Iceland Anniversary Trip – Days 5-8
Today after our breakfast of cereal, banana and a cup of tea, we started our day’s adventure with a walk around the small town of Hofn – mostly to see the views that we expected were amazing but were obscured yesterday by cloud cover and to check out the waterfront. We were not disappointed.
There was a short waterfront trail on which we saw this statue of a narwhal tusk – whaling played a big part in Iceland’s history – so many different kinds of whale pass by the island. Whale watching is pretty popular out of the northern city of Husavik, but as we’ve done this many times and it’s rather early in the season, this is not something we plan to do.
In the past couple of days a high school friend of Fran’s, Kerstin, reached out to let us know that a friend of her son’s was living in Iceland and engaged to an Icelandic fellow. She put us in touch her and we began to chat via FB last night. Alyssa recommended a nearby waterfall that was off the tourist radar so that was our first stop today.
Skutafoss is a waterfall next to a cave and is not visible from the ring road at all. There is no sign, just a small dirt road that leads to an almost obscured trail.
We spent a bit of time here taking selfies to send to Alyssa to show her we’d taken up her recommendation. It was a good one. Many of the others she had mentioned were already on our radar.
During our time along the south coast we saw a good number of horses. These are specific to Iceland. At first we thought they were just large ponies or small horses but on closer observation, you can see they are their own breed.
Sidebar: The Icelandic horse is a small and beautiful animal, about the size of a pony, and is renowned for its bravery, strength, resilience, stamina, and gorgeous coats of long, shaggy fur – particularly during the winter – sure-footedness and good temper. Although they are on the small side, their physique is quite muscular.
The Icelandic horse is a special breed, and has been central to Icelandic culture for centuries, since the earliest settlers brought horses over from Scandinavia. Horses were highly regarded in Nordic mythology and this regard continued when they were brought over to Iceland.
They have also served multiple purposes, which is why they are often referred to as “the most needed servant” by locals. In former times, the Icelandic horse served as a means of transport. Although they continue to be used by equestrians for horse-riding to this day, they are seldom harnessed as a ‘work horse’. One interesting point to note is that Icelandic horses are used as a source of food in Iceland. When the country converted to Christianity in the year 1000AD, it was a condition of the people that they would still be able to eat horse meat. Although horse meat is not eaten all the time in Iceland, it is still a traditional food that you may find on restaurant menus here and there.
Having said all of that, the use of Icelandic horses has changed a lot over the years. These days, they are a point of interest for photographers, for recreation, racing, and somewhat for traditional farm work. Apart from their personalities, another particular distinction of the Icelandic horse is its five gaits. This means that in addition to the typical walk, trot and canter/gallop, it has the characteristic gaits known as the tölt and skeið. Tölt is a four-beat lateral ambling gait, characterized by an explosive acceleration and speed, while still being comfortable and ground-covering. This gait in turn has its own varieties. On the other hand, skeið or flugskeið (“flying pace“) is very fast and smooth. When undertaking the skeið, Icelandic horses can reach up to 48 km per hour, though not all of them are able to perform this gait. This is a two-beat lateral gait where the footfalls are suspended, with the horse having both feet on each side touching land almost at the same time. This gait requires the skills of a well-trained and balanced horse, combined with seasoned riders.
Another distinction of the Icelandic horse is its many coat colours. Indeed, Icelanders have over a hundred names for them. In wintertime, the Icelandic horse will develop a double coat to protect it against the cold weather. As such, you’ll often see them standing out and about in the snow, seemingly without a care in the world, not even huddling or shivering!
Due to the unique and revered characteristics of the Icelandic horse, the Parliament of Iceland has sought to restrict horse imports since 982AD, thereby preventing the degeneration of the breed. Furthermore, the law prevents any horse that is exported from Iceland from being allowed back into the country. As such, the Icelandic horse is one of the most purebred horses in the world; a strong and hardy breed that is afflicted by very few diseases. The only downside of this law is that any Icelandic horse which is entered into an equestrian competition overseas cannot return to Iceland, meaning that most of the time, the best Icelandic horses are not sent abroad. Rather, they remain in Iceland to participate in competitions here or for breeding purposes.
GOT FANS – this is the type of horse used by the Night Watch and that Arya and the Hound rode as they travel to Eyrie.
