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Rauðasandur Beach is an isolated beach in the Westfjords of Iceland. Where most beaches in Iceland are black or a very light white, this is unique in its deep golden red. It stretches for 10km with a campsite and seal colony at the south eastern end. The farm, Sjöundá that is located close to the campsite was the site of a brutal passion murder in the early 1800’s. Just a short distance from the beach is the black church called Saurbæjarkirkja.
I have my eyes barely open as we come down the road to Rauðisandur Beach (or Rauðasandur). The 180 degree hairpins on a gravel road with no safety barriers was not on the agenda for the day. It is my first time driving down hill on hairpins and really is a white knuckle baptism of fire. It is however worth it as the landscape opens out and the 10km long sand beach comes into view.
After all of the black sand beaches that are scattered around Iceland, this red sand is a special treat. In the afternoon sunlight it shimmers with a haze. The shallow water ripples reflect the blue sky in a diamond like pattern with the distant outline of Snæfellsjökull glacier in the background. However, this beach is a bit of a chameleon. The colours change with the light and time of day in a never ending kaleidoscope. A dark day during winter on this beach is very different to the glistening hues of summer. The sand can appear anything from a light yellow to a deep orange red, which becomes even deeper when seen against the green grasses that edge the beach.
The beach can be reached from the east end of the bay at the Melanes campsite following a well marked path. Look and listen for the seals that haul out along this piece of coastline before fording the small river to get onto the beach. It is worth it to walk along the coarse sand, littered with shells and whale bones rolled smooth by the Atlantic waves.
You can also reach it at the opposite end following the paths that snake across the floodplain from the small farm beyond the church. If you are lucky you will be able to sit for a while at Franska kaffihúsið a small French cafe that opens for a short time each summer and watch the world go by. Saurbæjarkirkja is the small church that sits below the mountains on this small fringe of land just a short distance from the cafe. It arrived in 1982 having originally been the church is Reykhólar. Each timber was marked as it was dismantled and rebuilt in Rauðasand.
The Murders at Sjöundá
This stunning location does have an undercurrent and a history of darkness and passion. The infamous Murders at Sjöundá, happened on the farm close to the Melanes campsite in 1802. Two families shared a farm but when one of the spouses in each family were found dead in unexplained circumstances a few months apart, the gossip about an affair became a reality. The whole saga is described in the novel Svartfugl by the Icelandic writer Gunnar Gunnarsson. It was first published in Denmark in 1929 over 100 years after the event but is still a story people want to hear even today..
- This whole area is perfect for photography although scale is epic and makes single frame captures really difficult. As the landscape opens out after the pass there is a large layby just after the final hairpin. This is a great spot for your first capture of the bay.
- Continuing down this road there are a number of areas where the view is great. Due to the size of the horizon it is better to capture a number of photographs and stitch them into a panorama. From this section of the road it is also possible to capture the patterns in the sand. Intentional camera movement can give an added dimension to the sands.
- The church is located a short distance from the junction of the mountain road and can be reached by turning right. There is a layby by the church so access is quick and easy. Including the mountains behind is essential as these show the true scale of the landscape. The entrance to the church faces west so it is better photographed in the early evening as the sun sets. If you wish to include the sea in your photograph take a short walk past the main gate to the churchyard and follow the track that runs along the edge of the hillside to the west.
Useful Information for Visiting
- Fuel is limited in this area so make sure that you leave Patreksfjörður with a full tank.
- Allow time to navigate the mountain pass down to the beach, it is steep with switchbacks and hairpins on rough gravel
- If you are planning to walk at Rauðasandur Beach check the Tide Times to ensure the tide is out and the beach is exposed.
Places to Stay Near Rauðasandur
In the Rauðasandur Beach area accommodation is limited. In the south-eastern corner of the bay is Melanes campsite which is right on the beach. The facilities are good and they have sleeping pods if a tent is a little too extreme. It can be a little exposed here but it is the only option in the area. The campsite does not need to be booked in advance, you just pay in the kiosk when someone is there but the pods need to be booked either direct or through AirBnB
If you want more luxury then there are a number of options before the pass down to the beach including the beautifully situated Hotel Látrabjarg.
If the road to the Westfjords is putting you off then joining an organised tour is the way to do it without the stress. There are a wide range of options but here are just a few. Even though this selection aren’t photography related they will provided you with the opportunity to capture the beach and church.
Getting to Rauðasandur Beach and Saurbæjarkirkja
Rauðasandur Beach can be reached by following the 614 road over the mountain pass, a road which is often described as the most difficult to drive in Westfjords.
The 614 is a small left turn signposted off the 612 to Látrabjarg which joins with the main 62, the link between Patreksfjörður and Flókalundur near the Brjánslækur ferry (to Stykkishólmur on the Snæfellsnes peninsula).
The 612 and 614 are both gravel for a large part of the drive and can be narrow and winding with passing places.
Exploring Rauðasandur Beach
Walking Tour of the beach
This guided walk along the beach at Rauðasandur will allow you to explore without having to worry about the tides or getting down the road to the bay, your guide will do it all for you!
Cycling to Rauðasandur Beach
If you are a little more energetic then how about cycling the Westfjords. This is an amazing route with a guide to help you all along the way. And if the uphill home is too much they can give you a lift back to a hot tub and a brew.
Everything in Westfjords
If this corner of Westfjords is intriguing then this day tour will take you to all the places on roads 612 and 614. Someone else will drive the passes for you and negotiate the coaches on the tiny mountain roads while you enjoy the experience.
Other places to visit Near Rauðasandur Beach
- Garðar BA 64 – the oldest steel ship in Iceland
- Látrabjarg Cliffs – Sea cliffs, the summer home to thousands of sea birds
- Bjargtangar Lighthouse – The most westerly lighthouse in Europe
- Hnjótur Museum – A weird combination of objects are collected in this small museum