Tag Archives: road trip

Road trip Iceland: Day 6 (Further along the South coast towards the Eastfjords)

The easiest way to get behind your schedule on a road trip is thinking that you have plenty of time on a less busy day, and we did not want to make this mistake. While we did not have that many sights planned for the day, there was still a lot of driving to be done, so we did not spend too long in the warm, sunlit dining area of our hotel before hitting the road. The weather was pretty cold, but by this point we had gotten quite used to the Icelandic climate.

We started the day by driving back to the Glacier Lagoon and the Diamond Beach, to experience these places under different light conditions too. Due to the very early sunrise, by the time we set foot on the beach the lights were not really warm morning lights anymore, but it was still worth walking around one more time. I spent some time trying to get some original pictures, but it is very difficult on a location like this, especially after spending hours watching YouTube videos about photography on Iceland…

Thanks to Clio’s eagle eyes, we even spotted two smaller whales (besides the much easier, nearby seals), slowly swimming by the coast around a hundred meters off shore, coming up to the surface from time to time for a sip of fresh air. We finished our visit here by driving five hundred metres further back on the main road to stop at a parking spot along the Southern shores of the lagoon, where after a few minutes of walking we could get a nice panorama over the whole area from a bit higher than at other places. (We still spent almost 1.5 hours here in total.)

From here we continued our journey towards the East. The ring road cuts through grass covered flatlands (still shades of brown and yellow at this time of the year), but there are constant views to the never ending series of glaciers and mountain ridges to the left. At one point we have to cross the complex branch-structures of a meltwater river, over a long single lane bridge (looking quite worn). These outwash plains are quite frequently seen here to the South, we also had to cross several others the day before. After the bridge the road turned South towards Höfn, where we were planning on getting something for lunch. Unluckily just when we arrived to the harbour and stepped into the diner of Hafnarbuðin, a large group of school children flooded the place and started ordering food before we could do so… I was way too hungry to wait and also did not really want to listen to loud children the whole time, so we decided to just go and grab something at the N1 petrol station. Over there is was quiet and – as usual – they had a really nice hot dog for me and some fish and chips for Clio.

Our next stop for the day was the Stokksnes, only a short drive further along the ring road. It is a small headland stretching Southeast from the feet of the scenic Vestrahorn mountains, wedged between black sand beaches, and covered with small grass-topped sand dunes. You have to pay to enter the area – probably due to it becoming one of the most well known photo-spots of the island -, but it is definitely a nice place to walk around a bit. Unluckily the wether turned a bit grey after the sunny morning hours, but I still enjoyed playing around with my photo equipment, trying to find a scenic spot between the larger than expected wind-blown dunes.

Another hour (and another single-lane river-bed passage) later we had a short stop at the Hvalnes Lighthouse, but it was so cold and windy here, that it was really just a hop out of the car. At this point the road turns more towards the North-Northeast, and the glaciers and glacial outflows are replaced by deeper and deeper fjords of the Eastfjords. Reaching the almost 20 km long Berufjörður the mountains start to display those typical, nearly horizontal rock layers that are mostly known from images of the Faroe Islands. There is still quite some snow on the top of the ridges, which helps pronouncing these formations even better. After almost running over a few reindeers who though that chilling out in the middle of the road just after a sharp curve was the best idea we made a small detour to the Nykurhylsfoss, but after all the amazing waterfalls of the previous days we did not find this one particularly impressive. I personally found the view itself from the tiny parking spot to the mountains over the other side of the fjord much nicer, especially since the sun came out again for a few minutes.

The views along the road were really beautiful (if you like barren mountains like I do), but we only stopped for food after here, because we were getting a bit behind our schedule. In any case the food itself deserves special mention. We had a burger in a tiny place just outside Breiðdalshreppur, the Hamar, Hótel – Kaffihús. We were the only ones there, and they served us the best burger we had in a very long time (and some good and desperately needed coffee). It was perfect, moist, had a well flavoured sauce, and the fries and onion rings were also delicious. I really do not write reviews often, but here I really wanted to (and did).

