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.

 

southeast iceland: last night in höfn

Sunday, August 21:  After leaving the Fláajökull glacier tongue, we continue to backtrack east along the Ring Road, where we run into a herd of Icelandic horses, and right across the street, some sheep.  Of course we have to stop for a visit.

Icelandic horses near
Icelandic horses near Höfn

I love how the horses’ long manes and bangs that cover their eyes.  They’re so adorable!

Icelandic horses near
Icelandic horses near Höfn
Icelandic horses near
Icelandic horses near Höfn
Icelandic horses near
Icelandic horses near Höfn
Icelandic horses near
Icelandic horses near Höfn
Icelandic horses near
Icelandic horses near Höfn
Icelandic horses near
Icelandic horses near Höfn
Icelandic horses near
Icelandic horses near Höfn

Just across the road, we find some sheep having a pow-wow.

Icelandic sheep
Icelandic sheep

Back in Höfn, we check into our new guesthouse Höfn Guesthouse.  It’s right above the town’s post office.  With 12 guest rooms, it has shared bathrooms and a little kitchenette with a microwave and electric kettle. No breakfast is served here. We settle in, have some hot tea and cheese and crackers.

Höfn Guesthouse
Höfn Guesthouse
Höfn Guesthouse
Höfn Guesthouse
Our room at Höfn Guesthouse
Our room at Höfn Guesthouse

After a bit of a rest, we head to Pakkhús, a restaurant overlooking the harbor in Höfn í Hornafjörður.  We have beers in the lower level while waiting for a table upstairs.  While sitting downstairs a little Dutch-looking girl with a bowl haircut seems to be fascinated with me.  She keeps walking over to our table and staring intently at me, as if I were some alien creature.

Pakkhús was originally built in 1932 as a warehouse, mainly from scrap wood of other houses.  The restaurant specializes in langoustine (Icelandic lobster); Höfn is often called the capital of langoustine in Iceland.  According to the menu, the langoustine here “comes fresh, straight from Sigurdur Olafsson SF44, the red ship often seen just outside our window and boats of Skinney Þinganes.”

I have Humar: oven grilled langoustine tails with spiced butter and garlic, served with mixed salad, bread and pink langoustine sauce.  It’s delicious!

Mike has Grænmeti: potatoes from local farm Seljavellir in a pie crust along with other vegetables, gratinated with icelandic feta cheese, served with mixed salad and yogurt sauce.

Mike at Pakkhús
Mike at Pakkhús

After dinner, we take a nice walk around the promontory Ósland, along Hornafjörður.  There’s a long trail through the marshes here.  Across the lagoon, we can see the glacier offshoots we visited today, one brilliantly lit by rays of sunlight.

The glacier tongues around Hornafjörður
The glacier tongues around Hornafjörður
glacier tongues around Hornafjörður
glacier tongues around Hornafjörður
The glacier tongues around Hornafjörður
The glacier tongues around Hornafjörður
marshy path on the promontory Ósland, along Hornafjörður
marshy path on the promontory Ósland, along Hornafjörður
the marsh path
the marsh path
the marsh path
the marsh path
the marsh path
the marsh path
the marsh path
the marsh path

From the marsh trail, we can see the memorial to fishermen lost at sea; we visited this monument briefly last night.

memorial for fishermen lost at sea
memorial for fishermen lost at sea
Hornafjörður
Hornafjörður
the marsh path
the marsh path
the marsh path
the marsh path
the marsh path
the marsh path
the marsh path
the marsh path

It’s cold and windy out on this promontory, and we’re feeling pretty bad now with our colds and coughs and tickling throats.  Though we’d like to stay out longer, we need our rest.

Tomorrow, we continue west to Vik.

Total steps today: 15,946 (6.76 miles).

southeast iceland: fláajökull glacier tongue hike

Sunday, August 21: Backtracking to the east, where we will stay another night in Höfn, we take a detour to a walking trail that goes to the Fláajökull glacier tongue, one of many glacier tongues flowing south from Vatnajökull glacier.

We have to take a gravel access road for 8km to a small car park.  It’s a long, bumpy and slow drive but manageable enough in our 2WD car.

