Iceland – Day 6 – Deildartunguhver, Hraunfossar, and Barnafossar

Our goal on day 6 was to make it from Akureyri back to Reykjavik, while doing a little sightseeing along the way. I found three things that looked cool in Western Iceland (that we could do on the way), but we only managed to visit two of them. One location I wanted to visit, Grábrók, we couldn’t find. Google maps sent us off on a really sketchy, dirt road that we should never have taken. It was a single lane road with big pot holes, cliff edges, rocks, and all the fun stuff that would be great in a large SUV, but not so much in a small, close to the road, wagon.

With that side adventure out of the way, our first stop was Deildartunguhver, which is another spot with volcanic activity. This location was pretty cool as it had lots of boiling water and sulphur vents, but was also a location where the country had tapped into the geothermal energy and was using it to heat water.

After Deildartunguhver, we headed to Hraunfossar and Barnafossar, which is another set of two waterfalls. The first set of waterfalls, Hraunfossar, kind of drizzle out of the side of a cliff, which you can see in the background of this photo.

Ryan, Toren, and Debi in front of Hraunfossar
Ryan, Toren, and Debi in front of Hraunfossar

The second set of waterfalls, Barnafossar, which are about 100 meters up the river, have carved through rock and formed an arch, as seen in this video:

Both were quite beautiful.

From Hraunfossar and Barnafossar, we opted to take the new Hvalfjörður Tunnel, which drops under a channel by going under the seabed (541 feet below sea level).  This cuts about 45 minutes off the time to get to Reykjavik and costs about $10.00. It’s deep enough that your ears pop as you drive underneath the sea. Pretty cool to say we have now driven under the ocean!

We had two nights scheduled in a bed and breakfast in Seltjarnarnes, which is the tail end of the peninsula where Reykjavik lies. That wrapped up day 6.

Iceland – Day 5 – Húsavík, whales, puffins, sailing, and Akureyri

whale tail

While we spent the night in Akureyri, on day 5 in Iceland we wanted to go whale watching and Rosemary really wanted to see puffins. So, we booked a trip on a boat out of Húsavík, which is about an hour and 15 minutes away from Akureyri, called: Whales, Puffins, and Sails.

We had nice weather the day we went to Húsavík. Húsavík is a very cute town on the north coast with a very clear emphasis on shipping, fishing, and whale watching. I could definitely envision renting a house here for a couple of weeks to enjoy small town life in Iceland.

Before boarding the boat, the company we booked with had us all put on full body jumpsuits that doubled as both insulation and a flotation device. Given the cold wind on the boat, this added layer of protection was quite welcome.

our jumpsuits
our jumpsuits

We then boarded our re-purposed fishing boat that was also a sailboat, Haukur, and headed toward Puffin Island. Puffin Island is a small island off the coast that is filled with puffins and other seabirds. There are literally thousands of puffins living on the island, which meant when our boat sailed by, we saw hundreds of them floating on the water, diving, and flying. Despite seeing so many, they are quite small and even with my telephoto lens on my camera, I didn’t manage to get all that many great photos:

puffins near Puffin Island
puffins near Puffin Island

Even so, we saw hundreds of puffins, which fulfilled a life-long dream of Rosemary’s. (In all honesty, Debi and I didn’t even know what a puffin was before we booked the boat ride. Happy to learn something new!)

We spent a good 30 minutes or so navigating around Puffin Island then sailed (really, motored, we only sailed for about 5 minutes of the 3-hour tour) across the bay to look for whales. And whales we did find – perhaps as many as 10. We observed probably 50 different instances of whales surfacing for air, with the whales exhaling, swimming on the surface for a minute or two to take a few deep breaths, then diving back down to feed. Some of the whales came up kind of far from our boat, but others were so close that they genuinely scared everyone on the boat when they let out their breath of air. One came up about 10 feet from the boat. We spent at least an hour just floating around while half a dozen whales surfaced all around us. I did manage to get a lot of great photos of the whales, but I’m not going to post the hundreds of photos I took. This one should illustrate how amazing the experience was:

whale tail
whale tail

After watching the whales, we put all the sails up and sailed for a few minutes. The crew also had hot chocolate and cinnamon rolls for everyone.

enjoying hot chocolate and cinnamon roles
enjoying hot chocolate and cinnamon roles

We then slowly motored our way back into port.

