Thursday 25 February 2016

ICELAND ROAD TRIP: Húsavík to Seyðisfjörður

Our ninth day in Iceland was moderate in terms of driving. We started the day at Húsavík in the north of Iceland and would finish at Ísafjörður in the east. We had quite a few stops en route which definitely broke up the driving for Steve.

Before we left Húsavík that morning we spent a couple of hours checking out the local sights including Húsavík Whale Museum which was really fascinating and a great accompaniment to the Whales of Iceland Museum we visited in Reykjavik.


Once on the road it didn't take long to reach our main destination of the day, Jökulsárgljúfur National Park. In 2008 Vatnajökull National Park was formed when Jökulsárgljúfur National Park in the north of Iceland and Skaftafell National Park in the south of Iceland came together to form Europe's largest protected nature reserve. Jökulsárgljúfur covers a huge amount of terrain, rich in geological anomalies and absolutely stunning scenery. It's a pretty easy area to visit with a car as everything can be found along two parallel roads. We drove from North to South along Route 862 which started at a gravel track for the first 37km until it turned into a sealed road for the remaining 24km.

The park is divided into three distinct areas; Ásbyrgi, Vesturdalur and Dettifoss. We drove through the grassy planes Ásbyrgi but didn't park the car until we reached the Vesturdalur area. Out of the car we went on a short walk around Hljóðaklettar to check out the crazy rock formations


Our next stop in the Vesturdalur area was Hólmatungur where we went for a little hike along the river. This was one of the most tranquil moment of the holiday as we didn't see a single person during the hour we were out walking. It was just us, the babbling river and a few small waterfalls. The scenery in Iceland is truly spectacular and I felt so lucky to be able to appreciate it in such isolation.

Out final stop in the park was by far the best, Dettifoss, the most powerful waterfall in Europe due to the 193 cubic meters of water thundering over the edge every second. This was without a doubt one of the most spectacular displays of nature I have ever scene. The thundering sound of water is almost deafening and you can feel the spray long before you reach the edge of the waterfall. Whilst this isn't the highest waterfall in Iceland it certainly feels like the strongest and even though we had to share the view with a lot of other people I still felt incredibly lucky to experience such a view so up close. There are no barriers and the fall is terrifying but that just adds to the experience.

A short walk upstream from Dettifoss is the smaller Selfoss waterfall. We didn't walk right to the edge (you can if you want) but we got close enough to appreciate it from afar. As you can see from the above picture there isn't exactly a simple path to walk along, more like a rocky terrain to forge.

We headed back onto the ring road for the first time in two days and whilst the scenery wasn't as impressive you could begin to understand how desolate and barren the interior of Iceland feels as we skirted the edge of this formidable area. We stopped for a late lunch at Fjallakaffi cafe in the little village of Möðrudalur which also had the cutest little petrol station you'll ever see. We had a lovely bowl of lamb soup which did turn out to be a little over priced but there weren't exactly other options for lunch in the area so we had to make do.

Our last main stop of the day was Egilsstaðir where we spent about an hour driving around Lagarfljót, a river-lake with the reputation for housing a fearsome monster! We didn't see the monster or another car on the road for that matter but we did spot Iceland's second tallest waterfall, Hengifoss from afar. We'd wanted to walk to the base of the waterfall but it would have been an hour's hike and we really didn't have the time, fortunately we could spot out as we drove around the other side of the lake.

Before we reached Seyðisfjörður we had to drive up into the mountain before we could descend into the east fjords. We had to drive through pretty thick cloud coverage which was slightly terrifying, especially when several cars decided to pass us by at high speed. You could barely see anything in front and the high mountain road didn't have any barriers to protect you against a fall.

We reached the idyllic fjord side village of Seyðisfjörður at a pretty reasonable hour that evening. We stopped for dinner at Skaftfell Bistro where we shared a delicious lobster pizza and then made tracks to our lodging for the evening.

I'd booked a room at Skálanes mountain lodge which required a bit of effort to reach. The farm is 19km east of town, along a dirt track in the remotest of areas. The farm is an independent nature reserve and a haven for bird watchers. This was one of the most unique places we stayed during our time in Iceland but to really get a sense of isolation you need to stay more than one night.

