The day we left Isafjordur (the largest town in the Westfjord) turned out to be truly spectacular start to finish (which was after 11 PM). It started off travelling through a 9 km long tunnel through the mountains which was the longest tunnel we’ve ever been in! It was an interesting driving experience as it becomes a one-lane tunnel for 6 km and you have to keep an eye out for oncoming traffic and get into a pull-off area. They really like playing chicken in the Westfjord;-) In the middle of the mountain the tunnel even has a fork that goes to a different area so you have to pay attention not to go the wrong way.
We stopped to see the Botanical Garden in Skurdur where they had an interesting whale bone gate. Originally it was a 30 M Blue Whale jawbone from 1892 but in 2010 they placed it in the National History Museum and put a Fin Whale jawbone up in its place. Near Skurdur we stopped to read about the Saga of Gisli and to check out the water temperature, not too bad.
In the village of Pingeyri we stopped at the old tourist information office to ask about the area and then went to do the Sandfell hike. We started off driving to the top of Sandafell Mountain in 4×4 mode but decided it was getting a bit dicey and walked the rest of the way to the top. We had spectacular views of the Fjord with the fish farms, the village of Pingeyri, and the surrounding mountains.
Our next section of road was also very dicey as it was a wet muddy switchback mountain pass with no guard rails. We were glad to reach the bottom safely and stopped at Hrafnseyri to see a bird preserve, the church, and the small café in the hillside.
The next major stop was Dynjandi, a protected national monument since 1981, to have lunch and see the 8 different waterfalls along the slope. There was a trail that led all the way up to Dynjandi itself which is 99 M high, 30 M wide at the top, and 60 M wide at the bottom. The name Dyjandi means thundering noise which was very appropriate based on the sounds of the falls. It was good we had our rain jackets as you got quite wet from the spray at the base of Dynjandi. Just as we were heading back down the sun started to come out and lit up the falls.
Dynjandi Waterfall Video (Dynjandi Video)
As we continued the drive on the gravel roads the views were constantly spectacular. Many places in Iceland you can pull off the road and go in a hot pool but the one called Reykjafjardlaug was one of the largest ones we saw and there was absolutely no one around. They had a change room so Phil and I decided to take a dip while the girls put their feet in. What a gorgeous view and a relaxing way to spend time. The sheep just wander around ignoring your presence.
Further along the road to Patreksfjordur (where we were staying for the night) we saw another bird preserve and we saw more whales breaching and even got some photos this time. After checking in to our guest house we walked down the road to Stukuhusid Café for an excellent dinner with two types of fish.
The host for the guest house told us one of the best times to go see puffins was at night after they have returned from feeding at sea during the day so we decided to go that evening. Latrabjarg is the westernmost part of Europe and the largest bird cliff in Iceland. It definitely lives up to its claim of being one of the most magnificent Cliffside nesting areas in the world! We had to go down and around the fjord then up and over the foggy mountain pass to get to Latrabjarg, a total of 60km one way on a bumpy gravel road.
Road to Latrabjarg video (Road to Latrabjarg)
We were surprised how many people were at the site based on the road and the fog. Due to the thick fog we only ventured along a small portion of the 14 km long cliff but we were definitely rewarded with razorbills, guillemots, fulmars, gulls, kittiwakes and our favorite the puffins. An estimated 1 million birds live along this cliff! After about an hour watching the birds we started the drive back and away from the cliff the sun was out and no fog.
On the drive back we stopped at the wreck of the oldest steel fishing boat in Iceland named Gardar. It was built in Norway in 1912 and beached here in 1981. There was a nice view of the town in front of the guest house. The day ended with a night cap for the drivers in the common room at the guesthouse. Skal!
Next morning there was breakfast in the main room of the guest house but it was busy!! I guess everyone decided to eat at the same time so they ran out of seating. Our next accommodation was in Arnarstapi which was over 400 KMS away so we got underway early. Yes, there is a lot of driving when touring Iceland. First stop was the Kleifabui Statue on the mountain top to enjoy the view but we decided to stay awhile and make our lunch sandwiches for later in the day. The statue is supposed to have an outstretched hand to wish travellers safe travels but the positioning of the rock could be interpreted in other ways;-)
Once over the mountain we hugged the coastline enjoying the views and looking for signs pointing out “hot pots” along the road. We found Hellalaug and took a morning dip in the 38 C water.
As we continued along the coastline the clouds were hanging low on the Fjords and we saw lots of white swans. There’s that old saying “stop and smell the roses” well in Iceland it’s probably “stop and pet the Icelandic Horses”. These short friendly horses are only 1.3 M high and are suited for Iceland’s rugged terrain.
We were staying a few days on the Snaefellsnes Peninsula so we detoured to the town of Stykkishólmur for some groceries and a stop at the Vinbudan to replenish the supply of beer! We visited Stykkisholmskirkja (aka the Church) that resembles a whale tail. Very interesting architecture for a church. The views inside and around the church were stunning.
