The East (east.is)
Leaving Höfn takes the traveller into The East, a region of wide rolling moorland, reindeer, jagged mountains and deep fjords. This is an area of the country where the visitor can make the most of our wide-open spaces and lose themselves in the wilderness of the mountains or quiet coastline. The region is sparsely populated with around 10,000 inhabitants scattered throughout the coastal fishing communities and farms.
Taking R1 the first points of interest are found at Almannaskarð. Rather than take R1 through the tunnel, peel off to the left and go up the old gravel road that used to be R1 and it takes you to a wonderful viewing point at the top of the pass. If you take the road that branches off to the right before the tunnel, you will come to the Viking Centre, where long-house life can be experienced.
The road hugs the coast all the way to Djúpivogur because the mountainous terrain leaves it nowhere else to go. Along the way is the great lagoon of Lón, which hosts one of the largest breeding colonies of swans in the country. From the Hvalnes lighthouse runs a long beach which is popular for taking a walk.
An interesting part of the drive is the stretch of road at Hvalnesskriður, which is dug into a steep scree slope that has a sheer drop into the waves. Of course this drive was much more exciting 20-years ago when the stretch was still gravel road and there were fewer barriers!
The fishing village of Djúpivogur is the beginning of the East Fjords and sits at the head of Berufjörður. There is a small detour from the main road to get to the village but once there you will find all the basic services and more. There are a bank, a supermarket and a filling station, as well as a hotel and a selection of guesthouses. Don´t forget to see the egg sculptures on the outskirts at Gleðivík.
Berufjörður is 20 km long down one side then another 20 km along the opposite shore, but at least you will be able to have a good look at where you have just been! At the head of the fjord is the scenic Sveinsstekksfoss and the notorious Öxi pass on R939. This gravel road takes you through the mountains over to Skriðulalur, 40 km from Égilsstaðir. Its notoriety comes from causing trouble for visitors when road conditions are rough
Staying on the conventional R1 takes you to Breiðdalsvík, a small coastal village that sits at the bottom of one of the prettiest valleys in the country. The mainstay of the community used to be fish processing, but the factory closed and is now used as a microbrewery so the inhabitants are still very happy! There is a hotel and a coffee house where travellers can take refreshment and a filling station and post office.
Leaving Breiðdalsvík on R95 will take you up this stunning valley framed by craggy topped mountains. A a series of steep switchbacks lead up to the head of the valley, Breiðdalsheiði, and on a clear day the view is magnificent. This road is gravel for much of the way into Skriðudalur
Breiðdalsheiði is often closed because of snow and ice during the winter. The alternative route to Egilsstaðir is on R1 that follows the coast and runs through the fjord towns of Stoðvarfjörður, Fáskrúðsfjörður and Reyðarfjörður. Look out for Petra´s Stone Collection at Stoðvarfjörður.
The new town
Egilsstaðir is the trade and service centre for much of East Iceland and was only built in the 1940s, so relatively new. All services are found there and it is a popular place for travellers to take a break and stock up or to use as a touring base. The airport has several flights to Reykjavík daily. It was decorated with a stuffed polar bear for the filming of the tv drama Fortitude. The glacial lake Lagarfljót is said to have its own version of the Loch Ness monster.
If based in Egilsstaðir a trip over to Seyðisfjörður for a spot of lunch would make a pleasant drive and take about 30-minutes. After climbing out of Egilsstaðir R93 traverses the highland plateau and along a lake shoreline. Once on the other side, the road races the little river down in its descent to the valley below. The river´s course is punctuated by several small waterfalls then the more substantial Gufufoss. As the village comes into view don´t be surprised to see the houses dwarfed by the Nörrona ferry that runs between Denmark, Faroe Islands and Iceland for much of the year.
Seyðisfjörður offers many activities from sea angling to golf. There is a thriving community of artists based there and a range of dining options ranging from cafes to sushi.
About an hour´s drive from the town is Bakkagerð or better known as Borgarfjorður Eystri. There is only one road in and out to this pretty spot. On a sunny autumn day the hills covered in blueberry bushes look like they are on fire. Those in 4WD vehicles will be able to explore the remote coastline and its two churches via the F946.
For a longer day out or if planning to visit Vopnafjorður you could venture along R917, which will take you over the highest crossing in the country, Hellisheiði. The summit affords the most wonderful views over the great bay of Héraðsflói and across the broad valley shared by the Jökla and Lagarfjljöt rivers.
In 2006 saw the completion of the Kárahnjúkar dam on the Jökulsá á Dal river. This powerful glacial watercourse has carved out some impressive canyons on its journey to the sea and a day exploring the valley is worth it for the scenery. For this, you take R923, which is a gravel road. Way up the valley is the tiny Eriksstaðir church, which is still used on special occasions by the sparse community up there. Rather than following the same road back to R1, why not explore the heiði country and take R907.
You can stop for coffee and pancakes in the middle of nowhere because there is a cafe at Sænautavatn lake, run by the family from a local farm who move up there each summer.
The last settlements within the official boundaries of East Iceland are the fishing ports of Vopnafjörður and Bakkafjörður. The former has a range of facilities for the traveller re-entering civilization as well as some sites of interest, including a museum at Bústarfell, cultural exhibits and the Selárdalur swimming pool that overlooks the famous salmon river.