The next couple of days were going to include a lot of driving as we are headed into the eastern fjords and there’s a lot of up and down the fjords to do to get anywhere.
We came upon a random red chair on the sea side of the highway so we had to stop:
Enroute we began to see reindeer/caribou:
They are not very skittish so they do not scatter but meander away from you.
Currently, Iceland has roughly three thousand reindeer/caribou, and still only in the east and northeast of the country. The reindeer stay mostly at high elevations during the summer months, and then migrate closer to the coastal grasslands during the winter. If you read the first post in this series you will recall that the first caribou were brought from Norway.
Our first destination on this part of the ring road in the eastern fjords was to the town of Djupivogur where we read about an amazing hot pot on the seaside. We’ve not tried one yet and an outdoor one is more to our liking especially with a natural setting. We arrived in town and there was a lot of construction going on in the area where we were lead to believe it was located but we never found it.
However, along the harbour we saw this artistic work of 34 stone eggs of the similar size except one.
It’s called “Eggs at Merry Bay” and was sculpted in 2009 out of imported Chinese granite. These eggs represent the eggs of the 34 nesting birds in this region many of whom are migrating birds. Each is perched on a sort of pedestal that are the remains of a fish transferring system back in the day when the port had a fish factory and the boats were pull up to the docks and send the fish down to the factory.
Then as we left town we saw this interesting (but closed) looking shop:
We made a roadside stop at Fossa which means “waterfall river” and enjoyed this view:
We went up and down a few more fjords and at the head of one saw these seals:
And then a herd of caribou crossed the road right in front of us but we weren’t quite fast enough with our camera to record the whole thing.
And a little later:
We stopped to check out a lighthouse that should not have been recommended as it was nothing special but it gave us a chance to stretch our legs.
The next part of the drive was up and down three more fjords with no more actual stops; just cloudy views of snowy mountains.
We stopped in Stodvarfjordur to see “Petra’s Stone Collection” which Doug was really interested in viewing but it was closed until June 1st. We stopped anyway to peek over the fence.
We then made it to the town of Neskaupstadur, one of the larger towns in the eastern fjords and the end of an off shoot road from the ring road. The town sprang up in the 19th century as a trading centre and prospered during the herring boom of the 20th century. Here you can find the biggest fish processing and freezing plant in Iceland – Sildarvinnslan.
We had hoped to do a walk in the small nature reserve at the end of the road, but it was pouring and very foggy so we opted not to. We drove back down the road through the town of Eskifjord back to the ring road where we went through our first tunnel to get further north to the town of Egilstador. We planned to spend the night here but first want to go up a dirt road to a waterfall and then eastward up another dead end road to Seydisfjorudur.
Speeding along this rode (literally) we caught up to a cop! This female duo made us pull over and we got a speeding ticket. They offered us a choice to pay the fine in full later or on the spot – the latter gives you a substantial discount and they have a credit card machine on hand. Naturally we did that.
So we found the turn off to the road to Mjoafjardarheidi, a unique waterfall in this region and began making our way down it.
We soon came upon a unmanned snowplow by the side of the road and after travelling down the road past it a bit we saw it was completely snow covered – more than we felt comfortable continuing on through, so we thought we’d better rethink this plan and turned around.
So we drove on through Egilstador and the adventure began towards Seydisfjordur. The all paved road curved and climbed quite a bit and we encountered SNOW; not just a little bit of snow but snowbanks nearly as tall as the car!
The road itself was mostly clear but wet and we stopped at the top to take photos. Fran got out and the wind was so strong it was good thing we knew to hold onto the doors as it could have blown off and our insurance did not cover that. She took some photos and a panoramic video in which she tried to speak but you can hardly make it out as she had trouble catching her breath.
The reason to go down this road is to visit the town of Seydisfjordur to see the famous blue church in a pretty and colourful town. The church is shaped and built like most other Icelandic churches but this one is light blue in colour and apparently has been used in many Icelandic movies. Next to the church was a memorial statue honouring those who passed in avalanche.
The entire town is full of colourful homes and worth the drive even in cloudy weather.
