The Glacier Lagoon & Skaftafell National Park
Hofn to Hunkubakkar – Drive 125 miles
As I suspected, the morning proved to be quite gloomy and overcast. Our decision to visit the Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon the previous evening proved to be a prudent one. It was raining and foggy when we left our hotel and proceeded west. As we came down the mountain the fog began to clear and by the time we reached Jökulsárlón again it was still a bit rainy and very overcast.
We decided to pull in and have a look anyway. It was still cool to look at. We went inside the gift shop and got a coffee. As we waited the rain stopped and I decided I was going to take the zodiac tour on the lagoon that I had booked before we left. Cynthia decided to stay in the car and read a book.
When you go out on the zodiac they provide you with a thermal suit and a life jacket.
They can fit 10 tourists on a boat and they run two boats at a time. The gathered us up and put us in a bus and drove us to where we would board our boats.
It was a good thing Cynthia opted out. She would have hated this.
The boat takes you right up to the head of the Breiðamerkurjökull glacier which is where all the icebergs that fill the lagoon come from.
We stayed out on the lagoon for about an hour and it was really something to see. The tour guide/boat driver was friendly and knowledgable about the site and seemed to enjoy telling us all about the lagoon.
Since the sky was overcast there was much more blue coloring to the ice than there would have been if the sun was out. Still, I can only imagine what this place might look like in the bright light of day.
When I got back to shore I found Cynthia and we moved on. There was on place I wanted to check out as I had heard about it from researching this trip. The Fjallsárlón Glacier Lagoon which was a few miles west of Jökulsárlón. I had read that if Jökulsárlón was too crowded or the boats fully booked you could get a tour on Fjallsárlón pretty easily. When we found it, there was hardly anyone there and sure enough, if we had wanted to go on another zodiac tour we probably could have without much of a wait.
It’s not quite as pretty as Jökulsárlón, but it’s still amazing.
We took some photos and then moved on. As we drove west the sun began to come out. Things we looking up for the second half of our journey. I will write about that in the next post.
Egilsstaðir to a guest house a few miles north of Hofn – 166 miles
Today we would be driving through the scenic East Fjords of Iceland.
This morning it looked like our weather luck might have run out. It rained all last night and was raining when we hit the road. Once we made our way a little to the east things started clearing up and we were left with dramatic skies full of interesting clouds.
We took every opportunity to stop. Sometimes to meet animals
Sometimes just to take photos of interesting road signs.
I had thought we were done with tunnels in Iceland, but it turns out we had two more in store for us. The first was Fáskrúðsfjarðargöng which was 3 1/2 miles long and the second was Almannaskarðsgöng which is a little less than a mile long.
Cynthia has gotten pretty used to them by now. She still hates them, but she keeps her good humor.
We made good time toward our final destination and stopped in Djúpivogur for some lunch before driving the final hour to our hotel.
Tomorrow we’re scheduled to drive on to the west along the south coast, a route that will take us past the glacial lagoon at Jökulsárlón. Since the weather was so good today and it wasn’t all that far to get to Jökulsárlón I decided to go out there this evening. Just in case the weather tomorrow isn’t so good. I would hate to miss it.
The place is fantastic. The glacier has partially melted and retreated and this has created a glacial lagoon. When ice from the glacier breaks off it forms icebergs in the lagoon.
These icebergs then make their way out to sea.
Many pieces of the icebergs wash up on the shores of the black sand beach and are ghostly to behold.
We hung out for a few hours taking photos and then made our way back to the hotel.
Tomorrow we push further west and suspect we’ll drop in on the glacier lagoon for another visit.
Laugar to Egilsstaðir – 181 miles
We drove up tp Húsavík which is a very lovely little town. The harbor, especially.
We decided not to take a whale watching tour. While it would be cool to see some whales, it’s never a guarantee and it is an investment of time and money. Plus, Cynthia has had her share of boats and I need to keep her in good shape leading up to a possible boat ride in the glacier lagoon later in the trip.
We drove around the peninsula and made our way to the Dettifoss waterfall. This is where things got interesting. We took 862 to the south, down the west side of the Jökulsá á Fjöllum river.
They say the road is passable for normal vehicles from Ásbyrgi to Dettifoss. However, up until 2011 this road was categorised as a mountain road (F-road). I have not been on many of the Icelandic roads, but I would not have done this one in anything less than a 4 wheel drive vehicle like the one we are driving.
