southeast iceland: höfn to fjallsárlón

Monday, August 22:  We check out of Höfn Guesthouse early this morning, as they don’t serve breakfast.  We gobble down a banana and some yogurt and then we’re on our way to Vik, with numerous stops planned along the way.

Of course, we must make a few random roadside stops to take pictures of interesting scenes, like this pretty red-roofed farmhouse.

Farm along the Ring Road
Farm along the Ring Road
Ring Road landscape along southeast Iceland
Ring Road landscape along southeast Iceland

We make a quick stop at Brunnhólskirkja, a charming church that caught my eye yesterday as we zoomed along the Ring Road back to Höfn.

Brunnhólskirkja
Brunnhólskirkja
Brunnhólskirkja
Brunnhólskirkja
Brunnhólskirkja
Brunnhólskirkja

We find a memorial at the Hjallanes loop, a 7km hiking route which goes from a working farm in Skálafell towards Skálafellsjökull glacier and back to Skálafell.  Hjallanes is within the boundaries of Vatnajökull National Park, a remarkable area due to both glaciology and plants.  Although we’d love to do this hike, we have so many other things to squeeze in today that we bypass this one.

Memorial along the Ring Road
Memorial along the Ring Road

We stop to have a look at Skálafell, the working farm located between the town Höfn and the Glacier Lagoon where the Hjallanes loop begins.

Skálafell working farm and guesthouse
Skálafell working farm and guesthouse
Skálafell working farm and guesthouse
Skálafell working farm and guesthouse

As of 9:15 a.m. this morning, we have driven 2,025 km during our entire Iceland trip, and we still have some distance to go.

We make a brief stop at Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon, the same place we visited yesterday. We had to backtrack to Höfn Sunday, where we spent a second night, and so had to drive right past Jökulsárlón again.  It is a grayer day than yesterday, so we don’t take any more photos; we mainly stop to use the facilities and to grab a snack of mushroom soup, bread, and a chocolate-covered doughnut with sprinkles. 🙂

Not far past Jökulsárlón, we find a small sign off the Ring Road indicating Fjallsárlón.  This lesser-visited trail gives access to two glacial lagoons with a tiny river flowing between them.  Here icebergs calve from Fjallsjökull, part of the bigger glacier Vatnajökull.

Fjallsárlón
Fjallsárlón

It’s a dark and cloudy day and this lagoon is not heavily touristed, so the place feels a little desolate and eerie.

Fjallsárlón
Fjallsárlón
Fjallsárlón
Fjallsárlón
Fjallsárlón
Fjallsárlón
Fjallsárlón
Fjallsárlón
Fjallsárlón
Fjallsárlón
Fjallsárlón
Fjallsárlón
Fjallsárlón
Fjallsárlón
Fjallsárlón
Fjallsárlón
Fjallsárlón
Fjallsárlón

By the time we’ve walked around Fjallsárlón, we’ve walked 4,705 steps, and our day is just beginning!

Fjallsárlón
Fjallsárlón

We continue our drive towards Vik, with a few dramatic scenes along the way.

Ring Road views
Ring Road views
Ring Road views
Ring Road views

Before the road goes inland, we get our first view of the immense sandar, the flat and empty area sprawling along Iceland’s southeastern coast. This is the outwash plain of the glacier; silt, sand and gravel are scooped up from the mountains by the glacier, carried by glacial rivers or glacial bursts down to the coast, where they’re dumped in huge desert-like plains of gray-black sands and rocks (Lonely Planet Iceland).

Ring Road views
Ring Road views
Ring Road views
Ring Road views

We continue inland to the storybook church at Hof.

 

icebergs on the beach at jökulsárlón & a drive to another edge of breiðamerkurjökull

Sunday, August 21:  After our zodiac boat ride on Jökulsárlón, we walk down the banks of Iceland’s shortest river, the Jökulsá, which carries the icebergs out into the North Atlantic Ocean.  On the way, some of the icebergs come to rest on the black sand beach before melting or heading out to sea.  We take a brief walk among the icebergs that look like misshapen creatures taking naps on the sand.