A sign at the entrance warns of quicksand and dangerously cold water, sometimes covered with a thin layer of ice.  There is also a high risk of falling rocks and rock slides in steep hillsides next to retreating glaciers. The sign also warns that “fatal accidents have occurred due to collapsing blocks of ice, falls into crevasses and hypothermia.  Some have never returned from a glacier visit, their fate still unknown.”

The glacier tongue doesn’t look like it’s that far away, but, as we find every time we walk to a glacier, appearances are deceiving.

Fláajökull glacier tongue
Fláajökull glacier tongue

It is an awfully gray day, and quite dark and uninviting.

Fláajökull glacier tongue
Fláajökull glacier tongue
Mike at Fláajökull glacier tongue
Mike at Fláajökull glacier tongue

We cross a suspension bridge that leads to the trail.  It’s a wobbly bridge and we can’t help bouncing around on it like a couple of kids as we cross.

suspension bridge at Fláajökull glacier tongue
suspension bridge at Fláajökull glacier tongue
Mike on the suspension bridge
Mike on the suspension bridge
the wobbly suspension bridge at Fláajökull
the wobbly suspension bridge at Fláajökull

We cross paths with a man and woman walking across the rocky field in the picture below.  The woman tells us she thought it would be a shortcut, but because the ground is sandy and rocky, it was not a shortcut after all.  She advises us to stay on the trail.

Fláajökull glacier tongue
Fláajökull glacier tongue

It takes us a while to get to the lagoon at the edge of the glacier tongue.

Fláajökull glacier tongue and lagoon
Fláajökull glacier tongue and lagoon

Apparently, Fláajökull has retreated more than two kilometers (1 mile) over the last century.

Fláajökull glacier tongue
Fláajökull glacier tongue
Fláajökull
Fláajökull
Fláajökull
Fláajökull

There are a few spots of color, little tufts of wildflowers that manage to eke out a living in this rocky terrain.

wildflowers eking out a living on the rocks
wildflowers eking out a living on the rocks

The path winds along the edge of the lagoon over rocky terrain with often poor footing.  Sometimes it’s a little close to the edge and, as some of the ground on the edge of the lagoon looks muddy, I can’t help but wonder if it’s quicksand, especially after reading the warning sign.

the barren landscape around Fláajökull
the barren landscape around Fláajökull
the barren landscape around Fláajökull
the barren landscape around Fláajökull
the barren landscape around Fláajökull
the barren landscape around Fláajökull
the barren landscape around Fláajökull
the barren landscape around Fláajökull

The path, covered in loose rocks, rounds a precarious point on a narrow ledge.  I’m leery about proceeding around this point as I don’t want to fall into the icy water or sink into quicksand! Mike goes to the point while I linger behind, refusing to go any further.

Mike at Fláajökull
Mike at Fláajökull

From this point, Mike can see some hardy souls who have walked around the point up to the edge of the glacier, but I’m not willing to be one of those hardy souls.  The path is just too narrow and I’m too much of a klutz.

We slowly make our way back along the path, where I find more colorful wildflower tufts tucked in around the rocks, the only splashes of color in this barren place.

We continue picking our way among the rocks along the glacier tongue’s lagoon.  Several times we lose the path and come to a dead-end where it’s impossible to proceed.  We have to backtrack and gingerly find our way to the path again.  It’s not well-marked at all.

Fláajökull's lagoon
Fláajökull’s lagoon
Fláajökull's lagoon
Fláajökull’s lagoon
Fláajökull
Fláajökull

Finally, we make it back to the car park.  From there, we drive slowly back along the 8km gravel road, passing some sheep along the way.

Icelandic sheep
Icelandic sheep
the 8km gravel road back to the Ring Road
the 8km gravel road back to the Ring Road
Icelandic sheep at Fláajökull
Icelandic sheep at Fláajökull

We head back to Höfn, where we will check into our second hotel there, eat some dinner, and take a walk on a marshy path on the promontory Ósland, along Hornafjörður.

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.

southeast iceland: vestrahorn & stokksnes to höfn

Saturday, August 20:  As we approach the end of the shallow bay, Lón,  we take a detour south of the Ring Road to Stokksnes NATO radar station, which is in the Horn area south of Vestrahorn. During the Second World War the Horn area was a base for the British army.  Today, the radar station is still here, although, as far as we can tell, it appears to be abandoned.

