For outdoor activities in this region, arrangements can be made informally. Someone is always willing to take you hiking, bird-watching, fishing, canoeing, or horseback riding, but no specific tours are advertised on websites or brochures. Birdwatchers should pick up the widely available brochure Birds in the Coastal Areas of Thingeyjarsysla. To download it, visit http://norce.org and click the links for "Wildlife" and then "Thingeyjarsysla."
The following sites form a clockwise route around the northeast corner.
Melrakkaslétta, which means "Arctic Fox Plains," is the only general name for the broad peninsula extending to the northernmost point of the Icelandic mainland. Shingle beaches full of driftwood and wading birds are seen along the mostly low-lying coastline, while small lakes, moors, boggy tundra, and eroded hills characterize the interior. Most farms on the peninsula have been abandoned.
An excellent new hiking map for Melrakkaslétta, the fifth in the Útivist & Afþreying series, is widely available in the region.
Rauðinúpur, the headland at the northwest tip of the peninsula has a lighthouse, sea stacks, bird cliffs tinted with red slag, and that end-of-the-earth allure. The turnoff from Route 85 is roughly 22km (14 miles) north of the village of Kópasker (and 3.5km/2 miles after a turnoff which heads along the coast to Grjótnes). In 8km (5 miles) the road ends at Núpskatla crater, and Rauðinúpur is visible to the left. Walk along the rocky shore, which can be slow going, then past the lighthouse to the sea cliffs. Beware of attacks by arctic terns, especially in early summer, and have a stick handy to raise over your head in defense. Puffins are seen in large numbers, and one of the sea stacks hosts a gannet colony. Allow 2 hours round-trip.
Hraunhafnartangi is a promontory at the peninsula's northeast corner, less than 3km (2 miles) from the Arctic Circle. (Hraunhafnartangi was once thought to be the northernmost point of the mainland, but Rifstangi, a few kilometers to the west, wins that title by a hair.) The solitary lighthouse is visible from the road, and a 1.7km (1-mile) 4WD track leads directly there along the shore (going toward the lighthouse, the ocean will be on your left). The harbor by the lighthouse was active in the saga age, and a large cairn marks the gravesite of hero Þorgeir Havarsson. As with Rauðinúpur, be on the lookout for attacks from nesting birds.
The eastern region of Melrakkaslétta is dotted with endless lakes and ponds, treasured by a small coterie of fishermen and birdwatchers. A lovely, peaceful trail leads 5km (3 miles) from the village of Raufarhöfn to Ólafsvatn Lake; from Hotel Norðurljós, walk up to the power line and follow the staked route from there. A canoeing trail for fishermen is in the works. For further information on the lakes, or to plan a fishing trip, contact Erlingur at Hotel Norðurljós.
Raufarhöfn, the northernmost village on the Icelandic mainland, was a major processing center for herring into the 1960s but now numbers less than 250 inhabitants. Erlingur at Hotel Norðurljós is Raufarhöfn's one-man tourist bureau, and the best resource for any outdoor activities in Melrakkaslétta. He's also behind a scheme called Arctic Henge (www.arctichenge.com), a Stonehenge-inspired sundial structure, 54m (177 ft.) in diameter, on a hill just north of town. It's still under construction and awaiting further investment, but the government has promised matching grants.
If you're staying in Raufarhöfn, consider a walk along the Raufarhafnarhöfði headland, a pleasing locale for observing birds on sea cliffs and watching boats come in and out of the harbor. A 2km (1.2-mile) loop trail starts from the church.
The 7km (4-mile) circuit of this small cape halfway between Raufarhöfn and Þórshöfn is one of the best walks in the northeast corner. The route follows the bluffs, with views of sea pillars and archways, and one opportunity to clamber down to a beach. The turnoff from Route 85 is about 35km (22 miles) south of Raufarhöfn, and leads to a farm called Vellir. The trailhead is about 2km (1.2 miles) from the turnoff, on the right side of the road. After circling the periphery of Rauðanes counter-clockwise, the trail ends up farther down the road.
Þórshöfn & Langanes
Anyone with a taste for truly out-of-the-way places should look into Langanes, a 45km-long (28-mile) peninsula shaped like a duck's head. Much of the landscape is moorland full of lakes and ponds, with a few mountains reaching 719m (2,359 ft.) on the east side, some bird cliffs, and a good range of vegetation and wildflowers. The near-total solitude, abandoned farms, driftwood beaches, persistently foggy climate, and remote lighthouse at the narrow tip of the peninsula all give Langanes its own forlorn enchantment.
The village of Þórshöfn is the launch point for excursions into Langanes. A regular car can proceed a short ways beyond Þórshöfn on Route 869, and a 4WD road extends along the northwest coast of the peninsula all the way to the lighthouse at Fontur, with side routes branching off to the southeast. Worthwhile destinations include the ruins of Skálar, a village abandoned since 1954; the bird cliffs of Skálabjarg, just southwest of Skálar; the staked trail at Hrollaugsstaðir, where Hrollaugsstaðafjall mountain meets the sea; and the Fontur lighthouse, which has a guestbook to sign. All the hiking and 4WD routes are detailed in English on an essential new hiking map, the seventh in the Útivist & Afþreying series.
To plan a trip to Langanes, start with tourist information at Þórshöfn. The Sauðaneshúsið museum (tel. 468-1430; June 15-Aug 15 Mon-Fri 10am-5pm), 6km (3 3/4 miles) north of Þórshöfn on Route 869, is devoted to relics of Langanes, and the caretaker is very knowledgeable about the region. The farm hostel Ytra-Lón (tel. 468-1242 or 854-3797; www.simnet.is/ytralon) is located even farther into Langanes, and the website lists several great options for fishing, horseback riding, and participating in farm life. From May 15 to June 10, the egg-collecting club of Þórshöfn leads expeditions into Langanes where visitors can rappel down cliffsides snatching bird eggs. (Be prepared to feel like a wimp if you refuse to eat one raw.) The club leader is Halldór Halldórsson (tel. 862-2905 or 468-1192; firstname.lastname@example.org); his English is limited, so e-mailing is best. Finally, the friendly staff at the Ytra-Áland farm accommodation (tel. 468-1290 or 854-7390; email@example.com) can arrange 4WD expeditions to Langanes or take you on day tours.
Vopnafjörður & Bustarfell
Vopnafjörður is the largest town in the region, with around 725 people, an airport, and one police officer (she covers the nearby village of Bakkafjörður, too). Drivers continuing south along the coast on Route 917 toward Egilsstaðir are treated to incredible views on the steep descent into Fljótsdalshérað Valley. Anyone headed west from Vopnafjörður to Mývatn should be sure to fill up the gas tank. The two sights listed below are some distance outside of town.
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.