Akureyri to Reykjavik

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Europe » Iceland » Southwest » Reykjavík
July 13th 2018
Published: July 18th 2018
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Before leaving Akureyri, we walked around the town a bit, stopping at a stand selling locally hand-made Icelandic wool products. Chris bought a toque and Adrienne bought a pair of specially designed Beer Mittens. One cruise ship was docked in Akureyri’s pretty harbour and that became apparent as a lot of other tourists walked along with us up about 150 steps to Akureyarkirkja, or The Church of Akureyri. Built in 1040, it towers over the city up on a high hill. We continued further uphill through a beautiful neighbourhood of 1926 homes and on to the most northern botanical garden in the world. Completed in 1957, it is very popular with locals and tourists.

We left Akureyri, driving up Eyjafjörður fjord, the longest fjord in Iceland. The views are spectacular and it was only a short drive to reach The Beer Spa just before Dalvik. The Beer Spa has a nice lounge with light snacks, warm atmosphere with beautiful views. We decided to order a flight of Kaldi beers and Chris and Adrienne took their time trying them all and eventually chose their favourites; almost all of them! Unfortunately they do not offer off-sales so we would have to shop for beer elsewhere. Opened just over a year ago, the Beer Spa is both a Craft Brewery and also a unique spa where you can soak in tubs full of beer, water, hops and yeast. We did not soak in the beer but we did drive on to the town of Dalvik, 42 km from Akureyri on hwy 82, to buy some “supplies” of beer there.

Leaving Dalvik and driving up and around the tip of the Tröllaskagi Peninsula on hwy 76, the road was good although narrow, along cliff edges with no shoulder or guard rails, and then we came to another tunnel . This road tunnel was single lane and very dim and as we crept through it around 40km, we soon saw headlights coming straight towards us! Every few hundred feet there is a small pull-out area on our right, marked “MU”. Not knowing who had the right of way, we chose to be cautious and pulled over while a couple of cars drove by. We decided that MU stood for “Move Uside” so we did. This tunnel was a few kilometres long and we had to keep timing how long we could “play chicken” before diving into another MU zone. I admit that I was relieved to finally exit this tunnel.

The next tunnel was long too, but two lanes and no problem. The third tunnel was less than one kilometre but single lane again and curved so you could not see approaching vehicles until they were right in front of you! When the first headlights appeared we turned into the closest MU pullout, only to find it was already full with two vehicles in it! They must have been sitting there for some time, scared to pull out again. So they pulled forward slightly and I squeezed in the back leaving just barely enough room for the car to get by all of us. Then the first car pulled out with the rest of us following when we all had to slam on our brakes to avoid a head-on collision with a huge semi! We all had to back up, curving back into the MU pullout with me sticking out the back and the first car sticking out the front while the semi slowly squeezed by us. I waited there a couple minutes while the two cars ahead drove off around the bend, not wanting to risk them blocking the next MU again!

We exited the tunnel with a great sense of relief and immediately pulled over into a large viewpoint to relax and take some photos. I have since read that there is supposed to be a warning light at the tunnel entrance if a truck is approaching, and also if cars are sitting in the first pullout in the tunnel, but none of us noticed a light. This system may have been useable when there was very little traffic, but now with all the tourism, I think they should install traffic lights, with the cars taking turns going only one way at a time.

Our next stop was in the town of Hofsos, 94 km from Dalvik, at their geothermally heated swimming pool. The outdoor Hofsos pool is on a hillside at the ocean’s edge with basalt column steps bunched up below, very reminiscent of Giant’s Head in Northern Ireland. The Hofsos pool cost 900 isk each, had nice change rooms but with only a very small locker for wallet and valuables, otherwise just hooks and open baskets. As it was cool out, the giant hot tub was packed with people leaving the main pool quite open for swimming.

Another 52 km along hwy 76, following the ocean shoreline around the bottom of Skagafjörður fjord, then across the bottom of the peninsula, brought us to the Glaumbaer Turf Houses . It was nearly their 6pm closing time but we were still able to have a walk around the area and take some photos. There is also a small info centre and museum there and the site is well worth a stop.

