We headed East from Akuyreri following Highway 1 as per our plans. When we started this trip we planned to stay on the main highway presuming that it was a road that was like a highway to Australia. In the Eastern part of Iceland we were to discover that Highway One is a gravel road with just one lane at times for a few hundred kilometres. This sent us into a state of confusion for a short period of time as John reversed, turned back, reversed again and turned back again after realising that yes in fact this was the correct road and during winter this part became inaccessible during large dumps of snow.
Our aim here was to visit Vatnajokull Glacier. Vatnajökull meaning Glacier of Rivers, also known as the Vatna Glacier, is the largest glacier in area in Europe. It covers more than 8 percent of the country.
We booked a snowmobile tour with “Glacier Jeep Tours”. We were meant to meet at the crossroad of Highway 1 and the road leading to Joklasel, the base of the tour into the glacier. We were to leave our hire car and be collected by the tour company in a Super Jeep ( a four wheel drive car converted into an Arctic truck) as the road leading up to the camp was basically a dirt track cut into the mountain.
On the misadvice of the young girl behind the counter at the tourist office, John though it would be fine to drive the 16 kilometres up the mountain in our rented Hummer. Oh my! What a mistake. The road was barely a dirt track, very steep at times and when the fog set in half way through I had a panic attack. It was a scary experience and one I do not wish to repeat. Once we started the ascent there was no way to turn around so luckily the fog passed and we reached the base.
We were fitted out in warm gear and helmets and set out on our tour of the glacier with our snowmobiles. One an only describe this experience as exhilarating. We were most fortunate to have beautiful weather and any fog we had passed on the way up had disappeared.
Seven volcanoes are situated underneath the Vatnajokull ice-cap and most of them are active volcanoes. Grimsvotn volcano is together with Hekla, Iceland’s most active volcano since the Middle Ages. Grimsvotn last erupted in 1996, in 1998 and yet again in 2004.
The guide was very clear that we had to follow his path and not go off track. It was clear why when we pass large cracks in the ice as we climbed the mountain. As the glacier melts large crevices are being formed all over the glacier and appear at anytime. Is this global warming or just the constant changes of the earth. That is the constant discussion here.
After experiencing the top of the glacier it was time to experience what happens down below at sea level where the ice is slowly falling away into the Atlantic Ocean. A visit to the Glacier lagoon is a must. Jökulsárlón (literally “glacial river lagoon”) is a large glacial lake in on the borders of Vatnajökull National Park, it developed into a lake after the glacier started receding from the edge of the Atlantic Ocean. The lake has grown since because of melting of the Icelandic glaciers. The size of the lake has increased fourfold since the 1970s. It is considered as one of the natural wonders of Iceland.
We hopped on to a Zodiac boat tour to experience riding through the various icebergs that continually fall off the glacier.
As we are sitting in the zodiac behind us we hear a great rumbling sound. We turn around just in time to witness a chunk of ice falling into the water as it breaks off the glacier. The sound echoed all around for quite a long time.
We headed back to our Icelandic digs in Hofn for a good night sleep. The kids were exhausted and we had an early start as we had a few hundred kilometres to cover with a few stops on the way to the little town at the base of Mount. Hekla.
On our way again with views of Vatnajokull
Our first stop for the day was at Skaftafell National Park. There is a major camp site at the visitors centre and you can hike various trails to waterfalls or the edge of the glacier. We only had a short time here so after arguing with Thomas who preferred to nap in the car the rest of us set on the slippery path to the Svartifoss waterfall.
Svartifoss translates to the Black Fall. It is a 2 kilometre round trip hike and the most popular sight in the National Park. It is surrounded by dark lava columns, which gave rise to its name. The little ones did exceptionally well as the walk was uphill all the way.
We continued on our journey as John was keen to see Fjaðrárgljúfur. This is a canyon in south east Iceland which is up to 100 m deepand about 2 kilometres long, with the Fjaðrá river flowing through it. It is located near the Ring Road, not far from the village of Kirkjubæjarklaustur.The canyon was created by constant erosion by flowing water from glaciers through the rocks. Our whole time in Iceland was one big geology lesson.
