Day 9 and 10 – water from above and below
The nice weather couldn’t last for ever – we were on Iceland. In the morning it was grey and wet, and as we parked the car close to the Hengifoss waterfall, it was foggy and moist. Despite the low visibility, we hiked the 2,5 km up, but we couldn’t even see the waterfall through the fog. On our way we did see Litlanefoss however, before everything turned grey.
That didn’t stop us, as we had bigger expectation for Dettifoss and Selfoss. Dettifoss is said to be the most powerfull waterfall in Europe, and the 193 m3 water flowing through every second (that’s 193.000 L!), does origin from the largest glacier in Europe, Vatnajökull. We parked on the less visited east side of the river, from where we could walk all the way down to the edge of the waterfall. On this side there was also significantly less mist, that mostly sprayed everyone in the west side. Unfortunately it was still pretty foggy, and even a few meters from the water, you couldn’t see much. Nonetheless we walked about 1,4 km up the river to see Selfoss, hopefully in better weather. Just as we were about to turn back, it cleared up. We did get to see Selfoss, and its very unusual shape, as it is running along the river for several hundres meters. We also got the view of Dettifoss in somewhat okay weather.
The day went by quickly, and we didn’t get to spend much time in the horse shoe shaped canyon, Ásbyrgi. It would probably have been great on a sunny day, walking on the top of it rather than in the valley. We drove out to the end of the valley, which was also pretty great. At the far end was a lake, and 270 degrees around you was cliff walls scaling 100 meters straight up. The view from up there will have to be another time. After dinner in Husavik we camped at Heiðarbær.
Husavik on the north coast is known to be a perfect whale watching area, and also known for the Will Farrel movie Eurovision Song Contest – The Story of Fire Saga. We had fish for dinner in the evening, but the next day we didn’t get to see much. Our whale safari was cancelled to due bad weather, and Café Ja JA Ding Dong and its little museum (from the movie mentioned above) didn’t open until late that day. We found a few places from the movie and moved on.
The day will mostly be rememered as a cold, windy and rainy day. We did some very short stops at the Viti Crater, Krafla Viewpoint and the power plant also named Krafle (or Kröflustöð in Icelandic) which had a little free museum about extracting the geotermal energy from the underground. It was actually quite interesting, and also it was warm and dry indoors. Not so far from the power plant was an outdoor shower (Endlose Dusche) with excess water from the facility, and had the weather not been so terrible, we could have taken a shower right there next to the road. We stopped next at another geothermal area called Hverir, but it wasn’t anything special compared to all the other bubbly and steamy places we had already seen. At this point, we were so wet and cold, that we could only squeeze in one more sight, and that was Stóragjá – a little cave with a warm lake inside. But then we moved on to the highlight of the day: Mývatn Nature Baths – A blue lagoon (not THE blue lagoon, but quite similar and at half the price) with big blue steaming pools, saunas, bars (in the water of course) and regular showers, which by now was also pretty nice. With renewed energy and warm bodies, we went back on the road, and drove towards Camping Varmahlíð. The Goðafoss waterfall provided a nice view for dinner on the way.
Day 11-15 – Seals, Horses and Strongman
After day 10 we had reached what you would call north/north-western Iceland, and we were slowly making our way back towards Reykjavik. We were starting to grow a bit tired from driving so much, so we decided to skip the far north-/western bit (route 61). We didn’t go very far before having our frist improvised stop in the town of Blönduós, and went to the little Island, Hrútey, surrounded byt the rapid Blanda river. Next we walked around the very alternative church, Blönduóskirkja, and just took it slow and enjoyed that the weather was great again. Our socks were in the bottom of the windshield being warmed by the sun from above and dried by the airconditioner from below for most of the day. We kept going on the gravel roads along the coast til Hvitserkur, to see the very characteristic rock in the water, while also hoping to see seals. We didn’t see any seals there, but at Illugastadir there was a whole flok lying on the rocks and swimming in the water. They were quite far away from the view point, but we could see them clearly through my camera lense. Others had brought binoculars. As an alternative, you could go to Ytri Tunga and get much closer, which we did on day 13.
We attempted a short hike for the waterfalls Benefoss, Ankafoss and Attifoss, and with some help from Google we found the starting point, but the route wasn’t maintened properly. We walked down to the river and followed it. It was a fun and challenging route (especially if you like your feet dry), but at the bottom of Benefoss we couldn’t get any further, and had to return. For once we decided to head to our camp site early, hang our clothes out to dry and relaxed a little with our books. Hverinn Camping was the perfekt place, as it had a small restaurant with cheap food and local beer, while also providing clotheslines and a little outdoor lounge in the sun.
We dressed with a few extra layers the next morning. For the first time the temperature dropped below freezing at night, and we also planned to go into some lava caves at Surtshellir. Unfortunately they were closed of, supposedly due to the risk of collapsing, so we would have to be content to watching some of the open bits from above. It was still worth it, and we couldn’t dream of better weather. Also the drive on curved, empty gravel roads was quite fun. We dropped a few layers of clothes and continued to Husafell, and tried to lift the famous strongman lifting stone, that shaped the crossfit sandbags with the same name. The stone weighs 186 kg, so there was no chance we would lift it, but we had to try anyways. In fact it was a struggle just to flip it to an upright position, and we couldn’t lift it together either. Meanwhile the temperature had increased so much, that we could change into shorts for the first time.
