Welcome to the Westfjords

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Borðeyri

It takes about 4 hours to get to Borðeyri with a single stop along the way.  We chose  Blönduós.  With a total of about 245 km we didnt need to start too early, and this was how we approached it.  There was no need to rush.

Going up to the image above, I remember that I saw maybe 2 or 3 coloured skies the entire 13 days, so what you see above is about as dark as it got.  During the day, we mostly we drove in overcast weather with the occasional sun coming through.  The clouds would clear around 8:30 p.m. each day, leaving a beautiful blue skies to wake up to, at around 1 or 2 am!

But before we got to our location above, we needed to travel.  I was thinking the north of Iceland was going to be a fairly boring trip.  No one ever talks about the North of Iceland. And I guess with only 3 hours to drive it, it wasn’t really a long time to be in the north of anything.  Google says it takes about 42 hours to go from Townsville to Broome, so that’s the Australian equivalent.

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Prior to setting off for the day, we would always do some kind of  research on places to stop.  Whether it be for a toilet break or a bite to eat, we needed to have a rough idea on what we would be doing.  A good starting point when travelling in Iceland is to look for the N1 Service Stations.  At these stations, we knew we could always fill up our petrol guzzling Landcruiser and our own bellies at the same time (with food that wasn’t too far apart from what the Toyota drank).  It’s still just Service Station Food, but some were certainly better than others. On this day was we arrived at Blönduós, we chose a B&S restaurant that Trip Adviser had suggested to us.  As we arrived, we found it was closed for renovations.  How unfortunate, but we still had the N1 was next door.  Is that fortunate or unfortunate?  The stop, which was really quite short did allow some time to go to an interesting looking church about 100 metres up the road.  Despite the many “flat-pack Ikea” churches we found, there were also some interesting ones, that differed from the flock…  Don’t get me wrong, those churches are lovely, but a good half of the churches we saw had white walls, a red roof and only the door changed colours.  Mostly they were blue or red.

As I drove the northern stages of Route 1, my mind turned often to the book written by South Australian writer (her first book), Hannah Kent.  The book is called Burial Rites and was written about Agnes Magnúsdóttir who was put to death after murdering her master in 1829.  I knew these things had occurred in the area we drove on that day but didn’t know where. Next time I will be armed with this information and I’d love to investigate the area of where the last murderer put to death in Iceland had lived her life.  Did she even commit the murder?

For those interested, this is where the key events occurred.

  • The murders occurred here at Illugastaðir
  • The area Agnes Magnúsdóttir stayed in the farm at Vatnsdalur
  • Agnes was born in 1795, and the Parish Priest (Pétur Bjarnason) at Undirfell
  • The place of her execution in 1830 at Þrístapar

We continued on Route 1 and made our way to Route 68.  68 turns up and into the Westfjords which meant were were no longer on our then Icelandic Ring Route.  By turning left, we have just added a few days to our trip, but we do get to see one of the most beautiful areas of Iceland.  Could it be more beautiful than what we’d already seen?

As we approached our destination , we knew werent staying in any town.  We weren’t staying anywhere particularly well marked and according to our Airbnb directions (where the GPS coordinates would take us at least half an hour further than we needed to be), we were on the looking for a piece of wood!  The following were the instructions given to us.

Drive approximately 18 kilometers and turn left by the large piece of wood and the sign “Hlaðhamar”. The house is on your right.

After driving past, Julia said that she had seen what she thought was the “piece of wood”.  We turned around and she was right. What a lovely old place.  It was super comfortable and the only complaint we really had, was that the workmen at the back of the house continued into the late hours.  I guess it wasn’t really an issue with the fading light now was it?

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Our home for the night near Borðeyri

We unloaded the car, set ourselves down to relax with a nice hot coffee.  Jane and I decided to go for a relaxing walk down to the sea, opposite our home.  You can see how beautiful the area is in some the photo’s below.  However, the stroll along the pebble beach brought us back much quicker than we walked down.  A bird in the vicinity kept coming down near us, perching on some wood, or a large rock.  It kept a close eye on us whilst it shrieked for attention from other birds.  We weren’t taking the chance of what happened in Seyðisfjörður, where a flock of Arctic Terns attacked a man with fervour and zest.  We went back home for another hot coffee…

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The Kitchen Shot at Borðeyri

Enjoy the few shots I took on Day 7 of our wonderful journey through the North and to the West of Iceland.