Glaciers rest on the black sand beach at the river mouth of Jökulsárlón
Glaciers rest on the black sand beach at the river mouth of Jökulsárlón
the river mouth of Jökulsárlón
the river mouth of Jökulsárlón
Mike with the icebergs
Mike with the icebergs
icebergs at the river mouth of Jökulsárlón
icebergs at the river mouth of Jökulsárlón
icebergs on the black sand beach at Jökulsárlón
icebergs on the black sand beach at Jökulsárlón
icebergs on the black sand beach at Jökulsárlón
icebergs on the black sand beach at Jökulsárlón
icebergs on the black sand beach at Jökulsárlón
icebergs on the black sand beach at Jökulsárlón
icebergs on the black sand beach at Jökulsárlón
icebergs on the black sand beach at Jökulsárlón

After our walk along the beach, we head a little further west along the Ring Road to get close to the edges of Breiðamerkurjökull, the glacier offshoot we had seen in the distance from the ice lagoon. What an amazing glacier it is, with its fat fingers reaching from the craggy mountains onto the plain below.

Breiðamerkurjökull
Breiðamerkurjökull
Breiðamerkurjökull
Breiðamerkurjökull
Breiðamerkurjökull
Breiðamerkurjökull
Breiðamerkurjökull
Breiðamerkurjökull
Breiðamerkurjökull
Breiðamerkurjökull

After seeing the glacier, we turn around and head back to the ice lagoon, this time parking on the west side of the river Jökulsá, where we stand on the shore and watch the glaciers drift out to sea.  Some sea otters are playing among the floating glaciers, but sadly I can’t capture any of them with my camera.

icebergs float down the river Jökulsá to the North Atlantic Ocean
icebergs float down the river Jökulsá to the North Atlantic Ocean

We walk across the narrow walkway on the one-lane bridge, where we can stand over the river and watch the icebergs float by beneath us.

the river Jökulsá
the river Jökulsá
the river Jökulsá
the river Jökulsá
the river Jökulsá
the river Jökulsá

Finally, we walk back to the edge of Jökulsárlón one more time for a final view.

last views of Jökulsárlón
last views of Jökulsárlón

Since we’re staying back in the same town where we stayed last night, Höfn, this is the only time we have to backtrack on the Ring Road.  We hop back in the car and head east again, where we’re on the lookout for a sign posted by the Hólmur Guesthouse to an 8km-long gravel access road.  We plan to take that road to a suspension bridge and a walking trail to the Fláajökull Glacier.

 

southeast iceland: jökulsárlón glacier lagoon

Sunday, August 21:  There is no breakfast at the Guesthouse Hvammur, so we eat some Skyr, an Icelandic dairy product with the consistency of strained yogurt, but with a much milder flavor; we stored it overnight in the kitchenette refrigerator.  We also drink some of the coffee that the guesthouse does provide. I need all the coffee I can get as I’m pretty groggy this morning from the nighttime cold medicine and Tylenol I downed last night.  I’m miserable this morning with post nasal drip, a sore throat, a cough and tickle in my throat. Mike’s been sick several days already, and now I’m as sick as he is.

Still.  We can’t be stopped. We check out of the hotel by 8:15 and we’re on our way to Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon where we’ve reserved a zodiac tour of the lagoon with Ice Lagoon Adventure Boat Tours.  We arrive just before 9:30, so we have some time to walk along the rocky shore and take some photos.

Arrival at Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon
Arrival at Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon

From the bank, we see blue and white icebergs drifting through the glacier lagoon. The black stripes or blotches on the icebergs are ash layers from past volcanic eruptions.  Looking to the south, we can see the one-lane Ring Road bridge that crosses over the lagoon’s opening.

Ring Road bridge across the lagoon
Ring Road bridge across the lagoon

We check in inside the huge truck that serves as the operator’s office.  Here, we’re able to use a foot-pedal operated flush toilet and we don flotation suits and life jackets that inflate upon hitting the water.