Húsavík
Húsavík

After we returned to Husavik, we walked around for a bit, enjoying the very, very small town, and even checked out souvenirs (something we never buy, but Rosemary wanted a puffin souvenir).

puffin hat in a souvenir shop
puffin hat in a souvenir shop

We then drove back to Akureyri and walked around Akureyri for a bit. It’s a much larger town, but the downtown area isn’t all that large and it’s quite pretty and interesting. Akureyri is another place I could see myself getting a two-week rental and just enjoying small town life.

Iceland – Day 4 – Dettifoss, Godafoss, Selfoss, Grjotagja cave, Namajfell Hverir, and Myvatn Nature Bath

Toren at Selfoss

Our goal for day 4 of our Iceland trip was to make it from the east coast of Iceland to Akuyreri, the largest city in the north of the country, which is quite a drive. However, along the way, we also wanted to stop and see lots of cool stuff. We had to cut down the stuff we wanted to see to a reasonable number but still managed to fit in a fair amount this day.

The drive out of Djúpivogur, while on unpaved, gravel roads, was still very scenic. I should have stopped at least once to get some photos, but was so focused on driving that I didn’t. Our first real stop of the day was at Dettifoss, a very powerful waterfall in Northern Iceland.

There is a bit of a walk from where you park to the overlook of Dettifoss – perhaps 1 kilometer or so. The terrain is a bit rugged but largely flat. Toren loved the hike, but it was a bit more challenging for Rosemary. Regardless, the hike is worth the view:

Here’s a shot of us there:

Ryan, Debi, and Toren at Dettifoss
Ryan, Debi, and Toren at Dettifoss

There’s another, smaller waterfall just up the river from Dettifoss called Selfoss.

Toren and I ran up to that waterfall while Debi and Rosemary made their way back to the car:

Toren at Selfoss
Toren at Selfoss

After Dettifoss, we headed to a spot with volcanic activity called Namajfell Hverir. There are steam vents and hot pots. The sulfur smell is a bit overwhelming, as this photo indicates:

Toren, Debi, and Rosemary at Namajfell Hverir
Toren, Debi, and Rosemary at Namajfell Hverir

I shot a few videos here to illustrate the activity:

I also put together a photosphere:

We didn’t spend very long here but did walk around a bit. We still had two more stops this day. The next was to some nature baths. The Blue Lagoon, near Reykjavik, is a pretty typical visit for many people visiting Iceland. To avoid the long lines, we opted, instead, to visit the Myvatn Nature Baths in Northern Iceland, which are right next to Namajfell Hverir. There was some trepidation in our group about the baths as you’re required to shower before entering the baths. At some nature baths, you have to shower in open showers, but here they do have some showers with curtains for privacy. The curtains won over the skeptics and we enjoyed a very nice, warm bath for about an hour and a half.

It is very much a mineral bath. The water is so filled with minerals that you can’t see the bottom of the bath and it feels a little like there is a residue left on you after you get in. Even so, the temperature is wonderful. It was like swimming in a giant hot tub.

Debi and Toren at Myvatn Nature Baths
Debi and Toren at Myvatn Nature Baths

From the Myvatn Nature Baths, we had two more stops for the day. First was a cave that has scalding hot water in the bottom, Grjotagja cave. This cave has become particularly famous as it was the setting for a famous love scene in Game of Thrones. The cave isn’t huge, but it’s pretty cool and the water inside really is too hot to swim in, so the scene from the show wasn’t actually shot in here, but it was fun to visit:

Our last stop was another waterfall – Godafoss. This is one of those waterfalls that happens to be right next to the ring road and is visible from quite a distance. We stopped for a quick visit:

Toren, Debi, and Rosemary at Godafoss
Toren, Debi, and Rosemary at Godafoss

Godafoss isn’t the biggest waterfall, but it’s very scenic, as it is split into a few falls by rocks.

