As you drive the ring road towards Vík and Höfn, you’ll see some intriguing “inland islands” towering up from the flat coastal lands along the way. One of the most prominent of these is Hjörleifshöfði—a 221m tuff island that rises from the flat glacial meltwater sand plains of Mýrdalssandur, just east of Vík. It’s thought that Hjörleifshöfði was once surrounded by water, but it now sits 2km inland from the sea.
If you’ve the time to stop for a look, there’s some interesting history attached to the place. Hjörleifur, after whom the island is named, was the foster brother of Ingólfur Arnarson, commonly thought of as the first Nordic settler of Iceland. The two each settled their own homestead, but Hjörleifur was apparently killed by his Irish slaves, who fled to what are now known, for them, as the Westman Islands, where they were hunted down and killed by the vengeful Ingólfur. A grave reputed to that of Hjörleifur, and named Hjörleifshaugur, sits on the top of the island.
Later, a farm was founded on the land next to the island, and stayed there until 1936, when it was swept away by glacial flood. After that the farm’s buildings were moved from the sand to the island’s crest. It was considered a good farming spot because of its rich soil, the wild birds that could be hunted, and the sea bird eggs that could be collected by foraging the cliffs. Today, as well as a great view of the surrounding region, the gravesite and the farm ruins are still visible. There are a few paths to the top, with the easiest route found at the southwestern edge.
Our On The Road series aims to tell the stories attached to prominent or noteworthy things you might pass, or even miss, on a road trip in Iceland. Read more On The Road posts here.