20.08.2016 - 26.08.2016
This morning we awoke to the ship moving into the port at Keflavik. The pilot was on board guiding us in. We were now in Iceland. Iceland is a Nordic island country. It has a population of approx 350,000 and an area of 103,000 km2, making it the most sparsely populated country in Europe. Reykjavík and the surrounding areas in the southwest of the country are home to over two-thirds of the population. Iceland is volcanically and geologically active. The interior consists of a plateau characterised by sand and lava fields, mountains and glaciers, while glacial rivers flow to the sea through the lowlands. Iceland is warmed by the Gulf Stream and has a temperate climate, despite a high latitude just outside the Arctic Circle. Its high latitude and marine influence still keeps summers chilly, with most of the archipelago having a tundra climate.
After breakfast we said a sad farewell to the Polar Pioneer, but were also excited about starting our next adventure. It took quite a while to get into Reykjavik as it was the Reykjavik Marathon and Cultural Night festival and so a lot of the roads were closed. We got dropped off fairly close to our hotel with a bit of a hill to climb but managed to get the Fron Hotel which is our home for the next couple of nights. Our room was ready so we put our bags in our room and headed straight out to see some of the sights of the city.
Reykjavík is the capital and largest city of Iceland. It has a latitude of 64°08' N, making it the world’s northernmost capital of a sovereign state. It is located in southwestern Iceland, on the southern shore of the Faxafloi Bay. Reykjavík is believed to be the location of the first permanent settlement in Iceland. Until the 18th century, there was no urban development in the city location. The city was founded in 1786 as an official trading town and grew steadily over the next decades, as it transformed into a regional and later national centre of commerce, population, and governmental activities. It is among the cleanest, greenest, and safest cities in the world.
Our first stop was the Hallgrimskirkja Church. Hallgrimskirkja is a Lutheran parish church. It is 73 metres high and is the largest church in Iceland. The church is named after the Icelandic poet and clergyman Hallgrimur Petursson. It is thought to resemble the basalt lava flows of Iceland's landscape. It took 41 years to build, construction work began in 1945 and ended in 1986.
We went inside to look at the church. It was quite different to anything we had seen before.
The size of the organ pipes was amazing and they were currently holding organ concerts so we got to hear part of it.
We then bought tickets to go up to the top of the church tower and we had heard there were good views of town from there and plus it was such a lovely day. They were right, the views were amazing.
We took a wander down near the waterfront and the marathon was in progress. The atmosphere was fantastic.
We spent a lot of time wandering around this lovely city and found our way down to this amazing sculpture. It is called the Sun Voyager. It is a sculpture by Jón Gunnar Árnason. It is a dreamboat, an ode to the sun.
The festivities continued into the night and ended with a big fireworks display. It was a lovely surprise to have been here to help the Icelandic people celebrate.
Today we set off to explore the Reykjanes Peninsula which is situated at the southwestern end of Iceland not far from Reykjavik. The peninsula is marked by active volcanism under its surface, and large lava fields, allowing little vegetation. There are numerous hot springs and sulphur springs in the southern half of the peninsula. We drove through Eyrarbakki which is a fishing village with a population of about 570. For centuries the harbour here was the main port in the south. Around 1925 it lost its importance as a trading centre. The oldest building in the village is a Norwegian kit home dating from 1765.
We then stopped at Strandarkirkja is a Lutheran parish church. The church, rising from the coast and pointing its tower towards the heavens, has been a beacon for those travelling at sea. The Church was originally built sometime in the 12th century. The story relates that there is one night when a group of sailors tried to navigate back to Iceland in a storm. The southern coast of Iceland is notorious for its hidden reefs and rough coast. The distressed sailors prayed to God for a safe return and vowed to build a church wherever they landed. When they ended their prayer an angel, seemingly made of light, appeared before their bow. The angel guided them through the rough surfs and led the crew into a bay for safe landing. The sailors, making good on the promise, built a wooden church at the site and named it Strandarkirkja. The bay nearby is named Angel's Bay to commemorate the incident. Many miracles have been attributed to Strandarkirkja and there was a time when it was one of the richest churches in Iceland from the donations of Icelanders coming from all over the country in hopes of having their prayers and wishes realised.
We have heard a lot about the elves and trolls of Iceland. We found one of their homes.
We could not believe the scenery along the way. We travelled through quite a few lava fields.
