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.
After our day in Stykkishólmur it was time to board the ferry and make our way to the Westfjords. The ferry takes about 3 1/2 hours to make its way to Brjanslækur where we would depart and then head to our guesthouse near the Látrabjarg cliffs, home to millions of nesting puffins in the summer.
For this ferry ride only the driver of the car is allowed in the car when it goes on board. That meant Cynthia had to walk on and wait for me to get parked. It would not have been an issue except it took me a little extra time to get parked. When I drove on to the ferry there was an exiting car that was stuck because the owner had locked his keys in the car. The attendant had me maneuver around him and at one point had to lift the protective gate that keeps cars from plunging into the sea so I could move into position. It was exhilarating and terrifying. See the photo above.
Once we made the crossing I drove the car off of the ferry and collected Cynthia and we drove on to our guest house out toward the Látrabjarg cliffs.
We came across the statue of Kleifebui, a rock statue made by road construction workers in 1947. He stands on the road between Flókalundi and Patreksfjörð. It was cool to see.
We also came across the wreck of the Garðar BA 64.
According to Atlas Obscura
Originally known as the Globe IV, the large ship was completed in Norway in 1912 as a state-of-the-art-at-the-time whaling vessel. The hull was specially reinforced to break through the icy Southern seas in which it operated and the powerful engine kept the boat sailing even in calm waters. During its active lifetime it was sold around to a number of different countries before finding an Icelandic owner after World War II. Once whaling restrictions became more widespread, Garðar BA 64 (a name it finally received in 1963) was used or fishing herring in the waters off of Iceland.
After decades in faithful service to its bevy of owners, Garðar BA 64 was finally deemed unsafe for service in 1981 and as opposed to being scuttled, the old ship was run aground in Skápadalur Valley where it remains to this day, falling apart bit by bit. It is now a popular site for photographers and anyone looking for a lovely mix of Icelandic scenery and industrial ruin.
This drive took us to our first gravel roads. I had read that the road was a bit harrowing but was not fully prepared for what we encountered.
Thank the gods for the good weather, otherwise this journey may have ended up being too much for us.
We made our way to the guest house which was quite basic. The owner welcomed us and was very kind and offered us a great dinner that consisted of vegetables, bread and a fantastic pan fried fish.
To say this area was remote would be an understatement. We had no cell service and the Internet at the guesthouse was all but unusable.
After dinner he suggested we head on to the Látrabjarg cliffs to see the puffins. It was around 9:00 pm with the sun shining that we headed off. We were in awe and somewhat terrified of the road that lead from the guest house to the cliffs.
I don’t have the photos to truly convey what we went through. But suffice to say it was some of the bumpiest, scariest driving I have ever done. We found ourselves high on mountain passes that twisted through the landscape with no guardrails and numerous warning signs. Fortunately there were very few cars on these roads.
When we got to where I thought should be the end of the road, we were merely on a beach. A car drove up and a French man that we had encountered earlier in the day excitedly told us about the puffins and cliffs ahead. He showed us some photos on his camera and this encouraged us to keep going.
When we got to the cliffs, we were not disappointed. Hundreds of puffins lined the top of the cliff and were happy to have their photos taken.
I have many more puffin photos here in my Flickr gallery
It was cold and it was windy, but it was the perfect conditions for puffin viewing. After about an hour Cynthia and I decided to retrace our treacherous steps back to the guesthouse. This was around 10:45 pm. Fortunately the sun stays up well past this time.
So far, this has been an awesome trip, despite the terrifying bits.
The sun was up and bright well past 11:30 pm last night. We woke up around 4:30 and it was back up again. Our hotel does not have blackout shutters so that’s unfortunate. We managed to sleep until around 6:00 am before giving up on sleeping in any later.
Breakfast is not until 7:30 so we went for a short walk. Stykkishólmur is a beautiful little town and the abundant sunshine is encouraging for the day’s activities.
