Journal of a Tour of Iceland by Car
17th May to 9th June, 2019
Note: This is David's private journal, which you are welcome to read. It was not written with literary merit in mind, but simply as an aide memoire for the future.
|ISK||=||Icelandic Krone, GBP 1 = ISK 160 approx, CHF 1 = ISK 125 approx, EUR 1 = ISK 140 approx|
|R## or F##||=||Specifies a road number. For example, R20 refers to Road Number 20. A road with an "F" classification is a road of dubious quality. We didn't drive on any of these.|
|R1||=||This is Road 1, also known as the Ring Road. It is the main road that runs around Iceland.|
|Ð ð||=||These are the Icelandic uppercase and lowercase character "Eth". I believe that it sounds like "th" in "the". My journal was mainly written on an iPad, where this character was not available. I tended to use "d" instead.|
|Þ þ||=||These are the Icelandic uppercase and lowercase character "Thorn". I believe that it sounds like "th" in "within". I tended to use "p" instead. See comments on "Eth".|
Friday, 17th May Riniken - Hamburg
We chose to get to Iceland over land and sea rather than the more usual air route. This involves getting to Hirtshals in N Denmark and taking the ferry via the Faroe Islands. From Riniken to Hirtshals is about 1350 km. We chose to break the drive in Hamburg.
We were up at 04:50 and on the road for 06:00 taking our usual route north via Stuttgart and Hannover. It went well as far as Hannover - dry roads, good visibility (once some morning fog cleared) and no queues worth mentioning. Alas our luck changed for the last 200 km or so. The road works on the autobahn created some horrendous queues. Eventually, after the SatNav had taken us on a tortuous route into Hamburg to try to avoid them, we reached the Quality Inn at about 18:00 feeling somewhat travel weary. We had driven 860 km.
We shopped for picnic food for the morrow, had a rather disappointing (too bland) Iranian meal, and turned-in early with alarm clock set for 05:00.
Saturday 18th May: Hamburg - Hirtshals - Ferry
The traffic jams on the way into Hamburg had unsettled us. We still had something like 5 hours of "normal" driving to reach Hirtshals, and the check-in time was 13:00 for a 15:00 sailing. Since there's only one sailing per week, we were extremely nervous about missing it. Having prepaid accommodation in Iceland for the first 5 nights added to the tension.
We wanted to be on the road for 06:00 at the latest. As it turned out, our nerves had us up soon after 04:00! We had a small breakfast in our room and left at about 05:00. It was well worth the effort. We cruised through an empty Hamburg to the A7 autobahn, and drove nearly the whole way on cruise control in very light traffic. It was foggy for a long way. A rather unusual effect was the glow that the fields of bright yellow rape flowers lit up the fog banks above them. It was quite extraordinary.
We were in Hørring, some 15 km short of Hirtshals by about 10:30. We filled up ready for Iceland, shopped for picnic food on the boat, and hunted for a restaurant. We didn't know what the boat might have in store for us in the way of food and/or seasickness. We were lucky and found a pub serving excellent fish and chips.
By the time that we reached the ferry we had driven 518 km. Getting onto the ferry was straightforward, given our experience with taking ferries. We had quite a long sleep in the afternoon! In the evening, we cruised along the coast of S. Norway with some fine views.
Sunday 19th May: Ferry en route for Iceland
It's been very much a lazy day. The sea has been dead calm. In the morning we were in sight of many oil platforms and lots of ships. There are a few sea birds around, of which the easiest to identify are the kittiwakes. The boat seems to have at least 2 stowaways. One looks like a sand piper. The other is about the size of a firecrest, but without the crest and with a very fine pointed beak. We also saw some dolphin-like fish with the colouring and very prominent dorsal fin of an orca, but I don't think that there are any orcas in the North Sea. (Some days later: in the meantime we have been studying pictures and models of dolphins, porpoises and orcas in various museums. From the shape and size of the dorsal fin, we are positive that what we saw were orcas.)
We passed the northernmost point of the Shetlands in the late afternoon, giving us enough telephone contact to keep up our DuoLingo "streaks". Having passed the Shetlands, on which we could only see very few signs of habitation, the sea became empty. There were no ships visible and very few seagulls. At least the sun came out to warm things up a bit.
We have done a bit of research on possible activities for our few hours on the Faroes tomorrow. If the weather stays fine, as it has been so far, we're hoping to do an 8 km hike. The idea is to take a bus out of the town and then to walk back again over the hills.
Monday 20th May: Ferry - Tórshavn - Ferry
The weather could have been better for our hike, but at least it didn't rain. It was, however, extremely foggy.