We made it to our apartment earlier than we planned, which was good as it took a little bit to get inside (this was more like an AirBnB place than a hotel). It turned out to be a nice apartment with plenty of room, a kitchen, and a washer and dryer, which allowed us to do some laundry before settling in for the night.

Iceland – Day 3 – Fjadrargljufur Canyon, Vatnajökull glacier, Jokulsarlon Lagoon, and Djúpivogur

Toren at the beach by Jokulsarlon Lagoon

After a busy day with lots to see, we had a relatively relaxed day on day 3 in Iceland. From Vik, we headed out fairly early to our first stop, Fjadrargljufur Canyon. Think Grand Canyon on a much, much smaller scale and green, with a beautiful blue waterfall. That should give a little picture of Fjadrargljufur Canyon. It really is stunning.

The parking area is a little tight. From the parking area, you can walk down to the mouth of the canyon or walk the path up alongside the canyon to peer inside. The walk up the path is what most people do as it provides great views. If you want to hike up the canyon, you should bring good sandals or water socks (or prepare to have some shoes get really wet) and be prepared to get wet up past your knees, closer to mid-thigh and perhaps your waist. The river inside the canyon doesn’t look that deep, but I considered wading in with waterproof hiking boots and quickly realized that the boots would be useless – the water is just too deep.

Anyway, enough description. On to pictures. Here is a shot of the canyon from one of the lookouts about midway up the canyon looking toward the entrance:

Fjadrargljufur Canyon
Fjadrargljufur Canyon

A mediocre photosphere may give a little perspective on how stunning this place is:

And here are Toren and me at the entrance of the canyon after I realized that hiking up the canyon would take too long and get me very, very wet and cold:

Ryan and Toren in front of Fjadrargljufur Canyon
Ryan and Toren in front of Fjadrargljufur Canyon

I also shot some footage of the waterfall that drops into the canyon about 3/4 of the way up the canyon:

And, because it’s so relaxing, here’s some footage of the stream at the mouth of the canyon:

Our next planned stop was Jokulsarlon Lagoon, but on the way, we ran into a finger of the Vatnajökull glacier that was just off the side of the ring road. Since we were driving ourselves and had the freedom to stop if we wanted, we stopped and hiked up beside the glacier.

Toren and Debi at Vatnajökull glacier
Toren and Debi at Vatnajökull glacier

Toren really wanted to keep hiking until we could cross over onto the glacier, but that seemed a bit too treacherous. And, unfortunately, on the way back down, Toren lost one of his good, warm gloves. So, if anyone finds a kids glove near the Vatnajökull glacier, it’s Toren’s.

After our detour, we headed to Jokulsarlon Lagoon. I remember thinking as I was driving up to this spot, “the hype for all of these natural wonders has to be overstated for at least some of them.” Part of the reason I was skeptical is that the Jokulsarlon Lagoon is shielded by large berms of dirt and rocks as you drive up to it and around it on the ring road. As a result, you really can’t see the lagoon until you get right up to the river that leaves the lagoon and runs into the ocean. But once you do see the lagoon, well:

a panoramic view of Jokulsarlon Lagoon
a panoramic view of Jokulsarlon Lagoon – click to enlarge

We spent quite a while here enjoying the fabulous views.

Ryan and Toren at Jokulsarlon Lagoon
Ryan and Toren at Jokulsarlon Lagoon

I also shot a few videos of the icebergs floating down the river that connects the lagoon to the ocean:

The lagoon was cool but even better is crossing the ring road to the black sand beach and seeing the hundreds of little icebergs floating in the ocean or lying on the shore. We spent another 45 minutes on the beach here shooting amazing photographs of each of us holding icebergs, like this:

Toren at the beach by Jokulsarlon Lagoon
Toren at the beach by Jokulsarlon Lagoon

From Jokulsarlon Lagoon, we drove to our hotel up the coast in Djúpivogur. It was a cute little hotel and perhaps the only one in town, so we were lucky to have a room. It had an amazing view of the harbor as well. The drive up the coast to Djúpivogur was also pretty amazing as parts of it are along steep cliffs overlooking the ocean:

our car on the cliffs on the way to Djúpivogur
our car on the cliffs on the way to Djúpivogur

Iceland – Day 2 – Seljalandsfoss, Skogafoss, Dyrholaey, Reynisfjara and Vik

Debi, Toren, and Ryan on some of the rock formations at Reynisfjara

Our plan for seeing as much of Iceland as we could in a week was to drive all the way around the country, hitting highlights as we went.  We hit out fairly early on our first full day in the country and made it to our first stop, Seljalandsfoss in the morning.