From here we still had nearly 270 km to drive to reach Stykkishólmur where we had a guest house booked for the night. Although it was getting late it was a beautiful drive and we weren’t too worried about arriving before their latest check-in time of 10pm. Around 9pm we realized that we were kind of lost and after firing up the expensive gps data hog of google maps, we saw that we had made a wrong turn near Búðardalur and had turned north an hour earlier instead of continuing west. So instead of arriving now, we were still about two hours away! After an apologetic phone call to our hostess Monika, we were on our way again; thank God for GPS! The roads had numerous gravelled construction zones which slowed us down a bit then the last 80 km or so was all a narrow, rough gravel road. But at nearly 11pm the views along our route beside the Hvammsfjörður fjord with the setting sun just above the horizon in the distance were quite spectacular!

We finally pulled in to Stykkishólmer just before 11pm and with the help of google maps once again, found our guest house. Monika was a very gracious, and well organized hostess, and showed us to our room for the night. Although it was basically one bedroom in her basement, she had the entire basement set up with about 4 bedrooms, a living room, kitchenette area, and two bathrooms and loads of information including maps and brochures. The beds and linens were fantastic and we were asleep quickly after a very long day on the road.

Our breakfast the next morning was a delicious, typical European style of bread, cheese, cold cuts, hard-boiled eggs, crackers, juices, and of course lots of coffee! As we were packing the car, Monika explained that she did not take credit cards, only cash! So luckily we were able to pool all of our remaining money to just come up with enough to pay the bill. After getting a little bit of tourism advice from Monika we were on the road again; first stop at an ATM!

The day begain with a mix of sun and cloud, gradually threatening rain. Our first planned site was just 45 km away at Mount Kirkjufell and Kirkjufelsfoss waterfall. The mountain is visible for several kilometres as you approach and not realizing this was where we were going, we stopped early to take some photos of it. This beautiful and unusual mountain really stands out and is by far the most photographed mountain in the region.

There are numerous short and long hiking trails up and around the mountains in the area of the waterfall and we could see people here and there on the trails. Not us though; we climbed the short and easy trail up to the falls and even though there were a lot of tourists around, I was able to get some good photos of the falls. I also took advantage of the great location to get several more shots of the mountain. It’s cone shape and brilliant green colour is quite captivating so I ended up with a lot of photos from various angles. The lighting was great too with mottled sunshine moving over the hillside as the day gradually clouded over.

The weather continued to get worse as we travelled down the road, with steady rain and heavy fog gradually making visibility very poor. We had planned to stop at Svortuloft Lighthouse, some 41 km away but somehow missed the turnoff. So we continued on to the Saxholl Crater .

Saxholl crater is a small, very old volcano with a nice crater on top. They have built a metal stairway that curves up and around the hill so you can “easily” climb the 477 steps to reach the top. The views around are nice from the peak but the crater is just grown in with grass and moss, nothing too exciting.

Another 23 kilometres down the road to our next stop was driven in heavy fog and off and on rain, making the trip a little slower and tense for driving. We stopped at the Malariff Lighthouse and Visitor Centre with no problems and found it easily just a couple km off the highway. The road dead-ends at a parking area next to the visitor centre with a very good small museum with lots of photos and information about the area. There is a great lighthouse, the tallest we had seen so far, that was partially obscured by the fog and steady rain.

Just a few km’s further along we turned off at Hellnar . Drive past the restaurant and stop at the parking area to walk around and see a great shoreline with lots of birds and interesting rock formations. After yet another walk in the rain, we stopped in th restaurant for coffees on our way out to dry off and warm up a bit.

Our last scheduled stop before arriving back in Reykjavik was Búðir , to see Búðakirkja, the famous little black church. We missed the corner and had to double back 10km or so. Like most Iceland sites there is only one small sign posted right on the corner. Originally black from being covered in pitch for protection from the elements, it is not actually unique as there are three black churches around Iceland, although this one is by far the most photographed.

Our drive home after this was quick and easy. As you approach Reykjavik, you have two routes to choose from so we chose the shortest. We didn’t realize at the time that it was shorter because we would be going through a tunnel beneath the fjord! It is nearly 6 km long and 541 feet deep. This was our only toll tunnel, costing 1,000 isk which you can pay by cash or credit card. Although they have a series of huge fans designed to blow out all of the vehicle exhaust, they were very inneficient so I would strongly recommend switching your vehicle to inside air before entering.

This is the last entry in my Iceland Ring Road adventure. There are nearly 80 photos here in total so make sure you scroll to the bottom to see them all. You can also click on a photo to enlarge it then click to go through all of the larger photos. Hope you enjoyed the blog and that it entices you to visit Iceland! Watch for my Iceland Golden Circle blog to be published in a few days.

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