There is a 15-meter (49 foot) high basalt monolith in Northwest Iceland. Surrounded by beautiful natural scenery, it stands just off the eastern shore of the Vatnsnes Peninsula.

The reason why this bizarre sea stack is so popular with visitors is that it looks like an animal lowering its head to drink from the sea. Some people see an elephant while others think it resembles a rhino. But, you can just as easily see a dinosaur, a dragon, or - like every weird rock formation in Iceland - a troll.

hvitsekur at sunset in vatsnes peninsula iceland

The Legend and the Truth Behind Hvítserkur

There is, in fact, an Icelandic legend that explains the story of the odd phenomenon quite clearly. Apparently, Hvítserkur was a troll that lived in Strandir in the Westfjords. The troll, who hated Christians, was annoyed by the bells of the nearby convent. He came down from the mountains across the bay in order to tear down and destroy the church bells. In the end, the troll did not manage to mute the bell as he was touched by the rays of the rising sun and turned to stone for eternity.

As for the scientific explanation, the sea stack was formed by erosion. The waves have carved large holes into the rock, making it look like the space between the legs of an animal. The monolith faces constant exposure to sea erosion and therefore required some strengthening. Locals used concrete to reinforce its base and to stop the monolith from collapsing.

Home for Thousands of Living Creatures

Today, Hvítserkur is a nesting ground for several species of birds, including gulls and fulmars. The name Hvítserkur translates to “the White Shirt,” in reference to the white guano that covers the rocks in summer.

For visitors, there is a viewpoint from which you can look down on Hvítserkur and take photos from a nice angle. Those who want to get closer can climb down the hill. It is pretty steep, however, and the path is muddy. This route is only recommended for those who are wearing good hiking boots. Once at the base, at low tide, you can walk up close to the monolith. At high tide, you will be still able to get as close as 10 to 20 meters to the sea stack.

gull birds in iceland in the north

Seals in the Bay at Hvítserkur

The bay is also home to a large seal colony. Seal are often spotted here either swimming in the bay or resting in the black sand. It is recommended that you bring binoculars to have a better look at them! Take a long walk along the coast and you may run into a few of them.

cute seal in the water in iceland