Now, we find the Viking Cafe and Stokksnes black sand beach, owned by a farmer who charges a small fee for admission to his property. The cafe also sells coffee, waffles and cake and has a small pay toilet.

Viking Cafe
Viking Cafe

On the property is a large Viking statue and a Viking village filmset built in 2009 by Icelandic film director Baltasar Kormákur Samper, who has been writing Vikings for over a decade.  It should someday be made into a film.

Viking statue
Viking statue

We can see the Viking village in the distance, but we don’t feel like walking all the way to it.  Cars are not allowed in this area.

Vestrahorn at Stokksnes
Vestrahorn at Stokksnes
a Viking filmset
a Viking film set

We walk out to the rocky coast with a view over the bay of Vestrahorn.

Stokksnes
Stokksnes
Stokksnes
Stokksnes

We’re looking for the black sand beach we’ve heard so much about.  We make our way to it, despite being buffeted about by a relentless wind.

view of Vestrahorn from Stokksnes
view of Vestrahorn from Stokksnes

I love the tufts of green grass growing on the black sand.  It makes for some atmospheric pictures, with Vestrahorn in the background.

view of Vestrahorn from Stokksnes
view of Vestrahorn from Stokksnes
view of Vestrahorn from Stokksnes
view of Vestrahorn from Stokksnes
view of Vestrahorn from Stokksnes
view of Vestrahorn from Stokksnes
view of Vestrahorn from Stokksnes
view of Vestrahorn from Stokksnes
view of Vestrahorn from Stokksnes
view of Vestrahorn from Stokksnes
view of Vestrahorn from Stokksnes
view of Vestrahorn from Stokksnes
view of Vestrahorn from Stokksnes
view of Vestrahorn from Stokksnes
view of Vestrahorn from Stokksnes
view of Vestrahorn from Stokksnes
view of Vestrahorn from Stokksnes
view of Vestrahorn from Stokksnes
view of Vestrahorn from Stokksnes
view of Vestrahorn from Stokksnes
view of Vestrahorn from Stokksnes
view of Vestrahorn from Stokksnes
view of Vestrahorn from Stokksnes
view of Vestrahorn from Stokksnes
Mike at Stokksnes
Mike at Stokksnes
Me at Stokksnes
Me at Stokksnes

It really is a shame it’s so windy and cold at this beautiful spot.  Sadly, with all the wind I’ve faced today, I’m feeling increasingly sick with a sore throat and a tickling cough.  Mike is feeling worse than he felt over the last couple of days.

Only about 7km more down the Ring Road, heading west now, we reach our destination for the day, the town of Höfn, known for fishing and fish processing.  It’s famous for its humar (langoustine, or “Icelandic lobster”), which I plan to sample tonight. 🙂

We drive to the end of town to the promontory Ósland where we have a view of Hornafjörður, a lagoon with a blend of fresh and glacial water.  From this viewpoint looking over the lagoon, we can see the four outlet glaciers of the biggest glacier in Europe, Vatnajökull.  From east to west, the four outlets are Hoffellsjökull, Fláajökull, Heinabergsjökull, and Skálafellsjökull. In the picture below, you can see three of these outlets.

Höfn
Höfn

Below is a closer up shot of one of these glacier outlets.

Höfn
Höfn
Höfn
Höfn

At the end of the promontory is a 1988 memorial for fishermen lost at sea, created in bronze and stone by sculptor Helgi Gislason.

statue at Höfn
statue at Höfn

We take a brief walk around the marina near our hotel, but it’s still awfully windy and we’re getting hungry.

marina at Höfn
marina at Höfn
old boat in Höfn
old boat in Höfn
marina at Höfn
marina at Höfn

We check in at Guesthouse Hvammur for one night.  We plan to stay another night in Höfn, but we originally only booked one night because we thought we’d stay further west along the Ring Road.  When we found there was nowhere else to stay until the town of Vik, we tried to go back online and book two nights at this guesthouse, but it was booked solid.  Thus tomorrow night, we’ll have to stay in another hotel in Höfn.

This is one of our least favorite hotels in Iceland.  It has a shared bathroom and no breakfast, although the room itself isn’t bad at all.