Our hotel was only one and a half fjords further, but we still had to deal with a bit of a scare on the way there thanks to the tire pressure warning light turning on, but we did not see or feel anything wrong with the tires, so at the end we just drove on. (Later on it turned out that driving on gravel, and/combined with stronger accelerations can also make these sensors think that something is not OK, but until we realised this it was quite annoying to think about. But having such simple sensors on a 4×4 is a bit stupid, isn’t it!?!)

At the end it was almost half past seven when we arrived to the Fosshotel Eastfjords in Fáskrúðsfjörður, and just as we checked in (after still taking a few reference pictures of the tires just to be sure) a dense snow shower descended down the fjord from the Northwest. I still went outside to the wooden pier of the hotel take a few pictures, but my hands were getting frozen in the cold wind pretty quickly, so it was not a long expedition. Luckily I had not too many pictures to put online that day, and I could go to sleep in time (knowing that the next day would likely be very long with much many more sights to cover).

Road trip Iceland: Day 5 (The Southern Vatnajökull National Park)

This was finally going to be a good (or easy) day for photography, with clean air, sunshine, and beautiful vistas. We also did not really have to hurry with our breakfast, since the originally planned drive to the camping and hiking site of Þakgil (hidden in a nice canyon at the end of a gravel road) was not yet doable even with a 4WD (for current road conditions, always check the website of the Icelandic road network).

We left our lodge around 9 and drove immediately up to the Dyrhólaey rocks. The last few hundred meters of the ‘road’ climbs over a steep and narrow series of gravel switchbacks before reaching the small parking on the top. I though this section was super fun, Clio was less enthusiastic about it :D The view from the top of the rocks was very nice; standing over the edge of the cliffs and looking over the black sand beaches towards the West below really gave the feeling of flying over the landscape.

To the North we could see tall, ice covered mountain tops, and to the South – after a short walk past the lighthouse with a small red lantern room  – a massive stone arch bending over the sea. We also stopped at the other parking over the Eastern side of this small peninsula, which gave a better view towards the black sand beaches and rock pillars towards Vík.

This was also the Southernmost point of our road trip. From here we drove to the church of Vík (over the same – still pretty – pass that we had already taken twice the previous day), which by itself is not so special, but it provides another nice lookout point over the region. The next bigger stop on our list was the Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon, so we had a longer drive in front of us. On the way there we stopped at a place where you could walk around a bit in a huge field of green (moss covered) lava.

Unluckily the road leading to the canyon (and the canyon itself) was not accessible, and not only because of thawing, but also because the canyon became so popular in the past years (partly due to a music video clip being shot there by Justin Bieber…) that the Environmental Agency of Iceland has decided to close it to allow the trails and vegetation to recover a bit. I was pretty sad (maybe even devastated) about this, because I was really looking forward to taking some nice pictures here. Luckily I was prepared and had some backup sights just in case, so this meant no real disturbance for our schedule. (Not that a bit of extra time to chill and relax would not have been welcome :D)

Just a small drive further we stopped at Kirkjugólf, the “church floor”, where the typical hexagonal basalt pattern forms a flat floor surface that you can walk over. It is such a hidden sight, but I really liked how special it was. Then just a bit further from the ring road we also visited the Stjórnarfoss waterfall.

The drive further towards the Vatnajökull National Park was very scenic, we passed by and stopped at various waterfalls (thin and tall, or wide and long) and river beds cutting through the ever changing colourful landscape.

Then just before reaching the National Park, as the views suddenly open up towards the steep, glacier-carved mountains, it is impossible to not stop for a short break, trying to take in the panorama. There is actually a nice designated view-and-information-point (Skeiðará Bridge Monument) just a bit further down the road from where I stopped. As the weather was super nice (and I definitely wanted to take pictures in those exact conditions at the glacier), I decided to first drive to the Svinafellsjokulsvegur. (Normally if you just follow the ring road you encounter the two following locations in the other way around.) The little bit longer than a kilometre long gravel road leading almost to the very end of the glacier was the worst road we have taken on Iceland; it was very broad, but irregularly scattered with deep potholes almost along the full length (and width) of it.