We travelled up and over the mountain to get to the south side of the peninsula and further west to Arnarstapi for another fantastic Air B&B accommodation. It was a cottage with a phenomenal view of the coastline. We cooked dinner and then headed out to explore one of Iceland’s top 10 hiking trails, just out our front door!! We were treated to spectacular lighting for photos along the coast.
After a few long driving days it was nice to stay in one area for a couple days in order to explore the Snaefellsjokull National Park. If you read Journey to the Centre of the Earth by Jules Verne, you were reading about Snaefellsjokull. In the story two Germans go with an Icelander down a crater on Snaefellsjokull, right down to the center of the Earth where they experienced their adventures. We opted to stay top side for our adventures here J Our first stop was the Gestastofa Visitor Center but we got there before it opened so we explored the Londrangar (pinnacles that are volcanic plugs of basalt) hiking trail which was an old crater that had collapsed by the sea. It was a short hike along the coast and over moss covered terrain to view massive strange volcanic structures. On the way back Phil tried out the pommel lift they use in the obstacle course.
When we returned the visitor’s center was open so we checked out the displays, bought a hiking trail map and got advice from the Ranger on some roads we could drive to get to some recommended hiking trails we could do. The display covered the shrinking of the glacier due to climate change, the structure of the volcano under the glacier, we got sample Sugar Kelp and Dulse (Sugar Kelp was better), and learn about the magical nature of this area.
It was now lunchtime so we decided to go to a little café in Hellnar that we had read about. The only problem was that they were full inside due to a bus group and it was drizzling outside. We opted not to sit in the rain but checked out the Black and White rock beach and since we were close to our accommodation we went home for lunch.
Our first stop of the afternoon was Djúpalónssandur beach where we descended down the path to find boulders the fisherman used to test and demonstrate their strength. We tested our strength but thought it best not to try out the biggest boulders, our backs thanked us!
The metal along the beach was from the Epine-Grimsby trawler that wrecked in the area in 1948, the tides brought the metal to this area of the beach.
We were very fortunate to have the skies clear so that we could get a good view of the glacier while doing our next hike called Holaholar Circle. It took us over grasslands, past ponds, ruins to the site of an old farm and finally over lava boulders.
Remember we said the ranger gave us advice on a 4×4 road we could drive to a hiking area? The advice was to “take the first road on your right after the Holaholar hike road”. So we take the first gravel road on the right, it gets smaller and rougher and as we go up a small hill in 4×4 mode the road basically disappears!! There are two hikers just over the hill looking at us very strangely. We ask if this is the road to Klukkufoss, “no, it is further around the bend on the main road”. We then ask “are we driving on a hiking trail”, they answered “yes”, we were driving the hiking trail!! Took a multi-point turn to turn around and go back down the track! We laughed so hard recalling the look on the hikers face when we appeared! We did find the real road and hiked to the Klukkufoss waterfall.
Klukkufoss Waterfall Video (Klukkufoss Video)
The ranger also told us to drive past Klukkufoss on the gravel road until we hit the snow covering the road and then hike from there. Again we were happy for our 4×4 as we got up to Sjonarholl where we hiked the old crater and had magnificent views of the area. Needless to say, there weren’t many people around this spot.
On our way back down the mountain we stopped at Snekkjufoss and did another short hike to the waterfall.
Back on the main road we went to Ingjaldsholl to see the world’s oldest concrete church which was consecrated on October 11th 1903. In the church they have a painting and diary that appears to confirm that Christopher Columbus stayed here in the winter of 1477. The views up to the glacier were stunning.
After our happy hour rest and dinner we ventured out for our evening walk the other direction along the Arnarstapi trail. We were on a mission to find the archway we saw pictures of at our house and it turned out there were lots of different archways along the coast. After the harbour we went to the rock monument which was made in 1985 to represent the guardian spirit Bardur and his saga.
Arnarstapi Coast Video (Arnarstapi Coast)
Our next accommodation was in Geysir, a last minute change to our itinerary since the Air B&B we had originally booked cancelled on us just before we left. We were lucky to find something on short notice and it turned out to be another great place in an interesting location. We aren’t in the vehicle too long before we stop at the Raudfeldar Canyon. We went to the base of the ravine and Phil and I started to hike in but it was so full of ice/snow that we really couldn’t go very far in. It was almost like you needed crampons if you wanted to hike all the way in. However what we saw was quite spectacular.
It wouldn’t be a travel day in Iceland without a waterfall so a stop at Bjarnarfoss was next on the list.
We stopped at Gerduberg Cliffs to hike up the wall of basalt columns.