The ship runs on Faroe time, that's an hour behind Switzerland, the same as the UK. And Iceland is yet another hour behind Switzerland. The boat was due in at 06:00 Faroe time, and there was a bus scheduled at 07:00 from Tórshavn to Kirkjubøur. We needed to get to the car deck, once it opened, to get the necessary clothing, etc. for the hike. We set the alarm for 05:00 Faroe time, giving us plenty of time for our usual breakfast in the cabin, home-made muesli, orange juice, buttered roll and yogourt.
It was a bit of a sweat on the car deck, changing into hiking boots and socks, but we managed it with over 30 minutes to spare. We dashed off the boat to look for the bus station and bus number 101. There were not many locals to ask at that time of day. We were not helped by the otherwise extremely helpful person on the ship's reception desk having incorrectly marked the ship's docking point on our map. It turned out that the bus station was right next to the ship. Unfortunately there was no sign of a bus stop for bus number 101.
We waited nervously and lo, the bus turned up on time. It didn't actually go all the way to Kirkjubøur, but went down to a ferry at Gamlarætt, some 2 km short. It was, by the way, extremely foggy and grey on the tops, though we were below the cloud level when we got off the bus.
We set off along the tarmac towards Kirkjubøur, not sure what to expect in the way of signposting - we didn't have a topological map, of course. But we were lucky. Some 500 m before Kirkjubøur There was a sign marking the start of our hike, heading up onto the moors. There were sheep droppings everywhere, and sheep too, but not in large numbers. Presumably the hills can't support all that many.
The path was very well marked with cairns so that we had no trouble following it, even when we got into the clouds. Alas it was really too moist to think about stopping fo a snack. There was certainly no view. However there were plenty of birds calling, oyster catchers, larks and curlews, to keep us company. We reached the outskirts of Tórshavn in about 90 minutes.
The next goal was to find somewhere with free WiFi to allow us to catch up with our DuoLingo. Eventually we found the public library, after having a coffee. There was a fish and chip shop, where we were hoping to get lunch when the time came, but it turned out to be closed until later. We went "up town" to a shopping centre for a fast-food lunch. We had to be back at the ship for 13:00 Faroe time, so there was no time for a leisurely lunch, anyway, and the canteen on the boat, although adequate, leaves a lot to be desired.
The rest of the day was spent snoozing and reading. The fog never lifted until we were out at sea, so we never got to see much of the Faroes. Maybe we'll be luckier on the homeward journey.
Tuesday 21st May: Ferry - Seyðisfjörður - Egilsstaðir - Borgarfjördur - Egilsstaðir
The ferry was on time, arriving at 09:00 but, as forewarned, disembarkation took nearly an hour. It seems as though "fog" might become the enduring memory of this holiday. We headed out of the port over the pass towards Egilsstaðir, and were very soon in a thick fog white-out. There was much more snow around than expected, adding to the whiteness. The temperature dropped to 4 degC at the pass. Fortunately Egilsstaðir was below the clouds, but it was very grey and cold.
We got ISK 40'000 (ca. CHF 320, we think) out of the first ATM that we came across and then found the Tourist Info office to get a town plan. It seems as though the weather is going to continue grey with a cold north wind, at least until we get to the SW of the island.
Kari's plan for the day was to drive up to the coast at Borgarfjördur, some 70 km away. After a coffee we set off. The road was good and also deserted, with quite long stretches of gravel. There's a pass to get over to the hamlet at the end, where we were again deep in fog. There was also road work going on, making it a bit mucky as well.
On the way into the hamlet a sign indicated that it was another 5 km to the harbour and a sea bird colony. It looked as though the road might be difficult, so Kari wasn't too keen to go. As it turned out, the road was good and the bird colony, with its myriads of nesting fulmars, kittiwakes, puffins and eider ducks was very well worth it. The weather had also improved significantly in the meantime.
Back at the carpark, we brewed up and had a late picnic lunch. On the way back to Egilsstaðir, we made a small detour to Fardagafoss, a waterfall on R93, which we had driven past on our way from the ferry in the morning. The 30 minute climb from the carpark was a very welcome bit of exercise for the day. The waterfall was very impressive. We resisted the temptation of walking behind the fall - we were not dressed for getting soaked.
The Birta Guesthouse was easy to find and very pleasant, if not equipped for a long stay. The Nielsen Restaurant next door served a handsome 3 course meal of lamb. The price at Kr 7000 each was also rather handsome - such is Iceland, we suspect.
We drove some 190 km today.
Wednesday 22nd May: Egilsstaðir - Hengifoss - Egilsstaðir
Today was simply a drive around Lake Lagarfljót, the lake upon which Egilsstaðir is situated. It is very long and thin, and is where the biggest Icelandic forest has been planted. The trees are still very small. The local joke is that if you get lost in the forest, all that you need to do is to stand up!
