Amazing Iceland – Part two – Unique Experiences

The scenic drives continued all around Iceland, as did the sunny weather most of the time.  One of our interesting stays was at an organic farm – their cafe was good, the cottage was ‘tiny’, and the farm was interesting as its one of the largest organic farms in Iceland. The farmer planted over one million trees since he got there 38 years ago and he’s the first farmer in Iceland to grow barley for human consumption.  In that area we visited another waterfall, Hengifoss, the third largest in Iceland.  Helen did the 2.5 km hike there.  It was very steep so Dick and I went halfway there as it was a really hot and sunny day.  In exploring that area we drove around Lagarfljot, the largest lake in Iceland, and over various mountains to a sleepy coastal town, Seydisfjordur, the original port for iceland.

Each day seemed to mean another waterfall or lake.  The next day took us to Dettifoss, a 44 m waterfall, on the way to Lake Myvatn where we were staying in a lovely large apartment overlooking the pond. As well as a great view and a good walking track to the pseudo craters (lava formations), the apartment also had an outdoor hot tub which gave us a relaxing finish to the day.

For our whale watching day from Husavik we were blessed with sunny weather and a flat ocean for the 3 hour trip in a small trawler which took us 13 km (8 miles) out from the dock and 50 km (30 miles) from the Arctic Circle.  We saw 3 or 4 different humpback whales and enjoyed the trip.  Then we visited the Nature Baths, the north side of the island’s version of the famous Blue Lagoon, which was warm and pleasant after our boat trip.

Had some rain on our next driving day but that didn’t stop us from visiting yet another waterfall, Godafoss Waterfall, aka ‘The Waterfall of the Gods’. As it was wet and slippery we didn’t get too close. Visited Akureyri, the second largest city in Iceland where we got lunch and a parking ticket, before journeying on to our most impressive Air BNB of the lot – a beautiful duplex that sleeps 10. Our host was a former Icelandic Ambassador to Germany (who attended Helmut Kohl’s funeral), and the apartment was tastefully decorated as one would expect from a well travelled former ambassador.  In addition to the peaceful location on a farm, and the well-equipped kitchen which Helen used masterfully, we all enjoyed the outdoor hot tub between 11pm and midnight.  The next day we toured the Vatnsnes Peninsula – first stop was Borgarvirki, a defensive fortification built around an ancient volcanic plug of columner basalt, 177 m above sea level and dated around 1000 AD.  The fortification features in one of “the sagas” and was granted conservation status in 1817.  The main reason for visiting this area was to see seals and eat in a famous seafood restaurant.  We did both! Had an exquisite seafood soup followed by delicious lobster at Geitafell and saw seals in two places.  Helen got some good seal pics at Illugastadir, the location of the famous murder in the novel, Buriel Rites by Hannah Kent.  One of the more special experiences of the trip was our evening soak in the hot tub, this time under a sky covered with the Northern Lights!  They were magical and lasted for about an hour.

Intermittent rain followed us around on our last touring day, but somehow cleared when we were at a sight to see.  First stop was a series of volcanic craters protected as natural monuments in 1962.  Then we drove to our final waterfall, Hraunfosser, which was one km wide and consisted of countless springs of clear water emeging from under the edge of the lava field.  It was very beautiful, especially with the fall colors everywhere.  An appropriate finale was our visit to the Settlement Center where we learned about early settlement in Iceland and were taken through the Eylot Saga.  The Sagas of Icelanders, aka family sagas, are stories based on historical events that mostly took place in the 9th-11th centuries which reflect the struggle and conflict that arose within the early generations of Icelandic settlers.  They are revered in Iceland as their cultural heritage and literature.  The ones we have heard about are quite brutal and violent by our standards.

Finished our time in Iceland with an overnight in Reykjavit where we had a nice tapas dinner to celebrate our last night together in Iceland.  Was sad to say goodbye to Helen but very happy that she was jetting home to Sydney to resume life there.  We flew to Canada to visit family and friends.  Just recently we got caught in Canada’s first big snowstorm of the year so had an unexpected hotel stay in southern Alberta as the roads were dangerous and impassable.  All part of the travelling experience!  We have been lucky to see and do so much on this trip.  Its not over yet but this wraps up the blog section.

