Iceland is a wonderful country for wildlife spotting. As we saw many species in different location I decided to put them all together in one post.
After our four days at Bragdavellir Cottages it was time to move on to Vik on the south coast of the Island. We had an early start as we had a few stops planned on the way, the first being at Höfn, famous for its scenic views of Vatnajökull (the largest ice cap in Europe by volume). Unfortunately as you will see below clouds somewhat interfered with the view.
Our main stopping point on the way to Vik was Jökulsárlón or as it is more commonly called, and more easily pronounced, Glacier Lagoon. Situated at the head of the Breiðamerkurjökull glacier, it developed into a lake after the glacier started receding from the edge of the Atlantic Ocean. As you can see below its pretty spectacular and you can have a boat tour to get a closer look.
Next stop was a wander to the foot of the Skaftafellsjökull glacier in the Skaftafell National Park.
And finally on to Vik to pick up some supplies before heading on another 10k to our cabin, making a journey of over 360k for the day. We stayed at Mid Hvoll Cottages
We stayed here for three nights and had some fine walks around the area.
After our three days in Vik we were off to the bright lights of Iceland’s capital city Reykavik but not before two more stops on the south of the island. Firstly the spectacular Skógafoss waterfall.The Skógafoss is one of the biggest waterfalls in Iceland with a width of 25 metres (82 feet) and a drop of 60 m (200 ft).
You can walk up to the top of the waterfall and carry on for many miles into the island. The scenery looked spectacular and we would have loved to have had the time to hike further than the couple of miles that we did.
We then moved on to a view of Eyjafjallajokull, the volcano that erupted in 2010 and caused havoc with planes across Europe being grounded for days. The farm in the picture below was covered in thick ash during the volcano and the people from the farm are featured in an excellent film about the eruption showing in the visitors centre.
After our visit to Detifoss we set off on our journey to Djúpivogur on the east coast. Most of the way was on Route 1. The weather was dull but mostly dry but cloud levels were low so views were not great. We stopped off at Egilsstaðir, the largest settlement in eastern Iceland with a population of just over 2,000, for lunch, food shopping and of course a visit to Vinbudin the state liquor store.
Shortly after leaving Egilsstaðir we left Route 1 for a shortcut on Route 939, a gravel road also called Oxi after the pass it goes over. If you think of Oxi as a gravel road in the mould of The Wrynose pass but about 18k long then you get some idea of what it’s like. Add in the complication of it being in the clouds with resurfacing work going on but with no contraflow and you will see that made it an interesting drive. However, glimpses between the clouds showed some fine potential views so we returned to drive over in good weather a few days later, see photos further down the blog.
Now you may have wondered why the title of the blog is ICELAND-LAND OF FIRE, ICE AND LUPINES, well the lupine part anyway. The reason is that Iceland is covered in them. Apparently they were introduced from Alaska to stabilise the soil.
Our accomodation was one of some fine cabins at Bragdavellir Farm about 10k past Djúpivogur. The best place we stayed. Well appointed cabin, excellent WiFi, pleasant, helpful owners and fine walks on the farm itself, what more could you want? Oh, and its own 30m high waterfall Snædalsfoss.We were staying for four nights, many people only stay a night and there were quite a few entries in the visitors book regretting not staying longer.
We had some fine walks on the farm from the cabin.
And a short phone video from the same spot. A superb spot for a wild camp, now where’s my tent?
We decide that we wanted to back over The Oxi Pass in good weather and fortunately a break in the weather allowed us to. The map below has the route. Our cabin is marked with a pin near the bottom of the map. We followed Route 1 north along the coast to Breiðdalsvík, a small fishing village. Then Route 1 goes inland, becomes a gravel road and gains height through some splendid scenery until it meets the Oxi pass road, Route 939. Enjoy the photos.
The nearest village to the cabin is Djúpivogur about 10k away. Djúpivogur has a pleasant harbour, with an excellent cafe with a museum attached. I can thoroughly recommend the cakes at the cafe and the only hotel has a restaurant where we had the “unofficial” Icelandic national dish…pizza! It seems to be on every restaurant’s menu, probably because it is relatively cheap.
We started off our journey from Grundarfjörður in sunshine but by the time we reached our overnight stop in Akureyri it was cloudy and it would stay cloudy for the next few days. We also had our first major experience of “gravel roads” with about a quarter of today’s drive spent on them. Knowing when a road is going to be a gravel road is not straight forward. Many maps do not differentiate. Parts of the same road can be gravel and parts tarmac. Roadside information boards with maps do not tell you and indeed may describe a gravel road as a main route! Having said that the gravel roads are mostly of good quality and more like flat, hard earth roads with not much gravel.
We were only staying for one night in Akureyri but with an early start we could knock off the 90k journey to Lake Myvatn by 9.30am. The plan was to spend most of the day there then go and check in at our cottage the other side of Husavik, returning to Lake Myvatn the following day.
