Published: August 15th 2010August 7th 2010
Old boat in Seydisfjordur
This dilapidated old boat had loads of character blocked up out of the water with the pretty steep mountains around the fjord in the background. Note the low wisps of cloud that always make these scenes even more magical.
'Bad times' - self explanatory
'Don't bother' - self explanatory
1* - worth a look
2* - Good Times
3* - Unmissable
+ - emphasis on the rating
NOTE: this entry has a LOT of photos, you'll need to click the link to page 2 to see them all.
It seems I failed to upload photos of the beautiful fjord village of Seydisfjordur in my last blog and the excellent Gudufoss waterfall on the way out of town so I'm starting the photos in this post with those missed ones.
To segue immediately; regarding a myth I'd heard about Iceland having countless extremely beautiful women ; this myth was completely debunked during our trip.
There were rare extremely beautiful girls, but generally we found Iceland did NOT have disproportionate amounts of hot women; in fact it was decidedly average and I can't figure out where this myth came from (maybe tourist beer goggles)!
Whilst I'm off track let me also give you a little rant on food in Iceland. In the Laejurhus/ Vagnnstaddir region we stayed was very far from anywhere, our host suggested some local hotels would have dinner for us but they only
This is a view down into S. similar to the stunning views you get upon first arrival out of the mountains into this town.
See the tiny village perched at the inland tip of the fjord and the sharply steep mountain walls with a few splashes of snow topping (in summer) that enclose the fjord on either side.
If you look really hard you can also see one of the many thin waterfalls streaming down the mountain face to the right of town.
offered buffets at the enormous per-person price of 4200 or 5400 ISK (these weren't great quality buffets either.)
We ended up having to drive all the way back to Hofn where we sadly picked the wrong place and waited 1hr 15mins for a bad meal that included solidly frozen garlic butter for Alicia's Salmon. Hofn proudly added the 'Slowest and Worst meal in Iceland' trophy to it's growing list of awards....
As we travelled Iceland we consistently had to eat at 'Greasy spoon' style places as either nothing else existed or it was closed by the time we got there (not much available to eat after 9pm).
This rant is not to disparage Iceland but certainly to warn prospective Iceland travellers that you either want to know where you're eating and get there in plenty of time, or resign yourself to eating junk food takeaway, OR find a way to self-cater. All our best meals in Iceland were the ones we cooked for ourselves (the supermarkets have tasty marinated lamb chops). A savvy business person could takeover the Reyjavik culinary scene with a great restaurant or two, the competition didn't seem too fierce.
Anyway don't let tales of mediocre
Pretty waterfalls along the way
These beautiful little falls were about 100m downstream of Gudufoss waterfall near Seydisfjordur, just on the way out of town. We had a lovely time walking the tranquil falls near Gudufoss; pretty much no-one around.
food put you off wonderful Iceland. We met a father-son who were cycling around the whole of Iceland in our accommodation and we think this'd be an excellent Iceland adventure, and a good bonding experience. Cycling wouldn't facilitate all the sight-seeing you'd want but there's still plenty of stunning sights along the main roads of Iceland you'd see and it was good to meet them.
Our first major sight of the South-East was Jokusarlon (3*+) a stunning, unique iceberg filled lagoon. The weather was pretty good now with decent blue skies and the surface of the water was reflective and beautiful. This lagoon is basically a big lake full of Icebergs that have broken off (calved) from the glacier. The views are of hundreds of different icebergs floating in a beautiful, pristine lake. There were some cool shapes and light blue colours in some of the ice bergs and it was all very spectacular. We dipped a finger in the lake and it was surprisingly cool rather than ludicrously cold.
We were surprised the sight-seeing boats on the lagoon were diesel-driven outboards, we expected such a pristine place would not allow the use of polluting fuels.
Jokusarlon is truly
Not one of the 'big reputation' waterfalls but Gudufoss just by the road out of Seydisfjordur was a beautiful fall with a lot of pretty sections of streams and minor falls around it too.
We got there with nice weather and light and loved it, very tranquil too.
Unmissable it was the most astonishing and beautiful sight in Iceland or any other natural sight we've seen throughout the world. We ended up visiting 3 times over the days we were in the area and enjoyed different, wonderful views each time as the light conditions changed.
Moving further along the South-East you are treated to fabulous views of glacial valleys and impressive mountains; the generic Iceland tourism advice is 'the views from Hofn to Vik are spectacular' but I'd refine that and suggest specifically the views from tiny Vagnnstaddir to Vik are where the stunning scenery really is.
