Day 5 – Waterfall, Waterfall and more Waterfalls
This is the second part of my Iceland Roundtrip story. You can read the first part here. Anyways, day five was a waterfall day, and we started with no less than three of them. First we got into our rain clothes, and went to see Seljalandsfoss, where not only did we get close to the fall, we could even walk behind the 60 meters tall wall of water, and see it from the back. As we had moved around the waterfall, we continued to Gljufrabui, that falls into a small cave-like canyon. I walked carefully on the dry steps into the cave, while others had gone with the waterproof shoes strategy. As we got into the cave in little groups, it opened up and got bigger than the opening. The entire cave was filled with mist and splashes of water, so our rain clothes came in handy.
The next waterfall of the day was Íráfoss. We didn’t plan for this in advance, and we where the only ones there. The sun was out, so it was an amazing spot to shoot a bunch of photos and have lunch off the main road. As we sat there, more people arrived. Some was photographers while others were preparing for a wedding ceremony. What a place to get married. As we continued east on the main road, we came by what will later be a small museum/visitor center about the massive volcano eruption from Eyjafjallajökull in 2010. The only thing to see here at the moment was som pictures from the eruption taken at the exact place of the exhibition. It looked unbelievable and so violent. It’s strange to imagine, that the locals live next to these extreme forces of nature every day.
After a few hours on the road, we had planned for a swim in one of the hot springs. At Seljavallalaug is an old outdoor swimming facility from 1928. It is a concrete pool with water heated by the natural springs. Unfortunately the water wasn’t very hot (more like a regular pool than a spa), and it was very dirty just like the changing rooms. However the location for the pool was in a beautiful valley with mountains on three sides, not very far from the parking area which was also free. So for bathing and swimming it wasn’t what we had hoped for, but as a curious traveler it was very nice.
The next waterfall, Skógafoss, was one of the more traditional and more famous waterfalls. It is a wide river running from the glaciers Eyjafjallajökull and Myrdalsjökull inland, indtil it reaches Skógar and it 25 m wide and 60 m tall cliff runs over the edge and into a lake. It is as magnificent from below as it is from the top. You can walk up there and look over the edge. Someday we would love to go back, and start a hike from the camping grounds next to Skógafoss and walk along the river to the glaciers and into the national park Þórsmörk (Thorsmark). We were actually going to Þórsmörk by bus the next day, so before then we had a few more things to do in the area.
One was an old plane wreck left on the beach Sólheimasandur to turn into a popular tourist attraction. To begin with we didn’t realize, that it was a 3,5 km walk in a straight line towards the coast to get the, but luckily we read the signs by the parking lot. We thought it was fairly close, but even though there was a bus available, we walked out and back. It was completely straight and flat like walking in a dessert with rock plains on both sides. We spent rough each way, and the plane was a good photo opportunity. Afterwards we made it to the town of Vik and the black beach Reynisfjara. (This beach is sometimes referred to as Chinese Take Away Beach, as a number of Chinese tourist have been victim to the dangerous and unpredictable wabes.) It was a strange sight, as the sand was just as fine as we know it from home, it was just black. At the same beach we saw the large and famous gathering of basalt pillars you could climb onto for a photo, and what took must of our attention: The Puffins. They were SO cute, but a bit far from us and I had left my camera in the car. We would watch them fly back and forth from theirs nests on the cliffs and out towards the oceans, while praying we would have another opportunity with the camera later on. And boy did we! (day 7). Before it got too dark, we went back to Skógafoss and stayed for the night with a view of the waterfall, before a big hike the day after.
Day 6 – Hiking in Þórsmörk
Þórsmörk (Thorsmork meaning The Valley of Thor) is said to be the ultimate hiking area in Iceland. The area is remote and cut off from the rest of the country by rivers, mountains and claciers. To get there you can either hike for days, or drive along the renown route F249 – the only one rental cars are not allowed on – where you need to cross water multiple times, even though there are no asphalt or bridges on the way. We got on a bus from Hvolsvöllur at 9 am, and was dropped off at a little camping area called Vulcano Huts around 10 am.
The hiking trails in Þórsmörk are amazing and the surroundings beautiful. Unfortunately the maps and signage were not very good, so I recommend some planing before going here, especially if you need to catch a bus back. We did find a trail fairly quickly and starting hiking a pretty steep hill. Not before long we made it to the top (Valahnjúkur Viewpoint, 1,5 km, 30 min) and enjoyed an incredible view over the valley and the glacier Eyjafjallajökull. We continued down on the other side to Langidalur Volunteer Camp (3 km, 1:20), and found a decent trail map. It didn’t have any distances however, so we had to plan a little as we went, but it went fine.
We continued east along a trail that was very difficult and steep at times. We loved that, and as we walked away from the camp we felt more and more alone. The top of the mountains was flat as a pancake, and we could see the valleys on both sides of Þórsmörk as we enjoyed our luch in the sun. Over the next 6 km we only encountered one other couple, if you do not count a few hikes along the oppesite side of the river spotted from the high altitudes. The way down was much less approachable than the way up, and sometimes we would have to crawl and climb. In the end we made it down to the river, and followed it back to Langidalur (9 km, 3:40).
