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
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
Routes in the Nature Reserves
main hiking routes in the Nature Reserves are marked. Organised walking tours
under the guidance of a warden are offered in the summertime.
old trail across the Budahraun lava field is known as
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.
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.
enjoyable route leads to
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.
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.
old route lies along the
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.
Arnarstapi and Hellnar, all the way from the sea up to the glacier, is a
stretch of lava called Hellnahraun. A trail called
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.
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.
of Bardarlaug are the ruins of the ancient
a former parliamentary site. Gudrun Thorbjarnardottir, one of the most widely
travelled women of her time, was born here.
of the Hnausahraun lava field the
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