It was not an issue for our car, but I had to drive very slow and carefully find a way around the deepest obstacles. From the parking it is not more than a five minute walk along a narrow trail to reach a few nice panorama points. The cracks and crevasses give the ice-flow its characteristic look, wedged between the tall, snow-capped mountains, and the brown meltwater below.

From here – after carefully making it back across the gravel “superhighway” – it was not more than a few minutes to make it to the parking of the Svartifoss. To reach the waterfall itself we had to make a small hike, following a 2.1 km long trail (and then the same back) and climbing almost 200 metres along the way. The route itself was also very nice, with great views to both the taller peaks to the right, and towards the flat, wide riverbeds over our shoulders in the opposite direction. The waterfall itself is not especially tall or wide, but its water flows from the top of a wall of textbook basalt columns. It is definitely worth the hike.

By the time we arrived back to the car it was already around half past five, and according to the original plan our next destination would have already been our hotel for the night, but the weather was so beautiful that we decided to still sop by the Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon and the Diamond Beach (even though we were also getting quite hungry since – for the first time – we only had snacks and no real food during the day). The Glacier Lagoon had a real arctic feeling to it, everything was blue or white, there were seals swimming between the icebergs, and the low sun gave no warmth at all. This was really one of the most magical places on Iceland.

As crystal clear meltwater and icebergs flow out via a narrow channel (under the small suspension bridge of the ring road) from the lagoon (looks like a lake, I would call it a lake) to the sea, waves and currents distribute varying amounts and sizes of ice over the black beaches, creating what is known as the Diamond Beach. Much of the (relatively) smaller (but still easily dog-sized) pieces of ice lying (and very slowly melting – especially in the 3°C we had there) on the shore are completely clear and transparent, which makes them shine like diamonds in most lighting conditions.

I knew I wanted to come back here around sunset, so I did not spend much time taking pictures here, instead we drove to the Hali Country Hotel to check in and have dinner in their restaurant.  The views along these few kilometres were amazing: we just entered the early minutes of the golden hour(s), driving along a straight section of the road surrounded by bright yellow grass fields scattered by mirrors of small lakes, head-on towards the mountains that were just barely lit from the side (therefore creating high contrast regions between rock faces in sunlight and their dark shadows), under a sky that was somewhere between deep blue and purple with a few well defined clouds here and there above the ridges… I was (and still am) so sad that there was no place to stop safely anywhere to take a picture. After dinner Clio stayed at the hotel (and went to sleep at one point), and I drove back to the lagoon and the beach with all my warm clothing and photography equipment.

I headed to the lagoon first to watch the sunset over the glacier in the distance (this was around 21:15). There was a huge amount of birds flying over the icebergs, and they made quite some noise! When the sun dipped below the mountains I drove over to the beach and also took my tripod and filters with me to scout for a good location amongst all the ice.

I wanted to make a long exposure image composing a stationary transparent piece of ice within curtains created by waves coming ashore, but actually executing this was not an easy task. First, I had to find a suitable piece of ice: nice and clear, at a good location (that other ice bergs create a pleasant composition with it), not too far from the sea (so the waves can still reach it), but also not too close (so I don’t get drenched in freezing water and the tripod is not washed away in the process). This was the most difficult part. Every time I thought I found a good spot, either the waves did not come far enough, or I had to run away (picking up the tripod in the process) to stay dry. At the end I still had some water over my shoes, but luckily my boots survived those few shallow waves without letting anything through. Even though I was not yet 100% satisfied, at 22:10 I decided that it was getting way too late so I had to stop.

I still had a quick look on the other side at the lagoon before heading back, but there was not much to photograph anymore. It was 22:40 by the time I started driving back to the hotel, and dark enough that using my floodlights did not seem excessive anymore. I even saw a reindeer along the road. It did not take long to fall asleep that night.