Guesthouse Hvammur
Guesthouse Hvammur

As we’re both hungry, we go to Kaffi Hornið, where we share a meal of house salad, sweet potato soup, and langoustine pasta with zucchini, leek, bell pepper, cream and penne, topped off with a beer for Mike and red wine for me.

Mike at Kaffi Hornið
Mike at Kaffi Hornið
me at Kaffi Hornið
me at Kaffi Hornið

I like the sign over the bathroom doors.

a great sign at Kaffi Hornið
a great sign at Kaffi Hornið

After dinner, we attempt to take a stroll around the promontory again, but it’s just way too cold, so we get cozy in our hotel room to prepare for our day exploring the southeast of Iceland.

Höfn
Höfn

Tomorrow, we plan on doing a Zodiac boat tour at Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon.  I sure hope it won’t be as cold and windy as it was today. 🙂

Total steps today: 8,328 steps, oor 3.53 miles.

southeast iceland: lón ~ driving from djúpivogur to eystrahorn

Saturday, August 20:  The drive from Djúpivogur to Höfn is about 105km, stretching around Iceland’s southeast corner.  There are no towns along this stretch, and thus no place for breaks.  We get one last glimpse of Bulandsdalur before we leave Djúpivogur, and, though we don’t know it at the time, we won’t see blue skies for the rest of the day.

last view of Bulandsdalur before leaving Djúpivogur
last view of Bulandsdalur before leaving Djúpivogur

Fog settles over the southeast Ring Road as it winds between sloping mountains and the North Atlantic Sea.  The sloping mountains look like giant piles of gravel that seem avalanche prone, made up as they are of gabbro (dark, often coarse-grained igneous – i.e. volcanic – rock rich in magnesium and iron) and granophyre, which has a fine texture and smaller grain size.

a stop near Eystrahorn
a stop on the Ring Road from Djúpivogur to Höfn

We pull off at the bottom of one of these strange mountains, and I feel unsettled, fearing that one loose rock could start a rush of all the rocks to the bottom, engulfing us and our economy-sized car.

Eystrahorn
a stop on the Ring Road from Djúpivogur to Höfn
Eystrahorn
a stop on the Ring Road from Djúpivogur to Höfn
Eystrahorn
a stop on the Ring Road from Djúpivogur to Höfn

The black sand beach is pretty, but it’s very cold and windy out here today, and foggy as well, so we don’t stop here for long.

Lón
a stop on the Ring Road from Djúpivogur to Höfn
our car and Mike near Eystrahorn
our car and Mike on a Ring Road stop
our car near Eystrahorn
our car on the southeast Ring Road
Lón
a stop on the Ring Road from Djúpivogur to Höfn

As we drive on, we come to a pull-off overlooking Lón (“lagoon”), a shallow bay whose 30km-wide estuary is framed by Eystrahorn and Vestrahorn, two granite spikes to the east and west.  A long sand and pebble beach stretches out between the two mountains and almost connects them except for some small estuaries.

Here, we can see the black sand and pebble beach reaching out into the lagoon.  A cold wind is howling across the lagoon here, and after taking our pictures, we huddle back into the warmth of the car.

Lón - glacial river valley
Lón – glacial river valley
rocky peak at Lón
rocky peak at Lón

We drive a bit further and see people walking out over the pebble beach. Of course I have to get out to see what there is to see.  Mike by now is so sick with his cough and sore throat, he opts to stay in the car with the heat on.  I’m also getting sick, and this little jaunt over the pebble beach, which isn’t easy to walk on, probably does me in for good.

the black sand and pebble beach at Lón
the black sand and pebble beach at Lón

From this pebble beach, I have a great view of Eystrahorn, a mountain with barren and gravelly steep cliffs, at the eastern end of Lónsfjördur.

Eystrahorn
Eystrahorn

You can glimpse our little red car in the parking lot; Mike is sitting inside, warming himself by the heater, while I’m being buffeted about by the gale-force winds.

Eystrahorn from the black pebble beach
Eystrahorn from the black pebble beach

Of course I have to take some pictures of the pebbles.  Between the wind and walking on these, I feel like I’m struggling through a sea of quicksand.

pebble beach at Lón
pebble beach at Lón

A little farm sits nestled in the folds of Eystrahorn across from the pebble beach. With all those slopes of gravel surrounding this farm, I don’t know how the people can live here without being in constant fear of a rock avalanche.

