Kufjellkløft, meaning Cow Gulch in Norwegian, might sound like an American Old West name for a remote frontier locale, but nothing could be further from the truth. Kufjellkløft is only a couple of hundred years old, it is thought, and a Northern Atlantic island closer to Iceland or Greenland. The name is was chosen because of the terrain and the bovine mystery at the time of discovery.

Kufjellkløft is what might be considered a new island in the stormy North Atlantic. Much like the Icelandic island of Surtsey that surged forth from the Atlantic if a flurry of fire and smoke, Kufjellkløft was birthed in the same way. Ships had noted the glow of the new island in the 1800s and the island remained obscured from sight in a shroud of fog for many decades before being seen clearly by a Norwegian worker, Jon Olson, on a merchant ship that plied these waters. Olson alerted the captain of the new island. The captain felt a visit would be wise as weather conditions can change abruptly and the island just might offer refuge from a sudden storm.

Once near the island, a launch, including Olson, set off for the shore. Their notes, quite brief, described the island as ‘most unusual’, stating it appeared as a tropical atoll, circular with a small but deep entrance into a lagoon. The elevated island was rutted with gorges but contained rich soil, numerous springs. Grasses were said to be flourishing although air temperatures were low. Several caves were noted. It was one peculiar oddity that earned the island its name: in one of the gulches, a healthy appearing cow grazed.

It was several years later before Olson would return. Spending some time on the island, he noted the 750 foot passage into the bay or lagoon offered great protection to ships stuck in stormy weather. Exploring the island, he noted four healthy cows. They were a real mystery as there was never any sign of human habitation or even a shipwreck as no debris made it to the shore. He pondered how they might have arrived on the island.

Olson described the island as having a ¾ square kilometer lagoon and a land area of about 2.9 square miles. He noted the side of the island facing the ocean was steep, mostly cliffs and inaccessible. The shoreline along the lagoon sloped gently to black sand and rock beaches with several gulches or narrow valleys widening toward the shoreline. The island, void of trees, was grass covered, becoming more sparse as one got closer to the ocean. A number of small springs bubbled forth from the ground, rolling down to the waters of the lagoon, most less than half a meter wide. The water, he noted, was clear and sweet. Several contained hot water. He noted all areas of the island remained ice-free. During a snow shower, he saw the snow melt when hitting the ground. It seemed even the ground was heated. Exploring one of the caves, he found the inside temperature much warmer than the outside temperature and not unlike a room heated by a warm fire.  Ocean waters near the island remain ice free through the year.

Olson was on to something. Kufjellkløft enjoys geothermal heat both from the ground and its housing is heated by the hot water springs. Throughout the year, snow melts on contact and the temperature can nearly tropical at a couple of spots. Even one tiny area of the bay is a hot water spot. One can even dig up the sand at a couple of spots and create a hot tub of sorts as warm to hot waters full the hole.

The oddities of Kufjellkløft made for a perfect scenario for a new settlement. Indeed, Olson and many others fished the waters in summer. In summer, the island was home to a tent city. Sometimes as many as 80 tents dotted the shoreline. In a few years, a few people kept the livestock and grew crops in the rich soil.

The island gradually developed a small fulltime community, never much more than about 120 people. While the community aspired to grow much larger, it’s location, far from anywhere, and frequent bad weather prevented growth. Kufjellkløft began losing population after World War II and today is a small community of 23 people.

The settlement, laid out in city blocks, is a mere 4 blocks in each direction. A marina is at the edge of the community of scattered homes and businesses or workshops. The society is much like that found in Iceland or the Faroe Islands.

Kufjellkløft remains on its own these days. As shipping lanes and vessels have changed, the island remains more isolated than ever. Even so, some make their way to this outpost.

Over the years Kufjellkløft has appealed to the closest government entities but as of yet, no government will make a meaningful commitment. Since the community was established several nations have claimed the island but none were intent on bringing the island into the fold. It has been said any government claim is not worth the paper it is written on as there has never been any action: no voting, no citizenship and not even the collection of taxes. That has left Kufjellklø ft to act on its own behalf.

Government on Kufjellkløft is more administrative. One person is elected by majority from the adults on the island. This person is to serve in the interest of the community. In many instances, he is the ‘go to guy’. He has few rules to follow and exercises his duties carefully as to not raise the ire of the community. This Administrator serves a 2 year term and may be reelected to as many terms as he and the voters want. Interestingly, voting does not include candidates. Voters simple vote their choice and the list is decreased as some candidates decline and voters diminish choices until a clear majority leader is proclaimed. This is done in a community meeting not by secretive vote.

The community is peaceful and there are few conflicts. Those minor conflicts are typically handled by the involved parties without any outside help.

Financially the island is very poor but in reality, this is not the case. Per capita income is about $2,400 US Dollars per year. Greenhouses have a plentiful supply of food as do the neighboring waters. The bovine population keeps the population well supplied in beef and dairy products. Those on the island have wind generated electricity, free geothermal heat and no mortgage to pay off on their small homes. You don’t need a car on Kufjellkløft as there is nowhere to go. The result is one may live very cheaply on the island. Islanders make most of their money from fishing and wool. Tourism is beginning to become a factor but the number of visitors is quite few.

One of the biggest issues for Kufjellkløft is transportation. Shipping services must be arranged and there is no regular transportation to and from the island. The only way off the island is by boat. There is not enough flat land for an airstrip. A helicopter is not a possibility due to distance from the nearest heliport. Transportation on and off the island is by special arrangement made with any vessel in the area that agrees to take on a passenger.

Life on Kufjellkløft is fairly idyllic. Children are at play at various spots on the island. Some of the men fish but normally only for their family needs, opting to harvest fish when a ship will be in the area. Women tend to the garden and the home. Some men tend the cattle and meat and dairy processing. Commercial activity is mostly by arrangement versus firm business hours. Schedules seem flexible and stress free. Neighbors visit one another regularly and there seems to be no strained relationships. At times there is an impromptu gathering for an evening of socializing and entertainment. It can be said you will be without need on Kufjellkløft as the community comes forward to help their neighbors in need.

Minor medical care is handled by a local nurse and education provided by a local instructor who generally has 5 or fewer students. Many youth opt for a higher education elsewhere but surprisingly, many return to the island with their spouse to raise a family and take their place in island life.



While there is no official currency on the island and several currencies are used, a large local coin is produced, completely handmade on the island. The number of coins is minimal. We know there are annual issues in small numbers, thought to be around 40 to 80 coins per year.

Compiled by Bill Turner, 2011.




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