Our next stop was Krýsuvík, which has dramatic red, green, and yellow coloured hills framing an expanse of steaming volcanic vents and boiling hot springs. A boardwalk winds through the bubbling and hissing landscape. There are also colourful crater lakes. These are explosion craters formed by volcanic eruptions. Pity we don't have smellarama because the smell was pretty strong of rotten eggs.
On our way to Grindavik we stopped to see a couple of ship wrecks. What was so amazing was that they were inland, so it just goes to show how back the storms can be here.
We stopped at Grindavik for lunch. This is another fishing village famous for Lobster Soup. So that’s what we had. It was terrific.
After lunch we visited the mud pools and steam vents facing Kísilhóll hill to the northeast which are collectively named Gunnuhver. They form where steam generated by boiling in a geothermal reservoir emanates and condenses and mixes with surface water. Accompanying gases such as carbon dioxide and hydrogen sulphide make the water acid, which causes alteration of the fresh lava rock to clay. Steaming of the ground at Reykjanes increased markedly as a consequence of pressure drawdown in the geothermal reservoir after exploitation began in 2006. Iceland´s largest mud pool at present is prominent among the hot springs, and located highest up in the Gunnuhver group. It is 20 m across with a rim of mud, boiling vigorously.
In the background we could see one of the thermal power stations.
On to Valahnukar which is called the toe of the peninsula. We climbed up to the top to get some views around us. We could see the Reykjanesviti lighthouse. This is an iconic structure. It was Iceland’s first lighthouse. The original was built in 1878 but got severely damaged in a large earthquake that struck in 1887. The current version was built on safer ground in 1907 at Bæjarfell hill. Large steam clouds from geothermal fields at the bottom of the hill bring added drama to the surroundings.
We continued on to the Bridge Between the Continents. The lava-scarred Reykjanes peninsula lies on one of the world's major plate boundaries, the Mid Atlantic Ridge. According to the continental drift theory the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates are continuously drifting apart with great forces under the gaping rifts. As the plates diverge, linear fractures, known as fissures form due to stresses created by the tension that builds up as the plates move away from each other. The Bridge between two continents at Sandvík is a small footbridge over a major fissure which provides clear evidence of the presence of a diverging plate margin. The bridge was built as a symbol for the connection between Europe and North America. One can cross the continental divide on Leif the Lucky's Bridge. It probably seems impossible to walk from Europe to North America within a matter of seconds, but here in Iceland this is a unique place where seemingly unimaginable feats are completely real. The footbridge is 15 metres long.
Our last stop for the day was the Blue Lagoon which was formed in 1976 during operation at the nearby geothermal power plant.
In the years that followed, people began to bathe in the unique water and apply the silica mud to their skin. It is now one of the most visited places in Iceland. It is not a cheap place to visit but everything I had read said it was well worth a visit and we enjoyed every moment of it.
We then applied the silica mud.
Shane then got a water massage.
After a long day and a relaxing few hours at the Blue Lagoon we went back to our temporary home to relax for the night before our adventures begin tomorrow when we pick up our car.
This morning we went and picked up our 4x4 that we will have for the next 2 weeks. A Ford Kuga. Once we had done all the paperwork, we set off for our trip around Iceland. Our first day was going to spent around what they call the Golden Circle.
Our first stop was Pingvellir National Park. This is a world class geological site, a place where it is possible to view the conflict between two continental plates. The main area for observation is based around Thingvallavatn Lake (Iceland’s largest).
It is impossible to notice but this shelf is constantly pulling away from its Eurasian counterpart at 1.5cm per year. Pingvellir means ‘Assembly Plains’ and it was at this site that general assemblies were first conducted in Iceland. Regional chieftains were ordered to gather every summer for an assembly which accepted Christianity into Iceland in 1000AD, conducted court cases and discussed everything from politics to trading. It became a protected area under the name Thingvellir National Park in 1930.
Our next stop was at the Geysir and Strokkur geothermal area. It is an amazing area of gurgling multi coloured pools all thanks to the hot water that is constantly bubbling right beneath the surface. It’s a nice walk through the park past thrashing boiling water and turquoise blue steaming pools.
But there really is only one main reason to come here. Strokkur now takes centre stage. Erupting 20m into the air every few minutes, it was quite a spectacle.
This was it while we waited.
Then it started.
Shane made a quick movie of it.
Yesterday we talked about elves, well Shane met a troll today.
