Day 4 – East Iceland in Rain and Fog

October 18, 2018

Hoffell to Seydisfjordur

We woke up excited for the day. We had planned to enjoy the hot pools prior to breakfast, then drive to play at the base of a glacier followed by a scenic drive along the eastern coast of Iceland.

Well, only one of those happened.

We got to the hot springs around 730am. No one was around. No attendant and no wind either. But it was sprinkling and foggy.

We dipped our toes in each of the 5 pools having a Goldilocks moment as we chose which pool to submerge our bodies. We sat for about 15 minutes in the 2nd warmest pool, savoring the quiet morning and warmth of the water.

We had splurged on our hotel thanks to funds from wonderful friends and family who contributed to our wedding registry.

The stay included breakfast which was nothing fancy but did include homemade bread and interesting jams (cayenne and red pepper jam anyone?) along with the usual European continental breakfast options.

As we gathered our things the rain picked up so we decided to forgo the opportunity to explore the nearby glacier.

The entire drive we kept hoping to turn a corner and see sunshine or at least a lighter layer of clouds but no luck. Our drive consisted of mainly rain and fog.

Andy was especially bummed because the forecast called for partly sunny skies after 12 pm. He knows better than to trust weather forecasts but we had been told that Verdur.is is usually accurate.

The road hugged the coastline with alternating views of a jagged rocks and rolling hills with roaming sheep.

A few miles after getting gas, which, if you’re an American with a US credit card you can’t do at the pumps because our credit cards are not set up with pins for purchases, we drove through a 6 kilometer tunnel.

Andy stopped at one point to touch the walls, expecting it to be very cold and smooth. But instead it was very sharp rock at normal temps.

The tunnel was so long Laurie was hopeful there would be sunshine on the other end, but unfortunately this was not the case.

Around 3:30pm, as we crossed through Egilsstadir, the rain let off and the skies became a bit lighter.

We drove next a long narrow lake which was the home to Iceland’s largest forest. At the end of the lake we took a 40 minute hike up a hill to see Iceland’s 3rd tallest waterfall – Hengifoss. This 128 meter high waterfall is unique because of the red layers of clay between the basalt.

It felt great to be moving in the cool fresh air. As we descended back to our car the sun broke through the clouds (unfortunately in the opposite direction than we were heading).

We attempted to hike to one last waterfall before the sun set but the “short walk” wasn’t so short. We turned around after the seeing the lower of the two falls.

The 9 hours of day light seems like a long time but there is so much to see in this country we always seem to be racing against the clock toward the end of the day.

Also, we don’t believe we’ve mentioned this yet but we have a total of 11 days in Iceland and are driving the Ring Road around the country. It’s enough time to do so but getting the most out of each day takes planning and the understanding that you simply can’t see it all.

We have been booking our accommodations one day ahead of time. This particular evening we chose a coastal town with hopes of clearer skies and an increased chance of seeing the northern lights.

We did not expect the road to gain altitude and take us through snowy alpine tundra before dropping back down to the sea. By now the sun had set and the evening glow reflected off the snowy hills and lakes. It was beautiful! Andy did a great job driving slowly and we both took comfort in our studded winter tires.

We slowly made our way down the hairpin turns to the small town of Seydisfjordur nestled at the end of a long fjord. The twinkling lights at the edge of the water reminded Laurie of small towns in Switzerland.

We made dinner at the hostel and chatted with Max from England and 2 women from Switzerland. We planned out the next day and went to bed with a plan to wake up at midnight in hopes of seeing the northern lights.

Tonight we are grateful for optimism and thermal pools to ourselves.

The only wildlife Laurie can capture without them running away (:

How Laurie spends most of her time in the car..😴

Hengifoss

Day 3 – Glaciers and Oceans

October 17, 2018

Vik to Hoffell

The wind howled all night knocking on our window. It was hard to get used to the sound because it came in powerful gusts but eventually sleep won over.

Andy once again woke up at 3am. This time he researched trucks with pop up campers and the Icelandic Craigslist for used 4×4’s.

Around 7am it started to get light. According to the one website with decent weather reports today was supposed to be cloudy until noon, then partly sunny. We wanted an early start to make the most of the day.

We left our guest house – braving the wind and hoping our Renault Cleo could handle the strong gusts.

We drove through open pastures with grazing sheep and horses. The sun began to rise over the horizon occasionally obstructed by clouds. Volcanic rocks covered in moss scattered our surroundings as far as the eye could see.

There was so much to see it was hard to keep driving.

We arrived at Skaftafell National Park around 9 am, payed our 750ISK entrance fee and joined the majority of the other visitors on the 2 km walk up to Svartifoss falls.

