Lýðveldið Ísland (Iceland) - Land of Fire and Ice
Travel pictures from Iceland
by Günther Eichhorn
In fact, several tourist attractions were already closed for the season, they close at the end of August. What I missed most were the birds. Nesting season was over, and most of the birds had already left. I was hoping to still see some of the puffins, but no such luck.
The one thing about Iceland that is remarkable in a negative way is the cost. Iceland is hideously expensive. A beer costs $10, fuel costs $1.90 per liter ($7.50 per gallon). An inexpensive meal in a restaurant costs $30, most of the time it is more like $40 - $60. Hotels are expensive as well ($150 and up). I stayed in Hostels a couple of time ($40 - $50), but I just don't like having the bathroom across the hall. One good part here is that all the natural attractions are free to visit. There are no entry fees to any of the parks, water falls, geysers, or other interesting points. Activities like snowmobiles or kayaks on the other hand are again quite expensive. The snowmobile trip was about $110 and the kayak trip was $90.
To get around I rented a 4 wheel drive Suzuki Jimmy. It was a good choice, I got through everything. Iceland has a lot of unimproved roads. In the interior there are a lot of routes that can only be negotiated with such 4-wheel drive vehicles. And don't think you can handle them in a Subaru passenger car. There are no bridges over the smaller rivers. Some of these rivers that have to be crossed are deep. A passenger car would float away. The deepest ford that I crossed was over 1 m (3 ½ ft) deep. Even the Jimmy got a little light on its wheels, but got through.
I criss-crossed all over Iceland, driving over 5,000 km total (3,200 miles). It was a lot of fun, I like that kind of driving. In the interior there is not much traffic, you may see three or four cars along the whole Sprengisandur, the main road through the center of Iceland.
4WD roads are marked specially on maps (see Map of Iceland). But other roads can be unpaved as well. Even the main ring road, Route 1, has some unpaved sections. These unpaved roads are not marked separately on maps. They are mostly in decent shape, but can get pretty bumpy in places. The speed limit is 90 km/h (56 mph) on paved roads, and 80 km/h (50 mph) on unpaved roads. There are not all that many unpaved roads where you can drive faster than that. The speed limit on paved roads is a bit low, especially considering that there is not much traffic in general. I didn't take that limit too literal while I was there.
My itinerary is shown in red on the map of Iceland. Some of the roads are quite challenging. On one occasion I drove through three fjords, ending up in a dead-end fjord and having to turn back. The track over the mountains between the fjords was the steepest that I drove on. The road was just a track and the slope was in excess of 30% in some places.
There are some road signs that are not common in other countries (see pictures). Especially the signs about 4WD roads and river crossings are noteworthy. On my first day in Iceland I got to one of the big warning signs before a river crossing. At that time I didn't have enough experience with the car and how it handles water, so I was cautious and turned back. Once I had more experience how the car handled rivers I had no problem crossing such river fords.
One sign that you see very frequently is for one-lane bridges. Many, if not most bridges, certainly all of them on unpaved roads are one lane only. Whoever gets there first has the right of way. This is really not a problem, since the traffic density is so low, you rarely meet another car. I also drove through a couple of tunnels, the longer one was about 3.5 km (2 miles) long. They also were one lane only. To handle that, there are passing bays in regular intervals on one side of the road. The traffic that has the bays on their side is the one that has to give way to oncoming traffic. It works very well, especially since the traffic density is so low on these roads.
One thing that you need to watch out for is your fuel situation. There are often long stretches of road without fuel stations. The longest that I drove is the Sprengisandur, 240 km through the center of Iceland without a fuel station. I had a map that showed Esso fuel stations. There are of course others, but I based my calculations on the known stations. I always made sure I had enough fuel to get to where I wanted to go, or turn around and get back to the last station, in case I hit an impassable river.
Iceland is a small country as far as population goes. There are less than 300,000 Icelanders on that island, 180,000 of those live in greater Reykjavik. Akureyri, the second largest town has a population of some 16,000. That means that the population density in Iceland s very low. In most areas you see farmstead every few miles, sometimes nothing for 10 miles and more. Essentially nobody lives in the central part of the island. You can see many abandoned farms, where people have left the farm and moved to the city.
There are villages here and there, most are very small. Even the larger villages have only a few hundred people living there. Many people live in isolated farm steads. A lot of the farm steads have a small church with them. It seems to me as if a few farms get together and build a church and grave yard that serves the neighborhood. There are lots of different looking churches, from very small buildings with just a cross on them to larger churches with steeples. The variety of different looking churches was interesting to note. I saw one small church at the end of a dead-end valley in the middle of nowhere, with the ruins of a building next to it. It may still have been in use, since there were still three farms in that valley.
The people in Iceland were very friendly. Most speak English, so there was never a problem getting around. One evening I talked with a local man for a while. One topic was superstitions and beliefs in fairy tales, etc. It seems that people there very much belief in several kinds of supernatural beings. They are the hidden people, the little people, and the gnomes. The hidden people are similar to regular people in appearance, just more beautiful and somewhat taller. They are thought to be nice and friendly to humans. The little people are smaller than regular people. They are sometimes nice, sometimes mischievous and play tricks on people. The gnomes are generally nasty to people.
Seeing some of the landscapes that they associate with these supernatural beings, it is understandable. I visited one of the valleys where the hidden people are supposed to live. It was late in the day, and the setting and atmosphere was myth inspiring, if you understand what I mean.
Iceland has a long history, and in particular a long history of a democratic society, the longest in the world. They developed a government entity called the Þing (Thing) in the 9th. The Þings were assemblies of representatives of all groups in Iceland. They convened once per year and dealt with government issues and with disputes and feuds between different groups or individuals. The first Þings were held in the 9th century at Helgafell. This mountain was the holy mountain of the Norse God Þor (Thor).
