Surprisingly, Hvalfjordur Fjord (Whale Fjord) is not named for the number of whales spotted in the area, but rather for an ancient folktale involving an angry, red-headed whale that terrorized Iceland’s west coast until it was lured into a trap.

During World War II, a naval base of the British and American navies was in this fjord. One of the piers the United States Navy built is in use for the processing of unendangered fin whales by Hvalur. This processing is partially for the domestic market, and mostly for export to Japan.

The tunnel in Hvalfjordur fjord

Until the late 1990s, people travelling by car had to make a long detour of 62 km around the fjord on the Road 1 in order to get from Reykjavik to Borgarnes town. In 1998, the Hvalfjardargongin tunnel, which shortens the trip considerably, opened to public traffic. The tunnel is approximately 5.762 m (18.904 feet) in length and cuts travel by about an hour. The tunnel runs to a depth of 165 m (541 feet) below sea level.

The innermost part of the fjord shows an interesting mixture of volcanic mountains and green vegetation in summertime. At Botnsá, Nootka lupine is common, along with other flowers and moss. You can also see small forests of birch and conifers. The area shows a good example of reforestation. This is a project that has been going on in Iceland for some years.

Hiking in Hvalfjordur fjord

A hiking trail to the second highest waterfall in IcelandGlymur, has its origin at the innermost end of the fjord. The somewhat steep trail up the rim of the deep river gorge is called Leggjabrjotur, meaning “Broken Leg.” Before the ascent, the trail passes through a short cave and across a thin improvised bridge. While it is possible to reach the bottom of the falls, we do not recommended it. You must wade through the cold river into the canyon, which is dim and at constant risk of falling rocks.

The tale of the Red headed whale

A common folk tale might tell of the fjord’s name origin. An elf woman transformed her human lover into a red-headed whale because he would not acknowledge he was her child’s father. People called the newly transformed whale “Raudhofdi” (Redhead).

The whale lived in Faxafloi bay where he angrily attacked ships.  A Lutheran priest serving at Saurbaer church in Hvalfjordur fjord decided to kill the whale after Redhead attacked his two sons while they were fishing.  Through sorcery and trickery, the priest lured the whale deep into the fjord and up the river Botnsa. The whale managed to swim up Glymur waterfall until he reached Hvalvatn lake (Whale Lake), where he died of exhaustion.

Interstingly enough, people have found whale bones in the lake!