We made our way very slowly, avoiding as many potholes and the larger rocks as we could. But eventually we came to the paved portion of the road and sped our way to Dettifoss, the most powerful waterfall in all of Europe.
We parked the car and saddled up our gear for the 15-20 minute hike to the edge of the waterfall. It did not disappoint.
It was pretty early so there were not many other tourists around. I tried out some long exposures techniques which came out pretty well.
There was a lot of mist and spray which covered my camera and made shooting a bit of a challenge. Still, I am happy with the results.
After spending some time at Dettifoss we hiked over to Selfoss which was upstream a little ways. Sadly, this was when I noticed my camera battery was dying and I had not spare with me. It was in the car all the way back up in the car park. Fortunately Cynthia’s battery was still going so she got the shot.
After hiking around we decided to get in the car and make our way to our accommodations outside of Egilsstaðir.
Did you know that Egilsstaðir has a sea monster? Apparently they do. The Lagarfljót Worm. If we see anything we will try to post blurry photos or grainy video.
When we arrived at the guesthouse we had booked for the evening they informed us that they had overbooked and had to send us to other accommodations which were pretty close and ended up being just fine.
Tonight we went to Café Nielsen for dinner. It was fantastic and I had reindeer as my main course.
Tomorrow we’re off to the south along the east coast and will end up in Höfn.
We wrapped up this day’s activities by driving on to Krafla to see the power station and see the Viti crater. Viti is Icelandic for Hell. The crater is pretty awesome and filled with water which is turquoise in color.
We marvelled at the power station and noticed that some of the pipes used to transport the steam intersected with the road. Rather than have the pipes go under the road, they went up and over.
As we left the area to make our way to the hotel I spotted this off the side of the road.
It seemed whimsical to me, but I am sure it has a purpose…just not one known to me.
Today has been a good day. Tomorrow we head for the east side of Iceland.
Lake Mývatn´s Amazing Landscape
Today we left Akureyri to go see the Goðafoss Waterfall and then make our way to the Lake Mývatn area.
Goðafoss is not the largest or most powerful waterfall in Iceland, but it is impressive. I took the time to setup my filters to allow me to take longer exposures and blur the water for a more appealing effect.
We got there early and beat most of the tourists, but they arrived in bulk pretty quickly and soon the whole area was overrun. We got out of there and continued on to the Lake Mývatn.
Lake Mývatn literally translates to Midge Lake and let me tell you, there are a LOT of midges. Fortunately we brought insect repellant.
Lake Mývatn is gorgeous. We drove all the way around it before making our way to the Námaskarð geothermal area. This area is volcanic and features some of the most alien landscapes we have encountered during our trip to Iceland so far. Steam is just venting to the sky everywhere you look.
When we drove up Cynthia and I simply ooh’d and ahhh’d at the fantastic site. When we got out of the car the oohs and ahhs quickly turned to “oh my god, the smell!” – There’s a lot of sulfur in these geothermal areas and it stinks to high heaven. Cynthia says it’s the smell of troll farts.
Along with the the steam vents are the very creepy mud pots. The mud of a mudpot takes the form of a viscous, often bubbling, slurry. And it it burbles and pops like a living thing.
This place is truly alien. It has been said before and I have to agree that sometimes being in Iceland is like being on another planet.
We’re in Akureyri during Verslunnarmannahelgi. That means the town is very busy with visiting Icelanders enjoying time travelling around their country to do some camping and enjoy some festivities. As it turns out, the Ein með Öllu festival takes place in Akureyri during this time so there’s a bit of a festival atmosphere with carnival rides, food booths and live music.
We are not much on festivals so we spend the afternoon exploring in Akureyri and paying a visit to the botanical gardens.
Cynthia spotted a bee in back Sauðárkrókur and the idea of Icelandic bees has really captured her imagination. We saw many bees in the gardens and this gave me an opportunity to use my macro lens.
We enjoyed our afternoon in the sunshine and flowers and then made our way back to the hotel room to freshen up and have some dinner. After dinner we were feeling pretty beat so we’re calling it an early evening and getting some rest before heading off to the Lake Mývatn area tomorrow. Hopefully the good weather will hold as this looks to be a very spectacular leg our our journey.
Sauðárkrókur to Akureyri
We left our comfortable accommodations at Hotel Tinsdastoll in Sauðárkrókur to make our way to the capital of the North, Akureyri. Total driving distance 110 miles. This would be a relatively easy driving day.