And a quick reminder that on Flickr there are more photos in my Iceland album ;)

Road trip Iceland: Day 4 (Waterfalls towards the South)

The breakfast at the Lambastadir Guesthouse was simple but delicious. The morning was sunny but cold, with temperatures just above freezing, and there was still some dew on the grass from the rain that fell during the night. We started the day by driving off the ring road towards the Northeast, in search of waterfalls in a deserted landscape.

We reached our first stop, the Hjalparfoss after a good 45 minute drive (including a short bumpy gravel road that took us to the parking itself). There was a strong cold wind blowing outside, but the waterfall was quite pretty, coming down in two branches framed by typical twisting basalt columns.

In better weather this might be a good place for a picnic (the river under the waterfall broadens immediately into a calm, almost beach-like body of water), but for us it was time to get back into the car and drive further before my hands would freeze to my camera. Our next stop would have been the Haifoss, but to my (large) disappointment (and Clio’s slight relief), the 7.5 km long bumpy gravel road (332) leading up to it was closed due to unstable (thawing) conditions. It is a pity because this would have been definitely one of the nicest waterfalls, but on the other hand we got quite some unexpected extra time for the rest of the day, so I could spend a bit more time taking pictures at the remaining locations.

From here we had to still drive a bit further inland to cross the big river (that we have been following upstream before), then turn back Southwest onto a long gravel road (26 – see photo above of our car on the side of it). This straight and (at least then) pretty deserted stretch led us across a large lava field providing perfect views towards the snowy volcano of Hekla, and the occasional dust devils that appeared and disappeared along the “road”. The road turns back to smooth asphalt upon reaching the Búrfell mountain (to the right), and soon after there are (at least) two more waterfalls to visit. The first one is the Tröllkonuhlaup which is just a bit off the main road (but you need to look at the satellite imagery of Google Maps to be able to find the unmarked gravel trail leading to it), but when we were there it was almost completely dried out, so we did not stay there for long.

To reach the second one (Þjófafoss) you need to make a slightly larger detour from the main road, but this gravel road is well marked. This is again a quite impressive waterfall, with nice views down to the bend of the river (bordered by plenty of tall basalt columns), and to the Búrfell and Hekla above. I used my graduated ND filter here to get a few nice pictures.

From here it was a longer (more than an hour) drive first back to the ring road, and then further onwards to the East. For lunch we just stopped at a petrol station (N1 in Hvolsvöllur) for some fish and chips (these were always a good option). Then around half past two we arrived to the waterfalls of Seljalandsfoss and Gljúfrabúi amidst some intermittent snow showers. (Here you have to pay for parking at one of the machines.)

These are two very different waterfalls, the Seljalandsfoss is out in the open, and you can even walk behind it (get ready to be at least a bit wet though), while the Gljúfrabúi is a small walk further away, half hidden inside a small canyon. You can also walk close to the falling water here, but getting drenched is totally inevitable.

Less then a half hour (and some good views to the snow covered Eyjafjallajökull volcano) further is Iceland’s most photographed waterfall, the Skógafoss. Its wide water curtain is unquestionably an impressive sight, but if you want to take a picture without tourists, be prepared to wait for a while even in the pre-season… There are also a lot of birds (seagulls) nesting on the cliffs around the waterfall. You can also walk up and have a look from above, but we skipped that and did something more off the beaten path instead.

So there is another more hidden waterfall just around the corner, the Kvernufoss. To get here it is the easiest to drive to the parking of the Skogar Museum, and then follow the walking path to the East. In less then one kilometre you will be at the end of a deep green valley, facing a tall, narrow waterfall. You can also get behind this one (although we did not). It is a very nice walk, with likely nobody else around (we met one other couple on the trail).

From here we had only a short drive left (with nice views to the mountains and wide river beds to the left) to reach our accommodation for the night, the Farmhouse Lodge, but we were not yet done for the day. After checking in we got back to the car and drove to Vik (over a small but very picturesque pass) to have dinner in The Soup Company (not only good soups, but great cakes too).