In 930, the Þing moved to Þingvellier and became the Alþing, a more formal democratic organization. It stayed there till the 13th century. In 1262, the parliament surrendered to The Norwegians, and the Alþing was stripped of most of its power in 1271. It stayed there as a strictly judicial body till 1798, when it moved to Austurvöllur in Reykjavik, before being dissolved completely. It regained its power in 1843, but it decided to meet in Reykjavik, instead of returning to Þingvellir. This long tradition makes Iceland the by far longest lived democracy in the world, and by far the oldest of current democracies.
The main product in the country seems to be sheep. You see them everywhere. When I was there, they were harvesting hay everywhere. Every grass area had the big white marshmallow shaped bales of hay, enclosed in white plastic foil. Around the farm houses where huge piles of these white marshmallows of hay.
Another important commercial activity is fishing. I saw quite a few fishing boats. Unfortunately, Iceland intends to start whaling again. I think this is a really sad decision. There is really no need for whaling, anything that whales can provide can be provided through other means just as well. If I had known that before I planned my trip, I might have decided not to go.
Power generation in Iceland is done a lot by renewable natural resources. Much is hydro-electric power, but natural steam is used as well. The largest steam plant that I saw was at Kröflustöð, the site where drilling a steam well caused a major volcanic explosion.
Tourism is by now an important part of the economy, although the tourist season is fairly short (mostly July and August). I did not do the usual tourist things like the Blue Lagoon and Reykjavik. In fact I never went into Reykjavik at all, I don't like cities all that much. But there are other tourist activities that I enjoyed, in particular snowmobiling on Vatnajökull and white water kayaking. The snow mobile tour started near Smyrlabjargarárvirkjun at a car park at the ring road. We drove up the valley along the Skálafellsjökull glacier tongue to the Jöklasel glacier lodge. The outfit that does the snow mobiling was Glacier Jeeps. They run a pretty good operation. The trip is about 1.5 hours. They gear you up with overalls, boots, gloves and helmet. Then they give you an introduction into driving a snowmobile. They emphasize that you need to stay in the track, since there are crevasses all around the glacier. The guide said that if you do get off the track, stop. Don't try to drive back on your own, you may find a hidden crevasse instead of the track. You are supposed to wait for the guide to come back and get you back on track. It was a fun ride, the snowmobiles can go quite fast. It was pretty bumpy in most places, so you had to really hold onto your mount.
The other fun excursion was white water kayaking. I selected Ævintýraferðir, an outfit in Varmahlið. I was lucky on my trip. Normally they use the big rubber boats that hold about 10 - 12 people. But when I got there, they didn't have enough people for that, we were only three. So they gave each of us a separate rubber kayak. That was a lot more fun than being in one of these bigger boats. I could handle my own boat and didn't have to depend on what others do.
They outfitted us with a dry suit, boots, gloves, a helmet, and a paddle. Then they gave us instructions on what to do and what not to do. For instance, never loose your paddle. Without that your are really up the creek without a paddle if you have to go through rapids while overboard, float feet first. And of course follow the instructions of our guide.
We then took a drive up the valley to the starting point. It took us about an hour to get there. They put the kayaks in the river and we got in the boats. It was a little cumbersome at first with the bulky dry suits, but I got used to controlling the kayak pretty quickly and relaxed. One of the three of us never really got the hang of controlling his boat. He kept spinning round and round the whole two hours, hardly ever going straight. The trip took about two hours and was a lot of fun.
The last major tourist activity that I tried was whale watching. I tried that from Húsavík, which is supposed to be a great place for whale watching. Unfortunately we didn't see any whales, just a couple of dolphins. I had much better luck in Australia a few years earlier.
The scenery in Iceland is spectacular. It is mostly a volcanic island, so you see different volcanic formations everywhere. I saw some very impressive column basalt formations. When thick lava flows cool very slowly, they sometimes crystallize to form large columns with polygonal cross sections, so-called column basalts. These were especially impressive when there was a waterfall flowing over such a column basalt formation, like Svartifoss (Black Falls), named for the black basalt columns. Svartifoss is in Skaftafell National Park. You can reach it with an easy 2o minute walk.
Waterfalls are everywhere. Some of them were quite spectacular, one of them rivaling Niagara Falls. The lava flows generally have sharp edges that can be dozens of meters high, which makes them ideal for forming waterfalls.
Lava formations form some spectacular sights. There are large lava flows, volcanic craters, and bizarre lava columns. On the south-east coast there is a place near Dyrhólaey with some lava pinnacles and lava arches carved by ocean waves.
There are quite spectacular lava tubes in a few places. Raufarhólshellir is the most spectacular that I saw. It is about 15 m (50 ft) in diameter and 1.3 km (0.8 miles) long. It does not have a path in it, and no lighting. You have to climb over lava rocks with just your flash light. Since I had only a small flash light and not much time, I only went to the beginning of the tube. It is not a good idea to venture into a 1.3 km dark tunnel without a path, over man-sized rough boulders, with just one flash light. If that light fails you are in BIG trouble.
Since the island is volcanically very active, there are lots of hot springs and steam vents everywhere. Steam is used to provide power in a few places, most notably at Kröflustöð. This is the site of a very recent volcanic eruption in 1975. They were drilling a deep hole to tap into a large underground steam reservoir. The volcano didn't like that and blew its top. There is now a big crater. Parts of the drilling rig were found 3 km (2 miles)away, but miraculously nobody was killed.
The center of the island is covered mostly with volcanic ash, sand, and gravel (wherever it is not covered by ice caps). In a lot of areas there is nothing growing whatsoever. It reminds you very much on a moon scape.
One interesting mountain is Herðubreið. This mountain is a volcano that grew under an ice cap and got its characteristic shape from that. When Vatnajökull melts, the few mountains under that ice cap will look very similar.
Talking about Vatnajökull, ice caps are the other spectacular feature of Iceland. There are at least 13 of these ice caps in Iceland.