We started off going up its SE bank. Halfway along there was a series of signs for hikes going up the hills to the left into the forest. The weather was grey and cold, so we didn't try any of them.
At the top end of the lake there's a bridge across, but we continued on along the flat river valley to the second bridge. We found an Information Centre for the region, where we spent quite a long time over a couple of coffees. The centre was very interesting.
The road on the left bank of the lake goes up into the mountains past a hut with hot pools before finally reaching a big dam. But the distances are large, at least 30 km to the hut, and probably as much again to the dam. In the grey weather it didn't seem to be worth the petrol. We set off instead back in the direction of Egilsstaðir.
Not far from the Info Centre is the start of the trail up to Hengifoss. This is the second highest waterfall in Iceland. It's a significant climb of about 300 m up to the waterfall. On the way onepasses a smaller waterfall, Litlanesfoss, which is flanked with spectacular basalt columns. Hengifoss is well worth the climb.
Further along the lake we found a beautifully sheltered spot in the forest for a picnic lunch. We returned to our guesthouse after that, stopping to do a small shop on the way. For supper we shared a very good pizza at the "Salt" restaurant cum bistro. We drove about 87 km today.
Thursday 23rd May: Egilsstaðir - Öxi Pass - Djupivogur
There are two ways of getting from Egilsstaðir to Djupivogur. The long but easy way is along the coast. The short but demanding way is via R939 over the Öxi Pass. The road rises to 539 m, and was closed until only about a week ago. It's the way we chose.
There's an alarming sign at the turnoff to the pass - 17% gradient and the threat of expensive rescue should one get into difficulties. In fact it was quite harmless as the weather turned sunnier and sunnier as the day progressed. In fact the worst part was a stretch of road works before getting to the pass proper where the gravel was in a very coarse and rough state. We seemed to be back down along the side of the fjord to Djupivogur in no time at all.
There was disappointment in Djupivogur. The boat trip to Papey Island is no longer operating, apparently for licence problems. We had booked 2 nights here to give us time to visit the island. We might be at a loose end tomorrow.
The village is tiny (about 350 inhabitants) with accordingly limited shopping facilities. We managed to get a couple of bread rolls for a very pleasant picnic out near a bird-watching hide. Afterwards we went for a very long (10 km) walk along a marked track through coastal wetlands to the sea and back. It was very sunny but with a fierce, cold north wind. There were stretches where the terns were rather aggressive. Towards the end, the markers became rather erratic and we might have lost the correct path. But we could see the car and the markers of the local airstrip, and also a person crossing a low bridge. There were a lot of tarns and waterways around, so simply going cross country could have been a bad option. Anyway, we made it to the bridge with dry feet to find that we had to balance along 2 2-metre-long wobbly planks to get onto it. I could see our good pair of binoculars going caput just like our cheap pair did on the Missinaibi River. Fortunately we managed to get across them and back to the car without mishap.
The guesthouse has a shared bathroom - it feels a bit like slumming it. We went out to the nearby hotel for evening meal. Kari was lucky with her grilled salmon. My pizza left a bit to be desired. We drove about 90 km today.
A note added later ... whilst we were having our picnic lunch, we saw 3 reindeer with huge, fur- covered antlers.
Friday 24th May: Djupivogur
This was a car-free day. Breakfast in the shared kitchen went well, mainly because we were finished before the next got up, and they, in their turn, were finished before the last couple, a pair of Canadian young women, got up.
We went up to the shop at its opening time of 09:00 to make sure of getting some bread rolls. They also had some fresh Danish pastries, so we had a second breakfast eating those with a cup of coffee. Kari took the opportunity of the house being empty to do some hand washing. By this time, it was nearly time for the post office to open at 12:00. So we went out to buy stamps and postcards. We wanted to get a card off quickly to George to be in time for his birthday.
For lunch Kari scrambled some eggs on toasted bread roll. Then we strolled out to the lighthouse via the artistic display of 43 sculptures of birds eggs. On the way back we called in at a craft shopwith some weaving of interest to Kari. Finally we went to the local swimming pool - the guesthouse owner had given us complementary tickets. It was very pleasant having 2 hot tubs, one of which was 42 degrees! A glass of wine and some crisps rounded off the afternoon. Evening meal was fish and chips which were, for once, both a reasonable size and price, and tasted good too.
Saturday 25th May: Djupivogur - Jökulsárlón - Kirkjubæjarklaustur
We thought that we were going to have the guesthouse in Djupivogur to ourselves as it got later and later with no one showing up. But in the end it was full again with a large Indian family, resident in the USA, taking up 2 rooms. They were up surprisingly early, and made an elaborate breakfast, so we had to wait before we could have ours. At least there was no hassle with the bathroom.