Eystrahorn from the black pebble beach
Eystrahorn from the black pebble beach

Even though my throat is hurting and I’m freezing through and through, I must take some pictures of the pretty wildflowers that are growing stoically from the amidst the pebbles.

wildflowers among the black pebbles at Lón
wildflowers among the black pebbles at Lón
wildflowers at Lón
wildflowers at Lón

Finally, I stumble across the quagmire of pebbles and make it back to the car, where I am grateful beyond belief that Mike has stayed in the car and kept the heater on.

farm in the shadow of Eystrahorn
farm in the shadow of Eystrahorn
farm nestled next to Eystrahorn
farm nestled next to Eystrahorn
Eystrahorn
Eystrahorn

We continue on around the lagoon.  Spotting a few dapples of light on mountains, I beg poor beleaguered Mike to pull over for a few more shots.

Mountain on the way to Vestrahorn
Mountain on the way to Vestrahorn
farmland along the southeast Ring Road
farmland along the southeast Ring Road
farm along the southeast Ring Road
farm along the southeast Ring Road

Finally we’re reaching the western end of Lón.

the western end of Lón
the western end of Lón

We’re not too far from Höfn now, but we have one stop to make before we get there: the Viking Cafe and Stokksnes. 🙂

east iceland: teigarhorn and djúpivogur

Saturday, August 20:  As we continue down the Ring Road to the southeastern coast of Iceland, we make one stop at Teigarhorn before going into the town of Djúpivogur.

Teigarhorn is a world-famous site for zeolites.  There, as in many other places, zeolites are found in hollows and crevices in the rock, coming to light as a result of erosion, particularly when wave action breaks rock out of cliff faces. In many places these cavity fillings are found in clay-like material and are easily destroyed.  They are often covered with an external layer of blue-green celadonite.  In geological terms, the zeolite formations at Teigarhorn are connected to dikes extending from the main volcano that was active more than 10 million years ago.

Local merchants and others used to gather rocks indiscriminately here and sell samples around the world.  In 1976, the Environment Agency, in consultation with the landowners, declared Teigarhorn a natural monument.  No natural formations may be disturbed here, and protected areas can only be visited after obtaining authorization from the supervisor who lives on the farm.

Teigarhorn
Teigarhorn

Teigarhorn holds great attraction for people with an interest in rocks and minerals, and there are also several historical relics there.  It was considered quite poor land and suffered a great deal from blowing sand in the 19th century.  In the year 1869, Niels Weywadt, the manager of the general store in Djúpivogur, bought Teigarhorn and began farming there.  In 1880-81, he had a house built on the farm, which still stands and is maintained by the National Museum. Bulandsdalur, one of the most beautifully shaped mountains in Iceland, towers over the site.  The same family has lived in Teigarhorn for the entire century.

Teigarhorn
Teigarhorn
map of Southeast Iceland
map of Southeast Iceland

We drive 4km more to Djúpivogur, a charming village located on the fjord Berufjörður.  It has a long history of trading since 1589. Today the main industry is fishing with tourism increasing rapidly in recent years (Visit East Iceland: Djúpivogur).

marina at Djúpivogur
marina at Djúpivogur

It is still cold and windy, so we want to warm up a while over a cup of hot chocolate.  We stop at the Hotel Framtíð.

Hotel Framtíð
Hotel Framtíð

We sit in the cozy lobby and order some hot chocolate, which sadly is actually lukewarm chocolate.

lobby at Hotel Framtíð
lobby at Hotel Framtíð
Hot chocolate at Hotel Framtíð
Hot chocolate at Hotel Framtíð

Djúpivogur is a fishing village that’s been around since the 16th century when German merchants brought goods to trade.  It’s the oldest port in the Eastfjords.  In 1627, pirates from North Africa rowed ashore, plundered the village and took away dozens of slaves (Lonely Planet Iceland).  Roman coins which were found by a local farm and which date back to about AD300 indicate that Roman ships came north to Iceland.