Here is a list with their size in km2:
The largest cap, Vatnajökull, is the 3rd largest ice cap in the world after Antarctica and Greenland. It is larger than all the other glaciers in Europe combined. It is about 120 km (75 miles) east-west and about 80 km (50 miles) north-south. All along the south-eastern coast of Iceland are glacier tongues reaching down the valleys from this large ice cap. In a couple of places they reach ocean inlets and produce icebergs. The most spectacular one of these is at Jökulsárlón.
Other smaller ice caps are in various parts of Iceland. The most famous of these is arguably Snæfellsjökull, in western Iceland. This is where Jules Verne staged the beginning of the journey in his book "Journey to the Center of the Earth".
The last impressive feature of Iceland are the Eastern and Western Fjords. These ice-carved valleys are beautiful to visit. I visited several of the Eastern Fjords at the beginning of my trip. Some of them are easily accessible, others can be reached only over wild tracks over the mountain range between adjacent fjords. I saw only a small part of the Western Fjords. I drove to the western-most part of Iceland, Látrabjarg. This is the western-most point of Europe. You drive along and through several of the fjords on the south side of the Western Fjord area. But as I understand it, the more beautiful areas are further north in the Western Fjords.
As far as flora is concerned, I was there late in the year, so I missed out on some. The vegetation for the most part is grasses and mosses. There may be some low bushes around, but not much more. This is in part due to the fact that there are sheep everywhere, so trees have no chance of growing. In most places they probably wouldn't grow anyway. In some places there are small wooded areas, in particular around Egilsstaðir. I saw a lot of wild flowers, they were still blooming at that time of year. But large areas are sparsely populated with plants or not at all.
In some areas, all the vegetation is mosses. This was especially beautiful on the 4WD road through Landsmannalauga The whole area is a bright green due to the moss cover. It looked quite spectacular.
As far as animals are concerned, it is all about birds. There is nothing else to see. The birds in general were very shy. They didn't let me et close at all, so it was difficult to get good pictures.
There are supposed to be some arctic foxes around, but they are rarely seen. There are no larger wild animals on Iceland. In the ocean there are dolphins and whales, unfortunately I didn't see any of the whales.
Unfortunately I was there after the nesting season was over, so I didn't get to seem as many birds as I hoped. I went to Látrabjarg, the western most tip of Iceland. In the cliffs in that area are nesting colonies of many of the birds, in particular the puffins. All I saw there were some seagulls and one cormorant. If you are interested in birds, you need to go much earlier in the season to see them.
The weather was a bit of a problem. It was already quite chilly, (around 5° C (40° F) at night, and around 10° C (50° F) during the day). It rained every day at least a little bit. Several of my days there were quite dreary with rain and low clouds most of the day. Half the days is was a 50-50 mixture of rain and sun, and a few days it was more sunny, with only a little rain.
I arrived in Keflavik, Reykjavik's international airport early in the morning. After I got my rental car, I headed south to the coast and then east. After only an hours drive I came across my first hot springs field near the south shore. From there I headed east, past Hella and got a hotel room in Hvolsvöllur. It was there that I got my first inkling about prices in Iceland. After I had my room I took the rest of the day exploring the area, including my first trip on a 4WD road to Þórsmörk. This is where I saw the warning sign for a difficult river ford the first time and decided to turn back. There are quite a few interesting places along the south shore. At Sólheimajökull you can see one of the glacier tongues coming down from Mýrdalsjökull. Skógarfoss was a nice waterfall that you can reach in a short walk.
The next day I took the 4WD road from Hella along the Hekla volcano, then east through Landsmannalauga, and then back to the ring road. My tour book was the Lonely Planet Guide. I have been traveling with this series of tour books for many years and I can really recommend them. This book said that the part of the road from Landsmannalauga east is quite difficult, with many river crossings. It was true that there were quite a few river crossings, but nothing too difficult. It was a good introduction to 4WD driving in Iceland to get familiar with how the car handles and how it works in rivers.
I continued on the ring road. At Skaftafell is a nice waterfall that you can reach after a 15 minute walk. Further north-east along the coast I saw Fjallsárlón and Jökulsárlón, two places where glaciers reach ocean lagoons and calve icebergs. I stayed overnight at Smyrlabjörg, close to where the snowmobile tours start.
The next morning I was ready for the snowmobile tour on Vatnajökull. I met the tour bus at the ring road and made sure I had a spot. I then drove up the valley to the glacier myself, instead of taking the bus. That saves you $30 and is much more fun for me. The snowmobile trip was a lot of fun (see above).
From there I continued along the ring road, past Höfn. When I got to the Eastern Fjords, I left the ring road and continued through some of the fjords. In the late afternoon I started looking for a hotel in Egilsstaðir. The first place I looked wasn't there anymore, it was a seasonal hotel that had already closed. I check out the tour book, and it recommended Seyðisfjörður as as a very picturesque village. I drove there and it was indeed very pretty. The hotel room there already had post-season prices, and was therefore less expensive than expected, so I decided to stay there for two nights and explore the area. Unfortunately these two days were pretty dreary with rain most of the time. I had planned to drive to Egilsstaðir, then up the lake and on to Snæfell at the Vatnajökull ice cap. Unfortunately I was in the clouds most the time. When I got to about 700 m (2300 ft) altitude and was still in the clouds, I decided it was time to turn back. I didn't want to go on the 4WD road up to the glacier in dense fog. So I turned around and headed back to Egilsstaðir and on to Borgarfjörður. Since my map showed a 4WD road going through two fjords and then back to Seyðisfjörður, I decided to take that road. I crossed to two mountain ranges on a wild, steep track. In the last valley, I went though a deep river (1 m, 3 ft deep), and then ended up the other side of the valley, were the ocean met the mountain. There was definitely no road going anywhere. So I turned back, through the river and over the two mountain ranges. It was a very enjoyable drive, I just love that kind of driving.