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The Westfjords (finally)

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View of the Tuya mountains along the Westfjords

I need to put a 18+ warning right here.  This page contains an image of a person’s skin from the waist down, taken in The Museum of Sorcery & Witchcraft.  So read on if you dare.

I try to not overuse phrases like absolutely gorgeous, or wonderfully stunning, but it’s really the only way to describe the Westfjords in Iceland.  Similarly to most of the rest of  Iceland, there are not many trees that grow here; at least no large trees.  But there is an abundance of wildlife in the area, including birds, fish, the arctic fox. No matter which way you look, you’ll find seagulls, terns and many others species flying around.  Whilst not being particularly  knowledgable in the study of fauna, I would suggest the pristine environment provides a perfect home for the animals and birds.

As we ready’d for a relatively short trip (ab0ut 2 1/2 hours plus stops) I took my compulsory Kitchen Shot of our quaint, but lovely home with it’s modern style baðstofa (bedrooms).  We packed up yet again, with our suitcases fitting into the back of the Toyota with the expertise of a world championship Tetris competition.  By now, we know exactly where every piece of luggage, bag, hat and jacket would fit perfectly.  There was barely a spare gap to fit a scrunched up sock, should the need arise.

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Cafe Riis at Hólmavík

We followed the windy roads around the peninsulas that make up the fjords.  With mountains looming overhead, and no way to go through them, we had to follow the long roads around.  It was Trevor’s job to drive this day as he is the one who enjoys this type of driving, along small roads and high drops. It’s not my thing and I am unashamedly frightened of heights.  I had conquered a large amount of my fear on the Eiffel Tower, but have since realised that it hasn’t gone completely.  I can do it, but it is much slower with a high amount of internal stress.

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Our trip ventured to our preplanned stop of Hólmavík for lunch and refreshments at Cafe Riis.  I had the “Sjávarréttasúpa mea brauði” (seafood soup with bread), which was fresh, full tasting and a great delight to eat.  Cafe Riis really delivers on local produce and the fact that it has been there since 1897 is a testament to the business and the town.  BUT this is not the reason we came to Hólmavík.  Hólmavík is the home of The Museum of Sorcery & Witchcraft!  A great place to delve into the world of witchcraft that was such a strong part of society in the 17th century in Iceland.  I want to share with you the most bizarre relic they have on display in this museum, the Necropants!  Below I have an excerpt from Wikipedia on the more (ahem) interesting things you will ever see. Believe it or not, this is one of the more popular museums in Iceland along with The Icelandic Phallological Museum found in Reykjavik – if you can’t get to the Westfjords.  Iceland has a pretty relaxed style about such things!

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If you want to make your own necropants (literally; nábrók) you have to get permission from a living man to use his skin after his death.

After he has been buried you must dig up his body and flay the skin of the corpse in one piece from the waist down. As soon as you step into the pants they will stick to your own skin. A coin must be stolen from a poor widow and placed in the scrotum along with the magical signnábrókarstafur, written on a piece of paper. Consequently the coin will draw money into the scrotum so it will never be empty, as long as the original coin is not removed. To ensure salvation the owner has to convince someone else to overtake the pants and step into each leg as soon as he gets out of it. The necropants will thus keep the money-gathering nature for generations.

Once we had a walk around some of the town, and enjoyed the sunshine that had bathed our morning and early afternoon, we continued on to Súðavík further up the Western coast of Iceland.  Picking up our keys from the Arctic Fox Centre, I realised (when I snuck into the little museum at the back of the building) that the skull I had found the previous day on the pebble beach was that of an Arctic Fox.

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Our house was yet again in a wonderful location with a view over the fjord. What a wonderful place.  Súðavík is only about 6km from Ísafjörður, which is known as the capital of the West.  Each area of Iceland has it’s own capital, or centre which is reminiscent of the Goðar or Chieftains of pre 1000 A.D. who reigned over their own parts of the country.  Note the photo on the right. This was a telephone box in the main street through the town. Complete with books lining the shelves.  A library of sorts where you could drop off a book and change it for another one.  What a great idea to share within such a close knit town.

