Hiking Trails in Iceland

The Coast at Arnarstapi and Hellnar



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In 1979 a total of 58 hectares of the coast at Arnarstapi and Hellnar were declared protected areas. The surf has sculpted strange cliff formations there. The source of the Hellnahraun lava field is a crater near Jokulhals, now covered by the glacier. The estimated age of the lava field is 3,900 years.

Fauna. Bird life in the nature reserve is diverse. Kittiwakes, the most common gulls in the reserve, lay two eggs at a time and glue their nests to the narrow ledges of the cliffs using saliva and excrement. The Great Black-backed gull commonly keeps to its nesting grounds, but feeds mainly off beach animals, pelagic fish and fish offal. There are several other species of Gulls and Fulmars. The Tern is a noble bird. To take advantage of the bright summer nights of high latitudes, the bird has developed a special flying technique which enables it to cover distances of up to 20,000 kilometres a year. Shags nest in groups in low cliffs and islets.

Eider is the most common species of duck on the beach. Red-necked phalarope are frequently seen on the ponds above Pumpa Bay. This bird is known for its incessant circling on the water surface in search of food. The female may mate with more than one male bird at a time, and the males incubate the eggs and tend the nestlings.

Common seals can be observed swimming off the coast. The most common species of whales are Killer whales (Orca), Porpoises, and Lesser rorqual. On a good day, schools of Salmon and leaping Dolphins can be seen from the pier.

Place-names in the vicinity of Arnarstapi and Hellnar bear on Bardar saga Snaefellsas, an Icelandic saga relating the story of Bardur, who was half human and half ogre. Bardur arrived at Djupalon. He built a farm nearby, and called it Laugarbrekka.

Thorkell, Bardur's brother, lived at Arnarstapi. He had two sons, Raudfeldur and Solvi. Bardur's daughters were women of great stature and pleasing to the eye. Helga was the eldest. The sons of Thorkell and the daughters of Bardur used to play together. One day, when there was pack ice along the shore, Raudfeldur pushed Helga out to sea on an iceberg. Helga drifted to Greenland unscathed, but Bardur was infuriated. He pushed Raudfeldur into the Raudfeldsgja ravine and threw Solvi off Solvahamar rock, a high cliff on the seaboard east of Arnarstapi. After these events, Bardur vanished into the Snaefellsjokull ice cap. His treasure is said to lie in Mt. Bardarkista ('Bardur's chest'), a chest-shaped hyaloclastite mountain bordering the Saxholsdalur valley. A sculpture of Bardur Snaefellsas by Ragnar Kjartansson stands by the beach at Arnarstapi.

In earlier centuries, fishermen sailed out from many outfits at the foot of the Snaefellsjokull glacier. Landing-places in the area were often hazardous. The landing conditions at Arnarstapi were improved in 1933 and at Hellnar in 1964, but the pier at Hellnar was damaged later in stormy weather.

Arnarstapi had a much bigger population in the old days than it has now. For example, there were 150 inhabitants in 1707 when Arnarstapi was one of the harbours of the Danish monopoly trade. Few families live in Arnarstapi year-round, but in the summer the place is teeming with birds and people, most of the latter engaged in small-boat fishing or living in summerhouses. Columnar basalt, ravines and grottoes surround the Arnarstapi pier. There is good anchorage for small boats. Inland from the bridge is Barnathufa hill and the Barnathufubard. A fair distance off the coast is a single rock, surrounded by sea, called Arnarklettur. Just west of the lighthouse are the so-called Stapagjar ravines. They are in fact great caves that the sea carved into the columnar basalt rocks. The ravines are three in number and are called Eystrigja, Midgja and Musargja. There are myriads of birds in the ravines, especially kittiwakes.

For centuries, Hellnar was among the largest fishing villages beneath the Saefellsjokull ice cap. At the beginning of the 18th century, about 200 people were resident in the area, either on small farms or in labourers' huts. Many relics in the area are indicative of the past. The beach is just beneath the Grouholl hill where the parking lots are. Valasnos, a freestanding rock, extends east of the bay. One of Iceland's most peculiar caves, Badstofa, is there. In the cliffs above the beach is Saudahellir, an old cave that was used for livestock, with openings at both ends.
The Hellnar church was built in 1945 on a picturesque site where a church was first raised in 1833.

Much has changed for the better since Axlar-Bjorn disposed of the corpses of tourists he murdered into the Iglutjorn pond. A summer hotel, partly the old Sandholtshus building raised in 1836, is operated at Budir. There is also a campsite, but tourists are warned, with good reason, against tidal variation in the Budaos mouth. There are limited facilities for camping trailers, but there is the occasional lay-by.

Accommodation is available at several places at Arnarstapi and Hellnar. There is also a camping ground, but camping in the Nature Reserve itself is prohibited. Various tourist services are offered in the area. A warden is stationed in the Snaefellsbaer Nature Reserves for part of the summer.

Hiking Routes in the Nature Reserves
and their Vicinity
The main hiking routes in the Nature Reserves are marked. Organised walking tours under the guidance of a warden are offered in the summertime.

The old trail across the Budahraun lava field is known as
Klettsgata. It leads to the Budaklettur rock, past the Budahellir cave, and onwards across the lava field. In places, hoof prints chiselled by horses into the rock are visible. The Klettsgata trail makes an enjoyable hiking tour, suitable for all. An estimated three-hour walk.

The Jadargatan (Jadragatan) trail lies along the edge of the lava to a big rock, south of the Midhusatun field, where it joins with the Klettagata trail. The trail is vague in many places. The estimated walking time from Budir is two hours.

An enjoyable route leads to Frambudir, where the spirit of days gone by prevails among historical relics covered in vegetation. A walk from the church to Frambudir takes about half an hour.

It is possible to walk from the Budir Nature Reserve to the beach at Arnarstapi and Hellnar. Hikers should assume 6-8 hours for this walk.

An old route lies along the Solvahamar cliff to the foot of the glacier, the site of the Sölvhamarsrustir ruins, which are protected by the National Museum of Iceland. A walk from Arnarstapi to Solvahamar takes less than an hour and is never a disappointment.

Between Arnarstapi and Hellnar, all the way from the sea up to the glacier, is a stretch of lava called Hellnahraun. A trail called
Nedstagata lies across the lava along the beach. From there the way in which the forces of nature sculpt and shape the landscape is clearly visible. A walk between Arnarstapi and Hellnar takes a good hour.

Just above Hellnar is Bardarlaug, an explosive crater from the close of the last glacial epoch. The crater was protected as a natural phenomenon in 1980.

East of Bardarlaug are the ruins of the ancient Laugarbrekka, a former parliamentary site. Gudrun Thorbjarnardottir, one of the most widely travelled women of her time, was born here.

West of the Hnausahraun lava field the
Raudfeldsgja ravine cuts into the east side of Mt. Botnsfjall. The river Sleggjubeina runs along the bottom of the ravine. There is a short walk from the road to the ravine.

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