Wednesday 31st July, 2013. Akureyri, North Iceland
We disembarked at the port of Akureyri and headed straight to the car hire place to collect our pre-booked car. We had planned to head over to Husavik (abot 60 km away) which is world famous for its Whale Watching. On the way we stopped at the Goðafoss "waterfall of the gods" or "waterfall of the goði". The Goðafoss waterfall is one of the most spectacular waterfalls in Iceland. The water of the river Skjálfandafljót falls from a height of 12 meters over a width of 30 meters. The name derives from the story that in the year 999 or 1000 the Lawspeaker Þorgeir Ljósvetningagoði made Christianity the official religion of Iceland. After his conversion Þorgeir threw his statues of the Norse gods into the waterfall. We parked in the car park and walked to the viewpoint overlooking the falls. They are spectacular horseshoe shaped falls and the views were amazing despite the overcast weather. We walked around the well marked paths and took some fantastic photos.
We continued along the N1 highway and arrived at Husavik where we found the offices of the Gentle Giants Watching Company on the quay. There
were boats departing at 11.00, 12.00, 12.30, 13.15 and 16.00. The charming girl behind the desk explained that it was very choppy out at sea and that the wave troughs were quite high so that even if we were to encounter one of these magnificent beasts it was unlikely that we would see very much. It was freezing cold and spitting with rain (which was forecast to get worse) and we only had light waterproofs, so we decided to give it a miss and go and do some of the "Diamond Circle" tourist route instead. At least we could be warm and dry in the car. The scenic 260 km long Diamond Circle (or Diamond Ring Road) is loaded with marvelous touristic "diamonds". The route takes in some of the most interesting and beautiful places in Iceland. We hadn't got time to do the whole 260 km and to stop at all the sites so we decided to pick out a few "gems".
We headed south out of Husavik on the N1 towards Laugar and on Myvatn, then east to Dimmuborgir which is a distance of about 60 km. Dimmuborgir are very beautiful lava formations that formed in the
young Laxarhraun volcano which erupted 2000 years ago from Prengslaborgir. Dimmuborgir translates as 'dark castles', 'dark forts', or 'dark citadels'. However you translate the word, it should give you some idea of the mangled forms that lie within. Twisted towers of coagulated rock breach the earth’s surface to form a lava field full of giant pillars, chimneys and tubes to scramble across. Quite literally like the icing squirted on the geological cake of Lake Mývatn, these rock formations are completely unique. The only other similar land mass known to exist being beneath the sea, off the coast of Mexico. They are thought to be the remains of a lava reservoir which formed above a lake. As it began to cool, the reservoir was released, leaving only the bizarrely shaped remnants you see today.
As always there is some Icelandic mythology associated with these structures. According to Icelandic folklore, Dimmuborgir is the home of a homicidal troll named Grýla, her third husband Leppalúði and their sons The Yule Lads. Though Grýla has psychopathic tendencies, the children aren´t quite so murderous, and are more mischievious than anything. Originally told as a scary story to stop children misbehaving, the Yule Lads have
now been merged with the idea of Santa Claus. Children either get gifts or rotten potatoes in their shoes at Christmas depending on whether they´ve behaved well or not.
There is a range of hiking routes through Dimmuborgir taking anything from 10 minutes to 1 hour. We took one of the longer paths that took us past one of the most exciting rock formations which is called The Church, which has a large enclave you can walk through. There is also a longer hiking route leading from here to the top of the barren-looking Hverfjall volcanic crater. You can see this looming in the distance as you pass around the eastern side of the lake - we didn't have time to do this hike. We returned to the car park and set off for Asbyrgi. Ásbyrgi canyon is about an hours drive north-east from where we were on the Diamond Circle road.
Asbyrgi is a magnificent natural creation of the river Jokulsa a Fjolium. it is 3.5 km long and roughly 1 km wide. its walls are perpendicular cliffs withc extend to the south, reaching heights of close to 100 metres. Its outer half is split by a
rock formation named Eyjan (the Island). Asbyrgi is thought to have been formed during a debacle in the river 2-5 thousand years ago. Legend has it that Sleipnir, the 8-legged horse of Odinn, created the enclosure when the god was riding through. On the inside of the enclosure lies Botnstjom, an ancient waterfall pool. Asbyrgi is a wooded area with lush flowers. Birch, willow and ash are numerous. Evergreens were also planted here during the last century. During 1970's Fulmars started to nest in the cliffs and now it is heavily populated by the bird . Asbyrgi is owned by the Icelandic Forest Service but belongs to the Jokulsarglijufur National Park.
Once back in the car we retraced our route on the Diamond Circle following the 864 and 862 roads until we rejined the N1. We continued to the east side of Lake Myvatn where the Námafjall Geothermal Area (also known as Hverir) is located. We parked and made our way to the smoking, smelling solfataras. Namafjall is the mountain overlooking Hverir, a geothermal area with boiling mud-pots and fumaroles. At a depth of 1000 m, the temperature at Hverir is above 200 degrees Celsius. There’s a characteristic sulfur
smell from the fumarole gas which we had experienced before in other geothermal areas. As the ground gets quite hot and the mud-pots bubble up in the area, the signs advised that you stick to the trails. The terrain and the scenery are surreal. The cracked ground boasts shades of red, green, yellow, and white - like being on another planet. The steam slightly obscures the barren surroundings and adds to the sense of other worldliness.
We finished our day by taking driving around Lake Myvatn and taking some photographs. There was a lovely rainbow at one stage of the journey. After taking in the lake we headed back to Akureyri to return the car and rejoin the ship. Given the aborted whale watching we had managed to pack a lot into our day.
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