Constantly amazed at the changing landscapes, nothing was ever old.  With the snow melting all around, every mountain in the fjord appeared to have waterfalls every kilometre or so.  This was a regular event in Iceland, right around the island.  What a wonderful place to be; however, I still had to hold my breath in delight as we drove alongside a mountain that stretched up higher than we could see. We were only about 5 metres from the base of the slope as we drove along a road that was cut into the side.   What drew my breath was the waterfall that came out of the side of the mountain.  It wasn’t just a stream that had been so common, it was a genuine waterfall with a 15 metre drop as it hugged the landscape.  What made this waterfall special was that it continued for at least 100 metres as we drove along toward the inevitable turn at the end of this particular peninsula.

After the last few days I think we, or at least I couldn’t wait to get to Flatey Island.  This was something completely different that I had decided on prior to the trip.  What would it be like?  Am I going to make a fool of myself when people realise this is just a silly idea where we would have nothing to do, or no interesting place to go.  Would we be trapped on this island with no car and no plan for a day. It’s only a day right?  I’ll tell you about that day in a moment.. Have a look at these photos if you’d like and then scroll down to the our venture right into the heart of the Westfjords and beyond.

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Flatey Island

As we (Trevor) drove through the Westfjords, I felt lucky that I was here, watching the marvels around me, including the flat top mountains (Tuya) caused by Glaciers pushing down on the once peaked tops.  It’s amazing to think that hundreds of thousands of years ago that the glaciers were falling into the oceans at this location.  An island of amazing contrasts.  We started to enter into Ísafjörður and quickly turned away after a refuel.  For something a little different we entered a tunnel that drove right through the heart of the mountain and inland toward the centre of the “fingers” of the fjords.  We had an early morning start and we were on a tight schedule.  After making our way through a 6 kilometre tunnel, we started climbing those mountains, mainly on dirt roads and often without a guard rail as the mountain fell far below us.  Trevor did a wonderful job, keeping us to schedule and most importantly keeping us safe.

The one stop we did make, deserves mentioning.  Whilst we had breakfast before we left, we were still feeling like a good coffee stop.  This one would rate as probably the best on the trip and certainly it was the best in Iceland.  Simbahöllin cafe in Þingeyri was a marvel.  A team of “young” people running a very traditional looking cafe that was obviously a love of theirs.  The Belgian Waffles were to die for, and surprisingly for anywhere in Europe, the coffee was very well expressed and made. So much so that the man making the coffee was under the guidance and direction of the owner as he made it.  These people cared about what they did and we appreciated every bit of it.

Continuing on to our Ferry with 20 minutes to spare, we picked up our tickets and drove onto Ferry Baldur at Brjánslækur.  About an hour later, we docked at Flatey Island (pronounced Flirty) and disembarked…without our car. Cars are not allowed on Flatey, except for the very few that belong to residents.  Even those are restricted to the Hotel, where we were staying.  There are actually no real roads on the island and just tracks, however the Hotel car (an old beat up station wagon) was waiting for us to take our luggage.  Phew..  I wouldn’t have wanted to drags these bags.

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A few facts about Flatey Island.  It has an official population of 5 people (in the winter) yet the houses on the island are often full during the summer.  A wonderful nature retreat with birds a plenty, including the Puffin.  The island is 2 kilometres long and 1 kilometre wide at is widest point; sitting amongst a group of about 40 small islands in Breiðafjörður (the spreading fjord).

The people in the island hotel were so friendly, and tended to our needs with a smile.  Like the rest of Iceland, the food was expensive, and having a captive audience probably added to this, but the food was also really well cooked.  Some of the best of our trip.  The Westfjords is noted for it’s wonderful birdlife and it’s beauty, but the food we have experienced is also the best we tasted on the entire odyssey.

Trevor and I went for a walk to various parts of the island.  Trevor had already been, and wanted to show me the Puffin, the Church and some of the other areas I didn’t dare to tread for fear of those dreaded Arctic Terns that seemed to be the rulers of this island.  I was stunned out how close we got to the Puffin, and how close the Terns got to us.  A single Tern was hovering over the top of me, probably about only 1-2 metres, looking back at me, shrieking in it’s “kria” vocabulary, calling for others to rally up for an assault to my head.  Trevor had to laugh at me as I stood with my large camera bag sitting above my head  like a woman from Africa or India carry a basket of potatoes from the market.

