Iceland in a Campervan - East Fjords to Snæfellsnes peninsula


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August 6th 2017
Published: August 6th 2017
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Driving my campervan in the foggy south-eastern coast of Iceland I was realizing that I did not have enough time to visit all the places I wanted to visited in the East, North and West Iceland along the Ring road. I had planned a trip for 11 days, 6 of which were already gone covering Golden Circle and the South. Should I just return via the same route I had taken or should I go via North? If the weather was going to be bad in the north and great in the south, the choice would have been clear. But forecast looked iffy all around. So I continued into the fog,



Near Hofn, one of the main attractions for photography is a mountain called Vestrahorn. It is located near Stokksnes beach. Having looked at the weather forecast, prospects looked gloomy. It had rained all right. Morning too came with the same thick clouds and rain. Anyway, I just headed out to Stokksnes beach to see what I could see. Saw a couple asking for a lift. Hitch-hiking is one way of travelling in Iceland and I did see a few travelers asking for lift. I had no space in my van, things just spread around in the back and in passenger seat at the front. So I just moved on hoping somebody would stop for them. The coast drive to Stokksnes beach would have been lovely had the sun been out but I was just seeing fog and clouds covering the mountain top.

Since this place has become popular with photographers and tourists, coffee shop guy at the place charges money for parking. Not sure if he is allowed to do that but he does it anyway. That's what I had read in the web. Anyway I did not have to pay as I was not going to see anything! There was no hope of sun breaking out and painting its magic on the Vestrahorn. The mountain was barely visible in the fog. After roaming and mulling around for a while and checking clouds, wind and rain maps fot the next 24 hours in the website en.vedur.is, I decided to move on. I had to miss this iconic vista.

I thought the weather might be better in the Eastern Fjords so I continued on the Ring road. But the spell of fog continued to cast its blanket on the mountain. Waiting for fog to lift was an option but I drove on as I still had a long way to go around this beautiful country.



A few hours later, I reached the small village of Djúpivogur. The weather had not improved. The thing with foggy and cloudy weather is that you don't get an idea of what you are missing, more so in a mountainous area!

Past the village of Djúpivogur, I saw a bunch of vehicles parked on a gravel road nearby. The attraction there turned out to be Sveinsstekksfoss waterfall. Many waterfalls in Iceland have this blue tinge as it is coming straight from melting glaciers. Sveinsstekksfoss had a pronounced one at the bottom.



Seydisfjordur

I went past another village, Reyðarfjörður, as weather was still the same. I continued towards the town of Seydisfjordur which is one of the best areas to visit in East Iceland. Luckily the sun came out as I drove into the largest town in the east, Egilsstaðir. After snacking up a bit, I drove on this beautiful route 93 from Egilsstaðir to Seydisfjordur. Well, beautiful, because the sun was out and I could see the landscape! After driving a bit, I saw a few chunks of ice floating on the lake. Had to stop here. Luckily there was a parking area at one spot. The ice was coming from the nearby mountains as summer sun was melting the winter snow. Some of these chunks seemed glacial as they had this blue tinge!

I arrived at the town of Seydisfjordur and checked in at the camp ground there. Roamed around a bit looking at the houses alongside the lake. A serene, picturesque location.

I wish I had more that to explore Seydisfjordur. Next day, after roaming around a bit in the town, I left the area. I had researched hiking in this area and there are some good choices. I was particularly interested in the trail to Mt.Bjólfur and the snow avalanche barriers. I inquired about it at the reception of the campsite in Seydisfjordur. I managed to find the start of the trail. It was getting a bit windy by this time though the sun was out. The trail did not look like something my van could negotiate. I was not thinking about hiking to the summit this time around, so I moved on.



Puffins

I had not seen puffins so far in Iceland. I had passed one site where I could see puffins in the south coast. It is the Ingólfshöfði nature reserve. They do a 2-3 hour tour that cost about $75. I did see the exit for it when I was driving on Route 1 in the south but it was just past 10 am and I did not have time to catch their morning tour that was to start at 10:30. Not willing to wait till the afternoon tour, I continued, knowing that East Iceland also provides me a location to spot these cute birds. The location is the village of Borgarfjörður Eystri. The road from Egilsstaðir to Borgarfjörður Eystri is good for the most part. But there are sections of gravel too. I was not sure if I would see puffins but I continued as the drive was beautiful. I stopped at a few places in between for photos and a bit of hiking.

Later, I arrived at a parking lot. There was a hill where I could some some people as well as birds. Since this area is remote, seeing a bunch of cars parked gave me hope that this area has to be it! I walked to the bottom of the small hill where some people were looking at some birds. On closer look, the birds turned out to be puffins!! Exciting! Till now I had only seen them in photographs and videos.

I explored the area. There is even a small building with windows to watch the puffins. There are 100s of them in this area. They were flying, resting and catching sand eels. I could watch them for hours but I had to move on! After spending 2-3 hours in the area, I started the drive towards North Iceland.