We drove up and around the Tröllaskagi peninsula which translates to the Troll Peninsula. This took us within spitting distance of the edge of the Arctic Circle when we were at the most northern point. Curvy mountain passes all the way. Mostly paved, but not always.
Snow capped mountains loomed overhead, adding to the stark beauty of the landscape
It’s not just the sheep you have to watch out for in Iceland. We’ve seen a lot of signs warning of birds and it’s a valid warning. The birds in Iceland come out of nowhere and can be quite large and can scare the crap out of you. They also tend to run across the street and can easily startle you and cause you to swerve suddenly.
This part of the journey took us through two tunnels in succession. Héðinsfjarðargöng I and Héðinsfjarðargöng II. First through Héðinsfjarðargöng II which connects Siglufjörður to Héðinsfjörður and is 2.2 miles in length. We come to a brief opening and then enter Héðinsfjarðargöng I which connects Héðinfjörður to Ólafsfjörður for 4.2 miles. Total distance underground, just under 6 and 1/2 miles.
I tried to prep Cynthia for the tunnels as she is rather claustrophobic. But what I didn’t know is that there was a tunnel before you even got to Siglufjörður. The Strákagöng which was built in 1967 and is the second oldest tunnel in Iceland and runs for about 1/2 a mile.
This was a bit of a surprise to both of us. Also surprising was the fact that this was a one lane passing tunnel. Oncoming traffic had little pullovers where they had to wait while we passed. Nerveracking to say the least.
We cleared the tunnel and made our way to Siglufjörður to get some petrol, road snacks and find some lunch.
Since it is Verslunnarmannahelgi, the Icelandic Labor Day holiday weekend, there seems to be a bit more hustle and bustle than you might expect. We see campers and tents all over the place and Icelanders enjoying the sun.
We get our gas and snacks and pull into a place called the Harbour House Café to grab some lunch. While we are there we struck up a conversation with the owner, a man named Valgeir Tomas Sigurdsson. He asks where we are from and we tell him we are from Texas. His eyes light up and he proceeds to tell us the tragic tale of a doomed love affair he had with a woman from Conroe.
As the afternoon winds on, word of the visiting Texans spreads and we meet many members of Valgeir’s family who are all in town for a family reunion. Some of them are living in Florida and visiting Iceland for the reunion and seem to be very happy to to talk to some Americans from Texas.
Had we not pressed to get moving I suspect we could have spent the entire day in Siglufjörður just chatting away about this, that and the other thing.
We bid our farewells and proceeded to the next tunnel, Héðinsfjarðargöng II.
This tunnel leads to an abandoned fjord which is quite beautiful.
In this fjord you can see the exit of one tunnel and the entrance to the next tunnel.
We took a short break and proceeded to drive into Héðinsfjarðargöng I to get to Ólafsfjörður. This was the longer of the two main tunnels. Suffice to say we’re happy to reach the end.
We make our way through Ólafsfjörður only to be greeted by another surprise. One more tunnel. The Ólafsfjarðargöng Tunnel, also known as the Múlagöng. This one runs for a little over 2 miles. And it’s another one lane passing tunnel.
When we clear the tunnel Cynthia says to me “If we have to drive through one more tunnel, I’m going to throw up in the car.” I tell her I am pretty sure that’s the last of them. We will discover later that this is not the last of the tunnels we will be passing through on this journey.
We make it to Akureyri around 2:30 and find our hotel and check in.
Drangsnes to Sauðárkrókur – 168 miles
This was one of our longer driving days, but the roads would be less challenging as we made our way out of the Westfjords and into the North of Iceland.
The Westfjords were so beautiful. Anyone who visits Iceland and doesn’t take some time in this part of the country is really missing out.
It was one amazing site after another.
We had a few gravel roads to navigate and a few proved quite challenging. I felt the car trying to slip out from underneath me a few times, but was able to make the necessary corrections without much trouble, never once letting Cynthia suspect we were in any danger.
The route of of the Westfjords and into Skagafjörður district took us past many Icelandic horses
They look great, but we had no desire to ride them even though there were many places offering the opportunity.
We continued driving toward Sauðárkrókur which meant joining up with Highway 1 for part of the distance. This is the main road around Iceland and after driving in the remote Westfjords it seemed like a veritable traffic jam. Things we moving quickly and the towns along this route are much more modern, as far as Iceland goes.
