Amazing Iceland 3 of 3

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June 6th 2017
Published: June 28th 2017
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Amazing Iceland 3 of 3

A whale of a time!

Low cloud greeted us once again this morning, but there are occasional breaks as we backtrack northwards to Egilsstadir and take the gravel track 70 km out to Dyrfjoll and the cliffs at Hafnartangi to check out the puffins! Parts of this road are now surfaced, winding, ever winding, through lush green moorland, between gushing rivers and snow-topped mountains. Sure, it’s a long way out and a long way back but there’s a reward for the effort. A short-eared owl performed its graceful flight for us, whimbrel and redshank called, red-necked phalarope danced around in circles in pools, harlequin ducks rode the rushing rivers and whooper swans grazed the marshes en route. Wow! And finally, the cliffs: thousands of jovial puffins in rafts on the water and up on the cliffs, sharing space with romancing kittiwakes and proud fulmars on their nests. One might not wish to live in this challenging remote spot, but the freedom it offers lifts our hearts.

There’s another long driving day ahead today, westwards across the north on Route 1 once more through dramatic wasteland that is high moorland, the summer home to pink-foot geese, and volcanic tundra; 170 km without a single tree and totally devoid of habitation. It could get mighty lonely out here. Let’s play, ‘Who can spot the oncoming car?’

We’re heading for the lake at Myvatn and staying on a farm at Stong for a couple of nights in the heart of prairie grasslands just up the hill from town, a likely spot to see that cocky snow-bird, the ptarmigan.

Selma greeted us at check-in. ‘Where might we see ptarmigan out here?’ I enquired.

“My goodness,’ she exclaimed in surprise. ‘The Rjupa, they’re everywhere. There was one under my car this morning!’

That’s birding in Iceland. You could step on a snipe, a golden plover or a redshank just getting out of bed at this time of year. By the way, the sun will set around midnight tonight and rise again at 2am, the panoramic vistas are stunning and the sun is still high in the sky at 10pm - that’s more like it! Get some sleep if you can – and please mind the snipe when you get up.

You are probably not aware of it, but Janice has a magic wand. She says things like, ‘I would love to see a Barrow’s Goldeneye,’ and the next minute one appears right before us, fighting the current on the fast flowing River Laxa nearby. I have a funny feeling she might do it again before the week is out, so keep a sharp ear open for her next premonition.

With the Merlin (he also has a magic wand) on the Kaslar trail and Scaup seen today, that’s fifty-eight different birds to date, challenging our sixty forecast species. It gets more difficult from here on in.

It’s still coat and hat weather. Despite being a steaming 14C today the wind will chip your ears off. What was that you said?

There’s some great walking around Myvatn, navigating the volcanic craters at Skutustadir and the Stakholstjorn lake, and we’re greeted by fabulous views of nesting Long-tailed ducks, Eider and the tiny Red-necked Phalarope, and Horned Grebe we can almost touch! Now I know why we came to Iceland.

The Gyr Falcon we hope to find has eluded us.

A geothermal trail is in the
Fumaroles and bubbling mud pots.Fumaroles and bubbling mud pots.Fumaroles and bubbling mud pots.

......and the pungent smell of sulphur on a chill wind.
offing today as we continue westwards across the north of the island: steaming lava fields, fumaroles and bubbling mud pots: a stunning kaleidoscope of browns and greys and the pungent smell of sulphur on a chill wind - a moonscape certain to send a shiver from your head to your toes. Here too there is massive geothermal plant harnessing and distributing Iceland’s cheap energy source.

To the north a hike across barren lava fields leads us to monstrous Dettifoss, Europe’s biggest waterfall, we’re led to believe: blowing great plumes of spray hither and thither, drifting in sparkling rainbows high on the wind. Signs out of Dettifoss towards Asbyrgi Canyon took us on a narrow, serpentine, gravel road, spiraling into the distant hills through miles of axle-challenging potholes and deep puddles. This is clearly the wrong road with no other traffic in evidence. It is half an hour before we see another vehicle. I don’t think we’re the first – or the last to make this error. There has to be another way signposted somewhere or not marked on our map, but we are rewarded at last with a fine hike through birch, willow and rowan woodland in
And yet more Puffins!And yet more Puffins!And yet more Puffins!