Dettifoss and Lake Myvatn

After meeting Route 1, the first attraction I visited was the Dettifoss waterfall.The first exit I saw for Dettifoss is the road 864 which is mostly gravel. What I had read on the web is that the view of Dettifoss from east side is better. I had driven quiet a bit on gravel by this time but I just don't like gravel! So I took the paved 862 and settled for the view from the west side.

On the way to Dettifoss, I ran into something that looked strange. All of a sudden I was driving on an inch of snow. From a clear road to a section of the same road that had an inch of snow seemed weird. It is as if a small cloud just dumped about half a kilometer wide snow on the road! Within a few minutes of driving I was past this snow and the road was clear again!

Dettifoss is a powerful waterfall. Wind was blowing the droplets all around. I also went to the nearby Selfoss waterfall though I did not get close to it as the area was a bit water-logged. It was past mid-night and I had to find a camp site. Before retiring for the day, I visited the Hverarönd geo-thermal area.



Next day, I visited the Hverarönd or Namaskard or Hverir geo-thermal area again. There are a bunch of names for this place! Near this location on the other side of the Ring road is a blue lake. Looked photogenic. Steam was blowing out of one hole. Sulfurous smoke was billowing out in another sections. A young guy asked me to walk into it. And I walked into that cloud of smelly smoke. Felt a bit surreal as I could not see anything once inside it.

I drove around the Lake Myvatn. One area, Dimmuborgir Rock Formations, had a lot of visitors around the time I was there. A lot of tourists buses had driven into the parking lot. I was wondering what is there to see here and why so many people are there in one location! But I did not check this place out. There is also Myvatn nature baths in this area but I did not have time for a dip there! I had already realized by this time that Iceland's Ring road is not 'doable' in 10 days if you want to do justice to it! There is plenty to see, photograph and experience. Weather though plays a big part when touring Iceland and you'll likely lose many hours to 'outdoor-unfriendly' weather!



After leaving Lake Myvtan and going west, one major attraction right by the Ring road is Goðafoss waterfall. Here you are close to the top of the waterfall and you can go quiet close to the edge of it. Impressive!



Tröllaskagi peninsula

One part of North Iceland I was interested in is the Tröllaskagi peninsula. After making a quick visit to the second largest city in Iceland, Akureyri, I drove towards the town of Siglufjörður. However, the sky was gloomy and top of the mountains were obscured by clouds and fog. Anyway, I continued my drive on route 82 and 76 passing through a few long tunnels.

I arrived at Siglufjörður. I drove around a bit. It was getting late. Well there is no getting late in Iceland in summer as there is no darkness but still after a lot of driving around, I wanted to crash in my makeshift bed in the backseat of my van. I could have done it at any location but being a law-abiding kind, I refrained from parking and sleeping outside of camp grounds! I did see a few people parked outside of camp grounds all around the country sleeping in their camper-vans. I wonder how many of them get ticketed. Iceland has a small population, so few police and plenty of remote locations!

I made a beeline towards the village of Blönduós where there is a campsite. I reached there well after mid-night.



Snæfellsnes peninsula

Now there was only one more area I had planned on visiting. The Snæfellsnes peninsula. Well there is plenty to see between Akureyri and Snæfellsnes if you have time. The Westfjords would need at least a few days to explore so I had not planned on visiting there. So I just targeted Snæfellsnes peninsula as this area is popular among locals too. By the time I reached there sun was out. Weather forecast looked good at least for a day. I drove around the peninsula, starting from south. Visited Hellnar. I had read about a scenic coastal walk from Hellnar to Arnarstapi. I walked for half an hour on this trail but decided to head back. By this time I had already seen lot of makestic sights in Iceland, so somehow this coastal walk on a bright sunny day did not inspire me to continue! Probably I would have walked the full lenght of it if I had started from Reykjavik going around the country in clockwise direction and arriving at Snæfellsnes towards the beginning and not towards the end of my trip!

At one location, I was trying to take a picture of lupines and I got attacked by Arctic terns! This was the second time I got attacked. First time was in Dyrholaey in the south. They are just not scared of people! Angry birds!

Snæfellsjökull glacier is visible from all over. There have to be activities around this glacier though I had not planned on anything here. Snæfellsnes peninsula has a lot to offer but I had not researched it well. So I just drove around, stopped at a few places. Interestingly, a clear sky made the landscape a bit less dramatic!

I also visited the village of Stykkishólmur. They have boat tours from here though I did not take one. My next stop towards the end of the day was the Kirkjufell mountain. Not rated high by the locals but considered a 'must-shoot' for photographers. There are 3 small falls called Kirkjufellsfoss across the road from the Kirkjufell mountain. So the mountain is one thing, falls are another thing, both separated by a road. A photographer has to align the two when taking a snap. There is just one spot to take this snap from. One way to find this place is to look for bunch of photographers and their tripods standing side by side!

The sun was setting to the left of the mountain. And it took a while to go down. Sunset occurs in slow motion in northern latitudes during long summer days allowing ample time to take pictures. The color in the sky can come out only when the sun is out. And tonight it was out. After about an hour, I moved on from this place as it was getting colder. It was past mid-night now. I had to find a campsite. But the sun was setting on one side and the clouds ahd begun rolling in from the other side. The magic of a long Icelandic sunset and sunrise was just beginning.