The church was stunning at the highest point of the island, in place of a monastery that was founded on the island in 1172 A.D.  The interior of the church is painted, depicting the island life, by Baltasar Samper in turn for lodgings. Trevor took this wonderful photograph of the interior, that I felt I just had to share.

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The interior of the Flatey Island Church painted by Balthasar Samper – Photo by Trevor Dansie

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I have to share this most basic of Kitchens at Hotel Flatey

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Kitchen Shot at Hotel Flatey

I hope you enjoy the rest of the photos below.  Flatey was an experience and a half. What did I have to worry about? Tick… another wonderful experience that many will never have. But I do implore you to consider it.

 

Akureyri – Capital of North Iceland

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Akuyeri

On the 27th June, we had a very short travel day.  The day trip from Húsavík (the most north we would go) to Akureyri (the 4th largest town in Iceland) was only about an hour and a half, and just shy of 100km.  It was an overcast day, with a little rain.  After all the driving we had done to get to the half way mark of our Iceland Journey, we were looking forward to a 2 day break of rest and relaxation.  We were promised a day off, where we were not expected to be anywhere in particular.

 

Leaving Húsavík, we reflected on what was a wonderful time on the sightseeing boat, seeing whales (at least for me) for the first time. We worked our way along the coast and then inland toward a mountain to follow the length at the base. Steering through 2 giant peaks we found ourselves back by the Arctic Ocean and down toward a wonderful man-made road through the middle of the bay into the heart of the town.  After a couple of wrong turns we found our home for 2 nights on Gránufélagsgata (the name of the street), one road back from the port.  As we found in Seydisfjordur, a Ferry/Ocean Liner was berthed, not 200 metres away.

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As we settled in for the evening, we were pleased to find our home was equipped with a hot tub in the rear yard.  Just turn on the tap to fill it up.  The hot water in Akureyri doesn’t come from any boiler in the back, it was piped in from some geotherm found deep below us.  It was constant hot water and we could just keep it flowing if we wanted to.  A large (6-8 person) hot tub was full within 45 minutes.  What a wonderful way to spend the day, with a glass of bubbly and a drizzle of rain.  According to records, the temperature of the day didn’t go about 13° and bottomed out at 10°.  We didn’t care.  What we needed to concentrate on was making sure the rain didn’t fill up our glass before we drunk it.  What a great time we had.

We were somewhat oblivious as to the importance of this day in Iceland at the time.   It was national, “Lets Kick England out of the European Cup Day”.  Check out this short 1:28 video of the celebrations we heard from about 600 metres away as we rested upstairs enjoying our dinner.

Mývatn Nature Baths

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Akureyri to Mývatn Nature Baths

Landscape_Above_Grjótagjá_caves_(1)The 28th of June was the rest day, so we thought we’d go for a little drive. Did I say rest?  The drive was around about double the distance we drove the previous day.  The Mývatn Nature Baths are similar in many respects to the Blue Lagoon (something we promised ourselves once we reached Reykjavik).  Some reviews had it as a better location than the Lagoon; others had it smelling putrid like rotten eggs.  This was to be expected anyway.  It was an Icelandic natural hot water bath; that’s what they smell like.
Travelling there was an eye opener to yet another different view of the landscape.  As we approached the baths, on the eastern side of Lake Mývatn, we found ourselves amongst an ancient lava flow, since destroyed by further movement in the earth.  The lava in many places was pushed up against itself in the same fashion as we have seen where an earthquake forces bitumen into a peak.  This island has seen some massive events in the past!  As an aside; the picture above (Grjótagjá by Petr Brož, a Czech Republic photographer) is the roof of a cave seen in Game of Thrones, season 3 called “Kissed by Fire”

Despite these amazing landscapes, we were headed to our little piece of paradise for a couple of hours.  Off to the baths…

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Mývatn Nature Baths

Just a sidenote: The name “Mývatn” comes from 2 words.  Vatn is Icelandic for Water. Or in this case, because it is attached to another word, it becomes Lake. Mý is Icelandic for “Midge” or blackfly, or gnat.  So in-effect it means Midge Lake.  How did it become named?  There are apparently a huge number of midges that arrive in the summer.  I personally didn’t notice. Maybe they don’t like sulphur?