Our third stop was Gullfoss (Golden Waterfall), it is an iconic waterfall of Iceland. It is fed by Iceland´s second biggest glacier, the Langjökull. The water plummets down 32 meters in two stages into a rugged canyon which walls reach up to 70 meters in height. Gullfoss was designated as nature reserve in 1979 to permanently protect the waterfall and allow the public to enjoy this unique area.
We then visited Kerið, this is a volcanic crater lake located in the Grimsnes area in south Iceland. It is one of several crater lakes in the area, known as Iceland's Western Volcanic Zone. It has the most visually recognizable caldera still intact. The caldera is composed of a red (rather than black) volcanic rock. The caldera itself is approximately 55 m deep, 170 m wide, and 270 m across. At approximately 3,000 years old, it is only half the age of most of the surrounding volcanic features. While most of the crater is steep-walled with little vegetation, one wall is sloped more gently and blanketed with a deep moss, and can be descended fairly easily.
We then made our way to our accommodation for the night. We are staying out on a farm. They have lots of lovely Icelandic horses. They were really friendly. Once Icelandic horses leave Iceland they can never return. This is because they want to keep the Icelandic horse pure breds.
We set off early today as we had a big day ahead, as you will see we jammed quite a bit into our day.
On the way out of the farm we said good-bye to the sheep.
We passed many beautiful green fields with their marshmallows.
Our first stop today was the Seljalandsfoss waterfall. Flowing from the Seljalandsá River, the 40-metre high waterfall is one of a kind. Unlike other waterfalls in Iceland, here it is possible to walk behind the cascade via a footpath at the base of the cliff.
Just five minutes up the road is Gljúfrabúi, often called the “hidden waterfall”. It is a chute along the Gljúfurá river and is 40 metres tall. It is obscured by the walls of the enclosed canyon into which it falls.
Our next stop was the Eyjafjallajökull visitors centre. There we saw a 20 minute film about this famous attraction. In March 2010, the volcano underneath the ice cap reawakened
after a 200 year slumber. This is the one that stopped the world. Over 100,000 flights were cancelled. Besides the incredible footage of the recent eruption, this volcano is perhaps best known internationally for its difficult-to-pronounce name! Try it eh-ya-fyat-la-yo-kut-l.
We had heard about this hidden pool which was about a 20 minute hike to get to, so we thought we would go and relax in the hot spring for a while. The hike in was beautiful.
Built in 1923, the 25-metre Seljavallalaug is one of the oldest swimming pools in Iceland. But what’s more remarkable than its age is its unique location: tucked away in a narrow valley in the Eyjafjöll Mountains. On one side is a steep, rocky hillside from where hot water trickles into the pool from a hot spring.
There is a peculiar rock below the beautiful Eyjafjöll mountains called Drangurinn in Drangshlíð. There are some old homes there and there are elf stories linked to them.
Skógar is the word for “forests” in Icelandic, but this tiny settlement isn’t known for its trees. Instead, its claim to fame is the gorgeous Skógafoss waterfall. Located at the foot of the impressive Eyjafjöll mountain range is Skógafoss, a magnificent 60 metre high waterfall where, according to legend, the first Viking settler in the area hid a treasure in the cave behind the cascade.
Sólheimajökull is an 8 km-long outlet of the Mýrdalsjökull glacier. The glacier falls from a height of about 1360m down to 100m.
Dyrholaey is a small promontory. It was extremely windy there and we had trouble walking around. We did get some photos of the black beach and its lava columns. There is a lighthouse situated there and you can also see the ‘hole in the rock’. Dyrholaey means “the hill-side with the door-hole”.
Reynisfjara is without a doubt the most famous beach in all of Iceland, and you’ll see it featured on postcards and brochures throughout the country. What sets Reynisfjara apart from all the rest are its black volcanic sands, smooth pebbles and unique rock formations. The Reynisdrangar sea stacks are said to be petrified trolls that were caught outdoors during sunrise, but some strongly believe that they’re actually basalt columns that were once part of the extensive shoreline cliffs that have remained standing while other segments were worn down by the battering of the sea. Whichever story you choose to believe, they’re a sight to behold.
We then went onto Vik (pronounced “veek”). The village of Vík is the southernmost village in Iceland. Despite its small size it is the largest settlement for some 70 km. Vik is famous for its stunning black sand beach.
The Fjaðrárgljúfur canyon has been hollowed out over millions of years by the Fjaðrá River. The views were stunning.