To get to the lodge you must drive 13km along the dirt track until you reach a small river. Unless you have a massive 4WD there is no hope in hell of crossing the river by car. Therefore you have two options, you can either park your car and call for a lift or embark on a 4km hike. This is where our 'adventure' began. We assessed the river and realised straight away that our tiny Jimmy Suzuki didn't have a hope in hell of crossing it. We were no way going to hike, not only was it raining but it was getting late so we decided to call the hotel for a lift. Surprise surprise there wasn't a single bar of mobile reception to be found. After a bit of panicking and frantically running around the make shift car park my phone came through and we were able to call. 15 minutes a guy from the farm turned up in a huge Land Rover to save the day. It turned out there were 3 rivers to cross and it felt like the Land Rover only just made it so good thing we didn't try as our Jimmy would have perished. 

We made it to the lodge for a relaxing evening in front of the fire, talking to the volunteers who were spending the summer working on the nature reserve. Our room was simple but it absolutely perfect. The wifi signal was practically non existent so we totally switched off that evening and enjoyed nature. We went for a little walk but were nearly attached by the Arctic terns so we gave up on that notion pretty quickly.  I absolutely adored staying at the lodge, it felt like a really special experience to be so close to nature and totally switch off from the world.

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Tuesday 23 February 2016

ICELAND ROAD TRIP: Akureyri to Húsavík

We spent a couple of hours exploring Akureyri on the morning of our eight day in Iceland. Having arrived super late the previous evening we didn't get to see much as we drove through Iceland's second city at midnight. I'd wish we had stayed for two nights as there's plenty to keep you busy in this small 'city' for one full day

We visited a couple of the main sights including Listasafnið á Akureyri (Akureyri Art Museum) and Minjasafnið á Akureyri (Akureyri Museum) which had a fantastic exhibition about the first female president of Iceland. We also visited Nonnahús which the former home of Reverend Jón Sveinsson, a famous Icelandic children's writer.

We had breakfast at the chalet like cafe Bláa Kannan and later in the afternoon we stopped at Brynja for a delicious cup of ice cream.


Fortunately we didn't have much driving to do but we did have a couple of major stops en route to Húsavík that evening. The first stop was Goðafoss, one of the most spectacular waterfalls in Iceland. It's on the main road so it's super easy to spot whilst you drive from Akureyri to Mývatn, our next stop.

Mývatn lake sits on the mid-Atlantic ridge and the surrounding area is covered in crazy geographic delights such as lava formations and volcanic craters. Our first stop was Hverfell, an enormous volcanic crater. We climbed to the top which was more difficult than it looks thanks to the loose gravel. It's quite a view from the top as you look across the vast crater, I felt like I was on the moon. The weather was truly abysmal the day we visited so I didn't take many pictures of the surrounding area which is a shame because the lake is lovely.

Our next stop on the lake was Dimmuborgir, a lava field that is dotted with crazy rock formations thanks to a lake of lava spilling into the area over 2000 years ago.

Unfortunately we didn't have time to stop Sigurgeir's Bird Museum by the south of the lake.

Just east of the lake is another volcanic area, Krafla where a power station harnesses the rich source of geothermal energy. We found Viti, a hidden green pool amongst a crater.

Our final stop in the area was Myvatn Nature Baths where we spent a little time in the geothermal swimming pool. Myvatn is known as the smaller, but just as special Blue Lagoon of the north and having been to both I completely understand why. The milky blue water is really magical looking and the volcanic surrounding make you feel like you're on Mars. Of course this isn't a cheap place to visit being a pretty huge tourist site but it's still significantly cheaper than its southern counterpart.I really enjoyed the swimming experience here but I couldn't quite get use to the overpowering smell of sulphur.

We reached Húsavík around 7pm that evening, it was less than an hour's drive from Mývatn so Steve really appreciated the lack of driving that day. We stayed at the lovely Arbol Guesthouse which is a short walk from the main road. The guesthouse as lovely with a really homely feeling. Our room was pretty spacious and the breakfast spread the following morning was a generous continental style spread.

Húsavík is famous for whale watching and not wanting to miss out on the action we booked ourselves a tour that evening with Gentle Giants. During the summer there are 8pm tours which is perfect if you've got lots of sight seeing planned during the day like us. We met at the harbour and were taken out on a little sail boat. We were given overalls as it's gets really cold and wet on the ocean. We were lucky and saw quite a few humpbacks over the course of a few hours but in all honesty I was glad to get back on dry land as I felt freezing and sea sick during most of the evening.

Once we got back to the harbour Steve and I soon discovered that there was nowhere open to grab dinner. Fortunately a petrol station was open so it was another evening of hot dogs for dinner with some crisps on the side to liven things up. I remember staying up really late evening finishing a job application, I was exhausted the next morning but the late night did pay off I got that job!

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