This was the only time I got a little nervous about fuel. On the way into the valleys I had passed a fuel station in Borgarfjörður. But when I got there on my way back, the pump didn't work. I had planned everything very conservatively, so I had enough to get back to Egilsstaðir. As it turned out, my credit card was blocked, the automatic fraud detection system had flagged it for unusual use. I had another one with me that did work, and a call to the credit card company later cleared it up again. But this is something you have to be aware of when you travel to foreign countries.
After another night in Seyðisfjörður, I followed Ring Road 1 through some desolate areas to the Mývatn area. Just before Reykjalið a couple of kilometers east of Mývatn is Hverarönd, a field with hot mud pools and steam vents. Not far from there is Krafla, a very recent volcanic area that erupted in 1975. This is also where the Kröflustöð steam power station is and the Sjálfskapar Viti crater that exploded during drilling for steam.
Mývatn is a large inland lake. It has a large volcanic crater next to it. In and around the lake are numerous so-called pseudo craters. These pseudo craters are not created by lava eruptions, they are created by steam eruptions. Steam erupts when hot lava flows into water logged soil. These steam explosions create craters up to a 100 m (300 ft) in diameter. The whole area around Mývatn is quite pretty. During the bird breeding season there are a lot of birds in that area.
From Mývatn I drove back a few km and then north to the Jökulsárgljúfur National Park, the Dettifoss and Selfoss area. There are some spectacular waterfalls along the course of the river Jökulsá á Fjöllum, one of them rivaling Niagara Falls in size and volume. At the north end of this area is the Ásbyrgi canyon, a valley carved out of a lava flow by an ancient large-volume flood. The flood was a so-called jökulhlaup, an immense flash flood, created by an eruption of the Grimsvötn caldera underneath Vatnajökull. This valley is one of the places where the hidden people are said to live.
From there I continued north, and then around a small peninsula to my next overnight stop, Húsavík. This is the major whale watching port in Iceland. Here I tried to stay in a Hostel the first time to see whether I could save some money. It was a nice place, but I just don't like the bathroom across the hall, and having to wait for the shower to be available in the morning.
The whale watching tour the next morning however was a dud. We didn't see any whales. But at least we saw a few dolphins playing around the ship.
After the tour I headed south, then east, back to were I had come from the previous day. I was looking for a place to stay close to the roads to the Askja Caldera and the Kverkfjöll glacier outflow. This would be one of the longer trips over 4WD roads with no fuel stations, so I wanted to find the closest place with fuel and lodging. I ended up in Möðrudalur, where I found that they sold fuel out of an above-ground tank, and had rooms available, even though it was a hostel with shared bathrooms. It wasn't too bad, there were only two other people there, and they had come back late from hunting and were not yet up when I took my shower.
I took off around 7:00, since I had a long days driving ahead of me. I headed south on the 4WD road to Kverkfjöll. There is a tourist hut there that provides simple accommodations for sleeping bags. At Kverkfjöll is one of the outflows of Vatnajökull. There is a huge cave where the water flows out of the glacier. It is probably about 20 m (60 ft) high. You are warned not to go inside the cave, because occasionally the roof caves in, which would ruin your day if it would hit you or trap you inside.
The area that you drive through is a high plains with smaller mountains. It is covered to a large degree by glacial gravel deposits. And there is always the huge glacial ice cap on the southern horizon, a large flat expanse of ice.
From Kverkfjöll I back tracked for a while and then turned west towards the Askja Caldera. This is a fairly recent volcanic feature, erupting in 1875. The eruption first created the large Askja caldera, 4 km (2.7 mi) in diameter. An eruption about 30 years later created a smaller caldera, with the lake Öskjuvatn, within the larger one. This lake is Iceland's deepest with 217 m (712 ft). This smaller caldera is about 2 km (1.3 mi) in diameter. Next to it is an active small crater that holds warm water. People go bathing in this small crater. You reach the small crater next to the Askja lake by a walk though almost half the large caldera. It takes about ½ hour to get there.
Now it was time to head back north. My fuel situation was good, so I decided to continue directly back to Reykjalið, not to my previous fuel stop. On this road I had to go through the deepest river, a little over 1 m (3 ½ ft) deep. It was close to some other people, so I wasn't too concerned. The little Suzuki Jimmy was up to the task and had no problems getting through. I continued through Reykjalið, on to Akureyri for my next overnight stop.
Akureyri is the second largest town in Iceland. I stayed there for a couple of nights. The next morning I was on my way to Varmahlið to go white water rafting. From what I can see, it seems to be the best place to do that. I saw one boat on a river going south in the area around Geysir, but it seemed a pretty tame river compared with the one I was on. After the rafting I continued north along the eastern shore of Skagafjörður. In Hólar is a so-called cathedral, one of the largest churches in Iceland. It is a very nice church in a scenic setting, but much smaller than what you normally consider a cathedral. It is worth stopping by.
I continued north along Skagafjörður, all the way to Siglufjörður, at the end of the road. This was where I passed through one of two major tunnels on my trip, the other one was on the way from there to Ólafsfjörður. From there I continued south along Eyjafjörður back to Akureyri. The next morning was another early start for the 240 km trip through the center of Iceland back to the south shore. This road is called the Sprengisandur. The Sprengisandur has three approaches, one from Varmahlið, the Skagafjörður approach, one from Akureyri, the Eyjafjörður approach, and one from the Goðafoss area, the Barðardalur approach. The approach from Akureyri is the most difficult one, so that is the one that I chose. It is a spectacular drive up a long valley. At the end of the valley you get to the high plains of central Iceland. These are the most desolate areas of Iceland, large areas of volcanic gravel and sand without any vegetation. You drive by Tungnafellsjökull, a small ice cap north-east of Vatnajökull, and then past Hofsjökull, the third largest ice cap in Iceland. Towards the end of the Sprengisandur you get to Þorisvatn, a lake that expanded to Iceland's second largest lake when water was diverted to it for power generation.