The trails in Iceland are well constructed and made out of gravel to be accessible in all seasons.

We gained elevation quickly, passing a bunch of people with large cameras and tripods.

The falls were nice but not as impressive as some that we had seen. What makes these falls unique are the basalt hexagonal pillars, that are formed by cooling lava, the water flows over.

While most head back down to their cars, we choose to continue hiking east toward Skaftafellsnokull glacier. After a short climb we were up on a plateau walking by small shrubs.

The clouds began to clear and snow capped hills and glaciers began popping into view. It was beautiful to see the green hillsides transition into snowy hillsides.

Our first view of Skaftafellsnokull glacier came into view. We were both tempted to keep hiking up to get better views but we knew there would be more sights down the road.

We reluctantly headed down the trail, stepping down wooden plank steps and through puddles covered by autumn leaves.

We drove another 10 minutes down the road to a gravel road that took us to the tongue of Svinafellsjokull glacier. We hiked along a rocky cliff to get some nice views of the glacier until the trail became super sketchy. It was exposed, with very loose soil and it was very windy. Not a great combo when faced with a 100ft drop into the lake.

It was a bumpy ride back to the main road but Andy did a great job avoiding the major pot holes and keeping the underbody of our rental car happy.

As we drove, the views kept getting better and better. Glaciers to the north and ocean waves to the south. Never before had we seen glaciers running so low in elevation.

The wind picked up greatly as we attempted to “hike” along the Jökulsárlón glacial lagoon. The wind was so forceful it caused us to stagger and even walk backwards at times.

White caps hurried across the lake surface and icebergs bobbed up and down in the waves. Rainbows formed in the mist from water crashing over the icebergs.

Our “walk” didn’t last long as it was slow going and occasionally our faces were pelted with sand or other forms of earthy debris. Andy had even more fun when the straps of his backpack whipped him in the face.

We joined the crowds at Black Sand Beach where icebergs lay like seals on the dark sand.

After exploring the icebergs and getting black sand in our teeth and nostrils we drove the remaining hour to our hotel.

We chose to stay in a small village up the valley from the town of Hofn. We were hoping to see the northern lights and the less light pollution the better. We had a view of Hoffellstindur glacier from our room.

The Hoffell hot spring was 1 km down the road. When we pulled up there were 2 large RVs and a few other cars already there. The wind was still ripping and the walk from the changing room to the hot tub was painfully cold.

We were told that all the tubs were of similar temperature, however the 2 empty ones were exposed to the wind. We sunk into the warm water only to get cold 10 minutes later.

Our evening dip was short but we vowed to come back in the morning to watch the sunrise.

We fell asleep quickly in our cozy room after making a plan for the next day.

Tonight we are grateful for clear skies and hot showers.

Svartifoss

Day 2 – Remote Waterfalls and an Underwhelming River

October16, 2018

Laugarvatn to Vik

Andy woke up at 2 am and eagerly looked out the window to a dark sky. No northern lights tonight – too bad!

He had trouble falling back asleep so busied himself researching other waterfalls and sights for the next 2 days.

He woke Laurie at 7 am to share his findings and get us moving for the long day ahead.

It was raining steadily as we packed the car but we were ready for all seasons. We wore our bathing suits under hiking pants and our rain pants over them, complemented by waterproof hiking shoes and raincoats. We even had umbrellas but the stiff wind made using them undesirable.

Only in Iceland can one wear bathing suits and rain clothes as part of one outfit!

Our first stop was Geyser – geothermic pools with one (Strokkur) that erupts every 5-10 minutes, spewing sulfuric water and steam 20 meters (66 ft) into the sky.

We walked around, admiring the bubbling pools of 100° celsius water and stretching our legs before a long day in the car.

Iceland is a country of waterfalls. There are too many to see and it is hard deciding which ones to attempt. Google doesn’t indicate between 4 wheel drive and sedan passable dirt roads so some of it was a wait and see adventure.

As we drove to Gullfoss, one of the most popular, scenic and easy to get to waterfalls, we admired as the clouds started to break and more and more glaciers popped into view. A vibrant rainbow appeared making the views even more majestic. We both felt giddy.

After taking a few photos of the amazing rainbow, we redirected our attention to why we were there.

Gullfoss more than lived up to its reputation. It was amazing! The amount of water that cascades through this gorge is insane.

The sun once again peeped its head out shining a nice glow to the water on the upper portion of the falls.

We didn’t stay long as we had so many stops to make on today’s journey.

Next stop was to a place multiple people had mentioned as being one of their favorite places in Iceland – the Hot River.

Although it meant a little back tracking toward Reykjavík and travel into dark clouds we figured it was worth checking out.