Akureyri is where Einstök Beer is brewed. Unfortunately we could not find anywhere selling it! Better go to Booths in Windermere then.
Our accommodation in Akureyri was not as good as advertised. The lesson to be learnt is don’t book an apartment that could be any one of a number of different properties in the same town. It’s too easy for the owners to upload many photos from the best apartments and just a couple of carefully selected shots from the not so good.At least the fast food outlet below had shut down.
On the way up to Husavik we passed a large greenhouse complex heated by geothermal energy.
Our accomodation was about 40km past Husavik in a remote area. This was our furthest north at just over 66 degrees and less than 40 miles from the arctic circle. At this time of year, late June, it never gets dark in Iceland. The sun does go down for a few hours but its still quite light.
Alcohol is only available to buy in bars, restaurants and from a retail point of view the state owned Vinbudin chain of liquor stores. Prices in the stores are about twice the UK rate for wine and beer is about the same as specialist beers in an off-licence here. In a restaurant wine is very expensive and beer £5-£6 for 500ml. More about beer when we get to Reykjavik.
Husavik is the main centre for whale watching trips. They have a 98% success rate. Guess what? Yes, we were one of the 2%. Three hours and we saw no whales but we did see some dolphins. If you don’t see any whales you get to go again for free. Unfortunately the day we had left the weather was very poor so we did not go.
Instead of going whale watching on our last day near Husavik we went to Asbrygi in the Jökulsárgljúfur National Park
So our time in the north had come to an end. But we had one more attraction to visit in the north on our way to the east coast which would turn out to be our favourite part of the island.
Dettifoss is 100m wide and has a drop of 45m and is claimed to have the largest volume of water flowing over it of any waterfall in Europe.
About a kilometer upstream from Dettifoss is Selfoss another spectacular waterfall.
Video of Dettifoss
For our trip to Iceland we decided that we wanted to tour round the outside of the island, based on Route 1 but to stay several days in each place so we could explore properly. It was always going to be a combination of normal tourist activities as well as hiking but my continuing problems with my heel meant that it would be more of the former and less of the latter.
We flew with Easyjet from Manchester on a Thursday and flew back on a Tuesday nearly three weeks later.We arrived at Keflavik Airport, about 30 miles south of the capital Reykjavik, at about 8.30 in the morning and by 9.30 we had picked up our hire car and were on our way to Grundarfjörður on the Snæfellsnes Peninsula on the west side of the island. We decided, as we had plenty of time, to detour off Route 1 on to Route 47 which takes you round the magnificent Hvalfjörður Fjord and with views like the ones below we were glad we did.
Route 47 after going all the way round the fiord delivered us back to Route 1 and we then had the short drive to Borgarnes for a lunch stop, to buy supplies and of course a visit to Vinbudin, the state operated liquor store. More about that in the next blog.
We also spent an enjoyable hour visiting The Borgarnes Settlement Centre which traces the early history of Iceland from AD 870 when the first Viking settlers arrived.
Just after leaving Borgarnes we left Route 1 for Route 54 towards the Snæfellsnes Peninsula. After about 35 miles we came to the junction with Route 56 which we were to take. There was a dubious looking cafe and petrol station, see photo below, but as we both needed the toilet we thought we would give it a go. Lesson One in Iceland, never judge a facility by its appearance outside. Inside was a very pleasant cafe with excellent staff. The staff, who were all young spoke perfect “American”, sometimes to each other. Most older Icelandic people speak good English but with an Icelandic accent.
We then just had a short journey to our first overnight stop at the delightful small town of Grundarfjörður. We were staying at the Grundarfjordur Guesthouse and Apartments. We had a room with a communal kitchen and sitting area. Again the building did not look up to much, in fact it looked like a warehouse, see photo below, but was very pleasant inside.
The town itself is very pretty and surrounded by magnificent scenery including the iconic Kirkjufell Mountain allegedly the most photographed mountain in Iceland.
The next day was probably the sunniest of the holiday. Typically daytime temperatures were between 12 and 18 degrees.We set off to go round the Snæfellsnes Peninsula coast taking in the Snæfellsjökull National Park containing the mountain Snæfellsjökull which is a 700,000-year-old stratovolcano with a glacier covering its summit at a height of 1,446 m (4,744 ft). Its famous for featuring in the novel Journey to the Center of the Earth by Jules Verne, in which the protagonists find the entrance to a passage leading to the center of the earth on Snæfellsjökull.
We passed through the viallges of Olafsvik, Rif, Hellinsandur, Hellnar and Arnarstapi.
The next day we headed further east to Stykkishólmur, where the ferry to the Westfiords sets off, and then worked our way back to Grundarfjörður with a few interesting stops including Helgafell (Holly Mountain) which it was once decreed that no one should urinate within sight of it!