Today was a long drive (310 km) with a big stop in the middle to enjoy the Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon, and another stop shortly after for a picnic lunch. The weather is still cold and mainly grey with some rain showers also.
The lagoon is really something special, being filled with icebergs calved from the huge glacier in the background. There is a very strong current in the river draining the lagoon, where a couple of seals were feeding. Lumps of beautifully formed ice had been left on the black sands as the tide went out.
Today we probably saw more swans in total than in the rest of our lives put together. They were everywhere.
The Icelandic "Ring Road", which we are following most of the time, roughly follows the coastal plain. Today's stretch was exceptionally flat, crossing old lava fields which have become moss and algae covered. And in the distance there are huge glaciers coming down from the mountains, but stopping short of the coast. In many ways, it reminds us of looking across the fjord in Spitzbergen to the glaciers on the other side.
When we were searching from home on the Web for accommodation for this night, it was surprisingly difficult. Everything was very expensive. Maybe it was a weekend effect. Admittedly, it is a very sparsely populated area, but accommodation does seem to be on offer in almost every farm house. In the end, we had opted for a cabin on a campsite in Kirkjubæjarklaustur, a small settlement, for the princely sum of GBP 150. And we had to supply our own bedding! The hut turned out to be very nice, and we were able to cook spaghetti in the communal kitchen. For the price, though, one would expect a bit more comfort.
Apart from the swans, there also seem to be a lot of snipes around here. They flutter around and make a strange burring sound with their feathers.
Sunday 26th May: Kirkjubæjarklaustur - Vik - Hella
The hut turned out to be on the hot side, since we forgot to turn down the radiator before turning in. I think that I could have survived the night with only a silk sleeping bag. I needed a shower in the morning to wash off all the sweat! We had breakfast in the communal kitchen.
Today has been a drive across the old lava fields making up the coastal plain. We stopped in Vik for morning coffee. The town was much smaller than expected. Vik is the southernmost point of Iceland, and Reykjavik is no longer all that far away. The amount of traffic on the road has increased a lot.
Not far from Vik, we stopped to admire Skógafoss waterfall. We were not alone. There was a huge staircase up the right hand side of the falls. The trail is supposed to continue beyond the top of thefalls to become a long hike into the wilderness. It was closed with a notice threatening a prison sentence if one disobeyed!
The small hamlet at the foot of the falls has a folk museum. Kari had a very interesting visit whilst I sat in the car updating my journal. By the time she had seen enough, it was almost 15:00, long past lunchtime. The problem was where to have a picnic. It was frightfully cold with a biting wind. We found some shelter behind an isolated church. The drive from there to our guesthouse in Hella was quite short. The guesthouse turned out to be very nice, in a rather impersonal sort of way.
The total distance for the day was 176 km. The day was rounded off with fish covered in grilled cheese (Kari) and eggs and bacon (David). All in all, it was a very cold, bleak day.
Monday 27th May: Hella - Geysir - Gullfoss - R75 - Cross country to NW Iceland
We were up early to try to beat the crowds to Geysir, one of the most famous tourist sites in the country. It was worth it, the roads being deserted on the way there, and there being not so many people around when we got there. But really, the biggest treat of the day was uninterrupted sunshine and temperatures up to 14 degrees.
We were not really very prepared for Geysir. We were expecting several geysers to be active. Afterwards, reading some background to the site, its history is quite chequered. The geyser activity would appear to be linked to earthquake activity in the area. The geyser giving the world's geysers their name, Geysir, is in fact inactive at the moment. Fortunately one of its neighbours, Strokkur, is quite regular, and spectacular. Not every eruption is the same, some being bigger than others, but the big ones are very impressive, especially because one is allowed to stand quite close to the pool. We went for a walk up a trail looking over the site, which was well worth the effort.
From Geysir it is a short drive up R35 to Gullfoss, the other major Icelandic tourist site. By the time that we got there, the tourist trade was picking up, but there was still plenty of room in the car park and on the trail up to the falls. It was a surprisingly short and easy trail, and also much drier than expected. The falls are well worth the trouble to visit them.
We now had a decision to make. We wanted to cross the country to the north, bypassing Reykjavik, and ideally we wanted to do this on R35, the one that we were already on. However, this road is usually closed until June. We have been monitoring the official Icelandic road status Web site for a while now. This indicates that the road is already open, but with two stretches needing "mountain vehicles". Some people that we have asked thought that our Yeti should be OK, others not. On the road just leaving the Gullfoss carpark was a "road closed" sign, but some cars had been driving past it.