After an hour of driving through nonstop rain we pulled up where Google maps had directed us only to find the road blocked by rocks.

Andy did some quick research and found that the area had been closed in the spring for restoration.

Comments mentioned that it had reopened in the summer so we figured we would try our luck. By this time it was pouring. A few other cars pulled in where we had and turned around.

But we had come this far. We set out walking up the road past the rocks accompanied by a local dog. As we turned a corner we saw a bunch of cars parked in the distance.

Given the popularity of the Hot River we figured that was the parking area our backroad was trying to get us to and we were right.

We walked back to the car, sharing our findings with a German solo traveler who had the same confused look on his face. Five minutes later when we pulled into a medium sized lot, we were in the company of 30 or so cars and vans.

The hike to the swimming holes is 3 km uphill. It rained the entire time but the trail was easy to follow and rocky so not slippery. The surrounding curvy brown and green hills provided a nice distraction.

Our canine friend met up with us again and led us all the way to the Hot River swimming holes. We passed many people heading back to their cars. For the most part everyone looked happy, even though they were completely soaked.

The swimming area is depicted by wooden planks and changing areas. The water was disappointingly luke warm and filthy.

Lots of debris in the water stuck to us as it made its way downstream. Perhaps it was filthy because of the rains? The pools also weren’t very deep so we weren’t as warm as we would have wanted.

The rain picked up considerably, making us cold. Laurie sat below the wooden platform to protect herself from the cold droplets landing on our heads, shoulders and backs.

She grew impatient and decided she’d had enough. Andy tried to convince her to wait in the warm water for the rain to die down a bit before getting out but it was to no avail.

Getting dressed in the pouring rain was hard because our now wet clothes stuck to our wet skin and provided a lot of friction.

On the way back to the parking lot we noticed our packcover had fallen off. Andy handed Laurie the car keys and turned around to go look for it.

After about 20 minutes of backtracking all the way the start of the boardwalks he gave up. He had asked hikers heading out if they had seen it, but no luck.

Now our lost items in Iceland totalled 2 (a Nalgene and a packcover) – not great given we were only 2 days into our trip.

Meanwhile Laurie went back to the car to get warm and finish organizing all of our stuff.

We ate lunch in the car while driving. It was now decision time. Do we add 2 hours of driving time to visit 4 lesser known waterfalls or head down the main highway and reach our guesthouse before dark?

Laurie, who likes to pack it all in, was leaning toward the additional loop. Andy, who hates rushing, was hesitant but made the final call. Adventure it was!

The first waterfall (Hjálparfoss) was great – 2 wide rivers conjoined via separate waterfalls into a nice round pond. As we got out of the car a tour bus showed up. We know we are in the right spot when there are tour buses!

Luckily we are faster walkers than most and saw the views without the crowd and cigarette smoke.

As we left Laurie tried to take a picture of the sheep but ended up scaring them off as she rapidly walked toward them. Andy laughed from the car as Laurie was left dejected. Guess she needs to be more stealthy next time.

We tried to see 2 other falls (Gjain and Haifoss) but the roads were not advisable for a small sedan. Darn.

We looped around through a barren moons scape, stopping at Thjofafoss. It was absolutely stunning and worth the visit. Even in low light and cloudy skies overhead the water was a beautiful green color.

Once on paved roads again, we started seeing farms and signs of civilization.

The sun was beginning to set and the agricultural fields wore a beautiful golden hue. Horses and sheep scattered the fields. The sheep were the cutest with their wide woolly bodies and short skinny legs.

We stopped at one last waterfall as the sun dipped behind the horizon.

Laurie remembered reading about a waterfall that has a trail that allows visitors to walk behind and take nice sunset pictures.

She couldn’t remember what it was called as all Icelandic words are hard to pronounce and thus hard to remember. As it happened we visited Seljalandsfoss in the dark as we couldn’t pass up the illuminated (by a spotlight) waterfall right next to the main highway.

Having been incredibly wet earlier in the day we chose to enjoy the falls from the distance and continue to our guesthouse for the night.

The rest of the drive was completed in the dark.

We arrived to the guest house tired and grumpy. We had tried to do too much and both of us were exhausted.

We attempt to fall asleep now to the sound of the wind whipping against the windows. The guesthouse offers complimentary ear plugs. Laurie thought it was to block out the sounds of snoring from other guests through the thin walls, but perhaps it is for the wind.

Either way, we are glad to be in a structure rather than a tent or even a van.

We are both so tired we will sleep well, at least until 2 am when Andy tends to wake up eager for the day!

Tonight we are grateful for waterproof boots and rain pants.

Strokkur Geyser

Gullfoss

Approach to ‘Hot’ River

Hjalparfoss

Thjofafoss

Aegissufoss