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Published: July 20th 2013
After a long and tiring trip from Torshavn, first by ferry from Tórshavn to Seyðisfjörður and then with busses from Seyðisfjörður to Akureyri, we were exhausted. We had managed to sleep only a few hours in the couchettes we had in the ferry, although we booked this trip already in April these were the only places left on the ferry. Our first evening in Akureyri we therefore only did some research on what to see, made dinner and went to sleep early.
The next morning we were still really tired, and as there was rainy weather promised for all of the day we decided to explore Akureyri. Our hostel, a nice experience called Akureyri Backpacker, is in the middle of Akureyri so we just walked around from there and looked at the city. The city is in a fjord between high mountains, with mostly quite modern buildings. It is not nearly as cute as Torshavn and the towns at the Faroe islands, but there are a lot of stores and restaurants here so it felt a lot bigger. Wisened by our experiences from Mykines we also booked a boat trip to the island of Grimsey already now, and barely got
places at the ferry, only three places left for a ferry three days later! We also booked a rental car for the next day for exploring Mývatn.
Mývatn is a lake one and a half hours drive east of Akureyri. It is surrounded by all kinds of sights caused by volcano activity, and there are a lot of people visiting all the sights. After the Faroe islands everywhere we went it felt crowded, with several tourist groups walking around and also with a lot of other people visiting the sights. Our first stop was Skútustaðagígar, an area covered in pseudo craters. The pseudo craters (craters caused by steam explosions from water trapped under lava) where low hills covered with grass that had the shape of craters, they were impressive looking at a distance but close by they only looked like grassy hills. We felt a little disappointed, the place was really beautyful, but is was not that special after all.
Dimmuborgir was the next stop on our trip. It is an area with 10 meter high lava pillars and other formations. This was our first encounter with a rougher lava landscape, and although this was nothing
compared to the sights we were about to see we were impressed. We were getting hungry so we refrained from climbing the volcano nearby, thinking we would go there after lunch. After a snack lunch on a table outside of the supermarket in Reykjahlíð, the main town of the Mývatn area. we realized we had already used up quite much of the day, so we instead went for the nearby hot area to see some more volcanic action!
Our choise proved the right one, because we got not only action but also stunning landscapes.The area contained boiling mud pools, "steamers" (heaps of rock from were hot steam was rising), and different kind of sizzling holes in the earth. The place smelled of sulfur, and instead of the black colour of the lava fields the earth had a yellow-brown colour. Around the sizzling holes there was earth in any imaginable colour. After our first hundred pictures we went climbing the steep hill next to the mudpools and were again rewarded with incredible views over the hot areas. Also on the top of the hill there were a lot of smoking holes and hot ground, outside of the path the ground
was warm and potentially soft.
10 km north of the mud pools was the viti of the Kratla volcano, responsible for the whole hot area. A viti is a crater lake filled with the same light blue water as in the Blue lagoon, after a short climb we were able to walk along the edges of it and look down in the water. Nearby there was also another parking lot filled with cars, it turned out to be a place called Leirhnjúkur. It was a area that had had a volcano eruption as late as 1984, so the vegetation hadn't yet had time to reclaim the area. There was a short hiking trail that we decided to walk, it first only took us to a steaming pond, but when we continued we got to a area covered in black lava with smoke coming up from the ground here and there. This was by far the most impressive area this far, so we fired off another hundred pictured before we returned to our car.
We felt we had covered most areas of interest at Mývatn, so we drove forward to Dettifoss, Europes biggest waterfall. We got our first experience
of driving outside of the main road, we had to drive 28 km along small sand roads in quite bad shape to get there. Our small Hyundai i20 (the cheapest car the rental company had to offer) shaked like a leaf on the road, but we got through to the waterfall without problems. The waterfall turned out to be much smaller than for example Niagara. The height of the fall is maybe half of Niagara and it is much more narrow. There was however a brutality of it that Niagara lacks, the water was brown with all the debris it brought with it, and there was a dangerous looking stream leading to the fall.
Our last stop for the day was at a outdoor bath near Mývatn. With water between 36 and 41 degrees Celcius it was perfect for just floating around in. As the air was about 7 degrees you had to make sure you were covered in water as you started to freeze once you stood up. We stayed in the pool for maybe 2 hours, the perfect relaxation after a long day of exploring! Feeling refreshed and relaxed, we ended the day with a late dinner
after which we drove back to Akureyri that we reached after 16 hours on the road.