We stopped along the way by the glacier at Kviarjokulskamber (a tiny parking place off route 1 main road) where an icy white glacial tongue leading down into a narrow valley between peaks made for beautiful viewing. After enjoying the views all the way along from Jokulsarlon to Skaftafell national park we arrived with beautiful blue skies just after midday.
Skaftafell National Park is basically dug in at the base of the Vatnajokull glacier (largest glacier in Iceland and Europe) and gives you a chance for easy to moderate hiking to some spectacular views of the glacier, the
The 'Iceland is full of the worlds best looking women' myth was thoroughly debunked
landscape of the area, and waterfalls.
We took in great views from the lookouts: Sjonarnipa and Sjonansker (2* each) and then soaked up the brilliant Svartifoss waterfall (3*).
Svartifoss is a fall set in odd vertical columns of hexagonal type basalt volcanic rock; it's a remarkable place for a waterfall in such pretty and remarkable geology and is incredibly picturesque. We clambered all over the place for views and photos and cooled down with a splash and drink of the fresh cool waters. We were treated to a beautiful little rainbow in the mist too.
Later recovering after a day filled with 2* and 3* sights we were treated to a beautiful sunset-style scene at our accommodation at Vagnsstadir; the rustic buildings, amazing hills, and pretty light were all the kind of thing you can expect frequently in Iceland!
Next day we took a tour up on the mighty Vatnajokull glacier for a snowmobile (skidoo) tour (3*).
Driving a snowmobile feels like driving a slightly out of control car on a wet road/ gravel where you can feel the vehicle slip-sliding under you even though you're generally going in the direction you want. The guide told us to
Nick was ecstatic to be in such a wonderous place
relax our body and arms when driving which was wise advice; my arms and hands were quickly tiring from my instinctive 'death grip'. I did 25-40 km/h depending on who was in front of me and generally our trail was about 2 metres wide but it didn't really matter if you went off the trail...
Both Alicia and I had a go at driving and the tour really supplied a combination of fabulous fun and great views; the glacier underfoot was like slightly melty snow and was similar to walking around on any decent ski field.
Snowmobiling reminded us of Jetskiing but with slightly higher stakes as you know you're more likely to get hurt if you come off the snowmobile but they're both incredibly fun.
The drive west after our snowmobile tour gave us one last chance to enjoy the beautiful Jokulsarlon glacial lagoon and then many more wonderful sights, the scenery in this area of a couple of hundred kilometres all the way to Vik is stunning and diverse.
Notables include the impressive mountain face Lómagnúpur (1*) which you can't miss from the main road, and many beautiful and oddly shaped grassy hills and ridges around the
amusingly named town of Kirkjubaejarlauster where we also stopped for another great choc-dipped ice cream.
We were treated to another staggeringly beautiful natural place at the Fjadrarglufur river gorge (3*+) which had stunning, wonderful rock shapes and formations throughout the narrow gorge.
Nick swore 'til he was black in the face about the difficult light conditions (think high contrasting light and metering difficulties photographers) which made it tough to do this wonderful place justice in our photos.
At Fjadrarglufur you walk along the grassy tops of the gorge and look along the narrowly eroded cutting and enjoy the bizarre and diverse shapes of the land. You can walk out on narrow and possibly unstable narrow spits of land and plunge 20 metres to your death if you want to, like all places in Iceland it's very free, open, and accessible. Fjadrarglufur doesn't get enough 'hype' in Icelandic tourism in my opinion and it fully deserves a lot more.
We finished this brilliant day in the town of Vik which has the picturesque Reynisdrangar rocks just off the coast.
In Vik we stayed in a hostel where we had a few minor misadventures; firstly we were sadly staying in a
Jokulsaron Iceberg lagoon 1
We stopped by Jokulsaron three times at different times of day and with different weather and the appearance and colour of the lagoon will always subtly change.
It's a fabulous, inconceivable sight to see so many pretty icebergs that have calved off the glacier floating in the tranquil and reflective lagoon waters.
six bed hostel room for the night, sharing with 4 others.
Our mobile phone alarm went off at 0530 the next morning; I leaned over the bunk and asked Alicia “what time is it?” After realising something was amiss.
She said “630”.
I said “In what country is it 6:30?”
The look of dismay on her face was hilarious, we'd accidentally woken our whole room an hour before our unreasonably early planned start! Oops.
Eating breakfast at 0630 Nick found a large container of white granulated substance stored in a sugar jar to sprinkle on his wheat bix for breakfast and wept with disappointment when he realised it was salt and he'd ruined most of our remaining wheat bix and milk. Nick LOVES salt but eating a couple of big mouthfuls of it can really ruin your day, I could NOT get the taste out of my mouth or eat anything else salty all day. Bad times. Hostel mishaps aside we had plenty of good sights around Vik.