Once back in civilization, I headed for Gullfoss and Geysir. Gullfoss is spectacular waterfall. It reminded me to some degree on Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe, where the Zambezi falls over a wide ledge into a very narrow gorge. The Gullfoss is very similar to that. Geysir is the original geyser, that gave all its brethren, including Old Faithful in Yellowstone, their name. Unfortunately it doesn't erupt anymore. Fortunately a much smaller geyser, called Strokkur is right next to it. Strokkur erupts regularly every 5 to 15 minutes. It is easy to get nice pictures of these eruptions. From there I had enough time to continue on towards the west coast to Borgarnes, where I stayed the next night. In Borgarnes the weather was uncomfortable. It was pretty chilly and very stormy. For the next couple of day the incessant strong winds became somewhat irritating.
The next day I drove around the Snæfellsjökull peninsula. I had looked forward to seeing the ice cap where Jules Vernes located the adventures in his book "Journey to the Center of the Earth". Unfortunately the weather didn't cooperate, it was one of my worst days as far as weather was concerned. I drove over the 4WD road that goes over Snæfellsjökull, but I was in thick clouds all the time. The road was challenging with the rain, with lots of water flowing down the road, so that part was fun. But I didn't see anything of the icecap at all . I did stop by a small cave called Sönghellir. It has some 18th century graffiti. It is said to resound with the songs of dwarfs.
Back on the road along the shore, I visited the church at Ingjaldshóll, near Hellisandur-Rif, the first concrete church in Iceland.
From there I headed east along the north shore of the peninsula, on my way to Helgafell. This small mountain was the holy mountain of the Norse God Þor and the site of the first Þing. Unfortunately I couldn't walk up the mountain, because of the driving rain, and even more because of the storm. I couldn't stay on my feet when I started walking up the mountain, it threatened to literally blow me off my feet, so strong was the storm.
I continued east, then north to the West Fjord area. The drive along the south coast of the West Fjords, over the mountain ridges between the fjords and the through the fjords is very scenic. I stayed overnight at Flókalundur, a little village in Vatnsfjörður.
The next day I drove all the way west to Látrabjarg, the easternmost point of Iceland. The sea bird colony there was unfortunately already deserted. From what I understand, this is the best place to see the puffins, they seem to be very tame in this area and let you get very close.
From Látrabjarg I back tracked along the south shore of the West Fjords and then crossed over to the eastern shore along route 605, and then south towards the main part of the island. Around Baula on Route 1 I took some back roads east to Fljótstunga, where there is a nice lava tube. From there I drove to Barnafoss, a nice waterfall. Next to it is Hraunfossar, an interesting spring. There are two lava flows on top of each other. Somehow water has found its way between the lava layers, and flows out from between the lava layers in a spring that is about 150 m (500 ft) wide. It is a very interesting sight.
From there I went on my last larger 4WD track, the Kaldidalur from Husafell south. This leads past several of the ice caps, Langjökull the second largest in Iceland, and Þórisjökull and Okjökull, two much smaller ones. Driving on this road was challenging, because it had a lot of potholes. It had rained (what else is new!), so they were all filled with water. That meant that you cannot judge how deep the potholes are. Most of them are not very deep, so you can drive right through, but some of them turn out to be much deeper, and give you a big jolt. After I got a couple of those I decided it was time to slow down, it was getting too dangerous. I didn't want to break the car in a deserted area like this.
The next stop was the last overnight stop on my trip, Þingvellir. This is a very scenic area where the original Alþing was held. One remarkable, somewhat gruesome part is a small pond along the stream behind the Alþing site. It was used to execute the death penalty by drowning.
The next day was the day of my return flight. The flight was not till 17:00, so I had time for a little more sightseeing. I visited the lava tube at Raufarhólshellir before heading back to Keflavik.
It was a great trip. I particularly enjoyed the driving. The scenery in Iceland is spectacular. It is certainly worth a visit.
All pictures are © Günther Eichhorn.
|A small settlement on the Látrabjarg peninsula. (408k)||A small town, Reykjalið on the north side of Mývatn. (602k)||Vík Í Mýrdal, a small village on the south shore of Iceland. Often the churches are set a little separate from the village. (527k)||Seyðisfjörður, a picturesque village in the East Fjords. (352k)||Many of the beautiful wooden houses in Seyðisfjörður were brought here from Norway in the 19th century. (370k)|
|One of the wooden houses in Seyðisfjörður. (507k)||A characteristic farmstead. Houses are mostly with white walls and brightly colored roofs. (449k)||This farmstead has red roofs. All the houses in a farm stead are usually painted the same. (348k)||An abandoned farm stead. (586k)||Ruins of a former farm stead. (404k)|
|Houses used to be covered with live grass sods. (554k)||This was a particularly beautiful grass covered house. (489k)||This was a utility shack in a field, partly covered with grass. (871k)||A small settlement with the slightly separated church and graveyard. (448k)||A solitary church and graveyard. (344k)|
|The beautiful church in Seyðisfjörður. (423k)||The church in Þingvellir. (449k)||A red-roofed church. (396k)||Nicely colored church. (514k)||Simply white colored church. (320k)|
|The cathedral in Hólar. (571k)||The church in Ingjaldshóll, near Hellisandur-Rif, the first concrete church in Iceland. (276k)||A small church without steeple. (527k)||A tiny grass covered church. (479k)||A tiny church next to an abandoned farm house in a remove fjord in the East Fjord region. (484k)|