Our return home was a rather tiring one.  We had certainly deserved a day off, but the 3 hours total driving was slowly wearing us down.  Was it worth the drive?  Absolutely!  When we were planning our trip all those months ago, we intended to stay near Mývatn, but the accommodation was scarce and very expensive.  It is such a beautiful area, and nothing like any person who has lived their life in Australia could imagine.  I won’t try and explain it to you.  Check out a few Google Images on Mývatn to see what it’s really like, or just visit like we did.

As things go in Iceland, there is no simple, “just drive home”.  Goðafoss was on our original route, but was forgotten when we changed our trip to stay at Húsavík.  On the road back we couldn’t’ miss it. It’s right on Route 1, Iceland and is a pretty decent sized tourist stop (minus the 700Kr instant coffee).  I can barely believe we missed it on our trip out.  It’s a horseshoe waterfall that to me, was one of the most beautiful we had seen.  What do you think?

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Goðafoss from the river Skjálfandafljót

 

We finally arrive back.  I managed to buy a jacket, a few presents for people and enjoyed a walk through the main shopping streets of Akureyri where a few photographs were taken.  If I get back to Iceland (and I know I will), Akureyri is definitely a place to return, for more than 2 nights.  What a wonderful place.   Look out for the photo’s of Julia and Trevor below.  You won’t be disappointed.  What a couple of days.  Now to travel into the famous Westfjords of Iceland.

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Akureyri – Kitchen Shot

 

Into the Fjords & heading North

Day 3

We get to have a slower start to the day, enjoy the home we are in and head out at a leisurely pace.  As we finally pack our belongings back into the Landcruiser I saw Hanna in the house about 60 metres away up the hill, so went to say hello, goodbye and especially thank you for the tea cake and the home. Nutmeg and Ginger went into the cake.  I could pick the ginger, but I always get nutmeg and cinnamon mixed up when it’s used in cooking.

We wind alongside the mountains that fall into the ocean.  The clouds are all around us and we see no blue sky for pretty much the entire day.  The road is precariously perched on the edge of the mountains and over the sea in many places.  I’m not one for heights, and driving on the wrong (right) side of the road I drive very slowly.  There aren’t even guard rails in some locations.  Life’s a challenge right?

Iceland_035The options to stop during today’s trip aren’t many, but I found something that might be interesting to see.  A stone collection!  Petra’s stone (or mineral) collection in fact.  I know many people who walk along the beach as a child, or even an adult and find a shell that takes their attention.  They pick it up and take it home, put it in a box or maybe on a shelf of theirs in pride of place.  They find another, or a beautiful rock that has been carved into a smooth finish, lying in the bottom of a creek.  This was Petra’s life.  Living in the fjords of Iceland in a place called Stöðvarfjörður (it sounds like ‘stoad’ – ‘var’ – ‘fy-ord’ – ‘ur’. An easy one to say).  As a child, Petra would collect these rocks. As an adult she continued. Her love of the beauty of nature was her inspiration and this continued throughout her life.  I really recommend you look into the story of her life that was almost cut short by illness as a child.  Iceland_041A wonderful story from a person who dedicated much of her life to her passion for ‘hunting’ for beautiful gems, fossils, bones and loved to share them with others despite not being one for fanfare.  She received a decoration from the president of Iceland in 1995 for her collection and passed away in 2012 at the age of 80 years.  We all thoroughly enjoyed her collection, certainly much more than I thought I would.  There is something special about this place, no doubt.  Have a look at the webpage dedicated to her history.  You won’t be disappointed.

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The mountains overlooking Stöðvarfjörður

We continued up through the edges of mountains as we left Stöðvarfjörður and made our way inland.  What it was easy to forget was that we were travelling during summer.  The snow was supposed to have melted, the rivers full and the sun shining brightly.  That was what I expected anyway. In the mountains of the East Fjords of Iceland, there is still snow on the mountains, the rivers are still full, but the sun isn’t always out.  Driving along, you could see the clouds actually forming as the sea air hit the mountains.  Trevor made the suggestion that you could see a waterfall actually rising with the wind, the spray turing upwards.  Upon closer inspection you could see there was no waterfall and the cloud actually forming and adding to the blanket that was covering the mountains. It was yet another surprise along the road on our trip around the country.