To our frustration we spent half the day trying to get a better view of the Reynisdrangar rocks just off the coast at Vik and couldn't do it, based on our experiences
Jokulsaron Iceberg lagoon 3
More of the lovely lagoon full of icebergs
we assume the best way to do it is from a boat or a cliff top we never found.....
We checked out the nearby cave Halsanefshellir (1*) at the south-West end of the Reynisfjall small mountain peninsula which wasn't so much a cave as a significant depression in a sea cliff wall near the beach. It had
nice hexagonal shaped lava rock formation patterns in it and there was also a pleasant black sand beach.
We tried to find some local waterfalls but our car was attacked by farmers dogs and so we had to give up and headed to the large natural rock sea arch at Drholaey (2*) where we tried two separate lookouts and had fine views up and down the coast of lava beaches and the hills and the rock formations off the coast. There were supposed to be billions of puffins up there but we couldn't see any birds for love or money; the tourist info guy later suggested the afternoon/ evening is when you want to go Puffin-hunting... No Puffins for us in Iceland; I think this tars us as ornithological failures.
After a tip from the tourist info man we also went to
The drive from Hofn to Vik is famous for beautiful views; but if you want to be more specific the road section from Vagnsstadir to Skaftafell National Park has some gorgeous and wonderful views.
This is a view from the road up to the Vatnajokull glacier; there are plenty of pretty views of the glacier like this as you go.
the Hjorleifshofdi cave (2*). The cave had an impressive double opening facade in the cliff face; effectively a normal cave opening, then above it a thin strip of rock and then another smaller, smile shaped opening, both opening out into the same cave behind. We loved the little cave and took a lot of funny silhouette photos from inside using Alicia as my model to contrast against the bright daylight outside.
Heading West we enjoyed the fine Skogafoss waterfall (2*) which was a big one at 60m high and 25m wide, we had lunch there on a nice grassy field with a thousand other tourists then hiked up past the falls to discover many fine running streams and a few smaller waterfalls leading down to the main one. One was a split waterfall at least 5m high that was remarkably similar to Godafoss. We got lots more photos up there and enjoyed the area, sadly the sun wasn't coming out from behind the light clouds strong enough to bring out any good rainbows but we still spent plenty of time there and thoroughly enjoyed it.
We drove west once again and saw several more interesting anonymous waterfalls on the
Svartifoss within an hours easy enough walk of the tourist centre in Skaftafell national park is a wonderful waterfall. The rock formations are hex shaped columns of basalt rock and give a fascinating and different appearance on this waterfall. You can dip your feet or even have a splash in stream and pools below the fall and we had a drink of the water which was cold and lovely. By exploring about closer to the base of the falls we captured the mist at the right angle to see a little rainbow formed just low above the pool.
See the rainbow in the bottom right of this photo; we had a great time at Svartifoss; found it very picturesque and loved it.
steep grassy hills (Iceland really has a LOT) on the way to our next scheduled stop the Seljalandsfoss waterfall (2*).
The Seljalandsfoss fall (also 60m high) has a large underhang beneath it meaning the falls plummet into thin air far from the wall before smashing powerfully into the small pool below. As we approached the fall it's charm grew on us and and you can actually walk in around behind this fall through the underhang cave which we did. On the way through we got drenched in mist and by the side was treated to a fabulously colourful rainbow which really excited us; I shouted to Alicia to get up to my viewpoint to see it and then we bravely snapped as many photos as we could into the poor light and drenched air; drying the lens frantically between shots and trying to be quick before the rainbow was lost. Good thing we acted quickly as it only lasted a minute or two!
We were now down to our final couple of days in Iceland's South-West;
Geysir (2*) has a very frequently erupting hot water geysir called ' Strokkur' that exploded consistently and enjoyably for us. It's surprisingly how relatively
Sunset in the country
Well of course the sun wasn't really 'setting' but it sure did look pretty
subtle the build up to an eruption is, effectively the water on top of the geysir pond may sink or rise a little more than normal (it's always bubbling and simmering away) then a large bizarre bubble of water while quickly burp up before exploding high into a column of burning water and steam. The highest eruption of water we saw was maybe 25m high.
We were lucky enough to see a triple explosion where instead of a 2-5 minute waiting period before the next one Strokkur went off simultaneously which surprised us and all the other tourists.
We stopped in at the easily accessible Kerio crater (2*) which is seconds off the road and walked around the whole rim in an easy 15 minutes; you don't see a much more perfectly shaped volcanic crater than this one and the pool in the middle and striking red colour in the earth in the area add to the charm.