I just drove this night in the north side of the peninsula visiting Hellissandur, Ólafsvík, Grundarfjörður and finally Stykkishólmur where I had seen a campsite earlier in the day. I tried finding a campground between Hellissandu and Grundarfjörður but could not locate one. On the other hand I was 'distracted' by the sky that was just exploding in color. Shades of pink, orange painted the clouds. Between sunset just around mid-night and the sunrise just before 3 am, I wandered on the road back and forth a few times looking for a camp ground. I just took a few casual shots of the sky. If this was the kind of sky I was going to see most nights of my trip, I would definitely have tried sleeping during day and roaming around at night!

After sunrise, I drove towards Stykkishólmur camp ground. Reached there around 4 am.



Next day's forecast was not looking good. This was going to be my second last day in Iceland. I left the camp ground around noon. Given the weather, there was no more urge to sight-see! I started my drive towards Reykjavik. Before heading to Reykjavik, I wanted to take a detour to Hraunfossar falls, also called the Lava Falls.

However, the weather was really windy today. The locals seemed to be having no issues driving but my camper van was swerving a bit. At one point visibility was reduced considerably due to fog. One powerful gust from the left shook me a little. I was now driving very slowly with firm grip on steering. Looking at the other vehicles passing me, I was getting the idea why campervans and motor homes are not advisable specially in winter when the winds can be real bad.

After emerging out of that patch of bad weather, I continued driving towards Lava falls. I I was able to reach the parking lot of the Laval falls following the directions of my phone. Earlier in the trip, I was not able to locate Brúarfoss waterfall using my phone's directions. But locating Hraunfossar did not pose any issues. Hraunfossar is not just one waterfall. There are many mini falls seemingly coming out of nowhere.



I drove towards Reykjavik, passing the towns of Borgarnes and Akranes. It was still windy but not as bad as earlier.

I reached Reykjavik Campsite at night. It had been cloudy, rainy all day. I could not find a place for my van on the camp grounds so I just parked it at the parking lot and dozed off in the makeshift bed in the back.

Next day, my flight was after 4 pm. I visited Hallgrimskirkja church and walked around a bit in the city. I returned the van later in the day at Go Campers location, took a Flybus to the airport. Interestingly, the sun was coming out of the clouds as the bus was reaching the airport!


Additional photos below
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8th August 2017

Weather
I had some of the same weather problems in Alaska ... low clouds and rain cannot see the mountains! However you seem to have managed to get some amazing photos.. and there is great info about what to see there . I hope I can do the ring road some time.
8th August 2017

Thanks Lynne
Yes, Icelandic weather is dynamic. When sun is out, clouds are not far behind! Clouds are actually good for photography but when fog and clouds obscure the mountain tops, then you and your camera are not seeing much!
9th August 2017

Wow!
What a wonderful way to see Iceland! I am now thinking I'd like to do the same. Your pictures are amazing. You did a great job capturing the essence of this country!
10th August 2017

Thanks Andrea
You should do the same. Or see Iceland in any other way. The landscape and natural beauty of the country is inspiring and unique in its own way!
29th August 2017
puffin with catch

Love puffins
One of my favorite birds. Great shot. MJ
29th December 2017
floating ice near Seydisfjordur

The joys of Iceland
Fantastic photo.
30th December 2017
floating ice near Seydisfjordur

Thanks. The clouds and fog had cleared up as I drove towards Seydisfjordur on route 93 when I came across this nice scene. Had to stop to see the cloud touching down on the lake!
25th February 2018
north iceland

Great picture Hem. Very dramatic!
25th February 2018
north iceland

Thanks Andrea. It's a shot of some volcano visible from route 1 in northern part of the country.
1st June 2018

Cold and Wet - but it's wonderful
Hi Hem, You're quite right, eleven days is not enough. Good to see you did the motorhome bit - we chose to leave ours at home when we went last year and had two weeks of B&B - just enough time to get all the way around, but it's hard work on those roads isn't it? Great blog - well done. David. Grey-haired-nomads
3rd June 2018

Cold and Wet - but it's wonderful
Hi David. Thanks for commenting. Yes, it was cold and wet at times. That's what you'll get given the geography of the island but it is beautiful nonetheless. The vehicle I rented was just a small van that could sleep two. I guess, B&Bs would be a right choice outside of the summer season. The van I drove is not recommended from Oct to April. It just could not handle the Icelandic winds though I faced rough weather only for a small stretch in Snæfellsnes peninsula. Yes, 11 days is not enough. A lot to see and explore.
7th August 2018

Great Review!
I enjoyed reading about your time in Iceland! We were just there in May, 2018, and had both good & bad weather too --- from driving sleet and rain for the Golden Circle, better for South Coast tour, and sunny for the Snaefellsnes Peninsula. Wish we had been as lucky as you in seeing Puffins!

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