In the town of Borgarnes we stocked up on supplies, found a good coffee shop for Linda and Phil and had lunch by the water before taking the less travelled back road toward Geysir. The road was gravel and bumpy with few cars and some interesting road signs. We found a pull off and discovered a “hot pot” for one. It was tempting to go in but we all passed on this one.
We entered Pingvellir (pronounced Thingvellir) National Park area, pulling off near Hvannabrekka to walk to the rift between the continents. The lava flows in the rock were very visible here. After arriving at our cottage near Geysir it was time relax.
One of the attractions of the Geysir accommodation was that we could walk to see the geysers. This area has had geysers blasting water into the air since the 14th century! Today the most watched one is Strokkur which spouts every 7 minutes or so. The water becomes trapped in narrow fissures below the ground and becomes super-heated turning into steam that blasts out of the cooler water on top. We saw Strokkur go off many times and the photos and videos show the progression as it erupted. On the way home the Icelandic horses were playing around in the pastures.
Strokkur Geyser Video 1 (Strokkur Geyser Video 1)
Strokkur Geyser Video 2 (Strokkur Video 2)
This area is known as the Golden Circle and is extremely popular, especially for day trippers doing a quick stopover in Reykjavik while enroute to/from Europe. To avoid some crowds we headed out first thing in the morning to Gullfoss, which they say has no waterfall match in all of Europe! Tourists started to visit Gullfoss in 1875 once Sigridur Tomasdottir and family built the trails. From 1907 to 1929 there were court battles on if Gullfoss would be made into a Hydro generation area but it was defeated due to Sigridur’s perseverance. The waterfall has an 11 M upper section and a 20 M lower section. It was classified as a nature reserve in 1979. There were already lots of people there so we couldn’t imagine what it would be like later in the day. The lower trail to the edge gets you quite wet with spray but the upper trail was dry. We saw a cool modified Mercedes Sprinter in the upper parking lot that would make a great RV!
Gullfoss Video 1 (Gullfoss Video 1)
Gullfoss Video 2 (Gullfoss Video 2)
Gullfoss Video 3 (Gullfoss Video 3)
We backtracked past our cottage and made our way to Pingvellir National Park, Iceland’s first National Park. There is no entrance cost for the park, you just have to pay about $5 CAD to park for the day. Pingvellir is where the Icelandic parliament, the Alpingi, first met in 930 AD. It also sits on the rift between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates. We walked right through the rift to get up to the visitors center. Unfortunately the center was under construction so we couldn’t watch the video on the area.
We headed down the path to the waterfall Oxararfoss, it was very strange being in an area with so many tourists after days of touring virtually on our own.
Next was the display board area to read all about the law rock and historical parliament before crossing the river to view the church and the modern day summer cottage of the prime minister.
Our final stop in the National Park was to check out Silfra, a spot we would return to in a few days to snorkel.
On our way home, we read about the hot pools in Laugarvatn. They had a fancy spa with hot pools but there was also a local swimming pool so we decided to check it out. We had the whole area to ourselves with 2 other women. It was fun to relax in the hot pots, swim in the warm pool and check out the steam room. On the remainder of the drive we very relaxed;-) We had a great dinner in our woodsy cottage and after dinner Sharon and I filled up the cottage “hot pot” Jacuzzi and had a relaxing glass of wine in the drizzling rain before calling it a night.
It was a grey rainy morning as we headed out from our Geysir cottage to Reykjavik. We decided to check out where our Air B&B was located hoping that we might be able to get in early and we were able to do this while the place was being cleaned. When Phil finally brought our vehicle down the one way street we all looked at the front of our vehicle, OMG!!!! We are very sorry but there is one less bird in Iceland! Phil and I had heard the thud enroute to Reykjavik but weren’t sure if the bird survived.
We were very close to Hallgrimskirkja, Reykjavik’s Lutheran church and Iceland’s largest church. It took 34 years to build and opened in 1974. The steeple is 75m high and the church resembles the basalt columns we have seen all over Iceland. This became our landmark of how to find our Air B&B. In front of the church was a statue of Leifur Eriksson, the explorer who discovered America around 999 AD. He called it Vinland and it’s believed to be L’Anse Aux Meadows in Newfoundland.
Hallgrimskirkja Bells Video (Hallgrimskirkja Bells)
We continued down one of the main pedestrian shopping streets when we discovered the wrapping up of the 2018 Colour Run, a 5km event where runners are splashed with coloured powder at each kilometre mark. The event celebrates healthiness, happiness and individuality. We now knew who had participated in the event as we kept seeing very colourful people.
After this we were searching for the best hot dog stand in Iceland (based on a recommendation from Phil’s friend) called Baejarins Beztu Pylsur. We had trouble finding the place but eventually did. We knew it must be good since most of the people buying were the colourful race people, Phil and I agreed it was a good hot dog especially with all the toppings. Now the girls wanted something to eat so we headed to Sandholt, a bakery owned by an award winning chocolate maker that Sharon had read about in her World of Chocolate book. Great sandwiches and of course chocolate.