We got back to Egilstador and checked into the guesthouse we’d booked there. Turned out the owner has two guesthouses and we’d booked the less expensive one but since it was not so busy they upgraded us to the nicer one. Here, like at many guest houses we checked into, we did not meet anyone at reception. We were messaged a code to a lock box with our keys and other info we needed to let ourselves in. This guesthouse had about 8 rooms and only three we occupied (including us). So far in our experience, these types of guesthouses have all had good well equipped kitchens, sitting areas, good Wi-fi and at least two bathrooms and/or two sets of showers and bathrooms, and of course, there’s always plenty of hot water! Towels are supplied and usually body gel and a hair dryer but rarely shampoo and conditioner.
Weather – very mixed all day with the sun peeking out for a few moments and lots and lots of fog
Day six, we awoke to a foggy morning but we got underway after our usual breakfast and drove off the ring road inland southwest to do the hike to the Hengifoss waterfall which is 118 m / 388’ tall.
The road was paved and we had it all to ourselves. For a good portion we were following alongside a long skinny lake that was just visible between the trees. There is a road on the other side of the lake as well but it is not paved.
Once again the parking lot at the site was empty and we were alone here. The falls themselves are quite far in the distance, about 3 km / 2mi but the trail to a good viewpoint was only about 2 km.
There were stairs, pieces of boardwalk and dirt trails which lead to several view points of the smaller falls and lots of slot canyon views enroute.
When we got to the main viewpoint we decided the views weren’t going to get much better and there was no point walking to the base of the falls because of all the snow still up there so after snapping some pics and enjoying the overcast views, we turned around.
We were “followed” by a raven a lot of the way back and managed to catch a snap of it on the way back as well as a graylag goose.
There were some expansive views of the valley below too.
We had to return to Egilsstadir to continue northward, again off the ring road along Route 94.
There was a very unique place to stop on this Route 94:
A solar powered vending machine (Coke Sjalfsalinn) in the middle of nowhere. This, we had to check out. The machine itself is inside a small green hut and the machine is powered by solar and wind. The owner of the hut is Kristjan Kristmundsson, an entrepreneur and interesting local from Egilsstadir. It sells coke, beer and candy bars.
We entered the little hut that holds it and Doug put in some coins to get a drink:
Sadly after three tries we gave up so no KitKat bar for us today.
We carried on northeast to the turn off for the tiny village of Borgarfjordur and made our way through town to Hafnarholmi. This is the location of a small marina with a birdwatching area on the rocky cliffs.
Platforms and a warming hut have been constructed (the latter in 2016). This hut has plexi glass windows that you can push up to get clear views while staying warm. (Across the parking lot were some restrooms that were heated as well!)
Here it was puffin heaven! We saw hundreds swimming in the water (they’ve not laid their eggs yet) and several in and out of their burrows. This is a major nesting area for them and for eiders and some fulmar and kittiwakes and we read that recently guillemots and razorbills have been known to join in the fun. We even saw graylag geese here. We probably spent 90 minutes here observing, being amazed and on and off getting warm.
Inside the heated hut were some puffin facts:
By the time we left, it was early afternoon and we had quite a long stretch of driving to do with no planned stops to make before our next attraction. As has been the case the entire trip so, far we encounter no traffic and the roads are good; even the gravel ones. We’ve not seen a pothole on a paved road yet!
We booked a cottage for the night near Vopnafjordur and arrived there in the late afternoon with intent to check in, drop off our stuff and grab a few towels for our first venture to an outdoor hot pot. The owner met us, showed us our room and the main kitchen area. This was in the same building – just our room and the kitchen (no access from one to the other without going outside) but as we were alone here this was not an issue. The kitchen had two additional bathrooms and a washing machine at no extra charge. Beside this cottage they is a large grassy area for camping but it was currently empty. Campers have use of the kitchen area as well
So after getting our stuff inside, putting things in the fridge and grabbing our swim suits and the cottage’s towels, Fran threw a load of laundry in to run while were out.
The hot pot was a municipally owned site where you paid an entry fee of about $8. This gave you access to the main pool (about 31C / 87F), the hot pot (really a big hot tub) about 40C / 104F and a smaller cold pot if you dared. While the setting was outdoors, it was not as natural as we’d hope.