We decided to give it a try. The first 10 km were good tarmac before the gravel started. But the shock was that the gravel had some very sandy, soft stretches. In addition there was a fierce wind. After another 10 km we decided to turn around and go further west before heading north. We found a nice spot sheltering behind an old Nissan hut to have our picnic lunch before continuing down R35 and R365 to Pingvelir and R550/R52/R510 to reach R1 some 10 km NW of Borgarnes. Somewhere along R52 (Note added later: the location is about 21 km east of where R52 crosses R50) we saw a "Point of Interest" sign on the right hand side. The sign was in Latin indicating that the area is called Krosslaug and marks a baptism in the year 1000. But on following the track behind the sign, it turned out to be a natural hot pool. We got our bathing costumes and had a quick dip. A couple from Buxton turned up whilst we were there and followed suit.
We hadn't booked accommodation for the night, not being sure which way we were going to be driving. Since it was by now getting on for 18:00, it was high time to do something about it. The plan was to stop in a café for a coffee and use their wifi to find somewhere. Of course, when we finally found a café and were enjoying our coffees, their wifi turned out to be down. Our fallback solution, using Colin's old handy to make a "mobile wifi", also failed. So we had to continue driving along R1 until we found something.
We were lucky. A hotel, Hotel Bifröst, turned up after a few km, and they reduced the price of an ISK 22'000 room to ISK 17'500 when we dithered about whether to stay or not. The room was very nice, and included breakfast. The meal in the restaurant (lamb again for Kari and a burger for me) was also very good when it finally came. It is still pre-season and the hotel was running with a skeleton staff.
We drove 255 km today, plus the 2 times 20 km on R35.
Tuesday 28th May: Hotel Bifröst - Stykkishólmur
We spent some time last night studying maps to decide where to go for the rest of our holiday. Basically we have more time for N Iceland than expected. We've decided to have a tour of the Snæfellsnes peninsula to fill out the time, and have found a guesthouse in Stykkishólmur for the next 2 nights. The day was cold and windy. It seems as though the beautiful weather of yesterday was a one-off.
We turned off R1 onto R60 to head due north to the coast, then followed R54 west on gravel for 30 km, and then went round 3 sides of a rectangle (R55 south, R54 (the southern bit) west, R56 north) to visit the Geróuberg basalt column cliffs on the way.
On R55 we passed a footpath signpost to the Gullborgarhellir cave. We decided to visit it. The path meandered through the lava fields for a long way. Fortunately the wind was on our backs and sunshine on our faces making the going somewhat easier. After about 30 minutes we finally found the cave entrance. One had to climb down to it - too difficult for Kari. I got to the entrance, but the lava rocks were too sharp and difficult for me to go any further. To compensate we climbed what looked like a slag heap of lava ash close by. It turned out to have quite a big crater when we got to the top. The walk back to the car was quite easy, despite the head wind.
Next on the agenda were the basalt column cliffs of Geróuberg. They are just off the main R54. After our earlier hike to the cave, we didn't spend much time climbing around them. We drove on past them instead, hoping to get to some mineral water springs. They turned out to be too far, given the poor nature of the gravel road. We settled for climbing another, this time much steeper and higher, slag heap. The lava ash was extremely loose, and the wind was horrific. As a result, Kari gave up just before the summit, which again turned out to have an unexpected volcanic crater. It was necessary to empty our plimsoles of stones on the way down.
The remaining drive to Stykkishólmur was interrupted by coffee and cake at a nice café on the way. The guesthouse turned out to be rather cramped. Evening meal was cod for Kari, burger for me, followed by yet another walk in strong cold wind and beautiful evening sunshine to the lighthouse and around the town. The day's drive was about 160 km. The kitchen in the guesthouse is not the most hygienic looking place, so we ate out for evening meal. Kari's fish and my burger were both very good. Our shared dessert, "skyr with mascarpone", was fabulous.
Wednesday 29th May: Stykkishólmur - Snæfellsnes - Stykkishólmur
Today's trip was simply a circuit of the Snæfellsnes peninsula. The day was sunny and bright, but still with a fierce, cold north wind. Following the recommendation of the guesthouse proprietor, we did the tour clockwise: first south on R56 across the peninsula to the south coast, then west along R54 and R875 around the end of the peninsula and Snæfellsjökull snowcapped volcano, and finally back to Skykkishólmur along the north coast, covering just over 200 km. On sunny days like today, the circuit in this direction gives better views of the glacier.
After strengthening ourselves with coffee and cake at the same nice café as yesterday at the junction of R56 and R54, we went looking for seals near Ytrigardar. There were quite a few grey seals basking on the rocks. We could approach them by scrambling over the boulders.