marina at Djúpivogur
marina at Djúpivogur

We drive to the western end of the waterfront to see an outdoor sculpture, Eggin í Gleðivík, or ‘The Eggs of Merry Bay.’ Created by the Icelandic artist Sigurður Guðmundsson, the exhibition contains 34 huge granite eggs, one for each of the species of birds that breed locally. The largest egg belongs to the colorful Red-Throated Diver, which was chosen as the official bird of Djúpivogur. (Icelandic Times: Hotel Framtíð of Djúpivogur)

Eggin í Gleðivík
Eggin í Gleðivík
Eggin í Gleðivík
Eggin í Gleðivík
Eggin í Gleðivík
Eggin í Gleðivík
Eggin í Gleðivík
Eggin í Gleðivík

We drive by Bones Sticks & Stones, a quirky sculpture garden full of bones, mineral rocks and other stuff, but we don’t stop in because we’re anxious to be on our way.

Bones Sticks and Stones
Bones Sticks and Stones
marina at Djúpivogur
marina at Djúpivogur
marina at Djúpivogur
marina at Djúpivogur
lone house at Djúpivogur
lone house at Djúpivogur

We enjoy our brief stop in Djúpivogur, but we’re anxious to be on our way along the southeast coast so we can reach Höfn, today’s destination.

the ring road in east iceland: breiðdalur

Saturday, August 20:  This morning, after another wonderful breakfast at Hotel Aldan, we leave the pretty town of Seyðisfjörður to make our way south on the eastern part of the Ring Road.  Our destination for tonight is Höfn, a fishing town in the southeastern part of the country.  We cross over the pass to Egilsstaðir, where we fill up with gas and buy orange juice, coffee, and snacks.  Mike picks up some earplugs so he can sleep despite my snoring. We then head south on Route 1 through Breiðdalur, the longest and widest of the valleys in Eastern Iceland.

As we head south, we go through another pass, and we see majestic views to the south and west.  We pull into a gravel pullover to get out and explore.  The wind here is fierce and icy.  I walk around trying to get decent photos, but the light isn’t good and it seems an exercise in futility.

Breiðdalur
Breiðdalur
Breiðdalur
Breiðdalur

We do find some cairns left by some hardy souls.

Cairn in Breiðdalur
Cairn in Breiðdalur
Breiðdalur
Breiðdalur
Breiðdalur
Breiðdalur

We jump back in the car to escape the wind and cold and continue on our way.  I ask Mike to pull over for a couple more photos, but he stays warm and cozy inside the car.  He’s already sick, and, though I don’t know it this morning, I’ll be sick by the end of the day.  😦

Breiðdalur
Breiðdalur
taking a roadside stroll
taking a roadside stroll

The low-lying fog makes for spectacular views, but sadly these views don’t come across with the camera.

Breiðdalur
Breiðdalur
fog-covered mountains in Breiðdalur
fog-covered mountains in Breiðdalur

Much of our drive through this valley is on a gravel road, and it’s a long drive!  The Ring Road is definitely not paved all the way around, and this is the longest stretch we’ve encountered. I don’t know how long this unpaved portion of the road is, but it takes us well over an hour, with a few stops, to get back to a paved surface.

Breiðdalur
Breiðdalur
Breiðdalur
Breiðdalur
Breiðdalur
Breiðdalur
Breiðdalur
Breiðdalur
Breiðdalur
Breiðdalur
Breiðdalur
Breiðdalur
Breiðdalur
Breiðdalur
Breiðdalur
Breiðdalur

We stop at a bridge over the impressive Breiðdalsá river, famous for salmon-fishing, which winds its way across the valley basin to the sea.

Breiðdalur
Breiðdalur
Breiðdalur
Breiðdalur
a river runs through Breiðdalur
a river runs through Breiðdalur
Breiðdalur
Breiðdalur
Breiðdalur
Breiðdalur
Breiðdalur
Breiðdalur
Breiðdalur
Breiðdalur
Breiðdalur
Breiðdalur

We see little civilization in this broad valley, but every once in a while, we find a farmstead and some sheep scattered here and there.

