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Heimaey - birds and cliffs

Saturday 23rd August

Just to the west of Heimaey town is Herjólfsdalur, an amazing natural amphitheatre (created by an extinct volcano), which overlooks the camp site. In front of that is a dramatically sited golf course and some (not very impressive) ruins of houses from the 7th century - which is extremely early for Iceland, where the "official" settlement wasn't till the 9th century.

ruins, with the town and volcanos in the background
offshore islands
Mormon emigrant memorial, with Herjólfsdalur in the background

Continuing to the coast brought us to a dramatic meeting of sea and cliffs, and our first puffins — my first ever.

The walk along the coast is easy-going, over green grassy slopes. Near the beginning is a monument to those who emigrated from Iceland to Utah. (I had just started reading Halldor Laxness' novel Paradise Reclaimed, about Icelanders and Mormonism.)

We ran into a juvenile kittiwake right in the middle of the track, but most of the birds kept their distance. Those on the cliffs below were hard to see, let alone photograph. Other notable sights included a rusted tractor that had fallen half way down the cliff, a shipwreck memorial, and drying racks for fish (which used to be taken from small boats). And there were nice views of other of the Vestmanæyjar (Westman) islands all the way along the coast.

fish drying racks
layered rocks with the Vestmanæyjar islands behind
puffins (cropped)

Crossing the low sandy peninsula which connects the bulk of the island with the Stórhöfði peninsula, we climbed up a little way and had lunch in a field on the edge of the cliff, with great views. There were puffin burrows just below us, puffins sitting on the edge of the cliff, puffins fishing in the sea below, and puffins flying past with small eels in their beaks. And there were some cute sheep behind us.

It was very windy climbing up and around the lighthouse. This made it easier to approach puffins (from downwind) and I got my best photo of one here. (And yes, I know I need a camera with a telephoto lens for bird photography - the 3x zoom on my little Canon Powershot S330 doesn't really cut it.)

a puffin (cropped)
Stórhöfðaviti: built in 1906, this is the oldest lighthouse in Iceland still in use

We walked back to town along the road, in wind and intermittent light rain. Unfortunately we reached the town swimming pool at 4.55, just as it was about to close.

entering town

We went back to our guesthouse to shower, then went out for dinner. Stupidly, we didn't go back to the wonderful restaurant we'd eaten at the previous night, but went to a place called Lanterna recommended by the Lonely Planet guide. Not only was the fish of the day there more expensive (1500 against 1050), but it was the kind of stringy deep-fried fish that would have been poor quality "fish and chips" in Australia or the UK. I tried puffin, which has a very livery taste to it.

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