Iceland_049We drove up the final mountain to a height of slightly over 600 metres.  And then we descended that entire elevation on a very steep and thin winding road that led to our destination of Seydisfjordur.  A stunning town built into the side and base of the mountains that overlooked it.  It reminds me very much of the town used in the TV series of “Trapped” that as I write this, is being aired on Australian TV.  A wonderfully clever suspense filled crime show made in the northern fjords of Iceland in 2015. Seydisfjordur is another easy town to say.  ‘say’ – ‘dis’ – ‘fy-ord’ – ‘ur’ but you say it in 2 parts.  Seydis-fjordur.

As we entered town we saw a couple of people walking in. Above a man waving a stick frantically above his head were 3 birds, I later found out were Kria’s, or Arctic Terns.  They are a very territorial bird and especially when they are nesting.  But they are also very aggressive and cunning.  This is their Modus Operandi.  They see a person who is a threat (or usually not actually a threat); they call out for reinforcements (and the noise sounds like their name “kria..kria..”.  When reinforcements come they attack their threat, one at a time, taking turns to dive bomb them.  Note to self.. “Kria.  stay clear” … more on the the Arctic Tern later…

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We arrived a little early for checkin and had lunch before getting to our home.  Trevor and I had a conversation with our “booking.com” host and he us the low-down on where the best waterfall was in the area.  There were some quite magnificent sights as we arrived in town of the waterfalls streaming down the mountain on both sides.  A large one was right behind us in our house and probably a 5 minute walk.  But he described where a cascading waterfall, hidden from view could be found on the other side of the water, just 5 minutes away (Map).  He also told us that there would be some huts, built in the 1800’s, that had been crushed under an avalanche that killed about 2 hundred people.  A law was then passed to stop people from building there.  The fact was that it was about 25 people that died (according to records), but it sounds better to say hundreds… The saga’s of an Icelander.

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A night nestled between the 2 mountains of Seydisfjordur, with the sun breaking through the clouds a bit before 10pm for a sound sleep and a long day ahead to the north of the country to see the most powerful waterfall in Europe – Dettifoss.

North to Húsavík

Day 4

Trevor and I were the sole 2 drivers of our car, as we only had our names on the vehicle hire contract.  Jane and Julia would have been happy to take the wheel I am sure, but it costs considerable money to hire a car for 2 weeks in Iceland, and especially a good 4 wheel drive.  Adding another couple of names would have made this even more expensive.  So Trevor and I swapped driving duties each day.  These gave each of us a break from the 5-8 hours behind the wheel each day (including stops) and the person not driving really got to enjoy the scenery as we made our way along Route 1 – The Ring Route.  Driving was also a joy as we got to navigate our way around Iceland, and having the excitement of rounding a bend to see a wonderful new landscape experience.  Our trip to Húsavík would be a fairly lengthy, and not a super interesting drive, so I was glad Trevor would be behind the wheel.  There was not much to see over our 4 hours of commute as we made our way back over the mountains, drive the lengthy period though uninspiring landscape and see a waterfall or 2 before stopping in a sleepy fishing village at the end.

Iceland_051As usual, I was wrong!  I thought the land would be flat, but it wasn’t.  We continually climbed hills that turned to mountains before they dropped back down.  The landscape changed continually.  The “craters of the moon” as they are known are a brown/black area of the landscape that has been scarred with the history of Iceland caused by volcanoes erupting and lava flows burning through the ground.  Not much was growing around here.  The snow was slowly melting leaving very many small streams to run into larger ones and finally into rivers.  They eventually combined in a very rocky and desolate area, used in several films including Prometheus at a place called Dettifoss.  The road to Dettifoss travels for about 30 km on a dirt/gravel road after you leave Route 1.  This is the eastern route.  There is a bitumen road on the western side of the falls, but from all of the photo’s I have seen, the view from the east is more spectacular.  Like we really need to take the more spectacular view right?

When we arrived we saw that the access was much more restricted on our side too.  The paths were simply gaps between rocks that had a guide rope marked to show the easier route.  Steep steps made of rocks that had been moved into the path making a form of stair. Along the western side, you could see the streams of people coming down the timber stair cases to view the waterfall.

Iceland_052Selfoss (the waterfall, not the town) was about 1.4 km away, and only accessible by walking through a very rocky track, where you had to literally climb boulders.  On this day, it would be a stretch to get there and return without taking an hour or so, which we didn’t really have.  Even though we were 2/3rds the way to Húsavík we were only half way there in time. We had a lot more driving to do.   Saying that though, there really are some great views from this side.  I would say we made the right choice.  We had a much better view of the waterfall because it directly faced us.  People could walk right up to the edge without fear of falling because the river bank that turned into the falls was on our side.  The green western side of the falls also made for nicer photo’s.  Even more, as you look away from the falls to where the river continues, we had a fantastic look along the canyon that takes the river all the way back to the edge of the island and to the ocean.