Then we come across the sight of Laufskálavarða. This is a lava ridge surrounded by piles of stones called stone cairns. All travellers crossing the desert of Mýrdalssandur for the first time were
supposed to pile stones up to make a cairn, which would bring them good luck on the journey.
As we head on getting closer to our destination for the day we make a final stop on the small peninsula, Dyrholeay. The view from up there is interesting, to the north you can see the big glacier Mýrdalsjökull, to the east the black lava columns of the Reynisdrangar come out of the sea. In front of the peninsula, there is a gigantic black arch of lava standing in the sea.
We arrived at the Hotel Laekur quite late in the evening. Not that that made a difference. The sun was in full view shining bright late into the evening. We settled into what I believe was the best accommodation in Iceland so far. Wonderful people here making us feel very welcome. Hotel Laekur is part of “Icelandic Farm Holidays”. A concept where locals open up their farms to tourists. We had a clear view of Mt Hekla from our room.
The following day we dedicated the whole day to visiting Landmannalauger. Landmannalaugar is a region near the volcano Hekla in southern section of Iceland’s highlands. This was one of the toughest drives we were to have on our trip. Three hours of very rough driving even in a Hummer.
The area displays a number of unusual geological elements, like the multicolored rhyolite mountains and expansive lava fields. The many mountains in the surrounding area display a wide spectrum of colors including pink, brown, green, yellow, blue, purple, black, and white. This area has a very large camping facility that is only accessible from June through to September.
We only spent a few hours here and didn’t go much further than a kilometre away from the base camp. To fully appreciate this area and because of the effort it takes to get here a few days of camping out is necessary. The weather here is so unpredictable you need to be fully prepared for all seasons. We were not! We were not looking forward to the drive back and the constant jolting and bumping around in our 4WD. It was an exhausting day.
Or last day before finishing our circle around the ring road was to do the typical trip tourists take from Reyjkavik, the Golden Circle. The Golden Circle is a popular tourist route in South Iceland, covering about 300 km looping from Reykjavík into central Iceland and back.The three primary stops on the route are the national park Þingvellir, the waterfall Gullfoss (meaning “golden falls”), and the geothermally active valley of Haukadalur, which contains the famous geysers Strokkur.
We only managed to visit Gulfoss falls and Strokkur as the weather turned quite nasty.
We were very lucky to have had the time to travel around Iceland as everywhere we went there was always just a handful of tourists and no bus tours with crowds. The only time we experienced major crowds was on this day doing the Golden Cirlcle. We couldn’t wait to visit our final stop of Reykjavik and the Blue Lagoon. The cold biting wind was blowing so we cut our final day of touring short and drove directly to our hotel.
Reykjavik is a hip little city. Our accommodation here was very hip and the food choices excellent with so many restaurants offering world class food. The couple of days we were here the wind was relentless so the photo opportunities were few and far between. The wind was blowing so hard at times we couldn’t stand up straight.
We couldn’t leave Iceland without visiting the Blue Lagoon is Keflavik no matter what the weather. The spa is located in a lava field in Grindavík on the Reykjanes Peninsula, southwestern Iceland, not far from the airport. Most tourists visit the moment they arrive or as they depart Iceland. We had a 6:00am flight the next day so we took a bus from Reykjavik for the one hour drive.
The warm waters are rich in minerals like silica and sulphur. The lagoon is a man-made and is fed by the water output of the nearby geothermal power plant Svartsengi and is renewed every 2 days.
In 1976 a pool formed at the site from the waste water of the geothermal power plant that had just been built there. In 1981 some workers from the plant started bathing in it and discovered it had healing powers for psoriasis.
Iceland is a wonderful country, so diverse and unpredictable. We felt like we covered a vast amount of the country yet we feel like we’ve missed out on so much. Even though I’m not the camping type I’d have to agree with John that the best way to see this country is with a motor home. We had to travel great distances everyday from our base to see the sights and travel back again to reach our hotel. With limited accommodation in certain places the best option is a home on wheels. There was definitely many places with magnificent views we could have parked up for the night. So John you were right on this one, yes I would come back in a campervan. Maybe next year……