At this point we had to keep track of the time, so we wouldn’t miss our bus home (the 19:15 was the last one of the day). We decided that we had plenty of time for another round trip towards the east. Part of the route was marked as “expert”, and that sounded like a lot of fun. Most people would be fine to do it however. Most of it was steep slopes both in the direction of the paths and sideways made with black sand, gravel and rocks. With careful steps we made it across, making sure we didn’t fall down the slope. After this part, the trails became the most difficult to follow. After a bit of red trail (difficult) there was meant to be some more black (expert), but we couldn’t find it, so we went along another red trail. After 18,44 km and 6 hours 45 minutes (plus a lunch break) we made it back to Vulcano Huts in pleanty of time the make the bus home.
We booked the last bus back, but we hadn’t looked at what time we would be back in civilization. For some reason the bus was one hour out and 2½ hours back. Turned out, the bus crossed the river a few times to pick up passengers in Langidalur and Básar on the opposite site of the valley. If you want to copy our day hike, you might want to consider ending your hike in Lagidalur and take the bus back from from there an hour later – or maybe book an overnight stay.
To wrap up day 6, here is the maps we found and some photos along with a HUGE recommendation of Þórsmörk from both Cecilie and me ! The hike we did was something like this: Vulcano Huts (Husadalur) – Valahnjúkur – Langidalur – counter clockwise to Steinbogi and back to Langidalur – Ranata- Husadalur.
Day 7 – Puffins !
For the rest of the roundtrip, the places worth stopping for was more scattered, that i had been until now. Once again headed for Vik, we stopped at the lighthouse called Dyrhólaey, to see the Puffins (or sea parrots as they are also called). They don’t live in many other countries than Iceland, and you could buy them all over the island as plushies, shots glasses or printed on socks and what not. There was a whole bunch of them living on the cliff below the lighthouse, many of them pretty high up, and visible to both our admiration and our cameras. As we finally had enough of the view and the birds, we were about to leave, as we saw a small group gathered around something on the ground. We walked closer, and there was the cutes little puffin right there on the cliffs edge just posing one meter from os. They were just so cute and clumsy, and quite beautiful with their colorful beaks.
We continued away from the coast for a while, as we hoped we could get all the way up to a glaciers at Þakgil. Unfortunately that wasn’t the case, but the drive up there was pretty fun: Hilly gravel roads weaving up the mountains like a roller coaster. We went back to the coast and stopped at Hjörleifshöfði (yes, that is actually a name). Supposedly the opening scenes for Star Wars Rouge One was filmed here. I’m not much of a Star Wars fan, but I did recognize the Yoda Cave. The opening is not just shaped somewhat like Yoda, it is shaped exactly like him.
The next stop was Laufskálavarða, a small lookout in the middle of nowhere. The only thing around was a web of minor paths. On the mossy fields between them, was hundres of man made rock stacks. We tried making a small one, but there was hardly a stone to be found, that wasn’t already stacked onto another. As we drove along route 1 we admired the mossy rock fields all around us. A good spot to get closer was Gönguleið um Eldhraun, where we could also read a little about the nature. Our GPS was set to Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon, and amazing place that you probably know from Instagram. It looks like the island has broken in half, and the water flows in the cracked open canyon. Not far from there, we randomly stumbled upon a patch of basalt pillars in the ground in the area Kirkjugólf. They were no more than 50 cm above ground, and the info sign informed us, that these pillars often are hexagonal just like bee hives and many other nature phenomena. However, they can sometimes be other shapes, and in Kirkjugólf there should be a 10-sided pillar, but we couldn’t find it. If you found it, please let me know.
We meant to go to the waterfall Stjórnarfoss, that, as the name implies, is a star shaped waterfall (star is stjarna in Icelandic). The water below was so pure and blue, and I was so tempted to go in, even though it was freezing cold. I still regret not doing so, as that was the best place for a swim we would encounter.
Day 8 – The Land of Ice
We woke up at the camping grounds in Skaftafell. Before going to bed, we had already seen the glacier Svinafellsjökull, and there was another glacier close by. First we did a little bit of hiking. First to the waterfall Svartifoss and all the basalt pillars, and afterwards we concluded that these hiking trails wasn’t quite like hiking in Þórsmörk. Skipping some of the hiking trails we continued walking to the Skaftafelljökull Glacier, and watched relatively close – close enough to feel the cold air coming down the mountain over the ice.
I was surprised to learn that the glaciers are very slowly “flowing” down like a viscous dough pushed down from the enormous weight above. After this amazing sight we had more ice on the agenda, as we arrived at Jökulsárlón. I don’t know if you would call it a bay or a lake. This is where the glacier breaks off in smaller blueish icebergs, floating around in the water among numerous seals, occasionally emerging here and there. Once the icebergs have melted into smaller chucks of ice, the wash out under the bridge and ashore on Diamond Beach looking that crystal clear diamonds against the fine black sand. For the evening we had a bit of distance to cover, and had to make the choice between Route 1 – the main road around the island – or a significantly shorter gravel road route over the mountains. We chose the latter of course, and at the end of the day, we camped between trees and very close to a lake, at a nice little camping ground called Atlavik Camping.