Tuesday, 29 March 2016

ICELAND ROAD TRIP: Vík to Keflavík

I wasn't going to blog about day 12 in Iceland because we didn't really do that much apart from drive to the airport but for completeness sake here I am including a few pictures. I had a lot planned for this day originally, I wanted to check out one last hot pool (or two), visit the puffin island Vestmannaeyjar and spend the morning on Vík beach. Our midnight adventure around waterfalls and hot pools the previous evening meant we didn't get to bed until really late. I remember saying to Steve, let's get up at 8am, but in reality we woke up feeling completely exhausted so didn't really move until 10am.

You'll notice that I didn't take too many photos this day. I think it was a combination of exhaustion and miserably weather to be perfectly honest.









We spent a little time walking along Reynisfjara, the famous black sand beach of Vík. It's black because Iceland is a volcanic island and about a 10m walk from where we were sleeping. From the beach you can see Reynisdrangur, an iconic cluster of sea stacks. The beach is backed with basalt columns that remind me of the Giant's Causeway in Northern Island. As you can see the beach is a popular tourist destination and even in the morning there's a lot of people about. From the beach you can also see Dyrhólaey, a huge stone arch. There's a light house over here as well, the most southerly one in Iceland.

We drove into Vík town for lunch at Suður-Vík which was very nice and quickly stuck our heads into Víkurprjón, the huge souvenir shop.

By this stage it was time to make begin the 3 hour drive back to the airport in Keflavík for our early evening flight to London. We drove along the ring road and through little towns like Hvolsvöllur and Hella. We didn't have time to visit Keldur, the mediaeval run of turf houses or the brewery, Ölvisholt Brugghús. We drove through the large town Selfoss and paused for a few minutes in Hveragerði, a town rich in geothermal energy sources. We drove up to the geothermal park and had a quick look at the bubbling mud pools but unfortunately we didn't have enough time to visit the hot river valley where you can bathe in a naturally hot stream. We drove past the exist for Landmannalaugar, any area of rich natural beauty that many locals visit during the summer for hiking and natural hot pools. I knew we wouldn't be able to visit on this trip as we would have needed an entire day to make the journey but it's on my list for next time.

As we headed towards the airport we drove near the Golden Circle area. I knew there was a secret hot pool in the area called Gamla Laugin that I would have loved to have visit but the theme of the day was 'not enough time' so alas it'll have to wait until our next visit which I hope won't be too far away.

Keflavík airport is found on the Reykjanes Peninsula which we drove around as it's not very big. I'd wanted to visit the Icelandic Museum of Rock & Roll but it's closed on Monday's so we made our way to the airport. This would have been a good time to visit the Blue Lagoon as it's down the road from the airport but when I enquired a couple days previously I found out that it was fully booked. This didn't bother me too much as I visited on my previous trip to Iceland but I was a little sad that Steve didn't get to see it. That being said, the Blue Lagoon is super expensive and we had visited plenty of wonderful, practically empty hot pools, many of them being free or costing very little so I don't think we missed out too much.

Even though we were exhausted by the time we reached the airport, Steve even more so from all the driving, I was still distraught about having to go home. I absolutely adore Iceland, it's one of my favourite places in the entire world and even though I've seen so much of the country there's still so much more to see.

So there it is, I've finished documenting my (almost) two week road trip in Iceland. We started in Reykjavik and drove all around the country, stopping at practically all the major tourist destinations such as waterfalls, hot pools and natural landscapes like glaciers and volcanoes. We saw so much and drove over 3,000 km on the 7 days we spent on the road. I've come home with an admiration of all things Icelandic and a burning desire to visit the country again. 

Do I recommend an Icelandic road trip? Hell yes I do and I'm going to write a post about how to plan such an adventure. I was super happy with our route, there's nothing I'd change except wishing we had a few extra days. We spent 4 days in Reykjavik which is probably too much for a 'normal' person but there was so much I wanted to see and now that I've visited practically every museum in the city I probably wouldn't need to spend so much time there on my next visit. Saying that, Reykjavik is bloody wonderful and I can't recommend it enough for a long weekend destination.


