Iceland, counter clockwize

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March 16th 2008
Published: March 16th 2008
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Day 1

Ever since reading Desmond Bagley's Running Blind, I have been fascinated with Iceland and in the summer of 2006 I finally had the chance to book the trip I wanted. We flew from Heathrow to Kevlavik, were collected at the airport by a taxi, checked into our guest house in Reykjavik and reported to the travel agency to collect the details about the trip. A series of guest houses around Iceland had been booked for us and the details of the trip were discussed in detail. Soon enough we stood outside and found a nice restaurant where they served the most delicious lamb with roasted potatoes, a first taste of a dish we would encounter many more times on this island. The next morning we collected our rental car, a tiny Chevrolet, and we drove off to circumnavigate Iceland, counter clockwise, via Highway 1.

Day 2

Our first stop took us to Thingvellir which is an enormous geologic rift between the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates. Then on to Geysir and Gullfoss; the Strokkur, a few meters away from the more famous Geysir was very obliging by erupting every 5 or 10 minutes. Geysir itself does only erupt infrequently and has in the past stopped altogether for years at a time. 10km further was Gullfoss where the White River (Hvítá) plunges in two stages (11m and 21m) into a crevice 32m deep. Mighty impressive, the air filled with the fog and the roar of the water. We had now completed the most famous sights of Iceland, the Golden Circle, but we needed to to keep an eye on the clock as our guest house that night would be in Vik, another 180km further to the south-east.

Before arriving in Vik, I wanted to stop at Dyrholaey, a bird sanctuary which is also the southernmost part of the country. Furthermore it is famous for the arch of rock and the pretty lighthouse.

Vik is a small fishing village with a black sand beach and a puffin colony. The guest house room was tiny and noisy with a big French group staying on the same floor at the same time. We had a great dinner at a nearby restaurant (trout) and visited the tiny church.

Day 3

The next day we were up really early and decided to walk to the beach before finding some breakfast. The black sand was kind of surreal with the upcoming sun behind it. We walked up to the puffin colony and enjoyed watching the clownish birds feed and sitting at their nests. I had not brought my camera, the ruckus of the neighbours had left me grumpy after little sleep and I feared that the choice to stay in guest houses had been a poor one. (Actually this was the only bad night and we really enjoyed the guest houses on Iceland as it is a great way to get to meet the locals and the tourists.)

A small river cut through the beach to run into the sea and with the upcoming sun behind it, I rushed back to our room to get my camera and monopod. By the time I got back, several other people had come out to the beach and some were walking into the shots I had pictured for myself. With the light changing quickly now, I had to shoot now even though it would mean that someone was in the picture. To my happy surprise, the pictures with the lonely figure worked out really well.

We had breakfast and we were off to the next stop: the Skaftafell national park with the Skaftafellsjökull glacier coming down from the Vatnajökull ice cap. We walked up to the glacier via a footpath, we arrived at the viewing point but the glacier was nowhere near there and we had to walk a couple of hundred meters further to get close to it. Given the fact that it was only early summer and the viewing point seemed to be constructed to be really close to the glacier, it gave the impression that the glacier was retreating at a rapid pace.

We drove on to the glacial lagoon at Jökulsárlón which the shortest river on Iceland and appeared first only in 1934-1935 because of heavy melting of the Icelandic glaciers. The lake is filled with icebergs calving off the Breiðamerkurjökull glacier and it is deep, 200m at least. The mixture of sea and freshwater created an environment with lots of fish and seals. The icebergs appear blue after turning over and turn slowly white under the influence of sun and weather. Amphibious cars were used to tour the lagoon. The lagoon had featured in the first Lara Croft: Tombraider film. We continued to our guest house for the night which turned out to be a dormitory room in a school. This might sound bad, but it was actually quite good. There was no restaurant or any village close by so we drove to Höfn for dinner (trout and lamb).

Day 4

Via Höfn we drove north on the Highway 1 and we entered the area with fjords which are a bit frustrating as you could see the piece of road you drove on half an hour earlier 500m away, on the other side of the fjord. Until this point, the Highway 1 had been nicely paved but now we came across longer and longer stretches of gravel road with fewer and fewer villages and gas stations. This day was going to be our longest day in the car as we had to make it all the way to Mývatn.
Once we left the sea and had ascended onto the plateau the landscape changed dramatically crossing large areas of black ashes before descending towards Mývatn. Just before Mývatn, a thermal spring was created from exhaust water from the thermal electricity plant. We stopped and soaked our bodies tired of sitting in the car all day. We didn't have a chance to visit the more famous Blue Lagoon spa close to Reykjavik, but this was probably even better as at the end of that long day we were really longing for it. Subsequently we visited the Dimmuborgir, a large area of unusually shaped lava fields east of Mývatn. The guest house was on a farm a couple of kilometres away from Highway 1; we had lamb for dinner.

Day 5

We left early and drove up to Husavik to get out on one of those whale spotting boats. We had no idea that the last three days all outings had been cancelled due to the strong wind, but that day the boats were sailing again. We got in the queue and bought tickets and we got handed seasickness tablets and a raincoat. We ran up to the car to get extra jumpers out and our hats and gloves.

I usually have no problem with seasickness but the sea looked rather rough and the boat very small so I decided to take it. Several boats sailed around the same time and we set off into the bay. With help of radio messages from the other boats, it didn't take long before we were in the middle of a pack of humpbacks and a little later we ran into a Blue Whale. Actually, you see very little of the whale as usually you only catch the fountain of water spouting up when the whale blows or a quick glimpse of the dorsal fin. Only one time did we see a humpback lift its tail. The whole trip was very enjoyable and I would recommend everybody to take the trip.
On the way to our guest house in Akureyri , the second largest city in Iceland, I discovered that I had been driving but no idea how I got there. The seasickness tablet was really messing with my head and we stopped at a parking and slept for an hour before continuing. The guest house was in the middle of Akureyi and we just had enough time for some shopping and a couple of beers. Dinner was a Chinese set menu at the local Chinese restaurant with absolutely no trout or lamb.

Day 6 and return

On the last leg back to Reykjavik we both felt exhausted and even though there were a couple of famous waterfalls at Barnafossar, the detour of about 60km was not very tempting and we decided to skip them and continue straight to Reykjavik while only stopping at the Grabrok crater to walk to the top. In Reykjavik dropped off the car and checked in to the same guest house as upon arrival. We went to the same restaurant as it was the best and the cheapest lamb we had had in Iceland.
The next day we made our way to the bus station to get on the bus to the airport after visiting the famous Hallgrimur church which turned out a bit of a disappointment on the inside. There were few buses and lots of passengers so the bus got sort of stormed while the bus driver suffered some kind of nervous breakdown and got in a fight when parents wanting to get their kids or luggage out of the bus when it turned out that the bus was full. Chaos! A little later two more airport buses showed up so it turned out to be a lot of stress for nothing. :-)

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