We stopped just short of the village of holiday homes at Arnarstapi to walk up to the very narrow Rauðfeldsgjá gorge. We could get a short way into the gorge stepping on stones in the stream to avoid getting wet feet, but to get much further would have required boots rather than the plimsoles which we were wearing. It was way past lunch time by the time that we had returned to the car. We had been looking for a sheltered picnic spot for some time, without success. In the end we trespassed on an empty holiday home in Arnarstapi, where we found an excellent spot squatting on its doorstep.
The afternoon was occupied with several stops to look at various bird breading sites before reaching the small maritime museum in Hellissandur. The drive back to the guesthouse was uneventful, passing a few tern nesting sites on the way. We again ate out for evening meal, but tried a different restaurant. We were lucky to get a seat, having not reserved. Those coming in after us all got turned away. The fish was excellent, but the "skyr" dessert was a disappointment compared with last night's offering.
On wandering around the town one couldn't miss all the people wearing bright red and yellow anoraks. It turned out that a Hurtigruten cruise ship was moored just outside the harbour and they were its passengers.
Thursday 30th May: Stykkishólmur - Ferry - Brjanslækur/Móra
This was a rest day. We have calculated that if we head east from here, we should get to the ferry in Seyðisfjörður with time to spare. We therefore decided to cross over to the West Fjord region of Iceland by ferry to see a bit of Iceland that most people miss out because of its remoteness.
The ferry didn't leave until 15:00, so we spent most of the day relaxing. Fortunately the day was sunny with not too much wind, so we were able to sit out in the guesthouse's garden. The ferry was quite cheap at about CHF 80 for 2 seniors and a car. The crossing takes about 2.5 hours, with a short stop at the island of Flatey. The sea was like a millpond. We saw many puffins on the way.
We were not too sure of where our guesthouse, the Móra Guesthouse, was. It was one of a few farms along the coast to the west. Eventually we found it, and it turned out to be fabulous. Essentially we have a whole bungalow to ourselves, and there's breakfast too. It's just as well, because there are no shops or cafés nearby. There is, however, a free open-air thermal pool and hot-pot just across the road down by the sea. The views across the fjord to the Snæfellsnes peninsula are stunning. Kari made a big pile of spaghetti in the well-equipped kitchen for evening meal, and we enjoyed a lovely long soak in the pools afterwards. Altogether we covered about 25 km getting from the ferry to the guesthouse.
Friday 31st May: Móra - Siglune - Patreksfjördur - Móra
The landlady came in to prepare a big breakfast for us. She also had suggestions for hikes in the vicinity. We settled for a coastal walk from Siglune at the end of a rather poor dirt road some 20 km west of the guesthouse. A trip out to see nesting sea birds on the cliffs at the end of the peninsula seemed too much driving.
The hike was quite strenuous because of the poor path through long grass. It's not a very well known hike. Today there were just 6 of us there. It was bright and sunny with beautiful views across the blue fjord. We were out for a short 3 hours, having a picnic lunch when we got back to the car.
In the afternoon we drove over to Patreksfjördur, the next town to the north. The Hurtigruten cruise ship, which we had seen in Stykkishólmur, was there, so the town was again full of its passengersin their red and yellow anoraks. The town was having its annual celebration of "Fisherman's Day", one half of the town being bedecked in red and the other in blue. There was free entry to a museum dedicated to the influence of French fishermen on the district. The owner of the museum did well to make up for all the documentation being written in Icelandic or French. After a coffee and delicious cake, we returned to Móra. The total distance was 68 km for the day.
The tide was in, so it was only a stone's throw from the hot-tub to the sea. I therefore had a token dip in the sea before getting into the tub as fast as possible. We had some Swiss Rösti with us as a reserve evening meal. Unfortunately the kitchen's frying pad was not non-stick, and the Rösti stuck rather hard. It kept the wolf from the door very adequately, though.
Saturday 1st June: Móra - Blönduós
Today was simply a big driving day. We were on the road for 6.5 hours to cover 370 km. We wanted to make sure that we were on schedule to reach Egilsstaðir on Tuesday with enough time in reserve to see Akureyri and its environs on the way. We also wanted to travel by a scenic route.
The start is simple. One follows R60 eastwards along the south coast of the Western Fjords until one can cross to the east coast. This is much further than it appears on the map because of all the fjords. The first possibility is the F66, but this, as expected was closed with a "Road Impassable" sign.
Before we could get to the next, R608, there was a long stretch of rather poor quality gravel. During this stretch we had a fright when a "tyre pressure warning light" lit up on the dash board. We stopped, turned off the engine and checked the tyres. All seemed to be OK. On starting the engine again, the warning was no longer there. We drove on with our hearts in our mouths.