|Landsmannalauga, a small settlement near some hot springs. (557k)||This is one of the smaller hotels I stayed in, a very pleasant place in Flókalundur, a little village in Vatnsfjörður, on the south coast of the West Fjord area. The car is the Suzuki Jimmy that got me all around Iceland. (533k)||A lighthouse on the south shore. There are quite a few lighthouses around Iceland. (313k)||This is an emergency hut. There were emergency huts all over Iceland, mostly on mountain passes. Some of them were quite big, like this one, others were smaller. They have emergency supplies. You can use them in an emergency, but you are supposed to let the authorities know if you do use them, so they can be restocked. (615k)||A small hydro-electric power station on the south shore of Iceland. (690k)|
|The steam power plant at Kröflustöð, which uses steam from 17 boreholes. (368k)||Not only large power stations use natural steam. This is a local farm stead using natural steam to heat their houses and provide warm water. (679k)||A hay field where the farmer is rolling up bales of hay and wrapping them in white plastic foil to create these hay "marshmallows". (487k)||Close-up of the tractor with the mechanism to wrap the hay bales. (530k)||A farm stead with piles of the hay "marshmallows". (453k)|
|Close-up of a few of the hay "marshmallows". (367k)||A fish farm. The little fishing boat is hooked up to the floating circles that hold the fish or shrimp that are cultivated. (485k)||Fishing harbor with boats used for whale watching from Húsavík. (445k)||One of the whale watching boats in Húsavík. (389k)||A fishing boat. Notice birds waiting for some scraps. (413k)|
|This is an old fishing boat, given an honorable place. (446k)||This is an old fishing boat as well with a less than honorable place. (497k)||Remains of an old US Navy plane. This was nowhere near an airport. (531k)||Reminder of WW II in Seyðisfjörður. (418k)|
|Helgafell, holy mountain of the Norse God Þor. It was here that the first Þing was held. (336k)||Þingvellir, the location of the Alþing, starting in 930. (417k)||The death penalty by drowning was executed in this water hole next to the location of the Alþing. (519k)|
|This was one of the sunnier occasions on a good paved road driving up one of the valleys. The valleys all have the characteristic U shape, carved by glaciers. (493k)||Even the good roads had bad parts. Here the road was washed out and then repaired. (568k)||These warning signs were very frequent, warning of a ridge where you can't see on-coming traffic. Most drivers drive in the middle of the road, unless there is traffic on-coming. (630k)||In some cases they solved this problem of hidden on-coming traffic by putting a sign in the middle of the road, forcibly separating traffic. (379k)||Almost all bridges on the unpaved roads are single lane bridges. (715k)|
|The tunnels are single lane as well with passing bays at regular intervals. (222k)||This was the steepest road that was signed. I was on considerably steeper tracks where there were now signs in some remote fjord. (445k)||The summits of mountain passes were often marked with such stone piles. (433k)||Road in the interior. It is just a track in the sand. (423k)||When there are potholes in the track, people just drive around them, so the track gets ever wider. (376k)|
|Another part of a road in the interior, this time more rocks than sand. (496k)||Washboard surface of a road in the interior. This surface is the worst of all. It is teeth rattling to drive these kinds of roads. (699k)||Rain filled potholes make driving challenging. You can't see how deep the potholes are, and some of them are very deep, they can give you quite a jolt when you drive through them too fast. (623k)||Lower lying parts of the road generally fill up with water (it rains frequently, in case I hadn't mentioned that . You need to watch out for what is under the murky surface. (556k)||Sometimes the brooks run down the roads, here on Snæfellsjökull. (537k)|
|Sometimes the brook is the road (or vice versa). (574k)||A view from about at one of the river fords that I drove through. This was an easy one. (623k)||These signs warn of river fords that can only be negotiated with 4 wheel drive vehicles. (284k)||This is one of these fords. (564k)||The deeper ones have more elaborate warning signs that make it abundantly clear that you better be careful. (361k)|
|Another car going though one of the medium deep rivers. (522k)||This was the deepest river I drove through. (684k)||Here is my Jimmy after the deepest ford. I had water coming over the hood, hitting the windshield. The water reached the horizontal indentation in the middle of the door. (597k)||Parked 4WD vehicles at one of the waterfalls. Mine is the dirty one, having been driven all over Iceland. (456k)||Some of the pedestrian experiences were noteworthy as well. This is a precarious little foot bridge over the river flowing out of Vatnajökull at Kverkfjöll. I am afraid of heights, and negotiating such a flimsy contraption makes me very uncomfortable. (593k)|
|This is the footpath to the Leirhnjúkur crater. It was deep mud, very slippery. (625k)|
|One of the fjords in the West Fjord area. (373k)||Low clouds over a fjord in the north of Iceland. (380k)||The end of one of the fjords in the West Fjord area. (398k)||Coming down from the mountains, looking at the cloud deck below into the fjord. (371k)||Mývatn, a lake in the north of Iceland. You can see several of the pseudo craters. (470k)|
|Volcanic landscape in the interior. (534k)||One of the west fjords in the rain. (372k)||A rainbow over the interior of Iceland with a nice secondary rainbow. Did I mention that it rained a lot? (403k)||A complete rainbow during my drive on the Sprengisandur. (404k)||On the road to Landsmannalauga, with the ever-present cloud deck above. Everything is lush green in that area, but not from grass, it is all moss. (460k)|
