We were now in the most remote part of Iceland - the north-western corner known as the Westfjords. Few tourists visit this area and apparently few locals come here either. There are not many roads and many are gravel with corrugations to make some Australian outback roads look like highways.
We started on the southern coast heading to the westernmost point of the island, in fact the westernmost point of Europe if you exclude some little mid-ocean rocks called the Azores. The road was atrocious, kilometre after kilometre (about 50 of them actually) of potholes and corrugations. But the guide books assured us that the Látrabjarg Cliffs were the steepest and longest cliffs in Iceland and had colonies of zillions of sea birds. Well, they were indeed impressive for height, sheer vertical drop and length. But a walk along the cliff tops showed us that most of the bird life has already fled for the winter and only a few stragglers remain behind. And not a puffin to be seen - they have long gone and we were pleased to have seen them down south.
The coast here is also unusual for its yellow sand beaches. Everywhere else the sand is unsurprisingly black as befits a volcanic island. But here it was almost tropical looking making the sea a warm green rather than cold steel-blue.
We passed very few farms and no villages in the far south; the place is wild and remote. Sheep are scattered in thin groups over huge areas. Black and white Eider Ducks crowd the shorelines in their hundreds of thousands and there are groups of white Whooping Swans in pairs or fours along the saltwater fjords or high in the mountains in freshwater lakes.
At the end of a fjord a wreck sat on the sand. It is the oldest steel boat built in Iceland (1912) and it was washed ashore on Patreksfjörður. Around it were some mussels growing amongst the weed and Russ, being the hunter-gatherer of old, collected enough from the freezing water to make a small entrée that night.
After a night at Tálknafjörður campsite in the little village of the same name, we drove further along a dead end road to try and find the local hot pot. Nestled amongst the vegetation almost hidden from the road was the little red-roofed hut I was looking for. Next to it were three pools filled with steaming hot water from a spring. The main one was too hot to enter first up so we acclimatised to the heat in the 'cooler' one first. Although it was only about 5 °C outside and some rather cold rain started to fall, we were as warm as toast. Even after getting out, we were warm right through for hours.
And everywhere we drove there were waterfalls: at sea level over cliffs into the fjords and up high in the mountains cascading over layer upon layer of rock terraced by weathering. Every now and then, steam would rise up out of small pools or from little streams. Generally nearby there would be a small swimming pool or hot pot.
The showpiece of Westfjords is the Dynjandi Waterfall, along another an agonising gravel road. Here we could walk right up to the topmost and most impressive waterfall of the five or six that actually cascade to the fjord. It is a wedding cake confection, wide, lacy streams of water tumbling down an enormous cliff. Later as we drove along the roads hugging the very edges of the fjords, we saw Dynjandi again in all its glory from the far side.
We stooped for the night at Ísafjörður, the largest town in the Westfjords region. And it's not very big… To get there we drove through a tunnel some 6km long. It was quite spooky inside, the walls of the tunnel bare rock curving overhead and the lighting quite dim. Inside was a turnoff towards another town, complete with road signs - it looked very strange inside a tunnel. Ísafjörður is large enough for cruise ships to call in and had a decent sized supermarket so we could stock up.
As we drove north the GPS informed us we had cracked the 66°N mark - not too far from the Arctic Circle now! As we drove west we now could look over towards the northernmost peninsula of the Westfjords and see the Drangajökull glacier. We wouldn't be visiting that region at all - there are no roads there at all over most of it. Along this coastline we weaved in and out of fjords lined with bright gold seaweed at low tide. Again very few farms and very little traffic, though there were some scattered summerhouses along the shoreline and we wondered when on earth anyone could use them. Vigur Island could be seen in the middle of the fjord along the way, a few housees could be made out but apparently it has a permanent population of two, who live there making their living by collecting the soft down from the Eider Ducks which roost there in large numbers.
And at last we reached the eastern edge of the Westfjords and headed to a little village called Drangnes (population 67) where, we had read, there were some excellent hot pots on the water's edge. And so there were. In the cold rain, we lowered ourselves into the steaming water and looked over the fjord to Grimsey Island, steep-sided and green with an orange lighthouse perched on top.