Ice Lagoon Zodiac Boat Tour
Ice Lagoon Zodiac Boat Tour

We both look like creatures from outer space.

Mike all suited up
Mike all suited up
me ready for the boat ride
me ready for the boat ride

One of the guides insists that we stand up against the truck for a photo; only later do I realize that there’s an iceberg in the picture on the truck.  It definitely looks like one of those fake pictures!

posing in front of the truck
posing in front of the truck

Twenty of us pile into a bus and we’re driven east along the Ring Road and then on a bumpy dirt road to the edge of the lagoon.  There, we split into two groups, ten each, and pile into the zodiac boats.

Getting in the boat
Getting in the boat

Once in the boat, we take off at full speed across a 7km open expanse of water to the edge of Breiðamerkurjökull, an outlet glacier of the larger glacier of Vatnajökull in southeastern Iceland.  The icebergs in the lagoon calve from this outlet glacier.

Breiðamerkurjökull glacier
Breiðamerkurjökull glacier
Our captain
Our captain
Breiðamerkurjökull
Breiðamerkurjökull

After cruising back and forth in front of Breiðamerkurjökull, our captain tells us to hang on as we speed off toward the nearest iceberg.  He explains that some icebergs are blue because they don’t have much air in them; they were recently underwater or may have just turned over.  The white icebergs have been exposed to the air for a longer period of time.

blue glaciers at Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon
blue glaciers at Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon
Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon
Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon
Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon
Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon
Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon
Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon

The icebergs calve from Breiðamerkurjökull, crashing into the water and drifting toward the North Atlantic Ocean.  We don’t get to see any calving or crashing action this morning, sadly.

Icebergs can spend up to five years floating in the 25-square-km-plus Jökulsárlón, which is 260m deep.  They often melt and re-freeze and sometimes topple over.  Our guide explains that one of the larger glaciers in the lagoon turned over at 6:00 last night, making a huge crashing sound.

Jökulsárlón
Jökulsárlón
Jökulsárlón
Jökulsárlón
Jökulsárlón
Jökulsárlón

I love this otherworldly lagoon, and find each iceberg has its own distinct character.  I can’t stop taking pictures.

Apparently, Jökulsárlón is only 80 years old.  The glacier Breiðamerkurjökull reached the Ring Road until the mid-1930s; it’s retreating now at a rate of 500m per year due to global warming.

Jökulsárlón
Jökulsárlón

We stop in front of a big iceberg, where our captain takes pictures of everyone on the boat.

Mike and me at Jökulsárlón
Mike and me at Jökulsárlón

Our boat ride is only an hour long, but we get to see so many variations of ice sculptures it’s like being in a museum.

After we exit the boat and ride the bus back to the truck/office, we shed our flotation suits and take a walk along the shore. From a hill on the path, we can see other offshoot glaciers from Vatnajökull in the distance.

Click on any of the pictures below for a full-sized slide show.

The views from the trail along the shore at Jökulsárlón are as amazing as the views on the boat ride.

Jökulsárlón
Jökulsárlón
Jökulsárlón
Jökulsárlón
odd-shaped icebergs
odd-shaped icebergs
Jökulsárlón
Jökulsárlón
Jökulsárlón
Jökulsárlón
Jökulsárlón
Jökulsárlón
Jökulsárlón
Jökulsárlón
Jökulsárlón
Jökulsárlón
Jökulsárlón
Jökulsárlón
Jökulsárlón
Jökulsárlón
Jökulsárlón
Jökulsárlón

Finally, it’s time to head to our next destination.  As we walk down from the hill, we see the other big tour operator here, Glacier Lagoon Amphibian Boat Tour.  I’m glad we did the smaller zodiac boat tour.

The other tour company - Glacier Lagoon Amphibious Boat Tours
The other tour company – Glacier Lagoon Amphibious Boat Tours

We take a walk across the bridge to the mouth of the river Jökulsá, where we can see some icebergs floating out to sea and other icebergs resting on the black sand beach.