|A lake on the road to Landsmannalauga, reflecting a moss covered mountain. (367k)||A small brook running through the moss covered plains. (612k)||A small river running though layers of volcanic tephra, the black sand and gravel ejected by large volcanic explosions. (492k)||Multi-colored mountain on one of the interior roads. (409k)||In the Askja caldera you can see old and new snow. It had snowed the day before, and the new snow is bright white, while the old snow is gray with dust. (607k)|
|Strange soil formation. This was in a volcanic area, but I don't know how this regular bumps formed. I think it is caused by freezing/thawing cycles. (879k)||The island Málmey in Skagafjörður. Note the basalt needle on the left side. (269k)||A heavenly search light looking for the island of Lundey near Husavík. It was a captivating light phenomenon. (278k)||Basalt formation on the south coast near Dyrhólaey. (547k)||Basalt pinnacles near Dyrhólaey. (483k)|
|Basalt arch near Dyrhólaey. (512k)||One of the flat areas on the southeast coast, filled with volcanic sand brought down from Vatnajökull by the glaciers. The Skeiðarársandur is the largest such area, a large river delta filled with volcanic sand. (487k)||Close-up of the sand in a glacier outflow area. (377k)|
|There was lots of water in most parts. Did I mention that it rained a lot? (720k)||This was a raging river on the way to Kverkfjöll. One of the few bridges in the interior was over this river. (593k)||A small river running through a lava flow on the Kaldidalur road, with a rainbow in the background. (641k)||A waterfall near Seyðisfjörður. (459k)||A waterfall with rainbow in the West Fords. (658k)|
|A waterfall over a high lava layer on the south shore. (747k)||Skógafoss on the south shore, a spectacular waterfall, about 60 m (200 ft) high. (506k)||A rainbow generated by the spray of Skógafoss. (572k)||Seljalandsfoss, another spectacular waterfall on the south coast. (468k)||A closer view of Seljalandsfoss. (495k)|
|Gljúfurárfoss (Canyon River Falls). It falls into a very narrow canyon, about 30 m (100 ft) from the front of the escarpment. (859k)||Svartifoss (Black Falls) in the Skaftafell National Park. This waterfall is the most picturesque with the water falling over the column basalt formations. It is about 40 m (130 ft) high. (642k)||Hraunfossar. The water emerges over a width of about 100 m (330 ft) from underneath a lava flow. (716k)||Selfoss, the first of a series of waterfalls in Jökulsárgljúfur National Park. It is only 11 m (34 ft) high, but quite wide. (519k)||Close-up of Selfoss. (563k)|
|Dettifoss. It is 44 m high and produces a lot of spray and noise, quite an impressive sight. (483k)||Closer view of Dettifoss. (402k)||View of Réttarfoss from Ytra-Þórunnarfjall in the Jökulsárgljúfur National Park. (568k)||Goðafoss (Fall of the Gods), another spectacular waterfall, south of Husavík next to the Ring Road. (457k)||Close-up of Goðafoss. (538k)|
|Overview of Gullfoss, arguably Iceland's most famous waterfall. (436k)||The upper part of Gullfoss. (412k)||The lower part of Gullfoss, where the water falls over a wide ledge into a narrow canyon, reminiscent of Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe. (366k)|
|An eroding thick lava flow. (545k)||Lava sand in the interior. (607k)||The volcanoe Hekla (the Hooded) in the southern parts of Iceland. Its summit is mostly shrouded in clouds. (316k)||Herðubreið, a volcano with a very characteristic shape in the northern interior part of Iceland. (312k)||A thick layer of tephra, deposited during a large volcanic explosion. (529k)|
|Lava deposit. (599k)||Large lava flow in the interior. (689k)||Young lava flow at Krafla. It is from the 1984 explosion, and is still steaming. (526k)||A small lava tube in the Krafla lava field. (890k)||Volcanic crater in the Kafla lava field. It was created during the 1984 explosion and is still hot. (477k)|
|The Viti explosion crater in the Krafla area. It has a diameter of about 320 m (1100 ft). (448k)||Another volcanic crater on the Ring Road near Hverarönd, a couple of kilometers east of Mývatn. (588k)||A large volcanic crater just off the eastern shore of Mývatn. (504k)||A pseudo crater at Skútustaðagígar on the south shore of Lake Mývatn. These craters originate from steam erruptions, not lava eruptions. (378k)||View into Raufarhólshellir, a huge lava tube in south-west Iceland. (401k)|
|Another view of this lava tube. It is about 15 m (50 ft) in diameter. (442k)||Sign outside the Raufarhólshellir lava tube. (394k)||Lava flow in the Askja caldera. (480k)||Brightly colored volcanic sand in the Askja caldera. (559k)||Öskjuvatn, the lake in the Askja caldera. (432k)|
|The small tephra crater Viti, next to Öskjuvatn. It has warm water, people can go swimming in this small crater. (389k)||Spectacular column basalt formation at Hljóðaklettar in the Jökulsárgljúfur National Park. (713k)||Another extrusion of column basalts. (600k)||Close-up of the column basalt rock. (918k)||A volcanic spring with bright orange mineral deposits. (968k)|
|A hot springs field south of Keflavik near the south shore. (698k)||Brightly colored mineral deposits in this hot springs area. (804k)||A bubbling hot mud pool in the same area. (673k)||Close-up of the bubbling mud. (432k)||This was a tiny hot spring in the same area, bubbling away. It was only about 20 cm (8 inch) in diameter. (631k)|
|The hot springs field at Hverarönd, east of Mývatn. (385k)||Mud pools at Hverarönd. (412k)||Bubbling mud pool at Hverarönd. (530k)||Steam vent at Hverarönd. (573k)||A big steam vent at Hverarönd. (359k)|
|It produces a lot of steam, with a long plume streaming downwind. (473k)||Strokkur, the small but reliable geyser in the Geysir thermal field, just before erruption. (546k)||The erruption is starting. The following pictures are each about 1/3 seconds apart. (262k)||Going up. (259k)||And up. (260k)|
|And up. (256k)||And up. (250k)||It has reached maximum height. (244k)||It still gets larger, but not higher. (240k)||It fills out some more. (235k)|