Inspired by our tour on the day before we decided to rent a 4WD car and head for the interior of Iceland. We ordered a car "suitable for driving to Askja" and were a little surprised when the car hire guy came driving with a Kia Sportage, a normal SUV. The lease contract however gave permission to drive it in the highlands, and the car contained instructions for crossing rivers, so we didn't demand a "tougher" car for our journey. We stopped for supplies in Mývatn and then headed for Askja, leaving the main road maybe 40 km east of Mývatn.
The first 30 km went quicky by. The distance from the main road to Askja is 108 km, and with a 4WD car the road was so smooth so we could keep the speed limit of 80km/h. The scenery was stunning, a desert filled first with gravel, then with small lava hills, so we stopped for pictures quite often. Then came the moment I had dreaded the most, our first river crossing with our SUV.
At the river
crossing current looked much stonger that I had expected. It was also much deeper, maybe 30 or 40 cm at the most shallow place. I went scouting ahead on foot in the freezing water, and I was still not quite sure if it would be safe to cross. Then when I was putting my shoes back on another SUV arrived. They obviously had more experience, because they just asked if there were any special instructions on a small sign next to the river, and then drove over, just like that. So we followed their example and got through without any problems!
After the first river crossing the landscape started to change, and the road became increasingly difficult. The landscape changed really often, often several times within one kilometer. We had to crawl forward between lava rocks turning every 10th meter, drive carefully through sand dunes, avoid rocks sticking up threatening to hit the floor of the car, and of course cross a few more rivers. The terrain changed between light brown, black, gray, and even red at times, and was often a mix of all of them. When you include mists and mirages, there was at times an almost
surrealistic feel during the drive. We felt that we had left our planet and traveled to the moon or some other planet, it was so different from what we are used to.The tougher terrain also slowed us down a lot, the last 80 km to Askja took maybe 3 hours.
Askja itself was still partly covered in snow so it was not possible to drive all the way. There was a temporary parking lot where we left the car, and after that we had to walk almost 5 km in slushy snow to reach the lake and the viti of Askja. They were of course impressive, but we both agreed that the drive had been far more impressive. The snow made us feel as we had jumped from the middle of July back to maybe late February or early March. There were also other groups walking to the viti, a few with small children, and we wondered how they made it all the way to the viti, because the walk was quite tiring also for us.
We had a small snack combined with a planning session once we got back to the car (it was too cold and
windy to have it outside), and decided to still drive to Kverkfjöll to see Vattnajökull and some ice caves. We realized it would get late, but refreshed by our snacks we still felt optimistic about it. The drive took us to increasingly impressive landscape, the most impressive the last stretch to Kverfjóll with a red road through a black lava landscape. Then the road ended, and we found a sign telling us it was a 1 hour walk to get to the glacier. At this point it was already getting late, so we decided to skip the ice caves and instead drive back to Akureyri, something we estimated to be a roughly 4 hours drive, but actually took close to 6 hours.
After returning to the hostel and a short and cold night (we arrived after the reception was closed and our backpacks including sleeping bags were locked into the luggage room), we set out for the island of Grimsey. To get to Grimsey we first had to take the bus half an hour north to Dalsvik, and from there take a ferry for 3 hours to Grimsey. The ride was rough, luckily I had my Sea-Bands,
but several of our co-travelers were sitting most of the journey crouched over plastic bags.
Grimsey is a small island north of Island. The arctic circle runs through the island, and it is a bird paradise. Already in the harbour the amount of birds was huge, and we didn't have to walk many meters before the first tern started screech at us. After some soup at the restaurant in the harbour we headed out for the bird cliffs to see if we could spot some puffins. And puffins we spotted! On the lee side of the island the birds were quite reserved, but once we got to the wind side the puffins were so preoccupied by staying in place that we could get really nearby before they got distracted and flew away. The amount of puffins in the colonies was incredible, the cliffs were filled with nest and in most of them there were puffins sitting.
We only had four hours time on the island before the ferry left, so we didn't have time to walk around the whole island. So we walked around the northern half of the island (and therefore also crossed the arctic circle), and
the headed back to the boat for a much more relaxing return journey. On our way home there were again aggressive terns, we protected us by keeping a 1.5 l water bottle above our heads, that seemed to scare of most of the them. The Korean tourists who came after us didn't seem to have any problems with the birds, our guess is that it was our brightly coloured jackets that irritated them!
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