There were a few people (locals) here but no masks were required as we were all outdoors. Before entering a hot pot or pools here in Iceland there is a very important rule: you MUST shower before putting your bathing suit using soap. There are, of course, male and female change rooms. You can shower in the open or there is often at least one private shower. This place had curtains for a private shower but no private change rooms.
We met outside at the hot pot and joined a couple of others in there where we relaxed for a good half hour before a family with two small children entered the pool and then joined us in the hot pot which made it not quite so enjoyable. While we did enjoy the soak, we look forward to a more natural set of hot pools over the rest of the trip (think Blue Lagoon).
We showered and got dressed before returning to our cottage to make dinner; tonight was grilled cheese in the toaster! (horizontally of course – worked out well actually). The internet was again very good here and we managed to do some things online very easily.
As there was no dryer, we managed to hang everything up to dry overnight and were surprised that it all did except one spot on the waistband of a pair of jeans. We hope not to have to do laundry again except for maybe some underwear for the rest of the trip; this was an unexpected free bonus!
Weather today – very cloudy and misty most of the day but dry for our “soak”
Since today was going to be another day of long distances in between sites, we were on the road after an early breakfast and made the long drive to the most northerly point we will travel to in Iceland. It was 111 km / 70 mi from our cottage to the lookout at Jarnkarlinn to view the rock stack Stori-Karl where northern gannets nest (among other birds). Now that distance doesn’t seem that far away but much of it was gravel/dirt road and the last 20 km or so were not great with one roughish section.
Here we will be at 66.38626, -14.852279 – as close to the Arctic Circle as we’ve ever been.
As we drove up the west side of the peninsula to our destination, Fran made us stop so she could dip her feet into the Greenland Sea. Not quite as dramatic as her polar dip in the Antarctic Ocean but noteworthy nonetheless:
We saw a few birds we’d not seen so far along the way as well like the Black-tailed Godwit and a ptarmigan – the latter flew away but we saw it on the way back and managed to photograph it.
The weather was still very windy and cloudy with on and off sprinkles. We got to the lookout where, once again, we were the only ones here and spent about an hour at the lookout and walking the cliffs for bird viewing of the gannets, several puffins, guillemots and more. After an hour, we were pretty cold, especially Fran’s camera hand.
We also observed a mama sheep with her two babies working their way down the slope – for what we were not sure.
Next we hoped to do a hike on the east side of the next peninsula to see some rock formations and caves and hopefully more puffins, but the rain was persistent and got worse the closer we got so we nixed that idea. (Yeah, yeah, we are fair weather hikers, we know.)
Now it was a longish drive to Asbyrgi Canyon (off the ring road inland a bit) and as we got closer the weather cleared completely and it was fantastic, warming up although still very windy. We wanted to do a couple of hikes at the canyon – one to the head of the canyon and one on top of the “island”.
This canyon is within the boundaries of the Vatnajokull National Park – there are only three national parks in Iceland and this is the largest (it now includes what used to be known as Jokulsargljurur and Skaftafell national parks). This park covers more than 14,000 square kilometers! There is no entrance fee and no parking fees here. (The Vatnajokull glacier covers 11% of Iceland!)
GOT FANS – many scenes of the North Wall were of this particular glacier which we only saw in the distance on this side of the country but many of the glacial fingers we visited on the south side of the island, came off this glacier.
On our way here, Fran called her mother to wish her a happy 89th birthday; she and her sister Sandra had arranged for a slab cake to be presented to her and shared with all the residents and staff on her floor.
We started by checking out the Visitor’s Centre, which is quite modest in comparison to North American park centres, with its displays and confirming that the two hikes we wanted to do were the best ones.
The canyon is shaped like a horseshoe and there are two stories about its creation. The photos below are from Google as we were unable to get photos from above:
The early Norse settlers believed that Odin’s (their Nordic god) eight legged flying horse, Staettur, accidently touched down on earth and left one heck of a hoof print to prove it.
The scientific theory is also quite hard to fathom but obviously more credible.
Geologists believe that the canyon was created by an enormous eruption of the Grimsvotn caldera beneath the distant volcano, Vatnajokull. It released a catastrophic glacial flood which ploughed northward gouging out the canyon in a matter of hours. The river then flowed from this canyon for about one hundred years before shifting eastward to its present course.
