Iceland Part II
Coming back to Iceland from Poland we felt more confident than ever and more prepared for what to expect for a Summer in Iceland around the ring road. We had our plan of what we wanted to see and do around the ring road and looked up locations and campgrounds to stay at in the towns we were going to visit. This really made our trip better having a solid schedule with some leeway for changes in the itinerary.
We immediately set out to start our four-day hike starting at Landmannalaugar and ending at Þórsmörk. Rated one of the greatest hikes in the world and I have to agree. The hike starts up in the highlands of Iceland at the edge of a lava field in a natural hot spring. After a soak in the hot spring the hike twists through the lava fields to some steam vents and up a mountain into the ice/snow. After about 12km you get to the first hut (Hrafntinnusker). It was very cold at the first hut and the highest elevation of the hike.
Day two you continue to cross the mountaintop through the ice, passing ice caves along the way, then it winds through a valley of steam vents and that familiar smell of sulfur fills your lungs with every breath. After the steam vents a dramatic view opens into a valley of green pastures, grazing sheep, and black sandy mountains with the next hut next to a lake in the horizon. The hike’s most rapid decent is found at this point before the long pathway to the lake and our first river crossing just before arriving at the hut (Álftavatn). Day two completed. That night we did not sleep much as the wind was extreme by the lake and we thought our tent was going to break but thankfully it did not.
The third day was quite interesting, the landscape goes from green pastures with sheep on the hillsides to a desert-like trek in just a few kilometers. There were three river crossings this day, the second one being the coldest, longest, and strongest current of them all. After the second river crossing is where the landscape really changes the most. By the end of this 15km it was super warm at the next hut (Emstrur), we washed clothes in the river and hung them up to dry on our clothesline preparing for the next day.
The fourth day we had some of the best weather we’d ever had in Iceland, I even got a sunburn on my face and was hiking in shorts and a short-sleeved shirt by the end. Day four there was one long river-crossing just before arriving in the Þórsmörk valley where you actually get to see some trees for a change (there aren’t many natural trees in Iceland) and relaxed for a few hours before the bus took us back to our planned campsite at Hella. Truly an amazing hike and I would recommend it to others coming to Iceland, even if it’s only a short stopover.
Navigating the Ring Road
Our next stop on the bus was Vík, a small little town (big town by Iceland standards) with not much going on besides the famed black sands beach, and this view. Nearly all the beaches in Iceland have black sand by the way so I don’t know why this one is special, I didn’t think so. It was mainly a relaxing day, waking around the town and washing clothes in the river.
Our next day was lots of driving. We rode the bus all day and stopped at the Glacial Lagoon (officially called Jökulsárlón) at the base of the massive glacier Vatnajökull for a one-hour lunch break. I didn’t get many good pictures here but apparently two James bond films have been filmed there and many others, cool spot right off the ring road and a must see. The end of the bus route ends at Höfn, another small (“big”) town for which we had no activities planned.
We continued along the ring road the following morning through the East fjords spending yet another day on the bus not planning to stop until we get to Lake Mývatn. I really enjoyed Lake Mývatn, it’s a unique ecosystem with quite a few hikes and activities in the area, including the Jarðböðin við Mývatn, the Mývatn Nature Baths, like the Blue Lagoon of the North but half the price. Other things to see in the area are the Grjótagjá cave once a hot spring used for bathing in an ancient lava cave, Hverfjall is a large crater you can walk around the rim, or there’s Hverir the bubling pools of mud and fumaroles (sulfuric steam vents) and finally Skútustaðagígar pseudo craters. Such a cool place, you should check it out if you come to Iceland.
After we left Mývatn the next spot to stop and take pictures was Goðafoss, which literally translates to waterfall of the gods. Goðafoss lives up to the hype, you’ve undoubtedly seen pictures of it from various media sources.
Akureyri and Beyond
Akureyri is a nice little city, they’re trying to be the artsy city compared to Reykjavik with an Art museum right in the center of town. I liked it, it makes the city feel as though it has some character. We spent 3 nights here but it felt like longer. We didn’t feel like there was much to see other than the botanical garden, shopping mall, or fly to the island of Grímsey. Not a bad place to grow up, the city has everything you need but not really anything for the tourist and that’s OK.
Moving on, we took the bus to Dalvik, a little fishing village that hosts an annual fish festival that we were too early for but it has a ferry that will take you to the aforementioned Grímsey, Iceland’s northernmost island with a population of 86 people that also straddles the Arctic Circle. This is a weird place with a surprising history. The island was first populated with the help of an ice bridge connecting it to mainland Iceland, is a bastion of chess-playing and is like a bird haven for cute Atlantic Puffins and those goddamn Arctic Terns (simply known as Kría) that repeatedly dive-bomb relentlessly at your head if you get too close to their nest, trust me it’s quite terrifying. Fuck those birds. Other than the tens of thousands of birds on this island it was cool to go beyond the Arctic Circle.
Next stop on our itinerary was the Westfjords, but our bus route did not go out there so we decided to hitchhike from our bus stop, luckily we didn’t wait too long and a friendly young Icelandic man picked us up for a three-hour trip to Ísafjörður. Ísafjörður is basically the capital of the Westfjords and we really only made the long trip out there to see Mýrarbolti, the European Swamp Soccer Championships being held in Bolungarvík. Mýrarbolti is nothing like I’ve ever seen before, If I had some clothes and shoes that I could throw away afterwards I would have participated.
That night we went out partying with our Icelandic friends at what seemed like the only bar in town and I taught the drinking game “Rage Cage” to my new friends. I was also sure to try the famous Icelandic spirit, Brennivín along with some cures shark. The shark was gross but I found a likeness for Brennivín, which if I could describe it tastes like vodka with herbal spices that’s remarkably smooth. Overall a successful few nights spent in the Westfjord region but our next big task was getting a ride back to the ring road so we could catch our bus back to Reykjavik.
We got a hitch-hike out of Ísafjörður but he could only take us to the next town which we were OK with. We slept at a campsite and figured we would get up early and try again for a hitchhike starting at 8am. To our surprise there were literally no cars until 9am and after another hour we only saw a handful of cars heading our direction. Just as despair was beginning to set in and the rain was starting a friendly Aussie couple stopped with some extra space for us in their rented camper-van. We were saved and they proceeded to take us to our next bus stop.
The Golden Circle
Our last planned activity and second day-trip in Iceland was on what’s called the Golden Circle. The Golden Circle is the most popular tour in Iceland, it picks up in Reykjavik, goes to Þingvellir National Park, then the Gullfoss waterfall, the geothermal area in Haukadalur which contains the geysers Geysir and Strokkur, and then the finale at the secret lagoon, a former bathhouse turned commercial hot spring that’s infinitely more natural than the famous Blue Lagoon. I would recommend this tour, it’s called the Golden Circle for a reason!
Read my next article where we get lost in the forest in Portland, Oregon. “þetta reddast”