Breiðdalur
Breiðdalur
Breiðdalur
Breiðdalur
sheep in Breiðdalur
sheep in Breiðdalur

After leaving the valley, Route 1 takes us to the coast at Breiðdalsvík, a town of only 139 people.  From this point we will drive along the coast of the North Atlantic Ocean until we reach the little town of Djúpivogur.

east iceland: a hike in the vestdalur valley

Friday, August 19:  Following our hike along the river Fjarðará, we take a drive on a gravel road on the north side of Seyðisfjörður.  We have been told by Tourist Information that if we drive all the way to the end of the dirt road, we can park the car and walk about an hour to a lighthouse at the end of the fjord.  We drive and drive, making a couple of stops along the way for pictures of the fjord.

Driving along the road north of Seyðisfjörður
Driving along the road north of Seyðisfjörður
Seyðisfjörður
Seyðisfjörður

The drive is pastoral and lovely, with red-roofed farms set in a landscape dotted with plastic-wrapped bales of hay.

a farm along the fjord
a farm along the fjord
bales of hay wrapped in plastic along Seyðisfjörður
bales of hay wrapped in plastic along Seyðisfjörður
Seyðisfjörður opening to the North Atlantic Ocean
Seyðisfjörður opening to the North Atlantic Ocean
a farm along the fjord
a farm along the fjord

Toward the end of the road, it appears we are crossing a gate into someone’s private farm but the road still continues on.  Since we haven’t reached the end, where we were told to go, we drive on, finding sheep and horses grazing among farm equipment and a junkyard of sorts.

a sheep at the junkyard
a sheep at the junkyard
a sheep grazing amongst the farm equipment and junk
a sheep grazing amongst the farm equipment and junk
a junkyard in a pastoral landscape
a junkyard in a pastoral landscape

This vehicle graveyard is a little eerie and, though we don’t see a soul around, we’re worried someone will pop out of nowhere and yell at us for being on their property.

the prettiest junkyard ever
the prettiest junkyard ever
a rusty abandoned bus
a rusty abandoned bus

We drive on only a little further before the road dips steeply down toward the coast and we decide we really don’t feel comfortable driving further.  Nor do we feel comfortable leaving our car out here in the middle of nowhere. We don’t see any other cars left behind by other hikers either.  We decide to turn around and go back to where we passed a series of waterfalls and try to follow the well-marked trail along that river.

On the way, we pass a rustic little barn.

a cute farm on the road north of Seyðisfjörður
a cute farm on the road north of Seyðisfjörður

We stop to enjoy the sheep and horses grazing in a field near the mountains.

livestock
livestock

We come to a set of ruins in the Vestdalur Valley.  These ruins are considered part of a heritage site, but we don’t see any descriptive signposts, so I don’t know the story behind them.  We wander around the ruins for a bit and then make our way across the road to the path to the left of the Vestdalá river.

scenes along the north road
scenes along the north road

Later, I read on Visit East Iceland: The Trail of the Mountain-Maid that this route once served as the principal communication link between Seyðisfjörður and other regions in East Iceland. Nineteenth and twentieth century relics of this transport route can still be detected through meticulous road constructions, stone walls and cairns.

ruins in the Vestdalur Valley
ruins in the Vestdalur Valley
looking toward Seyðisfjörður from the Vestdalur Valley
looking toward Seyðisfjörður from the Vestdalur Valley
view from the ruins to the waterfalls
view from the ruins to the waterfalls
view from the ruins to the fjord
view from the ruins to the fjord

We begin our hike on the left bank of the Vestdalá river.  We can see the fog-engulfed opening to the fjord where it empties into the North Atlantic Ocean.

the south end of the Vestdalá river
the south end of the Vestdalá river

The river flows down a series of plateaus and we enjoy finding all the different waterfalls along the way.  What an incredibly picturesque place.  It’s like paradise, and to think we have it all to ourselves.  I adore this place!

walking up the left side of the Vestdalá river
walking up the left side of the Vestdalá river
waterfalls on the Vestdalá river
waterfalls on the Vestdalá river
waterfalls on the Vestdalá river
waterfalls on the Vestdalá river
waterfalls on the Vestdalá river
waterfalls on the Vestdalá river
waterfalls on the Vestdalá river
waterfalls on the Vestdalá river
waterfalls on the Vestdalá river
waterfalls on the Vestdalá river
view down the Vestdalá river to the fjord
view down the Vestdalá river to the fjord
waterfalls on the Vestdalá river
waterfalls on the Vestdalá river
waterfalls on the Vestdalá river
waterfalls on the Vestdalá river
Looking down from the plateau to the fjord
Looking down from the plateau to the fjord
the Vestdalá river flows out to the fjord
the Vestdalá river flows out to the fjord
waterfalls on the Vestdalá river
waterfalls on the Vestdalá river
waterfalls on the Vestdalá river
waterfalls on the Vestdalá river