The canyon walls are up to 100m / 328’ tall running down the 3.5 km / 2 mi length and at the widest point is 1 km / 1100’ across. For more than half its length runs a distinctive rock formation about 25 m / 82‘ high called Eyjan which means “the island”.
At the head of the horseshoe is a duck pond. First we drove down to the head and did the short hike to the duck pond, alone except for one other couple.
Then we drove back up the canyon to the camping area where the hike up to the top of the island starts and we walked the length of it maybe 2 km / 1.4 mi each way. The views were spectacular and made even more so by the sunny skies. We met one fellow at the view point but otherwise we were alone again.
Another Asbyrgi legend goes that a local boy wanted to marry the girl from a nearby estate; this was forbidden. The girl was told in a dream by a fairy that her lover had been turned into a beast by a creature living in the cliffs. The beast would only surface when the midnight sun gilds the cliffs. She was told that if they threw all of her dearest possessions into its jaws, the girl could break the spell and free her lover. They could then marry.
It was now early afternoon and we returned to the ring road to make our way down the Route 862 inland again to check out Dettifoss – a major attraction on the tourist route. We had hoped to travel down the east side of the river to see the falls but it was a closed F road so we took the paved western road. Here there were several cars in the parking area – busiest place we’ve been to so far. There’s still a good amount of snow here and the pathway was covered about half the way with red sticks as route markers.
Dettifoss is a great example of the power of nature; it’s considered one of Iceland’s most impressive waterfalls. While it’s only 45 m / tall, a massive 400 cubic metres of water thunders over its edges every second in the summer. With the greatest volume of any waterfall in Europe, this is truly spectacular!
Luckily, most people were spread out although we passed a few but being outdoors in the fresh air was pretty it was pretty safe because if they were foreigners, like us, they’d been vaccinated and had passed the COVID test upon entry.
The main viewpoint offered this view and luckily we had it to ourselves at this point.
We took the small trail along the cliff edges to get more views before returning the main trail back to the car park.
So we were further along than we expected to be today since we didn’t do the earlier hike (it was 7km / 3+ miles) so we figured we could push on enjoying the clear skies and head to Lake Myvatn. We found accommodation there and Fran booked us a night (we thought we might want two but we’d play it by ear).
However, before we would arrive there, we had two stops to make before the lake turnoff. One was a power plant that claimed online that the visitor’s centre was open but upon making our way up the road to it on the north side of the ring road, we discovered it was in fact closed.
The other thing to see up this road was the crater so we continued up the road only to find the road blocked by snow once again and this was deep icy snow.
Well, we’re here, so let’s hike up.
We found our way following footsteps up to what we thought was the crater’s edge only to figure out it was the view point over the power plant! The Viti crater was further up still. What the heck, let’s do it. It was a tough ish slog in the snow but we got there only to discover a frozen crater lake! The crater was formed during an explosive eruption in 1724. It is approximately 300 m / 984’ in diameter.
We proceeded to return to the car and drove back down the ring road. On the way up here we’d seen a car parked at what looked like a shower and we thought we’d stop there and clean off the car as much as possible. The past few days of rain and gravel roads had done its worst. So Fran got out and directed Doug back and forth under the shower head. Turns out this is a hot shower and people who are in camper vans without facilities often stop here to wash up!
Over the past few days, Doug had been in contact a woman who was also in Iceland and knew Lucky, the manager of the community school we support in Uganda. We’d been trying to meet up but so far, no luck. Turns out they were coming to Myvatn tonight and we could meet up in the morning.
Our last stop before calling it a day at the guest cottage was Hverir Boiling Mud Pots.
At a depth of 1000m /3280‘ the temperature is above 200C / 392F. The odor comes from the hydrogen sulfide. Centuries ago, sulphur was mined in Iceland from this site to produce gun powder.
GOT FANS: This was the location for the filming of the scenes outside the Corner of the Haunted Forest.
We drove towards our cottage which was located on the east side of the lake between the lake and a huge crater.
We picked up some groceries before arriving and got checked in – this was one of the few places with a reception area. He gave us our key and pointed out our cottage on a map as well as the kitchen. It was actually a cottage with four separate rooms with each their own entrance. There were three such buildings with a shared kitchen in between.
