Petrel colony as well. Few thousand Manx Shearwaters pairs breed here also. About 50.000 pairs of Northern Fulmars breed also. Kittiwake, Common and Black Gullemots are widespread and common. Some 10.000 Northern Gannet paris breed in four spectacular colonies residing in the southern islands. Many other seabird species breed in lesser numbers or are seen on the sea.

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Breiðamerkursandur

Next to Jökulsárlón is a less known attraction named Breiðamerkursandur, which are fields of sand that get strewn with chunks
of glacial ice, carried along the river Jökulsá á Breiðamerkursandi, towards the sea and then sent back upon the sands by the tides. The diamond-like pieces of glacier create a mesmerizing atmosphere in the close mist that often visits the beach. These glistening ice-diamonds create an even more spectacular vision in the winter months when the sun comes out and bathes the beach in magical
lighting, which reflects off the ice. Waiting around in the darkness for the rising of the sun will be well worth the wait, despite the cold of the Icelandic winter night.

Dyrhólaey

Dyrhólaey is a 120-metre high promontory, not far from Vík. The place got its name from the massive arch that the sea has eroded from the headland. (The name literally means "door-hole"). When the sea is calm, big boats can sail through it. There has even been a maniacal daredevil pilot that flew through the arch with a small-craft airplane! From the top of Dyrhólaey there is a great view. The headland is thought to have been made in an underwater volcanic eruption late in the glacial period, not unlike the eruption of Surtsey. Several outcrops are in the sea, the highest one called Háidrangur ("High column") is 56 m. high. Dyrhólaey has been a natural reserve since 1978. The promontory is widely known among sailors as "Portland", and English trawler fishermen ubeach where one can climb (at your own risk). According to legend the Reynisdrangar needles were formed when two trolls were trying to drag a three-masted ship to land. When daylight broke they turned to stone. The Needles can be seen clearly from the village of Vík and are 66 meters above sea level at their highest. In one of the many caves here - there is a local legend about a monster having lived here for many centuries. The monster seems to have disappeared after a landslide over 100 years ago…sed to call it "Blow hole". There are also amazing rock formations all along the Birdlife here is abundant, with puffins and eider ducks being the most common species in the area. The lighthouse on the top of the cliff stands impressive and stoic in this often very windy area. Be careful not to go too close to the ledge of this dramatic cliff.

Fishing in Landmannaafréttur

Many other lakes, apart from Veiðivötn, are located south of Tungnaá, and fishing permits for twelve of them can be bought from the wardens at Landmannahellir.

These are the lakes Blautuver, Dómadalsvatn, Eskihlíðarvatn, Frostastaðavatn, Herbjarnarfellsvatn, Hnausapollur (Bláhylur), Hrafnabjargavatn, Kílingavötn, Lifrafjallavatn, Ljótipollur, Löðmundarvatn and Sauðleysuvatn. Ljótipollur and Hnausapollur are the youngest of these lakes, with the former dating from 1477 and the latter from 871.

Most of these are closed lakes, although Helliskvísl flows out from Löðmundarvatn, and Blautuver and Klingavötn are connected to Tungnaá. Only trout is caught in Ljótapollur, Herbjarnarfellsvatn, Lifrarfjallavatn and Dómadalsvatn. Trout and Arctic char is caught in Blautuver, Frostastaðavatn and Kílingavötn, but only Arctic char in other lakes.

Fláajökull Glacier

Fláajökull is an easily accessible outlet glacier from Vatnajökull. The area offers spectacular views of the ever-receding glacier that has receded 2 km during the last one hundred years, leaving a glacial lagoon in its wake. The area can be described as a hikers' paradise as it has several good hiking trails and offers a rich variety in birdlife. The area is therefore an excellent destination for bird watchers, hikers and all who are interested in witnessing how the movement of the glacier shapes the surrounding landscape.

Haukadalsskógur Forest

Haukadalsskógur forest is the most highly cultivated of the national forests in Iceland and one of the biggest national forests in South-Iceland. A great outdoor area, with walking trails for wheelchairs as well.

Haukafell

Haukafell is a forestry project that was launched in 1985 and now offers ample shelter to the low-lying, local vegetation, which mostly consists of berry-bushes that are ripe for picking in August. The area is situated east of Fláajökull glacier and is a popular outdoor area for the locals. There are various hiking trails to be enjoyed in the beautiful surroundings and the crispy fresh air. From
Haukafell you find a marked hiking trail to Fláajökull glacier, where you cross a recent walkway over the Kolgrafardalsá river. In Haukafell you find a good campsite in a beautiful area.

Heinaberg

Heinaberg is a beautiful area that consists of Heinabergsjökull glacier, the glacial lagoon Heinabergslón, where you can go kayaking among the icebergs during summer, and stunning landscape. The Heinaberg area is part of Vatnajökull National Park.

The gorgeous glacial lagoon of Heinaberg, Heinabergslón, is accessible by car and is often studded with large chunks of glacier that break off the Heinabergsjökull glacier. The area offers excellent conditions for hikers, as it has several interesting hiking trails, along which one can see waterfalls, ravines, volcanic intrusions, and even, on a lucky day, a reindeer.

Horn/Stokksnes

One of the first settlement farms in Iceland was Horn, built by Hrollaugur son of Rögnvaldur Earl of Møre in Norway. The Hornafjörður Municipality and several natural sites are named after the settlement farm. Horn means the same thing in Icelandic and English. The area is approximately a ten-minute drive away from Höfn. The Horn area is below Vestra-Horn, a 454-meter-high mountain and it is an interesting geological site composing of un-stratified plutonic rock, mostly gabbro but with some granophyre. East of the mountain is a strange-shaped outcrop called Brunnhorn that stretches out to sea. Seals also tend to hang out on the stretch of sand, so if you're lucky you can catch a picture of a lazing seal as well. In the Second World War, the Horn area became a base for the British army and later a NATO radar station was set up at Stokksnes, south of Horn. At Stokksnes you can feel the power of the Atlantic Ocean as the waves hit the rocky shore with massive force.

Hvalnes

Hvalnes is a small peninsula with a black pebble beach that stretches on for a few kilometers. Sitting on its tip is a picturesque old, yellow lighthouse and an old turf farm with the same name of Hvalnes. The beach stretches for a few kilometers and would make a nice walk or you can just hang out on the beach and enjoy the view. It is an excellent location for bird watching and photography.

Jökulsárlón Glacier lagoon

Jökulsárlón is a glacial lagoon by the ring road and was recently designated as a part of Vatnajökull National Park. It's still blue waters are a sight not to be missed, as it is dotted with the icebergs from the edge of Breiðamerkurjökull, a part of the Vatnajökull glacier. The lagoon flows through a narrow gateway into the Atlantic Ocean, leaving the spectacular sight of the large chunks of ice on the black sandy beach. In wintertime the fish-filled lagoon hosts numbers of seals, which visit the lagoon for an easy meal. Year-round
curious seals can be seen basking on the blue-tinted icebergs. The lagoon is accessible from the beach all year round, and so is the café on the banks of Jökulsárlón.
For hikers, a marked hiking trail between Jökulsárlón and Fjallsárlón is recommended as a scenic trip
through unforgettable surroundings.

Ósland

Ósland is an island accessible by a manmade isthmus (land bridge) and is situated just a few steps from the harbor area. Ósland was
once an island but is now connected to the mainland. It is a conservation area popular for hiking. There is rich birdlife and the Arctic Tern is predominant during the nesting season. Ósland situated just a few steps from the harbour area in Höfn. Walking trails circle the pond, Óslandstjörn, and are along the shore. On the hill, Óslandshæð, is a memorial to the fishermen and an information board about the surrounding natural area. From Ósland you can follow the nature trail that has been set up to model the solar system - it's been scaled down and has its sizes and distances in correct proportion. There are also visible impressions of trees in the basalt rock in the area; trees that have been covered by lava a long time ago.

Stakkholtsgja

Fantastic canyon, very narrow around 2 km. long and ends in a beatiful waterfall. Easy hike where you can enjoy nature, birdlife and of course cold, clean mountain water.

The Flói Bird Reserve

Northwest to the town of Eyrarbakki, is a wetland area rich in birdlife. The reserve has walking paths and a bird hide, and idel spot for bird watching. The Flói Bird Reserve is listed in the Bird Life international Association.

Þjórsárdalsskógur Forest

The natural setting of the forest follows a varied landscape of intense contrasts, from flowering forests to unripe ash hake from Hekla. The forest is mostly birch, as well as spruce, pine and larch mixed forests. An ideal place for outdoor activities, as there is a number of marked and unmarked paths and forest roads in the forest.

South Iceland

Towns & Villages

The south of Iceland has several towns and villages, each with its own style, charm and points of interest. Selfoss is the largest town and has a variety of shops, services, many restaurants and fast food places. Most towns are close to the main route, making them accessible and enjoyable.

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Map Höfn Kirkjubæjarklaustur Vík Vestmannaeyjar Hvolsvöllur Flúðir Laugarvatn Reykholt Laugarás Borg Brautarholt Hveragerði Árnes Selfoss Hella Stokkseyri Eyrarbakki Þykkvibær Þórlákshöfn