Dverghamrar, or “Dwarf Cliffs”, is a small yet impressive canyon full of unusual, hexagonal basalt
columns. The rock formations are thought to have been shaped toward the end of the last ice age, when the sea level was higher around Iceland and strong waves were battering the rock. According to legend, dwarves live in the cliffs of this protected natural monument, so we trod carefully!
We finally made our way to our hotel for the night. It was in the middle of nowhere but after almost 12 hours we were glad to find our home for the night. As you can see we packed in as many places as we could.
We looked out the window this morning and there was beautiful blue sky which would help us view quite a few glaciers today. We were headed to the Vatnajökull National Park. Vatnajökull is the largest and most voluminous ice cap in Iceland, and one of the largest in area in Europe. It is the second largest glacier in area after Austfonna on Svalbard in Norway. It covers more than 8 percent of the country and is over 8000 square kilometres. The glacier reaches 2000 metres at its highest point and covers many active volcanoes, including Grímsvötn, Iceland’s busiest volcano with several eruptions recorded in recent years (1996, 1998, 2004 and 2011).
We set off just after 7am this morning as our first stop was going to be a hike to a lovely waterfall and we wanted to get there before too many other people arrived. Svartifoss is a waterfall that cascades over a dark basalt cliff. Meaning “Black Falls” in Icelandic, the 20-metre-high Svartifoss is so-named for its cliffs of dark hexagonal basalt columns—similar to those seen at yesterday at Reynisfjara. It was a pretty hard slog as there was quite a lot of uphill but well worth it when we first saw it in the distance.
When we arrived at the waterfall we were the only ones there, so it had been worth the early start.
After the more leisurely hike down to the car we set off to view Mt Hvannadalshnukur. Oraefajokull Glacier is a volcanic crater about 5km in diameter, full of ice. Along its edges several peaks thrust out of the glacier, of which the northernmost is Hvannadalshnukur, the highest mountain in Iceland (2110m above sea level). There have been 2 volcanic eruptions in 1362 and 1727. It is still an active volcano.
We then got a closer look at this area by visiting Svinafellsjokull, this is a glacier tongue of Vatnajokull.
There were several opportunities to view glacier tongues, as we continued on further the clouds appeared our sunshine was gone.
We visited the Fjallsárlón glacier lake. You can get a panoramic view of a calving tongue of Vatnajökull glacier sweeping down from the looming Öræfajökull.
We then headed for the more famous Jokulsarlon glacier lagoon. Jokulsarlon glacier lagoon is an icy blue lake created by Breidamerkurjokull glacier. Film buffs will recognise Jökulsárlón from such blockbusters as Tomb Raider, Batman Begins, and 2 James Bond films: A View to a Kill and Die Another Day. It’s not surprising why famous directors would choose this amazing location as a backdrop! This extremely picturesque glacial lagoon at the southern edge of the Vatnajökull glacier is regarded as one of Iceland’s greatest natural wonders. Huge chunks of ice regularly calve off the glacier and make their way to the sea via the glacier lagoon.
Breidamerkursandur is a beach directly across the highway from the Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon. The two sights are connected by the short but swift 1km Jokulsar River (Iceland’s shortest would you believe) and that is what makes this beach so special. Icebergs leaving the blue lagoon reach the ocean to battle with the waves, although several make their way out to sea most wash up on the black pebble shore. A spectacular sight as you can see.
After another full on day of exploring we made our way to our home for the next 2 nights.
As we have 2 nights at this location we took the opportunity to have a relaxing morning. It was nice to not have to rush off. It was a drizzly overcast morning but we had decided to set off for a part of the country called Vestrahorn. There is usually a 454-metre-high mountain and the scenery would be spectacular, but of course that is on a clear day. So no scenery photos today. While we were there, we did take the opportunity to visit a Viking Village which was created to use in a movie.
We also took a drive out to the headland of Stokksnes, but couldn’t see much. There was a lighthouse and an old NATO radar station there.
We then headed to a lovely little town called Hofn and had a drive around. It is a fishing village. There was a memorial to the fishermen.
We then had a nice drive back to the hotel and had a relaxing afternoon before the hectic pace begins again.
We had another early start this morning to try and pack in another big day. As we headed off for the day, the cloud was quite low and we drove around the coast not being able to see much at all. There was no wind and there was plenty of bird life around. We saw lots of Whooper Swans.