This is the one on the thrift!
the canyon, host to many redpoll, as promised in our guide book.

By early evening we’re in Husavik, a rather pleasant fishing town turned tourist hot-spot since the fish departed, in a pretty setting around a busy harbour. Husavik is said to be Iceland’s whale capital and we’ve got a trip pre-booked for tomorrow. Big mistake – huge!

At 8.30am next morning, it’s 1C, snowing, and the wind is having a real big-kite day, lashing us and everything else in the harbour. The skipper reluctantly suggests we might want to give it a miss and try again another day if we’re not good in rocky boats. We decide to take the refund and run. I have to say, we’re quite relieved. The thought of throwing up into the waves is not good. There will be trips elsewhere no doubt. Don’t be too disappointed; they sell a drink called Krap in the local supermarket. It’s either lurid green or disgusting blue. You can have one of those instead if it’ll keep you quiet.

By midday the weather has improved and we’re in Akureyri, Iceland’s second town of 18,000 hardy souls, prompting a visit to Tourist Information where we’re reliably informed that there’s a whale-watching trip in calmer waters out of the little fishing village of Hauganes, twenty-five minutes to the north on our route. We can just about make it to Whale Watching Hauganes in time! Come on - don’t hang around! Let's see if they've got room for two oldies.

The skipper’s a jovial fella, clearly happy for us to join a German tour party for a good three-and-a half hour-trip in the sheltered bay of Eyjafjordur. ‘It’s a special birthday treat,’ I informed him, and they sure made our day with great sightings of several humpbacks, a brief attempt at sea fishing and very fetching yellow seafarer’s waterproof floatation suits; an essential element to protect us from the glorious spray washed inboard on the breeze as the boat rises and falls on the crashing waves. Thank you skipper and Margret for the exhilarating ride: the whales in particular, the coffee and cookies and for making us so very welcome! A happy birthday treat indeed.

We’re stopping the night in the delightful little seaport of Siglufjordur. The village was completely isolated except from the sea until the
Fjallfoss Fjallfoss Fjallfoss

Janice with Brent and Michelle, friends picked up along the way.
first roads were built along the fjord in the mid- 1940’s, and now by 14 km of tunnels in recent years. This was once the biggest herring processing centre in the world with 800 herring boats operating until the herring finally ran out in 1968. It's a wonderful setting, truly worthy of the long drive: the Herring Museum is well worth a visit - and ‘Catch of the Day’ for dinner is to be recommended! If you fancy a beer though, it will set you back 800Kr for 330cl in the restaurant, that’s £6.40! ‘Mine’s tap-water please, waiter!’

There are motorhomes for hire on Iceland if that takes your fancy and a few brave travellers have brought their own by ferry from Denmark via Faroe: Germans mostly, but we also saw one British, a couple of French and one Swedish motorhome. I’m not sure we would want to bring ours on these roads, but it might make sense for the longer stay.

Siglufjordur to Stadur. It’s raining again, but the temperature has climbed up to 4C today, the clouds are rushing down the mountains to greet us at the shore of the fjord and everything is clothed in shades of grey and green. There is fresh snow on the mountains this morning.

Stadar to Sudavik. We’re leaving Route 1 for three days now, taking to the mountains and valleys of the Westfjords: there’s another car somewhere in the distance, its headlights dipping and diving on the rise and fall of winding gravel road and a plume of dust from a 4X4 hurtling over the brow of the hill: the only two vehicles for nearly 300 km. There are snow poles beside the steep-edged roads across the high fells, and majestic turquoise fjords here in the west where just 5% of visitors will venture. 95% of Iceland is remote – and this is as remote as it could possibly get.

That’s how we like it. And that’s why we came.

Our road from Sudavik to Patrekfjordur crosses miles of open moorland pasture with dusky-blue skies reflected in the endless fjords and the thundering Fjallfoss waterfall, seen from afar, where we meet up with Brent and Michelle from Toronto, on their honeymoon. You can’t possibly miss the immense icefield; dark, threatening and sombre, as we clear the
Stykkisholmur Stykkisholmur Stykkisholmur

top of the pass.

It’s impossible for us to resist the temptation to take the road from Patreksfjordur to the bird cliffs at Latrabjarg: at 14 km long and up to 440m high, these are the largest bird-nesting cliffs in Europe. Millions of birds congregate here to nest each year: Brunnich’s guillemots, Shags and Razorbills, Kittiwakes and Fulmars, to name but a few – and of course, Puffins.