One of the major attractions in Iceland is the Pingvellir national park which holds big cultural, historical, and geological drawcards because it's where the Viking parliament met since the 10th century and it also happens to be at the boundary
Nick on our trusty snowmobile, a fantastically fun way to visit a glacier top
of the North American and European tectonic continental plates. You can see across the flat expanse of 'new' land about 1-2km from one plate to the other.
In spite of the big credentials of Pingvellir we didn't find it particularly charming or remarkable; we took the remarkable historical and geological aspects into account on our visit and rate it 1*.
I think our inability to “love” Pingvellir came from the fact that we found so much more beauty and remarkable landscapes elsewhere in Iceland that we just weren't captured or impressed by it's understated landscape. In my mind I had hoped to see gigantic gaping cracks in the ground where the tectonic plates were tearing apart and it's just not like that.
Our final major waterfall visit was the most well known and hyped waterfall in Iceland: Gullfoss (3*). It's hard to describe this fall due to the two tiered and unusual shape; suffice to say look at the photos, it's a very impressive waterfall with lots of good views and heaps of mist; you can't walk 10 yards without getting drenched. There are a trillion tourists at Gullfoss and no ropes to keep you back so you can
leap to your death if you fancy; we saw some fools standing in very perilous spots.
I'd hoped with all the mountains of mist we'd get some fine rainbows but the sun wouldn't play ball; I'm sure some days it must be rainbow paradise, we really enjoyed Gullfoss, got lots of photos and fought to keep our lens dry, and generally were happy to finish our Iceland waterfall viewing with a 'bang'.
We foolishly chose to drive the Southern route of the SW peninsula leading to our final sight-seeing destination the famous 'Blue Lagoon' thermal baths. The southern road was just about the worst gravel strewn goat track we drove on the whole time in the country and Alicia was dieing of stress (as the driver) by the time we arrived in howling wind and rain to the lagoon.
We were pleased to find the Blue Lagoon (3*) was fabulous, a very modern, clean, and obviously prosperous place. In summary the lagoon is the hot thermal waters from the nearby Geothermal power plant (yes really)! Since it's perfectly clean energy there's no reason not to swim in the hot waters and the lagoon is formed from sand and silicon
This is the view up the black sand beach from a vantage point at Drholaey near Vik
mud so it's pleasant underfoot.
We soaked and swam around in the pleasant water and kept low in the water to avoid the howling cold wind, we had a great time and even tried rubbing the 'allegedly magic' silicone mud on our skin. It was a very relaxing and memorable experience for us, not something you'd do a lot if you were a local but certainly a nice treat and unique experience as a tourist.
We returned to a day of charming Reykjavik where we amazingly we arranged to meet up with Australian friends who were in town (how often do you meet old friends for breakfast in Icelands capital!!!) then explored the pretty little city and enjoyed a volcano movie that was shown by a local chap who'd spent the last 30 years of his life chasing volcanos in Iceland. We ate the famous local hot dogs that had delightful crunchy onion pieces, and we enjoyed a latin music festival in the city park. We even tried to check out the legendary Reyjavik Friday nightlife but by 00:30 it still hadn't ramped up enough and we were tired and went home (it apparently kicks off late and goes
The fascinating entry of the Hjorleifshofdi cave.
Seen from inside
So wrapping up our Iceland story:
As we flew out of Iceland our final sunset near the airport was over beautiful colourful sculpture and aptly summed up our Iceland experience: Always picturesque and beautiful.
Iceland as a place to visit is fantastic, wonderful place to visit. The great outdoors are staggering, endlessly different, and a pleasure to see.
On an ideal trip we'd have had a lot more time to set a more relaxed pace and give time for bad weather to blow over so you could enjoy every sight at it's best, we'd definitely come in summer again. A 4wd to carry camping gear and let us get to some of the few places that were off limits to our car (you can HAPPILY do Iceland without a 4wd though so don't be discouraged), camping around or being able to sleep in the car somehow would be best so you never had to rush your sight-seeing; also being able to cook for yourselves all the time would be good as Icelandic cuisine wasn't brilliant.
We'd also try to learn a few more Icelandic words (even though every local speaks great English) and maybe try couch surfing
A broad view of Skogafoss waterfall
to try better to meet the locals and win their hearts and minds a bit as they are SO reserved.
I won't do any other countries with as much detail as I've written Iceland as my travel blog is now about a month behind but I wanted Iceland to be done with extra info because it's a little obscure and well worth endorsing.
Next entries are a taste of Scandinavia then on to mighty Russia and the great and not so great times we had there.
There are more photos below