Iceland_054Two hours later we were in Húsavík.  A reasonable size town by Iceland standards with a population of 2,200 Húsavík is the capital of Whale Watching.  We found our house after  bit of hard work (the address just didn’t make sense) and we ended up locating it by matching photographs we had seen on the Airbnb site.  There was no mistake in the end because houses are definitely not the same. They often have a similar design in that they are painted, with symmetry in their design, but are all painted differently.  Green roof, blue walls or red walls, yellow roof plus the many other colours available in paint and seemingly an infinite variation.  It’s always a colourful experience going into a town in Iceland.

Iceland_066You are pretty much guaranteed to see whales when on a charter boat from Húsavík.  Puffins too it seems.  We signed up for an excursion to a Whale & Puffin Sightseeing tour aboard the “Fanney” with Salka Whale Watching.  An experience we should all try if you get the opportunity and should be on most peoples bucket list. What I particularly liked about Salka as the tour group (there are very many who do it) is that they showed a greater respect to the Whales and Puffins by not getting too close than some of the others.  Saying that, a whale came up right beside us and was within a few metres of Jane.  A great day, starting early at the docks at 8:45 a.m., a 3 1/2 hour tour and then continued to our next destination.   A tip for those going whale watching.  Bring your camera and a long lens (big zoom) and a fast shutter speed.  It was amazing to watch and photograph these animals.

Kitchen Shot

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Our next destination was Akuyeri.  The northern capital of Iceland, barely over an hour away.  Akuryeri is the 2nd largest city in Iceland and we had 2 nights there.  A nice break at the halfway mark of our trip where we could relax, take a moment and get set for the Westfjords that would be next on our trip around this volcanic rock.

Enjoy the photo’s from our last couple of days in Iceland from the south east to the north.

Iceland – Heading East

Day 2

  • Waking up at the Farm at Eyjafjallajökull
  • Café Sólheimajökull (Glacial tongue)
  • Cairns at Laufskálavarða (Stone piles)
  • Foss at Þjóðvegur (Just a babbling brook)
  • Jökulsárlón Glacial Lagoon (where the glacier joins the Arctic Ocean)
  • Bedding down at Þvottá for the evening

A long day of driving, and packed full of adventure.  There is so much to do and see in Iceland, and we just cannot do it all.

Our first stop was Sólheimajökull (Map), a glacial tongue I had visited, and walked on during my first visit to Iceland a few days more than 6 years ago.  I was not aware of the café sitting near the entrance on that occasion.  A café made from several shipping containers, put together and renovated to included a bathroom (for 100KR a shot) and a very rough ‘arctic’ style cafeteria look to it.   We weren’t expecting much as we headed for our first coffees for the day. It wasn’t half bad and we have had much worse in the UK and before that in France.  It was about $6 a cup, but worth it for the early start we had on our trip.

When I was here at this location previously, it was completely covered in ash, from the eruption.  And it is still very much like that.  The ash wasn’t covering the glacial ice, rather than wedged between the crevices and every crack.  It simply hasn’t washed away, but become trapped.  The blackness is a reminder of how the “Land of Fire and Ice” determines nature and is a product of it’s violent tendencies.

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Sólheimajökull – Glacial Tongue

Sólheimajökull is too dangerous to walk on this ice without a guide and crampons strapped to your feet, so we kept our distance, yet I think we all captured some photo’s to give you an idea on what it was like.  I don’t know the specific origins of the name of this part of the glacier however, I do know what the word means.  Sól, like in many languages means “Sun”. Heima = Home, and as discussed in my first blog on Iceland, jökull = glacier.  So it would mean something like Sun Home Glacier, or maybe Our Glacier of the Sun(??).  To extend this to a Phonetic word should y0u want to practice in front of the mirror, it would be pronounced ‘Soll’ – ‘Himor’ (sounds like minor) –  ‘yo’ – ‘ckl’ (as discussed earlier)

Our day continued beyond our trip to the glacier; and in fact had barely begun.  It was looking like a long day in the car.  We have already started a trend of taking much longer than we anticipate.  We could say ’20 minutes’ but it seems to stretch much further and sometimes into an hour.  Maybe because we are really soaking in the enjoyment of such a place.