We got settled and grabbed our laptops, map and guide book and went to the dining part of the kitchen to plan out tomorrow’s route. (We did this most nights – just forgot to mention it – this helps Fran with navigating as she’s not able to drive the manual transmission vehicle we got – and if you know Fran, navigating is not her forté.)
Weather today – started out very wet and turned out very nice and sunny by mid-day
We awoke to a day of glorious sunshine! This is a good start to our second week. We had heard from Marcella and were going to try and meet up this morning but they were not up and ready yet so we did a couple of hikes and a bit of a drive around the lake. We stopped at the south end of the lake to see Skutusadagigar – an area pseudo craters. This coastline is a natural monument. These craters are formed by steam explosions when burning lava encounters lakes or wetlands.
The second hike was at Dimmuborgir – a place with hiking trails through lava rock formations and caves including “The Church”. This was quite cool. We did the loop hike that included the Church and returned to the parking lot.
These unique formations were created when the crater row of Ludents and Threngslaborgir erupted around 2300 years ago. Lava flowed over the ancient Lake Myvatn and won the valley to the sea. – a distance of 63 km / 41 m.
GOT FANS; this was the location of Mance Rayder’s camp
From our cabin window last night, we could see the Hverfall crater on one side and today we hiked up to get a view:
The Hverfall crater reaches 80 to 180 m above the surround area. It belongs to a row of craters that incldes some of the most beautiful and well-formed tephra craters in Iceland. It is said to be among the largest of its type in the world.
It was now about 9:30 am and we went to meet Marcella and her daughter at their campground. They are from the States and rented a campervan for their trip. We chatted a while about Kitojo and ourselves before heading off to our third hike.
Next was Gjotagia Cave.
This was hard to take photos of due to the lighting so here’s one thanks to Google:
this was our best one:
GOT FANS; this is the hot pool was in which Jon Snow lost his virginity.
We got to Myvatn Nature Baths around 11 and it was closed with NO opening hour’s signage. There were a few others in the parking lot and by looking online we could see it might open at noon. Fran tried the doors with no luck. (Online actually showed weekend hours only with a noon opening and that currently it was not open during the week but the place did not seem deserted.)
We hung out in the parking lot and at twelve we saw a couple of people try the door and get in. So we grabbed our stuff and headed on it.
The entrance fee was a little steep ($47 ea) but after spending 3 hours there, we can say it was well worth it. The place is magical and the weather was perfect. We met a lovely young couple from the Carolinas and enjoyed chatting with them and had a few drinks.
When you enter, you get a bracelet that gives you access to the pools, pays for your beers/drinks (you decide up front how many you want), towels and saunas. After you choose a locker, you keep the key, go shower before putting on your suit, then put on your suit and head out. You can buy more beer later by grabbing your credit card later if you want. (We think most people misjudge how much they want to drink – we did!) We actually got sunburned here – Doug on his head and face, Fran on her back.
Around 3pm we reluctantly pulled ourselves away and got showered and dressed.
We took a drive down along the north side of the lake and made our way towards Akureyri to meet up with Alyssa and her boyfriend, Palme.
We made one stop on this part of the ring road at Godafoss – another beautiful waterfall. Its name means “waterfall of the pagan idols”. This is located right along the ring road between Myvatn and Akureyri. It’s only 12 m tall but stretches out over 30 metres.
A myth tells the story of the time when it was decided that Iceland would become a Christian nation. It is said that the lawmaker who made this decision threw his statues of the Norse gods into this waterfall. There is nothing written in the sagas about this but it appears that this legend began in the late 19th century.
We booked a hostel in Akureyri for the night and stopped for groceries before checking in. We are headed to more remote parts tomorrow and wanted to be stocked up. (Fran forgot to take the daily photo of our accommodation so we grabbed this from their website.)
After some back and forth messages, we managed to arrange to meet our new friends at a Mexican restaurant downtown. This city is a cruise ship stop and as such the shopping area is quite well maintained and photogenic.
As they were running late, we wandered the area and picked up our Iceland Christmas ornament. We enjoyed a pleasant and fresh meal with Alyssa and Palme before calling it a night.
Weather today – sunny ALL day
REMEMBER TO CHECK THE GALLERIES AS THERE ARE TONS MORE PHOTOS!