Höfn marks the eastern edge of South Iceland and from here, Route 1 starts to curve northwards along the coast into the Eastfjords, with the 1km long Almannakardsgöng tunnel being a definitive line between the two regions.
It’s a comparatively underpopulated part of the country, with more than a few forlornly abandoned houses to be seen along the road.
The Eastfjords are undoubtedly the visual equal of any other part of Iceland, encouraging repeated stops along the way to take in wondrous views of mountains, waterfalls and the unusual tubular clouds that the special atmospheric conditions in fjords can create.
The winding roads that hug the fjordsides mean that it will take a little longer to get from one village to the next, but it’s best not to hurry too much through this area, given it’s outstanding beauty and relative peacefulness.
Just before entering the Almannakardsgöng tunnel, it’s well worth considering a 4km diversion along a gravel road to the Viking Cafe at Stokksnes, which offers visitors a chance to visit a reconstructed village (made for a film) and enjoy excellent walks around Kirkjusandr and take in awe-inspiring views of Vestrahorn.
Once through the tunnel, keep an eye out for The Big Red Chair, helpfully bolted securely onto a rock, offering passers by a unique photo opportunity.
Djúpivogur is another intriguing diversion from the Ring Road, offering a highly unusual sculptural display of more than 30 eggs of local bird species lining the harbour wall. It’s well signposted and easy to find.
On the way, look out for another unusual spot, the Bones, Sticks and Stones Gallery, which is a unique gathering of rocks, bones, dolphin skeletons and other flotsam and jetsam, owned by an extremely engaging individual called Willy.
Leaving Djúpivogur behind, the Ring Road then winds its way onwards from Breiðdalsvík to Stöðvarfjörður, with the mountain Sandfell rising inland, leading eventually to Fáskrúðsfjörður, which is unusual in that it’s road signs are bilingual in a nod to its past connections with French sailors who were frequent visitors here.
Eventually, Route 1 will carve its way into a mountainside to head more directly northward to the eastern hub of Egilsstadir, a connection point for several potential destinations, with Seyðisfjörður and Lagarflót chief amongst them.
Egilsstadir is a little like Selfoss – it’s a larger than average settlement without any significant attractions of its own apart from a few galleries and museums, being chiefly important as a place to fill up on fuel and supplies.
In good conditions, Route 93 to Seyðisfjörður is one of the most spectacular stretches of road in the country, ascending quickly by winding hairpins that offer splendid views over Egilsstadir on one side, onto a fully sealed mountain pass that’s a treat to drive, leading eventually towards Seyðisfjörður itself on the other, by way of a number of waterfalls and the gushing Fjarðará river.
The waterfalls are more visible heading towards Egilsstadir from Seyðisfjörður, so keep that in mind.
The Blue Church is one of the highlights of pretty Seyðisfjörður, but there are several more quirky and intriguing wooden buildings in this colourful, artistic community.
Nearby stand twisted girders, a monument to an avalanche that hit the town in 1996. Cruise liners visit midweek, with greater numbers visiting the restaurants and cafes.
Seyðisfjörður is a perfect destination to end a day in the Eastfjords, with spectacular surroundings and several good quality restaurants and bars.
Alternatively from Egilsstadir, another option to continuing along Route 1 is to consider a circuit of the enormous inland lake of Lagarfljót, to try to spot the elusive giant “worm” that’s said to live there, to visit Hengifoss, or to walk amongst tall trees again in the forest at Hallormsstaður.
Lagarfljót will take between 1-2 hours to drive around, if Hengifoss is only observed from lakeside. If a 2km uphill hike to see the 128m falls more closely appeals, that could add another two hours to a diversion in this direction.
The climb up to Hengifoss is quite manageable with a few steep stretches, amply rewarded by splendid panoramic views of Lagarfljót and Hallormsstaður, as well as Litlanesfoss, where magnificent basalt columns line the river away as it rushes downhill from the falls.
The road is mostly sealed on the southern side and mostly gravel to the northern (Hengifoss) side of the water as it returns to Egilsstadir.