“Foss” is a waterfall or “fall,” and we stopped at a lot of amazing waterfalls, though we saw thousands of other waterfalls as we drove around the island (which wasn’t something we expected but it does make the drive even more scenic).  The first one is a popular stop as it is a very tall waterfall right next to the ring road (Highway 1 or Þjóðvegur); it also very visible from the ring road. Here’s a shot of Seljalandsfoss:

Debi and Toren at Seljalandfoss
Debi and Toren at Seljalandfoss

This was also the one waterfall we visited you can hike behind.  If you plan to do so, be prepared to get very wet as the mist from the waterfall is pervasive. Luckily, we came prepared with waterproof winter weather gear:

Debi, Ryan, and Toren at Seljalandfoss
Debi, Ryan, and Toren at Seljalandfoss

Turns out, you can hike up above the falls if you’re willing to hike up some steep terrain at the bottom (you have to hike to the left of the falls first before you see the trail).  Since I’m always up for a hike, we decided to go for it.  It was quite pleasant once we made it to the top of the falls:

Debi and Toren at Seljalandfoss
Debi and Toren at Seljalandfoss

Our next stop was another waterfall that is also close to the ring road and, as a result, quite full of tourists: Skogafoss.  Skogafoss is a wider waterfall with more volume than Seljalandsfoss.

Rosemary, Toren, and Debi at Skogafoss
Rosemary, Toren, and Debi at Skogafoss

You can’t walk behind the water at Skogafoss, but there is a nice trail up to the top of the waterfall that continues for a bit above the waterfall to some nice, smaller waterfalls and small canyons.

Debi, Toren, and Ryan above Skogafoss at another small waterfall
Debi, Toren, and Ryan above Skogafoss at another small waterfall

Lots of people view the waterfall from the base; probably 2/3 hike to the top, but very few hike further up the trail.  So, if you’re looking for a spot with fewer people, hiking up the trail is a good option.

Here’s a photosphere from the top of the falls:

After Skogafoss, we drove further along the coast to a famous double-arch rock outcropping called Dyrholaey. The road that takes you to the trailhead so you can hike out toward the arch is gravel, rutted, and a bit harrowing, but we made it (despite Debi freaking out a bit) in our Mazda wagon.  From the parking area, you can walk out toward the arch and around a lighthouse.

the lighthouse at Dyrholaey
the lighthouse at Dyrholaey

And here is the double arch:

Dyrholaey
Dyrholaey

We saw a cave just off the road toward Dyrholaey and saw some people hiking to it, so we did the same after checking out Dyrholaey. It was a small cave, but a fun little hike.

We then headed to our last stop of the day, Reynisfjara. Reynisfjara is known as the most dangerous beach in Iceland because the waves can be erratic, with massive waves coming up the beach very suddenly and sweeping people out to sea. The point being, you have to be aware of your situation at this beach.

Reynisfjara is known for its black sand and stunning rock formations.

Toren with a rock pile he built on the black sand of Reynisfjara
Toren with a rock pile he built on the black sand of Reynisfjara
Debi, Toren, and Ryan on some of the rock formations at Reynisfjara
Debi, Toren, and Ryan on some of the rock formations at Reynisfjara

Conveniently, Reynisfjara is right next to Dyrholaey, so you can see one from the other, but you have to drive around a bay to get between them. The rock formations at Reynisfjara are really varied. The picture above really doesn’t do them justice. Perhaps this photosphere will help illustrate the variety:

Reynisfjara was our last stop of the day. Amazingly, we had been able to book hotel rooms in Vik, which is just over a large hill from Reynisfjara. We ended up getting an entire cabin to ourselves, which was delightful:

cabin in Vik
cabin in Vik

The cabin looked right over the ocean as well, making it a real treat.