Our next intention was to stop near Vik where the crashed DC3 hull is sitting on the black sandy beach.  It ‘used’ to be that you could drive right up to the plane if you had a 4WD (having this flexibility is part of the reason why we hired it), but we found when we got to the location, about 40 or so cars parked on the side of the road.  A 1.2km walk to the location (where cars can no longer drive) and no doubt a hundred or more other onlookers.  The days of that ‘ghostly image’ of the DC3 with a mysterious ending with none other than  the black sands and tortured hull are pretty much gone, save getting there in the early sun at 3am.  We drove right by.

 

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Cairns at Laufskálavarða

The landscape in Iceland continually changes.  Having driven Route 1 + the Westfjords (at the time of writing this), I know how many times I have said “Now I’ve seen it all”, but I know the reality is that as I turn another corner, or drive another 10 kilometres, I’ll say it again.  After we had driven about an hour from the site of the plane, we saw what are known as “Cairns”.  (or varða (vörður – plural) These are rocks stacked on top of each other used as markers, particularly in the snow.  People build them for fun these days, yet it is discouraged in Iceland as it unnaturally changes the landscape.  Like adding padlocks to the bridges in Paris, or coins in the bottom of every clear waterhole pretty much everywhere, it leaves a mark and damages the environment in some way.  The Icelanders appreciate their natural environment more than many it seems.  Please, if you come to Iceland and Laufskálavarða (Map), enjoy the scenery, but don’t damage the environment.

Iceland_022As we continued, we came across what we started to call “a gathering” on the side of the road.  A gathering of about 20 cars and a bus on this occasion, watching and photographing another waterfall.  You just keep coming across them.  It was a standing joke in the car to say “I see a waterfall”.  Well, you generally just have to look to your left and you’ll see one.  Not many to the right because the Arctic Ocean was on the right, although at times you could still see one in that direction.  This waterfall was different though.  I’d like to call it a babbling creek in Iceland.  In any other part of the world, it’d be a major tourist attraction.  A beautiful cascading small river (Map) that snaked around and back into itself.   Stunning in it’s natural environment.  The scene of such a place also causes annoyance to several people who think they have the ‘spot’ for a Pulitzer Prize winning photograph and someone walks into their frame to have a look at the nature that is on display.  Such is life.

We had one more stop before our journey finishes for the day. At Jökulsárlón Glacial Lagoon (Map) as it is known, or in English – “glacial river lagoon glacial lagoon” (yes I know I’m repeating myself but think about it…). Another major tourist attraction for good reason and a wonderfully large carpark to match it.

glacial river lagoonAnother major tourist attraction for good reason and a wonderfully large carpark to match it.  The glacier in this location breaks off into a large lake that leads under a bridge and directly into the Arctic Ocean south of the island.  The glacial ice gathers at this location.  You can see it clearly here on this google image.

 

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Jökulsárlón 

Þvottá

Finally, a 2 hour drive and some very specific GPS coordinates as given to us by our Airbnb host, we arrived at our house near the river Þvottá.  “Þ” is always pronounced as a “th” in Icelandic, thus it is pronounced and can be written in English as thvotta.  You will likely find this location on a google search with the English translation.

Our house for the evening was stunning.  Stunning in that it was like we had just walked into someones home. In fact, it was the home of the parents and grandparents of our host, Smari.  Many photographs of the family, tapestries and books lined the walls.  A tea cake was waiting for us upon our arrival.  Smari’s sister Hanna had made the cake for us.  What a beautiful location.

To coin a phrase from the TV show “Escape to the Country” – As the sun set behind the mountains in this beautiful location, we say goodnight to our couple, looking for a place to spend a life in the country.  But the sun doesn’t set does it?  Not here, not now.  At best we have a little colour in the sky as the clock nears midnight.  But it doesn’t matter, in the land of the midnight sun, I love this place, this house, this part of Iceland.  Who would want to leave?

Kitchen Shot

What a wonderful place and a wonderful reward for something that I am unaware.  I was honoured to be here.

Next onwards into the Eastern Fjords of Iceland.  Enjoy the gallery of images of southern and south eastern Iceland.  We start to move north.