We climb a steep incline and stand at the top of a narrow knob and see this waterfall to our left.  The wind is blowing fiercely up here, and I feel dizzy with the height.

waterfalls on the Vestdalá river
waterfalls on the Vestdalá river

Looking down we can see the fjord, the ruins and our speck of a car.

the fog moves in
the fog moves in
waterfalls on the Vestdalá river
waterfalls on the Vestdalá river

Mike wants to take a picture of me, but I have to say I’m a little nervous standing on this small ledge at this height with the wind almost knocking me off-balance.  You see me smiling here, but all I want to do is get down safely from this ledge!

me about to be blown away by the wind :-)
me about to be blown away by the wind 🙂

As we reach the top, the fog that we had seen hovering over the end of the fjord quickly moves in and engulfs us.  It’s a good thing we didn’t walk to the lighthouse after all.  We would have probably been enveloped in fog the whole time.

Apparently from this spot, we could keep on climbing up a total of four hours until we reach Vestdalsvatn, a small lake that remains frozen most of the year. We could also get a view of Mt Bjolfur.  But it’s getting late in the day and we’ve done a lot of walking, plus we’re all wrapped up in fog now.

foggy days
foggy days

We make our way back down to the bottom where we parked our car. In the fog, we drive back into town.

Vestdalá river
Vestdalá river

We return to our room before dinner as Mike is feeling sicker than he did this morning.  I’m tired too, and even though we have the smallest room imaginable, we rest for a bit.  Mike takes a nap while I finish the book I’ve been reading, Glaciers by Alexis M. Smith.  I really enjoyed this lyrical book about longing, love, and loss. My daughter Sarah had lent it to me, and I decided since she’d already read it, I’d just leave it behind in the common room at our hotel.

Finishing up Glaciers
Finishing up Glaciers

We have reservations for 7:00 at the Hotel Aldan’s Nordic Restaurant.  Mike orders hot water with lemon and honey for his sore throat.  I order a glass of wine and Arctic Char fillet served with broad bean puree, roasted beets and a bisque emulsion. (Arctic Char is a coldwater fish in the Salmon family native to alpine lakes and arctic and subarctic coastal waters).  My meal is artfully prepared and delicious.

Arctic Char fillet served with broad bean puree, roaste beets and a bisque emulsion.
Arctic Char fillet served with broad bean puree, roaste beets and a bisque emulsion.

Mike’s meal is just as artistic and is Eastfjord Cod: pan-seared cod served with sautéed zucchini, pont neuf potatoes, veggie chips and “beurre blanc” sauce.

Eastfjord Cod: pan-seared cod served with sauteed zucchini, pont neuf potatoes, veggie chips & beurre blanc
Eastfjord Cod: pan-seared cod served with sauteed zucchini, pont neuf potatoes, veggie chips & beurre blanc” sauce

After dinner, we take one last stroll around the little town and then we head back to our hotel.

evening view of the Blue Church
evening view of the Blue Church
twilight in Seyðisfjörður
twilight in Seyðisfjörður
Glowing mountains in Seyðisfjörður,
Glowing mountains in Seyðisfjörður

Though it’s early, Mike needs to rest and I am feeling a little run down myself.  Besides, I love to curl up and read after a long day of walking around.  Now that I finished Glaciers, I go back to reading 10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works by Dan Harris.  I had started this book at my sister’s house earlier this summer.

Seyðisfjörður,
our hotel at dusk in Seyðisfjörður
Seyðisfjörður at twilight from the picnic table at our hotel
Seyðisfjörður at twilight from the picnic table at our hotel

Tomorrow morning, we’ll get on the Ring Road again, and continue to the southeast of Iceland.  Destination: Hofn.

Total steps today: 14,727 or 6.24 miles. 🙂