Our ferry across Breidafjördur Bay isn’t scheduled to leave until 3:45 this afternoon so we decide to book what is called the Viking sushi Tour which is a boat tour that takes you out and around the numerous small islands of Breidafjördur Bay. Cynthia was not keen on the idea and offered to stay back while I went. We talked about it for a bit and I was finally able to convince her to come along.
We bought tickets and went back to the hotel for breakfast and then packed up and checked out. Stykkishólmur seems very safe and we were not worried about leaving the bulk of our luggage in the car.
We goofed off for a bit more before boarding the boat to take the 2 hour tour. The weather was fantastic and this did a lot to bolster Cynthia’s spirits.
During the tour we saw many birds, including the bird we came to see, the Puffin!
It was difficult shooting them from the distance we were at and certainly being on a moving boat didn’t help, but the excitement of seeing all these birds took Cynthia’s mind away from her concerns and she ended up having a really good time.
In the middle of the tour was the event that makes this tour a Viking Sushi tour. They scrape the sea bottom and pull up all manner of sea life.
And serve them to you raw with wasabi and soy sauce. Yum!
Once we were back on shore we got some lunch and prepared to board the ferry for out 3 1/2 hour ride to Brjanslaekur, our entry point to the Westfjords. That part of the adventure will be chronicled in my next post.
From Reykjavik to Stykkishólmur. A grand total of 214 miles. For scale, it’s 239 miles from Houston to Dallas.
We picked up the car, but were delayed by about an hour as they didn’t have our car ready. On the plus side, they discounted the rental due to the delay. We set off for Stykkishólmur at around 9:30 am via the scenic route and didn’t look back.
Today it was raining for most of the drive. Still, Iceland is fantastically beautiful. We saw mountains with misty clouds rolling over the top and countless waterfalls and snow-capped peaks. We stopped several times for photos but were slightly discouraged by the weather. We did the best we could and rolled into Stykkishólmur around 4:30 pm and checked into our hotel.
We drove way out to the western tip of the peninsula to see Snæfellsjökull, the mountain that served as the entrance to the subterranean journey in Jules Verne’s Journey to the Center of the Earth. Unfortunately the clouds cut off most of the mountain.
The weather in Stykkishólmur is a dramatic improvement over what we experienced on the drive and we set off to explore and find some dinner.
We found a restaurant called Narfeyrarstofa which came highly recommended. We were informed that that the catch of the day was a pan fried blue ling fish which is a type of cod. They suggested a pairing with a pinot grigio and we decided to go for it. BEST MEAL EVER!
On the way into Stykkishólmur we got our first up close look at some Icelandic horses.
We’re winding down now. Tomorrow’s a big day as we have a boat tour scheduled in the morning and a ferry ride to the Westfjords in the afternoon.
We took a nap because we were exhausted. After a few hours we got up and went exploring. Reykjavik is a very small town and easily walkable. The weather is good. A little overcast, but no rain. And it’s not as cold as we were expecting. We found Hallgrímskirkja, the big cathedral in Reykjavik and it is a spectacular place. We hope to go to the top of the tower when we get back here after our driving tour.
We also found the Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur stand. Everyone says the best food in Iceland is the Icelandic hot dog made by Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur and they also say this hot dog is the best hot dog in the world.
I must say, I agree. It was delicious. The crunchy onions are a nice touch. Cynthia, unaware that there were crunchy onions added to the hot dog, immediately suspected the crunch was coming from the meat and was grossed out. She suspected that there must have been some ground up hoof, toenails or bone. She felt better when I explained.
Reykjavik is a fun little town. Coffee shops everywhere and very good dining options.
We leave tomorrow for Snæfellsnes after we pick up our rent car. I think we are off to a good start.
After flying to Boston and sitting in Logan for 6 hours we caught our 5 hour flight to Reykjavík. We met up with our tour organizer and picked up all of our paperwork and got checked into our hotel. We were very lucky to get our room at 8:00 am. Official check in time is 2:00pm. The hotel manager, whose name is Thor, showed us a great kindness.