Then we drove back over the pass (see view above) to Reynisfjara beach, which is famous for its basalt columns (definitely the most photographed ones in Iceland) and black sand/pebbles. It was a bit too busy here to get the picture I originally wanted (as some guys were chilling on the basalt columns with their beers…), but it was very nice nevertheless.

Finally we wanted to close the day by driving to the Dyrhólaey rocks, but unluckily you can not do that after 19:00 at this time of the year because the area is closed to protect the nesting birds. Still, we got to enjoy some nice views from the beginning of the small peninsula before driving back to our Lodge.

The sunset was very pretty behind the mountains, and the forecast for the next day was nothing short of (ok, except for maybe a few degrees Celsius for Clio) perfect weather…

Road trip Iceland: Day 3 (Golden Circle)

Our third day was mainly about the most touristic spots of Iceland, mostly following the route known as the Golden Circle. Even so, since we were there in pre-season, we have not encountered unbearable amount of tourists at any of the locations, but based on the capacity of the restaurants and parking areas I can imagine how crowded these must become in the summer.

We left our hotel after a relatively early breakfast, because it was going to be a long day. It did not take a long time to leave the relatively busy ring road and turn inland leaving all the traffic behind. After less than an hour we arrived to our first stop, the Thingvellir National Park. Based on the pretty deserted parking, we were amongst the first dozen of people there that day. Paying for the parking/entrance is done via touch screen displays installed at the entrance of the public restrooms (inside), and everything is controlled via licence plate recognition cameras.

The park is situated in a rift valley that marks the crest of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge and the boundary between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates. After enjoying a nice panorama overlooking the area from just at the end of the parking, we walked down through a rift, and did a small circle past cliffs, waterfalls, rifts filled with unbelievably clear water, and a historical site.

To save some time, we got back in the car for a few minutes and drove to another parking that is at the beginning of a trail that goes down inside the other end of the main rift to the Öxarárfoss (waterfall).

From here we drove further inside the national park since the main road (36) was closed for renovation, so we were forced to enjoy the scenery a bit longer :) Then we had to drive across a more deserted landscape just South of some mountains (road 365), before getting back to a greener area (road 37). Overall after an hour (plus me stopping here and there for a random picture) we arrived to the next famous stop, the geothermal area around Geysir and Strokkur. The former is not active anymore, but the latter keeps blowing hot water quite high every few minutes.

Unluckily the overcast sky was really not great for photographs here, but I still tried and thus wasted a good half hour trying to set up a more complex long exposure photograph, which resulted in a totally useless and flat picture, so at the end I had to settle to a normal handheld shot. At least I tried. But beyond the technical difficulties, I was very happy to see my first geyser. No matter how hyped the Golden Circle is, I would not suggest skipping this spot if you have not seen geysers yet.

There were also colourful hot springs, small smoking springs, and so on, everything a proper geothermal area can provide. We had a small lunch here in the Geysir Center, which was surprisingly good for such a place (that was also clearly oversized outside of the main tourist season).

From here it was only a short drive further up the main road to the next stop, the magnificent waterfall of Gullfoss. Here there are two main paths to follow, providing views from two different elevations to the rumbling waters. We were lucky with the wind direction as the spray from the waterfall was blown mostly away from us. At one point even the Sun broke through the clouds just long enough for a sunny picture.

To drive towards our next stop, we had to first pass by the Geysir area once more (and we were lucky enough to see the erupting Strokkur from the car), then take road 35 towards the Southwest. This led through a mainly grass covered hilly region, with not much special to see. After a good three quarters of an hour drive we arrived to the Kerið Crater, a small volcanic crater lake with vibrant colours. We walked around the rim before driving further.

Since it was a bit early for dinner, we decided to first check in to our accommodation for the night, the Lambastadir Guesthouse. After a bit of unpacking, we drove to the fishing village of Stokkseyri (where we walked around the beach for a short while), but instead of eating there according to our original plans, we ended up in the more affordable Krisp Restaurant in Selfoss. They had good burgers. After dinner I dropped Clio off at the Guesthouse before driving to the nearby Urriðafoss for a picture before calling it a day.