Janice pulled out her magic wand. ‘I want a photo of a Puffin on thrift,’ she said with a glint in her eye and that cheeky smile of hers.

Around one minute and twenty-seven seconds later, there it was: a puffin and thrift, with the picture to prove it. But we would not want to repeat the tough, one and a half hour drive each way from Patreksfjordur, on atrocious gravel switchback tracks with blind corners and summits.

Snaefellsnesjokull is gleaming in sunshine and a leisurely stroll on the golden sand beach sets us up for the three-hour ferry from Brjanslaekur, via pretty Flatey Island and its orange lighthouse across to Stykkisholmur, on a diamond-studded sea, thus avoiding the exceedingly tedious drive meandering beside the fjords on the west coast. The harbor at Stykkisholmur is quite delightful – perhaps it’s the sunshine: brightly painted boats, their dappled reflections in opal water backed by a grassy basalt mound for a fine evening stroll, and fish and chips from the van! A grey Coast Guard boat was moored there. Iceland is a member of NATO, but they have no standing army as such. Their military contingent consists of a few Coast Guard vessels supported by a handful of planes. ‘But we’ll never join the EU,’ one local lady informed us. And I (like David Cameron), thought we Brits would never leave.

Today we travel around the picturesque Snaefellsnes Peninsula to Borgarnes across barren lava fields and coastal plains, past explosion craters, steep snowy mountains in fresh browns and greens as winter moves on into spring, moorland fells and red-roofed farmsteads, winding roads beside endless fjords, eider farms, a woodcock flushed from the side of the road and a scruffy Arctic fox shedding its white coat scampers away across the lava field. We’re quite breathless. This evening offered the opportunity to sample the pleasures of an N1 garage: to join a few hundred happy customers in the hottest place in town for hot-dogs and burgers! It’s Iceland’s hit on MacDonald’s, packed with cheerful locals and not to be missed.

If you like crowds, you might want to join the hundreds of bathers in the Blue Lagoon for a dip in the huge hot pot of a lake, complete with heaving café and a car park brimming with cars and coaches at eight in the evening!

And finally, Borgarnes to Reykjavik on a balmy 11C day: back to the real world of traffic, commerce and tourists, pay and display car parks, trendy apartment blocks, museums, galleries, coffee shops and eateries, some fine modern architecture and smart shops on clean and busy streets. Nearly two-thirds of Iceland’s population lives within a stone’s throw of Reykjavik, leaving all that wonderful, wild wilderness to the rest, the gnarled-nosed trolls, the fairies – and us, the grey-haired-nomads.

Now I know why we came to Iceland, Janice.

David and Janice

The Grey-haired-nomads

Scroll down for lots more pictures!

A few notes of possible interest:

We invested in Crossbill Guides – Iceland, helping us to get the most from our time on the island.

They all speak English here, but translation is fairly simple in most cases: In = Inn, Out = Ut, Takk = Thank you, Gestabok = Guestbook, and Ovidkomandi adgangur bannadur = No admittance.

There are numerous golf courses, but few days when it’s not raining, possible to stand up in the wind, or stop the ball golf from blowing away off the green.

A few more days would have relieved some of the stress from driving long distances on difficult roads - and we didn’t have time for hiking.

The speedo reads 45,703km - 3,516km travelled in two weeks.

And 67 bird species!

Additional photos below
Photos: 27, Displayed: 27


The Blue LagoonThe Blue Lagoon
The Blue Lagoon

At eight in the evening
Whale watchingWhale watching
Whale watching

Very fetching and extremely warm in thermal flotation suit!
Golden PloverGolden Plover
Golden Plover

Such a stately bird

28th June 2017

Iceland is Extraordinary
You can sleep when you are dead and birding abounds. I love, love, love Puffins! Fantastic whales. What a great trip you are having. I see you are no longer asking why Janice planned this trip!
3rd July 2017

WHy Iceland?
It's writers license! We're in Scotland right now and it's just stopped raining! Its a bit like Iceland though very much smaller, there are no volcanoes and they speak funny! DAvid
1st July 2017

Thanks for a wonderful trip. Had My jacket on the whole way around.

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