We ended up with a lot of cash left when we reached the airport so we did what all sensible people do and spent it on Icelandic booze. The cool looking labels and bottles definitely helped with this decision. We bought a few bottles of Icelandic beer as well but they didn't look as pretty displayed against our record collection.

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Sunday, 27 March 2016

ICELAND ROAD TRIP: Höfn to Vík

Day eleven and our last full day in Iceland was definitely one of the best on our trip. We crammed A LOT of things in and even though we were a bit zombie like the next morning it was worth if for the sheer volume of awesome things we saw. After breakfast at our hotel in Höfn we hit the ring road and continued driving south west. We didn't have much driving to do that day as our accommodation in Vík was only a couple of hours away, however we had a ton of incredible places to stop en route making for a fun filled day.

















Our first stop, less than an hour from Höfn was the famous Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon. I had been looking forward to visiting the beautiful destination for our entire trip and I was not disappointed. Found right next to the ring road the lagoon is impossible to miss. Big chunks of ice fall from Breiðamerkurjökull glacier where they can spend up to five years floating in the lagoon before reaching the Atlantic ocean. Whilst the glistening luminous blue icebergs are an impressive sight to behold, their presence in this lagoon tells a sadder story. Up until the 1930s the glacier reached the ocean and the lagoon did not exist but thanks to global warming the glacier has retreated thus creating the lagoon and the array of icebergs. Not to dwell on the irony behind this beautiful landscape, we spent an hour or so walking around the side of the lagoon, taking pictures and following Iceland's shortest river out to the sea where the icebergs end their journey. There are boat tours available here but they seem almost redundant as you can get close to the ice by walking around the lagoon. Despite this being one of Iceland's greatest tourist spots it didn't feel overrun with people and the time we spent here were some of my fondest memories from the trip.










Another short drive and we reached our second big stop of the day, Skaftafell, the southern part of Vatnajökull National Park. Skaftafell is a gem in terms of outdoor pursuits and this is evident by the sheer number of visitors that come to the area. From hiking and glacier expeditions this is the place where you can feel at one with nature and enjoy the incredible outdoors of Iceland. Skaftafell is the place to experience a glacier hike and that's exactly what we did.

We booked ourselves an afternoon Blue Ice tour with Icelandic Mountain Guides which promised two hours of hiking on Svínafellsjökull. This tour is great for the entire family, it's easy going but the uneven terrain of the glacier mean it's still an exciting experience. We arrived at the lodge where we were fitted with crampons and given an ice pick to help balance ourselves when waking over the glacier (and also for photo opportunities). The group was driven to the base of the glacier where we fastened our crampons and made our way slowly over the edge.

The 2 hours we were on the ice was incredible. I'm not much of a hiker but I really did feel like this was once in a lifetime sort of opportunity. Our guide was excellent and told us all about the glacier's history and how it's slowly retreating each year. Game of Thrones was filmed here and the only reason there is a road that leads up to the glacier base is because one was built by the Batman Begins film crew. Surprisingly it isn't THAT COLD on the glacier. I was just wearing jeans and a thick coat which was plenty of layers. If you're wondering why the glacier looks so grey and dirty it's due to the volcanic ash from recent eruptions becoming trapped amongst layers of ice.

On the hike we made friends with a lovely Canadian girl called Catherine who we ended up meeting up with in London a few weeks later whist she travelled around the UK. Yay for making friends on holiday.


After the hike we grabbed ourselves a bite of very late lunch from the food van in the Skaftafell car park. It was raining by this stage so we huddled underneath the umbrella eating fish n chips and some soup. Had this not been our last full day in Iceland and we didn't have a ton of other stuff to visit that afternoon / evening I would have liked to have spent a few hours at the park exploring the surrounding area a little more. A 45 minute walk from the car park is the magnificent Svartifoss (Black Falls) but alas we had other waterfalls to visit.