Road trip Iceland: Day 2 (Reykjavik)

The second day of our trip was the most laid-back one, since we did not have to drive (and while we still did, the distance was less than 10 km), and we did not need to move to another hotel at the end of the day (this would only happen once more during our whole stay in Iceland).

After a perfectly fine breakfast in the hotel we started our day of discovering Reykjavik. The weather was not really great for photography (although it stayed dry, it was also grey and overcast except for a short sunny window in the afternoon), so I don’t have that many worthy pictures to show here :( We first passed by the Hofdi House that is an old (in Reykjavik terms at least), small, white, wooden house on the seafront, that hosted the 1986 meeting of presidents Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev which effectively was a step to the end of the Cold War. Then we walked over to the yellow lighthouse on the other side of the road, for a nice view over the bay and the mountains to the North.

From here we followed the promenade along the coast passing by a set of sculptures towards the modern building of the Harpa Concert Hall and Conference Centre. On the way there we stopped at the metallic skeleton of the Sun Voyager that I already managed to visit (under considerably better light conditions) the previous evening. The concert hall itself is covered in a very cool glass and metal cell structure, which provides endless opportunities for architecture photography both from the outside and the inside.

After a bit of browsing in the gift shop we continued to the old harbour, which was admittedly not super interesting (except if you want to have food or get on a whale watching boat, non of which we were interested at that moment). We turned back towards the center, walked past a never-ending row of gift and clothing stores (as a practical souvenir I picked up a bright orange hat from the local – but of course not made in Iceland – brand: 66°North, so I would not be cold and Clio would always see where I am), following the Skólavörðustígur up to the church. Due to a funeral the famous Hallgrimskirkja itself was closed, so we looked for a place for coffee and a piece of cake (at Reykjavik Roasters) instead of going inside.

After warming up a bit we walked past a few cute colourful houses before taking a left on the Laugavegur. This is the other main shopping street, so besides window shopping, I also got a (larger) piece of the Icelandic Omnom chocolates (for later). Since we have not eaten any real food yet, our next stop was Iceland’s most famous hot dog stand, the Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur. Hot dogs – just like in Norway – became a recurring item on our menu. (BTW, they were always very good.) As we still wanted to try to get into the Hallgrimskirkja (that was supposed to be open again from half past two on the afternoon), we did another small loop passing the Parliament and the City Hall, turning back towards it across the Tjörnin lake. Unfortunately the funeral was still underway even by the time we had ‘climbed’ the hill leading up to the church, so we decided to just start heading back to our hotel. On the way we did a bit of a shopping in the local cheap supermarket (Bonus), to fill up our energy bar, cookie, and snack reserves for the coming days. This was a very good decision.

We only had a short afternoon break in the hotel, before driving to Perlan (there are also free shuttles from Harpa). This is a new complex including several (nicely done, partly interactive) exhibitions about Iceland (its geography, vulcanism, glaciers, flora and fauna), a modern 8K planetarium, and a 360 degree observation desk. I especially liked the planetarium, because the first longer show (about the aurora) included dominantly high quality and high resolution footage, immersive animations (some short sections might not be that pleasant for people that are susceptible to motion sickness) and an overall good narration and story (the second shorter one was pretty low-budget in comparison), and because it was my first experience in such a modern planetarium anyway. There was also a small underground ice-cave, but I guess that is more exciting for smaller children. Luckily by the time we made it to the panorama terrace on the top of the building the clouds opened up and we got a nice and clear view over the surrounding area in the warm afternoon sunshine.

After driving back to our hotel we ate some not so special (but still good) Vietnamese food nearby, and went to sleep around sunset, knowing that the following day would be much more busy…

(We are not a very museum-heavy couple, but had the weather been worse, I would have suggested going to The National Museum of Iceland, that looks the most interesting (to me) based on the reviews. Or, should you really want to get out of the city, a small excursion to the Reykjadalur hot spring river might be a good idea for the whole afternoon.)