Best wishes to all from Pat and Dick

 

Driving along the coast
Driving over the mountains inland

 

Visiting the horses on the organic farm, notice all the trees in the background
Hengifoss
t t We got half way there, Helen walked all the way to the falls
Lots of black Icelandic sheep in every field of sheep
A beautiful seaside village in the afternoon light
Upper Dettifoss
The main Dettifoss waterfall

 

Looking into the psuedo crater and back at our accommodation in the village
Early evening walk with Lake Myvatn in the background
The view of Lake Myvatn from our accommodation
Whale watching from Husavik harbor
Good views for us
Quite close to the whale (or Helen has a good camera!)

 

A bit cool but happy to be seeing the majestic whales
The Nature Baths – a great way for us to warm up at the end of the day!
Godafoss ‘Valley of the Gods’ waterfall
A little window shopping in Akureyri

 

Helen prepared a feast in our lovely kitchen
Climbing up the Borgaviki fortification
Looking down into the middle of the fortification
Looking at a rock formation on the beach and the great view
Best seafood soup ever!
We finally found some seals
A sign marking the spot where the murder took place in the novel ‘Buriel Rites’
Watching the northern lights from the hot tub
Our last crater walk
Our last of the 10 waterfalls, Hraunfosser, and it was beautiful
Wonderful fall colors as a bonus
A great view to finish the scenic trip around Iceland

 

Amazing Iceland – Part one – the photographer’s dream!

I had absolutely NO EXPECTATIONS for Iceland except that it was a place daughter Helen and Dick picked for us to have a holiday together.  After our first few days of touring around I was blown away by the scenery we saw in any one day.  Generally, on previous trips, we get to see one major sight in a day, but here it’s at least three of four very impressive sights every day.

This holiday has been planned and organized by Helen who had visited Iceland earlier, in March.  Helen met us at the apartment in Reykjavit and gave us a guided walk around the town.  The first of many such “guided tours”.  So nice to be with Helen as we hadn’t seen her for 15 months while she was living and travelling in Europe.  After we stocked up with groceries the next day we drove off on the Golden Circle route.  First stop was Pingvellan National Park (NP) a very historic and significant site for Icelanders – the site of the first parliament for the nation in 930 AD.  The weather cleared so we had a walk around the area, saw a baby waterfall, scenic lake and an old wooden church.

In one memorable day on the Golden Circle we saw some of the top attractions in Iceland.  Starting with a small walk to the Secret Waterfall (Bruarfoss), which was not easy to find but very worthwhile to see.  Then we visited the Geyser and got some good pics of it erupting, before we drove to Gullfoss, a 32 m (100ft) high, very wide, double waterfall which they claim “outdoes Niagara Falls in wildness and fury”.  Its waterflow can reach up to 2000 cubic meters (500,000 gallons) per second.  On the way to lunch we stopped at another waterfall called Faxi. Considering we left our house at 10am that was quite a start to the day and already involved a few km’s of walking. Lunch was at the Fridheimer Cafe which is located within 5000 sq meters (1.2 acres)  of greenhouses and powered/heated by geotherrmal energy devoted almost entirely to tomatoes.  It was quite unique to see those rows of 3 m (10 foot) high tomato vines in a place that produces 1 ton of tomatoes per day and supplies 18% of Iceland’s needs.  Our lunch was tomato soup followed by cheesecake with green tomato jam topping.  In fact the whole menu had tomatoes in every dish.  Apparently Iceland is ideal for greenhouse growing due to its northern location and isolation (few pests, diseases or weeds) amd lots of geothermal energy to heat and sterilize the greenhouses & soils, and to produce CO2 & electricity for illumination of the greenhouses.  It was an interesting place.  The day continued with a walk around the crater, Kerio – its 55 m (180 foot) deep with water 7-14 m (20 – 40 foot) deep at the bottom.  Then we drove to the town of Selfoss before finishing off the day with a swim in the geothermo hot pools of the Secret Lagoon.  That was a pleasant way to end a day of amazing sunshine & clear skies, lovely vistas & scenery, and some fabulous natural wonders.  Our tour guide, Helen, did very well and we were home around 7:30pm.