After the hike it didn't take long to drive to Vík and our final accommodation stop. We stayed at Gardar, a lovely collection of little cottages on the famous black sand beach of Vík. As you can see our cottage was absolutely tiny, in fact there wasn't even a shower (or wifi) which would have been fine if we hadn't gone swimming that evening. This little cottage was absolutely precious and despite it's lack of facilities it really was the perfect place to stay for our final evening. Apart from a little bathroom the cottage is one room which includes a rather large kitchen and a fold out bed. You wouldn't want to spend more than one night here but the fact that it's location was meters away from the beach I really did feel like this was a special place. The other cottages are slightly bigger and include showers and wifi (we could steal their wifi if we stood outside). We spoke to the owner for a good while the following day and he was one of the most wonderful people we'd met during our time in Iceland. I'd love to explore more of this area another time as I felt we were quite rushed and I would without a doubt stay at Gardar again, but maybe in a larger cottage if it was for a few days.


Once we dropped our bags it was back on the road for a bit more sightseeing. In retrospect I am so glad we decided to do these things that evening instead of stopping en route to the airport the next day as we would have been seriously rushed.

Our first stop was Sólheimajökull, a glacier found just along the ring road west of Vík. From the car park it's a 800m walk to the glacier base but you'd be advised not to walk onto the glacier yourself.



We then drove to Solheimasandur, a black sand beach where a US Navy plane crash landed on 21 November 1973. We ended up giving a lift to 2 travellers who weren't able to make the journey across the beach in their 2 wheel drive so we had a nice chat to them. They had just started their road trip around Iceland so we gave them lots of tips and were secretly jealous that they had everything to look forward to and we had to return home the following day. The drive to the crash site was certainly experience. We had to drive across black sand and because it was so cloudy every direction looked the same, this was not helped by the fact that there were no marking on the ground for where you were supposed to drive. You could sort of make out tyre tracks so we hoped for the best and made it there without a problem. You can walk around the wreckage and because of the setting it's a really eerie experience but something I'm glad we made the effort to visit.


Once we'd driven our new friends back to their car we headed on driving west towards to town of Skógar. I wanted to visit the folk museum but it was around 10pm by this stage so of course it was closed and we really didn't have time to stop when we passed through the town again the following day. On the outskirts of town you'll find the 62m high Skógafoss. I believe there's a staircase that allows you to walk to the top of the falls but we just stayed at the base which is covered in mist.





Further along the road west is the mighty Seljalandsfoss where a slippery path takes you behind the beautiful waterfall. This was probably my favourite waterfall of all the ones we visited as you can get up close to the actual falls. You'll end up getting a bit wet but it's definitely worth it.


Just along the path from Seljalandsfoss is the much smaller Gljúfrabúi which is a much smaller, but still pretty, waterfall hidden in a canyon.




Our final stop that evening was one of out most memorable experiencing of the trip and it's not necessarily for good reasons. We wanted to squeeze in another hot pool visit as it had been a few days since our previous one. Seljavallalaug was the closest as it's situated just outside Skógar. To reach the actual pool is an adventure in itself, we parked the car and then hiked for 15 minutes through shallow rivers and rocky mounds. We will eventually found Iceland's oldest swimming pool, built in the 1920s and situated amongst a mountainous valley. We visited at midnight which was probably a mistake as the place was super eerie, so much in fact we only stayed for about 20 minutes. The pool was originally built to teach the locals to swim but in 1990 a new pool was built nearby and this old one became almost deserted. It's still used but it's only cleaned out once a year so it's a bit murky. The changing rooms are crumbling shells so forget any sort of shower. Despite the dodgy vibe I'm glad we visited as it was most definitely an experience I won't forget.

We made it back to our little cottage super late that evening but being summer in Iceland it never got pitch black. I went to bed feeling sad that it was our last night in Iceland but with a sense of great fondness for the country as we had experienced so many wonderful things.