Eventually we reached the turn off to R608. Our map indicated it to be a minor road with gravel surface. After the warning light incident we were undecided, but decided to try it anyway. The gravel was, in fact, of better quality than R60, but it climbed to over 500 m, got very wild with a roaring gale and temperature of 2 degrees. We were very thankful when we reached the relative security of R61 and tarmac some 25 km later.
From there it was a long, uneventful drive down the east coast of the West Fjords region until we reached R1 at the southern end of the fjord. We had a guesthouse booked in Blönduós, which we reached at about 16:45. We washed away the dust of all the gravel roads with a swim in the town's very nice and very warm outdoor pool. The air temperature by this time was up to 6 degrees! We ate out in a nice modern restaurant and had fish, as usual.
Sunday 2nd June: Blönduós - Akureyri
We awoke to raindrops on the bedroom window and new snow on the hills. It wasn't precipitating any more, however, and the wind had dropped somewhat - so much, in fact, that it almost felt warm when we went outside. There was no communal kitchen in the guesthouse, so we had a cramped, cold breakfast in our room.
We now constantly have at the back of our minds the need to be in Egilsstaðir by Tuesday evening in order to catch the ferry to Denmark on Wednesday. Extended detours to the left or right of the direct route are no longer on. Today we made a small detour to visit the hamlet of Hólar. This would appear to be the seat of the Icelandic archbishopric. It's a tiny place, but with a very nice church, called a cathedral, but hardly big enough for such a title.
From there, we could have followed the coastal road around to Akureyri, but decided for the more direct route along R1 instead. We managed to find a very nice spot, sheltering behind a dyke, for a picnic lunch.
The 90 km from there along R1 to Akureyri were as bleak as most of northern Iceland has been since crossing the ferry from Stykkisholmur. We were in the town, looking for accommodation by about 15:30 after covering 208 km. There was a huge MSC cruise ship in the harbour.
We looked in the Backpackers' Hostel first, finding it rather hectic for our taste, and went into the Bea Hotel in the town centre next. We were intending to just ask the price but expecting it to be out of our price range. When it turned out to be ISK 13250 per night, including breakfast, we decided to stay there. It's quite comfortable and certainly very central.
We climbed the 104 steps to visit the imposing church. According to the Dumont guide book that we have with us, the square concrete pillars in its façade are supposed to evoke the basalt columns, quite common in the country. To my mind, they needed to be hexagonal or pentagonal in shape to do that. As it is, they remind me more of 1960's reinforced-concrete architecture in Britain.
By then it was time for a happy-hour beer in the hotel's bar, before having a stroll around the Botanical Garden. The garden is very pretty, but we were there a bit too early in the year to see the flowers at their best. The daffodils were still out!
We found a Chinese restaurant for evening meal. And very disappointing it was too.
Monday 3rd June: Akureyri - Hrisey - Akureyri
Another rest day, of sorts. We drove 35 km up the west coast of the fjord to catch the 11:30 passenger ferry across to Hrisey Island. The north wind had abated a bit, but it was still very cold with a threat of rain. As we got to the car park, we saw another cruise ship to the north, apparently approaching us. On checking with the binoculars, it was our old friend, the Hurtigruten cruise ship at anchor. It was transferring people with zodiac rubber dinghies back and forth to the island. This time we got to see the ship's name: Spitzbergen.
It's only a 20 minute crossing to the island. There's a small settlement at its southern end. The rest of the island is a bird and vegetation paradise since there are no foxes, cats or sheep on the island. We found a restaurant serving very nice cakes with whipped cream. As we were enjoying these, the Spitzbergen upped anchor and chugged past in the direction of Akureyri.
There are 3 marked hikes to the north of the settlement. We followed the 5 km trail to the north, up the centre of the island at first, then returning along the east coast. There's a rocky outcrop at the turning point. During our walk we believe that we saw a black-tailed godwit, some ptarmigan, terns, redwings, eider ducks, fulmars, whimbrel, snipe, great black-backed gulls, harlequin duck, a teal (possibly), a meadow pipit (possibly) and a couple of mallards. It was too cool and windy to stop for a picnic as we had intended, so we were in time for the 15:00 ferry back to the mainland.
On getting back to town the big cruise ship was still there, with a dwarfed Hurtigruten docked next to it. But there were very few red and yellow anoraks around this time. Maybe the passengers were all out on a coach trip to Myvatn.
We didn't really fancy any of the restaurants in town for evening meal. We had seen a modern looking restaurant on our way into town from the north. We walked approximately 2 km into the biting wind to get to it. It was a good choice.