The days continued in that full-on vein and with full sunshine most of the time.  We did the occasional stop for pony or sheep photos and on another full day we visited Seljalandsfoss waterfall, where Helen and I walked behind this powerful 60 m (200 foot) drop waterfall.  Then we had a lovely 2 km walk through a valley to Seljavallalaug, a 25 m (80 foot) outdoor geothermo pool built in 1923.  We all went in the pool but it was way too cold for us (not enough geothermal springs feeding it). We even managed an outdoor picnic in the sunshine before moving on to Skogafoss, a 60 m (200 foot) waterfall which featured a beautiful rainbow when we were there.  Next stop was to see a plane wreck, which was a 4 km one way walk on a flat black beach.  In 1973 a US navy DC3 ran out of fuel and crashed on black beach near Vik.  All survived.  We got our exercise doing that walk!  Then we drove to our AirBNB in Vik and went out for dinner – Another very full and interesting day.

Before we left Vik the next morning we stopped at Black Beach, aka Killer Beach, which features “Sneaker Waves” who have killed unwary tourists on the beach.  All the signs warned not to turn your back to the waves.  The area features a large cave, rock pillars (basalt columns), towering cliffs and black sand made from lava.  We were moving along the south coast of Iceland and drove through a very large area of mossy rocks and mountains before arriving at Fjardargljufur Canyon, an immense canyon about 2 kms (1.25 miles) long and up to 100 m (300 feet) deep with a river flowing through it.  We walked along the top to various lookout points.  It was another glorious sunny day with more amazing snow capped mountains and glaciers along the way.  It was a very scenic 300 km (185 mile) day and after our lunch stop we  got to one of our absolute highlights of the trip – Jokulsarlon, a glacier lagoon and an amazing sight where the Vatnajokull Glacier continually calves into the lagoon.  We saw ancient glacial fragments drifting very quickly out to sea and lots of stunning blue ice bergs floating in the lagoon.  It was hard to take in the majesty of what we were seeing.  The Vatnajokull Glacier is by some measures the biggest of all in Europe and it is the largest and most voluminous ice cap in Iceland.  Glaciers cover 23% of the land mass of Iceland.  The beautiful scenery continued along our drive to Hofn, where we finished the day with a sunset walk along a seaside golf course near our Air BNB.

In total we drove 2500 km’s (1550 miles) around Iceland and during that time we saw lots that piqued our curiosity, and so we put google to good use and found the following statistics that answered some of our questions: population of Iceland – 330,000, number of horses in Iceland – 80,000, number of sheep in Iceland – 800,000.  Needless to say we saw lots of horses and sheep throughout Iceland.  Apparently the horses are kept for companionship!

We saw so much on those first five days it was almost too much to take in, so I will stop this post here and cover the rest of the trip in another post.

 

 

Boat statute on Reykjavit Harbor

 

Reykjavit’s most prominent church and Leif Ericsson statute

 

View of Rekjavit from the top of the church

 

Pingvellan NP, site of the first Icelandic parliament, 930 AD
The Secret Waterfall
The Secret Waterfall
The Geyser

 

Gullfoss, the double waterfall
Gullfoss from another angle

 

Faxi Waterfall
Lunch in the tomato greenhouse
A close up of the tomato vines
From the top of the canyon
Down at the bottom of the canyon

 

Secret Lagoon geothermal hot pools where we had a swim/soak
Icelandic ponies at the roadside

 

Seljalandsfoss waterfall – before we walked behind it
Getting wet going behind the waterfall

 

Hiking to the pool
Dick getting into the quite cool 25 m pool

 

Icelandic picnic
Skogafoss waterfall
DC3 plane wreck on the beach (an 8 km walk we could have done without on a hot sunny day)

 

Black Beach with the killer waves
Rock pillars/basalt columns
Scenic drives

 

Fjardargljufur Canyon
At the end of Fjardargljufur Canyon

 

Driving towards the glacier
Jokulsarlon, the glacial lagoon
Enjoying the spectacle
Magical – Vatnajokull Glacier calving
Sunset stroll near Hofn