|It starts collapsing. (237k)||A large erruption from a bit further away. (305k)||Another of the pools in the Geysir area. The water is very clear, the pool is quite deep (several meters). (338k)|
|In the distance is the southern border of Vatnajökull. Every valley in the mountain range has a glacier tongue coming down the valley from the ice cap. (406k)||View of Hofsjökull through a narrow gap between the high plains and the cloud deck. I had just descended on the road out of the clouds. (322k)||This is all I saw of Snæfellsjökull, the famous ice cap where Jules Vernes staged his book "A Journey to the Center of the Earth". (339k)||A series of waterfalls coming down a valley from the Vatnajökull ice cap. (495k)||View of the Mýrdalsjökull icecap from the road to Þórsmörk. (517k)|
|One of the glacier tongues coming down from Vatnajökull. (523k)||A steep glacier tongue from Vatnajökull. (424k)||Sólheimajóll, a much shallower glacier tongue from Mýrdalsjökull. (504k)||It is an easy walk to get all the way to Sólheimajökull. (496k)||Outflow from Sólheimajökull. (630k)|
|Outflow from Sólheimajökull. (632k)||View of Skaftafellsjökull. (545k)||Closer view of Skaftafellsjökull. (576k)||There are serious cravasses in Skaftafellsjökull. (696k)||The Skálafellsjökull glacier, an outflow from Vatnajökull. (584k)|
|Close-up of the cravasses on Skálafellsjökull. (536k)||Approaching Vatnajökull from the north, with colorfull lava sand in the foreground, and the huge ice cap in the background. (458k)||A volcanic cinder cone with Vatnajökull behind it. (447k)||A close-up of the cinder cone with the huge ice cap behind it. (302k)||On top of the ice cap. (787k)|
|The glacier portal at Kverkfjöll, one of the outflows of Vatnajökull to the interior. (747k)||Closer view of the glacier at Kverkfjöll. (763k)||The main glacier portal at Kverkfjöll. (677k)||Close-up of the main glacier portal at Kverkfjöll. (578k)||At Fjallsárlón the glacier reaches a lagoon and calves icebergs. (437k)|
|A closer view of Fjallsárlón. (468k)||Icebergs in the lagoon at Fjallsárlón. (448k)||The edge of the glacier at Fjallsárlón. (448k)||The lagoon at Fjallsárlón. (450k)||Icebergs in the lagoon at Jökulsárlón. (399k)|
|The ice of the glacier itself is very clear, but there is lots of volcanic dust embedded in the ice, which makes it look black. (531k)|
|One of the few areas with trees. (659k)||Typical grassland along the south shore. The white dots are white cotton grass (Eriophorum scheuchzeri), a grass with cotton-like tufts. (669k)||Close-up of the white tufts. (456k)||It was drizzling all day, every grass blade was covered with little water drops. It was glittering whenever there was a little sun. (745k)||Close-up of the water droplets on the grass. (333k)|
|Crowberry (Empetrum nigrum). (534k)||Common Lady's Mantle (Alchemilla vulgaris). (873k)||Heath (Calluna vulgaris). (429k)||Bluebell (Campanula rotundifolia). Some insect had cut a hole in the side of this one. (299k)||Field Gentian (Gentianella campestris islandica). (428k)|
|Mushroom. This was an edible variety. (522k)||Sea thrift (Armeria maritima). (435k)||This plant was completely red, stem and all. (704k)||Pink Yarrow (Achillea millefolium). (348k)||Sea Campion (Silene uniflora) growing in the volcanic sand. (637k)|
|Horsetail (Equisetum variegatum). (856k)||Various plants, including some mosses and lichens, growing together. (991k)||Very commonly a bunch of plants of different species grow together in a clump with bare volcanic soil around it. (822k)||The whole area here was a lush green. This green was due entirely to moss, there was no grass growing there at all. (395k)||Close-up of the moss cover. (854k)|
|Typical landscape with mosses, small plants, and the occasional small bush. (1084k)||Close-up of the moss and heath. (879k)||Lichen and moss on some rocks. (697k)||Lichen growing on a lava rock. (776k)||All the light color in this rock field is caused by lichens. (458k)|
|A tiny bush on volcanic sand. There was not much growing in that area, just the occasional plant like this. (1022k)||You can see how sparse the vegetation is in this area. (624k)||There was only the occasional flower in the sand, no grass at all. (929k)||Ducks were the most common birds that I saw after seagulls. These are Red-necked Phalaropes (Phalaropus lobatus). (514k)||Another species of ducks. (460k)|
|I got a little closer to these, but they are paddling away as fast as they can. (546k)||Whopper Swans (Cygnus cygnus), they were also very common. (455k)||Whopper swan. (475k)||Whopper swans feeding on the bottom of the lake. (393k)||Various seagulls. (444k)|
|Landing seagull. (485k)||Seagull in flight. (210k)||This seagull was sitting on the road and was not moving. Just after I took this picture another car drove by. The seagull just barely escaped being run over. I did see a lot of seagull roadkill. (399k)||This seagull also didn't move when I got closer. It didn't look very healthy. (451k)||A common loon (Gavia immer). (502k)|
|Common Redshank (Tringa totanus). (486k)||Oyster catcher (Haematopus ostralegus). (473k)||Golden Plover (Pluvialis apricaria). (362k)||Ptarmigan (Lagopus muta). (644k)||Sheep are everywhere in Iceland. The incessant wind was blowing through their hair. (621k)|
|And here is the black sheep of the family. (568k)||White beaked dolphin (Lagenorhynchus albirostris). (616k)||White beaked dolphin. (659k)||White beaked dolphin. (537k)||Partial whale skull in Husavík. (682k)|
|A bus load of tourists on their way to a glacier. Fortunately it was past the main tourist season, so this was a fairly rare sight. (616k)||White water rafting. This was one of the larger boats on a river on the south side. (448k)||When they saw me on the bridge taking pictures, they saluted with their paddles. (409k)||Snowmobiles on Vatnajökull. (891k)||Snowmobiles running in the track up the glacier. (889k)|
|I was pretty warm in the snowmobile suit, gloves and helmet. (973k)|
Lýðveldið Ísland (Iceland) - Land of Fire and Ice on guenther-eichhorn.com
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