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Monday, 21 March 2016

ICELAND ROAD TRIP: Seyðisfjörður to Höfn

Our tenth day in Iceland had a fair amount of driving, mainly because we did a huge detour in the morning to see some puffins and also because the area we were in wasn't the most exciting. We started the day in Seyðisfjörður where we'd been staying in the wonderful mountain lodge and we reached Höfn just in time for dinner that evening.











After breakfast we were given a lift back to our car. Overnight the rivers had grown making us even more thankful for not attempting to cross them in out little 4 wheel drive. The staff at the lodge told us a horror story about a group of girls who had crossed the rivers in their 2 wheel drive, reaching the lodge without too much trouble until they realised the next day that the engine had flooded after not being able to start the car. I can't even begin to think what sort of trouble they had got into with the insurance people / car company.

Back in our car we headed north on a huge detour to visit the puffin cliffs of Borgarfjörður Eystri (Bakkagerði). We didn't have time to visit the famous bird watching cliffs in Látrabjarg (West Fjords) so this made a decent alternative stop. Yes, it was about a 4 hour round trip in terms of diversion but it was totally worth it. As you can see we saw loads of the cute fluffy birds plus the cliffs were almost deserted from other people which made for a nice peaceful morning. I wish I'd had a better zoom lens for my camera but alas I had to make do. Just before we reached the cliffs we drove past this crazy looking turf house which I couldn't resit taking a picture of.











After the puffin spotting it was time to head back on the road and drive south towards Höfn. As I said, it was a long day of driving as there weren't many places of interest to stop at on the way. I thought I couldn't remember what we did for lunch but then I recalled stopping for cake in Bókakaffi Hlöðum in Egilsstaðir where it cost about a fiver for an all you eat selection of desserts. Unfortunately Steve and I didn't realise it was all you could eat until we paid the bill, we'd only had one slice each.

The afternoon consisted of a coastal drive around the east fjords. We took a short detour to have a brief stop at Neskaupstaður, a lovely little town situated at the far east of Iceland. The town was holding their annual heavy metal festival (Eistnaflug) so it was a lot busier than normal with metal heads all over the place. The drive between Neskaupstaður and Eskifijörður, a mountain side town a little in the west, was wonderful. The road takes you through the highest mountain tunnel in the country and when you emerge you drop from the sky as you approach Neskaupstaður.

Our final stop along the coast before arriving in Höfn was Djúpivogur to see Eggin í Gleðivík, a public art installation consisting of 34 oversized eggs. It's a bit random but definitely makes for a nice photo stop.




We arrived in harbour side town Höfn just in time for dinner so before checking into our hotel for the evening we parked up in the town centre and headed to Humarhöfnin for a sea food feast. Whilst Höfn is the size of a village it's the biggest town in the south east of Iceland due the langoustine processing industry. Humarhöfnin is the number one restaurant in town for langoustine and we had an absolutely wonderful meal here. It was definitely one of the most expensive meals of the trip but the quality and quantity of shellfish was impressive. We spent ages poking the meat morsels of shellfish from claws. Having been surviving on mainly fast food it made a nice change to sit down to a 'fancy' meal. Originally we'd been worried we wouldn't make it to town on time but thanks to the empty roads in the east there was no chance of missing dinner.


My original choice of accommodation was booked when I was enquiring about a room 5 months in advance (Guesthouse Dyngja) but my search eventually lead me to Seljavellir Guesthouse, a motel type accommodation just outside Höfn. The rooms are simple but they're spacious and very comfortable plus the views of Vatnajökull in the distance are pretty impressive. I can imagine this would be a fantastic place to stay during winter as there is very little artificial light in the area so you would have an excellent chance of spotting the northern lights. Breakfast is included in the room rate and whilst prices vary considerably depending what time of year you visit the hotel is good value for Iceland.

I started to get a little sad at this stage as I knew the next day was our last full day in Iceland. It was also going to be one of our most exciting days of the trip but more on that soon.

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