The King of the north!
Er, the capital of the north!
I had plans to head from Akureyri to Húsavík to do a whale watching tour, as it’s supposed to be the whale watching capital of the world. But I think I mentioned (I most definitely did) in both Part 1 and Part 2 that Iceland is expensive.
My 12 days in the land of fire and ice accounted for almost half of my 6 week budget. But thats neither here nor there because it was definitely worth it.
I again chased the northern lights to no avail. The most frustrating part was that up until this night the aurora forecast was calling for them to be either active or highly active with partially clear skies. I had the benefit of sleeping outside, so every 15 minutes I would poke my head out of the window and watch to see if I could catch a glimpse. I had my camera and GoPro setup on their proper settings just waiting. This went on each night. Each time I woke up throughout the night I did the same thing. Hey, northern lights, you there? Where you at?
But nope. Nadda. Still playing hard to get. I didn’t think that catching this natural phenomenon from one of the most pristine places to find them would be as difficult as it was.
I took off early the next morning and headed for my first of many waterfalls, Goðafoss, which in Icelandic translates to ‘waterfall of the gods’. Some 12m high and 30m wide. This is where my trip went from almost utter seclusion and tranquility to tourists everywhere. It was almost like at the snap of a finger I left Mars and landed back on earth. But I was definitely still on Mars.
I spent roughly an hour here switching between my camera, iPhone and GoPro to get every possible angle I could. You could even walk down to the base of the waterfall which allowed for some pretty cool shots on the GoPro.
Navigating my way back through all of the tourists (technically yes, Im also a tourist, but I prefer to call myself a traveller – more on that later), I hopped back in the car and headed for Lake Mývatn. The lake was created by a large basaltic lava eruption 2300 years ago, and the surrounding landscape is dominated by volcanic landforms, including lava pillars and pseudo craters.
I decided to venture to Hverfjall Crater, a tephra cone, and hike to the top. It erupted in 2500 BP in the southern part of the Krafla fissure swarm. The crater is approximately 1 km in diameter, and let me tell you, I almost had a heart attack walking to the top. The kicker? When I finally reached the top, huffing and puffing and trying to keep my calves from exploding, there was an 80 year old lady already up there. Determination at its finest.
It took about an hour or so to walk around the entire crater and the views it provided were nothing short of extraordinary. Literally, like out of this world.
One of the highlights of Mývatn was finding a camping pot on the side of the road.
I can hear you sitting there thinking, “what the heck?”
Long story short, I forgot (dumb) to rent a set of pots and pans for my 12 day journey when I picked up my sleeping bag and air mattress. So, my first 4 days of meals consisted of canned food, Special K cereal bars and lamb sandwiches. And I couldn’t find a pot at ANY store anywhere I had stopped up until this point. It was like it was meant to be.
That might seem a tad, unsanitary? Don’t worry, I gave it a good scrub. But that first meal of pasta was like I tasted food for the first time. I spent the night in Lake Mývatn and got up early the next morning to head to Dettifoss waterfall.
I subconsciously knew when I got to Dettifoss that there were two waterfalls: Selfoss, a smaller waterfall upstream, and Dettifoss, the larger waterfall downstream. But of course my scatterbrain didn’t make the connection, so as I came upon Selfoss I thought to myself, “you know, this is cool, but not that impressive”. And then it clicked. This is the smaller one, dummy.
I wandered back towards the herds of people and came across this:
This is what I was looking for. This is pretty incredible.
Dettifoss is the most powerful waterfall in Europe. Yeah, Europe. The water comes from the nearby Vatnajökull glacier, whose sediment-rich runoff colors the water a greyish white. Its about 100m wide and drops a total of 44m. It was one of those sights that I couldn’t take my eyes off of. The sheer power of the waterfall was mesmerizing.
It was a little ironic. Born and raised in Ontario, Canada, and I have never been to Niagara Falls, which form the highest flow rate of any waterfall in the world. And here I am chasing waterfalls 4400km away.
But again, it was overrun with tourists. To be expected though, I suppose.
The best and most exciting part of my trip was not really having a plan. Of course I had destinations, sights and distances mapped out to give a sense of how my days would look, but other than that I just went. We’re really doing it though aren’t we buddy!? (classic Dumb and Dumber reference)
I found myself in Egilsstaðir around 4pm, in eastern Iceland. The east fjords weren’t really on my radar except for Seyðisfjörður. And let me tell you, the 25 minute drive from Egilsstaðir was probably the most incredible drive I had up until this point in my trip.
Up a winding road with hairpin turns to the top of the fjord, over the top past a little lake and bam, there it was, a view for all views. Pictures just don’t do it justice.
I mentioned that my hands were generally locked in the 10 and 2 o’clock positions while driving, and this was no different. But the view from the top was as picturesque as you could imagine. Postcard worthy.
I journeyed down into the town and did a little drive around, snapped a few pics and got out to marvel in the landscape. Seyðisfjörður is also the base for the ferry that connects Iceland with the Faroe Islands and the rest of Europe, a journey I would love to do one day.
I spent 2 nights in Egilsstaðir. Partly because the forecast was calling for torrential rain and gale force winds in the SE part of the country with increased likelihood of rivers rising and washouts (no thanks), but also because I needed to regroup and do laundry. Needless to say I was starting to get stinky, but doesn’t that come with the territory of roughing it in the Icelandic wilderness for over a week?
The campsite was fantastic though. Free, hot showers and a common room to hangout and chat with other travellers. I actually ended up camping next to a couple from Manchester who were Nottingham Panther fans. I mentioned my brother played for the Cardiff Devils, told them his name, and they actually recognized who he was and had watched the Nottingham vs Cardiff game the week before. What a small world we live in. Here I am on an island in the middle of nowhere and I stumble across a pair of genuine folks who recognize my brothers name. Crazy.
The first night was also the coldest I had during my trip, dropping to 0 degrees celsius. Cheese and rice was it ever cold. I think I ended up wearing 2 pairs of socks, long johns and track pants, a t-shirt, 2 long sleeve shirts, sweatshirt, jacket and toque.
I was for sure in Iceland.
After a few days in Egilsstaðir I started my trek south towards Vik. I knew I most likely wouldn’t make it all the way there, but it was a point on the map to aim for.
This drive gave me incredible proof of the ‘ice’ part of The Land Of Fire And Ice. I had Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon and Diamond Beach on my list of things to see, but boy did it ever make the 4 hour drive worth it.
Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon, situated at the head of the Breiðamerkurjökull glacier, developed into a lake after the glacier started receding from the edge of the Atlantic Ocean. The lake has grown since then at varying rates because of the glaciers melting. It’s considered one of the natural wonders of Iceland. But then again, I feel like the entire country is a natural wonder.
I had never seen a glacier or an iceberg before, so, like Dettifoss, it was one of those instances that was so unbelievably captivating that the only reason I left after 45 minutes was because it was so dang cold.
I got back on the road and stopped a bakers dozen more times for photos. The day had been rain on and off with a chilly wind, but I stumbled across these horses, and, well, as you can see, a natural backdrop might not get any better than that.
I refused to drive in Iceland after it got dark so I made my way to Svinafell campsite for the night. Again, another great camping area in Iceland. They had options for beds in little huts, but I had already gone 7 nights sleeping in the car and I was JUST beginning to figure out the comfiest way to sleep, so why change it?
Did I also mention Iceland was expensive?
Keep your eye out for the 4th and final part of a pretty damn epic 12 day journey of the land of fire and ice.
Missed Part 1 or Part 2? Check them out here: