Once in a while nature offers us magnificent structures simply carved by the random hands of erosion. The Hvítserkur Rock on the Vatnsnes peninsula in northern Iceland is a perfect example.
This impressive basalt monolith, which stands proudly in the Arctic Sea of Húnafjörður, is very popular with tourists for its very original shape, reminiscent of a rhinoceros or elephant, which makes for fantastic pictures.
Hvitserkur at high tide
Hvítserkur literally means “the white nightgown.” While this may seem elegant on the surface, the rock owes this name to the layer upon layer of guano that covers it from the countless birds, especially fulmars and gulls, that nest in its cavities. Hvítserkur has become a major tourist attraction on the Vatnsnes peninsula.
Just over 15 meters high, this basalt block has two arches most likely formed by a lava fissure spewing magma upwards, and then sculpted by maritime erosion. Carved by the waves for centuries, it was recently determined to be too weakened by erosion, and Hvítserkur as a result had to be reinforced at its base by cement blocks in 1955.
Hvítserkur, view from the belvedere
As is often the case in Iceland, the Hvítserkur monolith has its own legend.
Local legendhas it that the huge rock was in fact neither an elephant nor a rhinoceros but, once again, a troll who lived in Strandir in the western fjords. Hvítserkur really didn't like Christians, and nothing made him more mad than the sound of the bells in the Thingeyrar church. And it is this troll that stands there in the water, a rock petrified by the rising sun's rays, as he threw stones at the Thingeyrar Monastery in a fit of rage.
Hvítserkur is easy to reach, requires a detour from the beaten track of Road number 1. Indeed, when arriving south of the Vatnsnes peninsula heading towards Akureyri, you have to turn off on the small road 711 that runs the coastline of the peninsula.
It only takes 25 minutes to cover the 25 km to the Hvítserkur car park from the ring road. You can enjoy the luxury of parking only 200 meters from the large basalt rock.
The site can be visited all year round but of course, in winter, accessibility will depend on weather conditions. But the site is very popular for photographs with the aurora borealis! The place has become a tourist attraction and in fact can get very busy in summer. That's why it's best to go there in the evening to enjoy the crepuscular light of the midnight sun or in the morning with the sunrise between the arches.
Sun under the Hvítserkur Arch - Joshua Earle @Unsplash
A small belvedere provides a very useful viewpoint to photograph the rock, and the car park is only 200 metres away.
Take the small path down to the beach to approach the rock. Be careful, the path is steep and muddy, and especially in winter this combination is more like a slide than a path.
At high tide, you can get about 20 meters from the stack, it is in fact, standing on the water with stunning reflections. In summer, and at low tide, you can practically touch the foot of Hvítserkur.
The view from the beach is completely different and Hvítserkur even more impressive up close. The huge block of basalt reflected in the water when sea is calm makes for some truly amazing photos.
Most visitors just snap their photos of the rocky elephant and leave, but there is a hiking trail that could really be worth a detour.
Due south on the way to Sigriðarstaðavatn, Ósar is located about 800 meters from the Hvítserkur arch. This has been home to a seal colony for many years.
Sometimes they bask on Ósar beach, but more often than not they like to sunbathe a little further away, across the street, on Sigriðarstaðasandur beach. They are rather far away however, so if you want a good look we recommend you bring a pair of binoculars.