Tuesday 4th June: Akureyri - Myvatn - Egilsstaðir
It was a long drive today (320 km) in rainy weather, but there was lots to see, especially for the first half of it. We followed R1 out of town to the east, but took the old road avoiding a toll tunnel. This added about 20 km to the journey, but the hassle of paying the toll on the Internet within the 3 hour limit of having gone through the tunnel was more than the saving was worth.
The first stop after about 50 km was to see the Goðafoss waterfall. The walk from the car park to the falls was short, and the rain abated for us to do it in the dry. The next stop, after another 50 km was at the western shore of Myvatn, one of the big Icelandic tourist areas. The point of interest at this site is an area of "pseudo craters". These are craters formed by steam blasting its way through a covering layer of solidifying lava. The area is very moon-like.
R1 continues around the south shore of the lake, a very flat and beautiful area, until one reaches Dimmuborgir. This is a circular area of large lava towers formed, if I remember correctly, by molten lava covering water, and the lava collapsing at the water drains away. The whole area is somewhat depressed compared to the surrounding plain, giving the vegetation some protection from the elements. The area was full of sprouting willows and birches. We only noticed the circular nature of the formation later, from the top of Hverfjall, a large volcanic cone.
Which brings us to the next sight, Hverfjell. This is next door to Dimmuborgir. There is even a footpath linking the two, but it saves some time and energy to drive from one car park to the next. The car park for Hverfjell is some 2 km off the main road down a rather poor black cinder road. I'm not sure whether Hverfjell is another pseudo crater, or a proper volcanic crater. The notice boards at the site suggested the former. A guide book that we have suggests the latter. In any case it is considered my some to be the largest of its kind in the world. It was a much easier hike to the top than our previous lava slag heap. The wind, although strong enough to upset Kari, was also not as severe this time. It is certainly a huge crater. We just walked to the highest point, about a third of the way around, and back again.
The final port of call in the immediate Myvatn region was a source of geo-thermic water a few km east of the lake. We had been seeing the steam from this for hours. There is a brilliant turquoise lake not far from the main road with a pipe of boiling water feeding it. Bathing is prohibited on account of the high temperatures. There is a commercial geo-thermal bathing place some km away on the other side of the main road but, after our wonderful experiences in 2 natural pools and 2 very nice swimming pools, we didn't feel the need to visit it.
And the final port of call for the day was to visit Dettifoss and Selfoss. A visit to these two waterfalls involved driving 25 km north from R1, fortunately on a good road. By this time, the weather had turned wet again. We donned our waterproof over-trousers for the first time on this holiday. It's a good job that we did. We were soaked by the spray from Dettifoss. It's quite a long walk on a natural basalt pavement from the car park to the falls, which was no bad thing as it helped to warm us up. We visited Selfoss first and then Dettifoss, both well worth the long detour. Considering the miserable weather, there were a surprising number of other tourists getting wet too.
The remaining 130 km or so to Egilsstaðir were driven rather fast, arriving at about 17:30 after covering 320? km. we had a reservation in the Tehuset hostel. We had a 5 bed room to ourselves, which presumably explains the relatively high price that we had to pay. We had fish and chips in a "diner" to keep things simple for evening meal.
Wednesday 5th June: Egilsstaðir - Seyðisfjörður - Ferry
Today we simply had to drive the 30 km over a 600 m high pass to get to the ferry in Seyðisfjörður. There was new snow on the mountains when we got up, and long before we reached the pass there was new snow all around and we were in the clouds. On the other side of the pass the conditions got worse with snow drifting across the road.
However we reached Seyðisfjörður safe and sound with some 6 hours to kill before check-in opened at 17:00. It was cold as has become the norm. We strolled around, had a baked cod lunch and coffee and cake in the afternoon, and it was finally time to check-in and drive onto the ferry. There can't have been more than 50 cars, but they packed us in so tightly that it was impossible to squeeze between the cars. It's going to take an age to disembark.
The ship sailed about 30 minutes early at 19:30. The forecast was for 5 metre waves, so we quickly had a picnic supper before the boat got out of the fjord, took a sea-sickness pill, and went to bed early. We were due to stopover in the Faroes at 15:00 the following afternoon.
Thursday 6th June: Ferry - Tórshavn - Ferry
The night was not as rough as expected. We killed the time until docking in Tórshavn easily enough. The weather had improved significantly, still cloudy with fog on the hills but much warmer and not much wind.
Friday 7th June: Ferry
Saturday 8th June: Ferry - Hirtshals - Hannover
Sunday 9th June: Hannover - Riniken
|Date||Town||Hotel Name|| Breakfast|
| Price per Night|
|21/21 May||Egilsstaðir||Birta Guesthouse||n||EUR ??|