As we drove along we saw this chair on a rock in the middle of nowhere. We have no idea why but Shane thought it was a good idea to stop and go and sit on it. It had a good view.
Our first stop was in Djúpivogur which is a small town situated at the mouth of the Berufjörður fjord, it dates back to the 16th century when the Danes established a trading post there. In fact, a store from the olden days, Langabúð, can still be found in the town and many of the oldest houses (1788-1818) have been restored to their original glory.
Djúpivogur is also home to one of Iceland’s more offbeat attractions: the Eggs of Merry Bay, 34 granite eggs representing various local bird species. Each oversized egg, created by local artist Sigurður Guðmundsson, is atop its own pedestal along in the town’s harbour. They are even shaped like each bird’s egg.
The largest egg belongs to the red-throated diver, the official bird of Djúpivogur. (that’s the one Shane is sitting on).
We had then hoped to view Búlandstindur in all its glory. It is apparently without a doubt one of the most beautifully shaped mountains in Iceland. Its pyramid is formed from basaltic strata and is thought by some to be one of the energy centres of Iceland. This beauty can be found standing 1069 metres tall between Berufjörður and Hamarsfjörður. We got to see some of it. We sat and had a coffee waiting to see if it would clear any further, but it didn’t.
We continued following the coast but due to the low cloud we made a decision to go inland instead. The road was mainly dirt but the scenery was lovely.
We wound our way through the valley and up to this view point.
I haven’t told you yet about Icelands number one road hazard. It is sheep. They are everywhere. We are constantly having to slow down or stop for them and today we saw heaps.
We then drove down one side of Lagarfljót which is a lake. The lake is long and narrow, measuring 25 km in length but just 2.5 km at its widest point, and is a beautiful area to circumnavigate by car.
Legend has it that a mysterious serpentine creature lurks in the deep waters of the Lagarfljót, terrorising locals and evading capture for centuries The famed Lagarfljótsormur (the Lagarfljót Worm) was first mentioned in writings dating to 1345, and is said to have grown from a small serpent into the massive, mysterious creature that it is today. A 2012 “truth commission” conducted to get to the bottom of all the rumour and lore surrounding the creature determined that there was nothing to disprove its existence. So as we found ourselves on the banks of the lake we kept our eyes peeled. We didn’t see him, but it was so calm the reflection of the sky was beautiful.
We ended up at another waterfall that we had heard was not to be missed. The Hengifossá river feeds two dramatic waterfalls, one of which, Hengifoss, is the third highest in the country at 118 metres. This spectacular waterfall cascades into a dramatic gorge. The red strata really stood out. It is inerbasaltic strata of reddish sandy clay, formed from volcanic ash and surface scoria. In time they form soil and in the warm damp climate of the Tertiary Period, clay and iron compounds were formed in the soil.
Below Hengifoss is a smaller waterfall, Litlanesfoss, which is remarkable for its columnar basalt setting.
It was quite a hike up there but well worth the views. It was sunny when we left the car but we were pretty wet by the time we got back as it began to rain as we decended.
We then headed back up the other side of the lake to Egilsstaðir which is located in the heart of east Iceland in the valley of Fljótsdalshérað. It is home to around 3500 inhabitants. The first house in Egilsstaðir was built in 1944, and since then the town has grown steadily. In years gone by, Egilsstaðir was the site of an ancient assembly and a place where Iceland’s criminals were executed. We were staying here for the night but decided to continue on through and visit Seyðisfjörður. This is a view of the town and the lake.
With its beautifully preserved wooden buildings, the town of Seyðisfjörður is one of Iceland’s most
The closest Icelandic port to the Faroe Islands and Europe, the town’s heyday was at the turn of the 20th century when it was the centre of the Norwegian fishing and herring processing industry. In fact, the oldest part of the town is even built using the Norwegian-style of architecture.
Even the church fitted in with the style of houses.
There are a lot of artists based in the town and it was evident in this street.
We then went and booked into the hotel but once we had our keys we thought we would try our luck by visiting Borgarfjörður which is a 10 kilometre long, grassy, fertile valley and a popular spot for hikers. Just outside of this little town is Hafnarhólmi, the harbour, there is an excellent bird-watching platform where puffins, gulls and kittiwakes can be seen. We were hoping there may still be some puffins around but unfortunately they had all left. However the drive had been beautiful so was not wasted.