I have to say, the churches here in Iceland are fascinating. In the Westfjords and other rural areas you see churches like this.
While in the larger cities it is not unusual to see more modern churches like this one in Blönduós right off Highway 1.
Or the one we saw back in Stykkisholmur
We arrived in Sauðárkrókur around 4:30pm and were pretty beat.
It’s was then I remembered that this was the Icelandic Labor Day weekend, Verslunnarmannahelgi. That explained the numerous cars and people. Like our Labor Day weekend, Verslunnarmannahelgi is when a lot of Icelanders hit the roads and head for the countryside for camping and other activities.
We found a place to have dinner and then retired to our hotel room for some rest. Tomorrow we head for Akureyri.
Ísafjörður to Drangsnes – 146 miles
Ísafjörður has been very nice. Lots of good restaurants and the town is just beautiful. Now were off to Drangsnes.
This drive looks short, but took us through some very interesting landscapes. We were up and down mountain passes and driving along fjords for miles and miles. There’s not a particular iconic site on this leg of the journey. This part is all about driving through majestic scenery and just soaking it all in.
One of the first things you notice about driving in Iceland is the lack of guardrails. You will find them now and again, but not very often and certainly not where you would expect them. We’ve been on some roads that were high up in the mountains with drop-offs that go for hundreds of feet straight down.
Add to that many blind hills and corners the fact that in this part of Iceland many of the roads are gravel and you get some tense driving conditions.
Another thing that is worth noting is that many of the petrol stations in the more remote areas of Iceland are completely unmanned. That means you have to decypher the instructions and use a chip and pin credit card to be able to get gas. Fortunately my credit card company (USAA) offers a chip and pin card and it has been working perfectly.
Another thing that is worth noting is that there is not an abundance of places to pull over to take photos. You have to make due with what’s available or simply make a judgment call as to whether or not it is safe to stop in the street and take a picture. Fortunately there is not a lot of traffic in this part of Iceland so it’s not unreasonable to do this as long as you’re careful.
As we get braver we find ourselves doing it more and more because the scenery is just spectacular.
As you drive along there are dozens and dozens of waterfalls pouring down the sides of the mountains.
Cynthia commented that the tap water was very clean tasting and wondered what it would be like to drink from a waterfall.
As it turns out, it’s freezing cold and delicious.
We have been quite emboldened with our successes so far
But we are also aware of the signs sent by the universe telling us not to get too cocky.
We arrived in Drangsnes without incident and settled in. After a nice dinner I had planned to update this blog, but the Internet connection at the guesthouse was not working and I had a very weak data signal on the phone. So it was a good night’s sleep for me with a long drive to Sauðárkrókur in the morning.
Today we departed Látrabjarg and headed for Ísafjörður. Today’s drive would be mostly about the scenery and the weather was totally cooperating. Blue, cloudless skies meant abundant sunshine.
We had much better roads than we had in the Látrabjarg area, but it was still a lot of high mountain passes with steep inclines and descents. But the views were spectacular!
We wound our way up and down one fjord after another and crossed high into the mountains. In Iceland it is hard to find a place to pull over to take photos, so many things just have to be seen and appreciated without a photograph. But lord knows we tried our best.
Eventually we came to the mighty Dynjandi waterfall. The largest and most beautiful in all the Westfjords.
Cynthia wanted to hike to the top and so did I. I quickly realized I wasn’t going to be able to make it up the slippery and steep rock surface so Cynthia trekked on ahead while I lingered below.
I took advantage of our casual schedule and took several different photos of the falls.
After about an hour Cynthia found me. I asked her if she made it to the top and she said she did and she had the photograph to prove it.
After getting our fill of the waterfall we got back in the car and made our way to Ísafjörður. The road held one more terror for Cynthia. The Vestfjarðagöng tunnel from Flateyri to Ísafjörður, the longest tunnel in all of Iceland, which goes for just under 4 miles.
Cynthia is slightly claustrophobic, but managed to hold it together and took this photo as we passed under the earth.
We made it to Ísafjörður without incident. The car was pretty dirty from all the dirt and gravel roads. I had read somewhere that service stations in Iceland often had a complimentary car wash area where you could clean up your vehicle. I found one at the local N1 and gave the beast a good wash…in the cold.
After checking in to the hotel we went out for some dinner. I decided to try something different and had filet of horse which ended up being very tasty.
Tomorrow we’re off to Drangsnes.