Húnaflói is home to the majority of Icelandic harbor seals (plus a few grey seals), and the best place to spot them is on this nubby peninsula west of Blönduós. The peninsula's only town, Hvammstangi, is at its southwestern base. Vatnsnes has a mountainous center, but its shores blend wild coastline with fertile grazing land for horses and sheep. Seals can be viewed any time of year, though they often disappear unpredictably in search of fish. Centuries of hunting have not made the seals any less curious about humans, and they like to shadow your movements from a distance. The harbor seal population is just a third of what it was in 1980, largely because of a viral disease. It is extremely important not to disturb them or try to feed them.
The "World of the Sea People" exhibit at Hvammstangi's Icelandic Seal Center (Selasetur Íslands), at Brekkugata 2 (tel. 451-2345; www.selasetur.is; June-Aug daily 9am-6pm, Sept 1-15 Mon-Fri 10am-4pm) is a good primer on seal biology, seal-human relations, and seal-related folklore, but all you may need there is an update on current seal-viewing locations. Admission is 500kr ($8/£4) adults and 250kr ($4/£2) for children under 14.
From May to September, Áki Boat Tours (tel. 451-2394 or 865-6072; firstname.lastname@example.org) offers 1-hour seal- and bird-watching tours of Vatnsnes (2,700kr/$43/£22 adults; 1,400kr/$22/£11 children 12-16) and 3- to 4-hour sea-angling trips (5,800kr/$93/£46 adults; 2,900kr/$46/£23 children 12-15; minimum 25,000kr/$400/£200), mainly in search of cod.
From Hvammstangi, Route 711 follows the periphery of Vatnsnes. On clear days, the west side of the peninsula has great views of the Strandir coast. Signs are sometimes posted at turnoffs for viewing seal colonies. A particularly accessible seal colony is on the peninsula's western shore, about 15km (9 miles) north of Hvammstangi and just north of the Hamarsrétt sheep round-up pen, which is marked from the road.
Hindisvík, a protected area barely west of the peninsula's tip is perfect for a short coastal walk to a seal colony that's also enlivened by ducks and diving birds. The parking area, roughly 6km (3 3/4 miles) northeast of the Route 711/Route 712 junction, is not well marked from Route 711 -- look for a sign with the "interesting site" icon, a kind of square with circular corners. Take the stile over the fence and walk past the abandoned farm buildings, following what's left of the dirt road. In 15 minutes the road splits; bear right and follow the coastline for 5 minutes to a rocky promontory.
Ósar is the most idyllic spot on Vatnsnes for an overnight. Hvítserkur, just off the shoreline near Ósar, is a bizarre, M-shaped, 15m-high (49-ft.) basalt crag with its own bird population. To reach this requisite photo stop, turn off Route 711 a short distance north of Ósar and proceed to the parking area. Scramble down to the black sand beach and, if the tide is low, walk into Hvítserkur's arches. Walk south along the beach for 20 minutes, past the resident ducks, jellyfish, and harbor seals that will probably be seen lounging on the sands across the channel (One or two seals will probably swim over to investigate). From this part of the beach, it's a 10-minute walk uphill to Ósar.
This picturesque 1km-long (1/2 mile) gorge on the Viðidalsá river makes for an enjoyable half-hour diversion or picnic spot near the Ring Road. Kolugljúfur plunges 50m (164 ft.) deep and was named for Kola, the troll that dug it out. To reach the gorge, exit the Ring Road onto Route 715 at either junction (Rte. 715 forms a "V," meeting the Ring Road at both ends). From the bottom of the "V," turn off Route 715 and continue south to the sign that reads "Litla-Hlið/Bakki/Kolugljúfur;" turn right and park just before the bridge. Paths head downstream along either side.
The distinctive stone Þingeyrar Church (tel. 452-4294; free admission. Jun-Aug daily 10am-5pm) lies on pastureland east of Vatnsnes peninsula. It was built from 1864 to 1877, and financed entirely by Ásgeir Einarsson, a local farmer and member of parliament. While most Icelandic churches from this time are sided with sheets of corrugated iron made to resemble painted wood, Þingeyrar was constructed at great expense from hewn basalt and limestone. The interior layout varies from the ultra-rectangular Icelandic norm. The apse -- the semicircular projection on the eastern end of the church that normally holds just the altar -- is deepened and broadened to encircle everything in front of the pews ("apsidal choir" is the technical term). Many Icelandic church ceilings have a few hundred gold stars mounted on square panels; Þingeyrar church has about a thousand gold stars on a smooth, dark-blue ceiling, which is half-domed over the apsidal choir.
The altarpiece, made in the English town of Nottingham in the 15th century, illustrates Biblical scenes with appealingly crude alabaster figures in relief. (A similar altarpiece at Hólar is more compelling.). It once had wing panels, lost during a failed attempt to sell the altarpiece abroad. The Baroque-style canopied pulpit and matching baptismal font were made in the Netherlands in the late 17th century. The church's best-known feature is the "Apostles Collection": small, painted oak-wood figurines, placed between the railings of the gallery. The originals were made in Germany in the late 16th century, sold from Þingeyrar in the early 20th century, and then donated to the National Museum. What you see here are expert 1983 replicas.
To reach Þingeyrar Church, exit onto Rte. 721 from the Ring Road, 20km (12 miles) west of Blönduós, and proceed 7km (4 1/4 miles) to the end.
This coastal town and agricultural trading center is the largest settlement in Húnaflói, with nearly 1,000 residents. Visitors have little reason to dawdle for long.
Thanks to Icelandic cowboy Hallbjörn Hjartarson, this tiny town 23km (14 miles) north of Blönduós is a bastion of country-and-western culture.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.