Last stop in the area was Hraunfossar, a 900 meters long (or more like wide) gathering of tiny little waterfalls, running from what appears to be nothing and into a larger river. After this we continued west. We first hiked 6 km in the middle of nowhere, to get to the extinct volcano, Eldborg Crater, and continued towards the coast. On the way we stopped a lot at some smaller landmarks and sights to see Grundarfoss, Icelandic horses and Kirkjufell, the giant rock in the ocean. From here we would drive by the shore to the town Hellissandar in the very west of Iceland, also knows as the “street art capital of Iceland”. It is said to have 30 large murals, and you can admire a large part of those close to the water at Keflavikurgata. By then we had had enough for one day, and before heading to bed we cooked our very first homemade meal at Hellissandur Camping. That is by the way a brilliant camp site, though it is very windy as it is high and close by the sea.
Day 13 would be the last day on the roads, but we still had lots of minor stops on an already long ride. The first was after a few minutes at Írskrabrunnur, an Irish well with a whale bone across the hole – something you can easily skip and proceed to Saxhóll Crater, where we walked up the stairs to the edge of the crater in crazy strong winds. Compared to Eldborg it wasn’t anything special, but on the other hand you only had to walk for a few minutes this time.
Moving on to Djúpalónssandur beach coated in small greyish black stone and surrounded by rough cliffs. On the beach you will find the rusty remains of an old shipwreck scattered on the beach. We also tested our strength lifting some strongman lifting stone, this time of a more realistic size. In a row was four lifting stones, that in old times would be lifted onto a cliff 1 meters high, in order to prove your strength, and become an oarsman on the fishing boats. The stones was 23 kg – Amlóði/weakling, 54 kg – Hálfdrættingur/Half-carrier (the minimum requirement for a fisher), 100 kg – Hálfsterkur/Half-strong and at last 154 kg – Fullsterkur/full-strong. I was positive I could manage the 100 kg stone, but I wasn’t able to get a proper grib, and would half to settle for the 54 kg stone. Cecilie also cleared the 54 kg, and we could both be employed at the Icelandic fishing boats… However, we did continue in the 4×4 Dacia Duster, and drove to the town Arnarstapi. Here they had a big statue made from stacked rocks, and the naturally shaped stone bridge over the water and many other beautiful rock and cliff formations. We took a many detour towards the Songhellir Caves higher up, but it was more small hole in the rock walls rather than actual caves. But the area up in the mountain was nice and quiet. By this point there was only one stop left before Reykjavik: Ytri Tunga Seal Colony. Unlike the previous colony, you had to pay for parking here, but you could also get a lot closer to the seals. It was a bit of a walk and there was heaps of tourist, so if you brough binoculars or a big camera lense, I would recommend Illugastadir instead.
As we drove back to Reykjavik, Cecilie did some research on hiking trails, and she found a neat area, where we would hike almost by our selves. It had no designated payed parkering zones or hiking routes, but with some help from social media and travel blogs, we found a good place to park and begin the hike. It wasn’t far from Nesjavellir Viewing Point (the exact spot is here), and from there we followed the sign for an “educational route” the opposite way around into the valley and the power plant. Then we proceeded past the Adventure Park and ION Adventure Hotel and back up the hillside to the car. It ended up being a 9 km route taking 2 hours and 40 minutes and had some quite beautiful places along the way. By now we were getting tired both physically and mentally, so the last day in Iceland, we just enjoyed ourselves in Rekjavik with a friend of Cecilies, who also happened to be in Iceland at the time. We also ticked off one last thing on our list: Cecilie had some lamb, and I tried whale. It was delicious and can best be described as similar to beef tenderloin and not very expensive.
On the entire trip we ended up hiking 127 km or 348.964 steps (23.264 per day)
A bit of experience to pass on:
Once you arrive in Keflavik Airport, you want to get your car right away, rather than taking the bus to Reykjavik and stay at a hotel like we did. It is too far and too expensive. We do recommend renting a 4×4, if you are comfortable sleeping in a tent. If you want a bit more comfort, you can rent a campervan. If you choose a proper autocamper it will be extremely expensive and very slow on certain roads.
Camping fees vary a lot. Google Maps will show you many camping sites, and if you read peoples reviews, you will get an idea of the facilities, prices and how and when to pay (which is different everywhere). We were satisfied with all the places we went, and they were all fairly cheap.
You may want to research parking facilities where you want to go beforehand. You will pay to park most places, and that can add up when you just park for 15 minutes to see an attraction. Perhaps you can find alternative parking, or a different attraction that offers the same without parking fees. Or consider if you already saw enough waterfalls…
Iceland must be incredibly beautiful in the winter. I would very much like to see it covered in ice and snow. However some roads are impassable at that time.