We then followed a walking tour of Reykjavik in the drizzle marvelling at the architecture. The tour included descriptions of the buildings and took us along Iceland’s oldest street, Adalstraeti. Many buildings have street-art murals and the building owners actually commission these works of art as a deterrent to graffiti artists as they don’t want to destroy the art. At one point we went into city hall where there was a great map of Iceland and a much needed cellphone charging station. Phil’s phone was dead so he decided to check it out. We walked around the pond in front of city hall only to return to find out it hadn’t charged his phone. Back into the charging station but we didn’t mind, it was pouring out so we sat inside planning our route home. We saw one restaurant with Puffin on the menu but the girls didn’t want to try the cute little birds (I’m sure they taste like chicken) 😉
That evening we booked a very special dinner out at a restaurant named Kol. We figured all the money we saved on eating our peanut butter sandwiches and cooking our own dinners allowed us to splurge on a pricey dinner. What an experience, the food was a work of art and absolutely delicious!!
Linda and Phil were up and out early to get a cappuccino and brought back some fresh baked goods, a nice treat for sure. They spent the day touring the harbour area of Reykjavik, shopping for Linda’s new wool volcano design scarf and checking out an Irish Pub (Phil needed this after shopping J).
We headed back to Pingvellir National Park to snorkel in Silfra as that was the one thing that I for sure wanted to do in Iceland and it was worth every penny! Initially we wanted to Scuba Dive in Silfra but you had to be dry suit certified and we are not (the course was two days to get the dry suit certification). When snorkeling in Silfra you are cruising between the tectonic plates (they are separating by 2 CM per year) in absolutely pure glacial meltwater that has spent 30 years being filtered through the earth before flowing into Pingvallavatn Lake. The water gives you the best visibility of anywhere in the world! The park limits the number of people in the water each day to 200 so you must go in groups of 6 at your allocated time, there was even a ranger checking to make sure all the rules were followed. The operator we used was Dive IS and they were very organized, informative and seemed to be the only ones with a heated changing room. The first thing was to get our dry suits and learn what to expect from the suit and the cold water (3 C most of the year). Our dive guide Eleonora spent about 45 minutes with us and explained a lot about the geology of the area. There was a bit of a backlog getting into the water so Eleonora suggested we wait and relax in the warming van for a while. Once it was our group’s turn we went to the platform, had a last minute check to ensure no water leaks would occur and began exploring. Yes, the water was cold but once your face freezes you can’t feel anything J. The colour in the water was truly amazing. We have never seen water so clear and pure (you can remove your snorkel and drink it). We were chilled once we finished but the hot chocolate and cookies warmed us up! Our photos are a mixture of what I took with our underwater camera, what Eleonora took of us, and what Dive IS has as their best shots in Silfra.
We took the scenic ride over the mountains, past the geothermal plant back to Reykjavik. Part way back Sharon realized she left her fleece in the warming van. Detour back to get it, along with her warm socks she forgot about. This time we took the faster road back to Reykjavik.
We met back up with Linda and Phil at the Air B&B for happy hour before heading out to dinner at Messinn another restaurant Phil and Linda had researched. They figured we’d all enjoy it since it had ties to Tjoruhusid the restaurant we went to in Isafjordur and they were correct. When you are so close to the ocean the seafood is always fresh and once again we were not disappointed with the quality of our meal. Every meal we had in Iceland was excellent, even the ones we made ourselves;-)
Phil wanted to show Joel the bar they’d discovered earlier so off we went to The Drunk Rabbit Irish Pub for a beer, or two…… There was a lively crowd listening to the live music and trying their luck at the $20 spin of the wheel to win free beer. Unfortunately all the shops were closed as we headed home for our final night’s sleep in Iceland.
Time to clear out our vehicle and pack our bags, today we leave Iceland. Since our flights were later in the day we took the long route to the airport via Kleifarvatn Lake (the largest lake on the Reykjanes Peninsula). A lake that is in a volcanic fissure surrounded by lava hills, the area was very bleak looking since it was a grey and rainy morning.
Krýsuvík – Seltun was our final tour of a geothermal area in Iceland and it was well worth the stop on the long way to the airport. The fault on the Reykjanes Peninsula has four volcanic areas running through it. The steam vents in this area are surrounded by a lot of sulphur and at one point people exploited the sulphur for the production of gunpowder.
Krýsuvík – Seltun Video (Krysuvik-Seltun Video)
Final gas stop in Grindavik and giving the vehicle a once over to make sure it was in good shape. We dropped Sharon, Linda and our luggage at the airport and then drove across the car park to drop off the truck at Blue Car Rental. By the time we returned we were all checked in for our flights. Lots of World Cup displays in the airport as Iceland was competing in the 2018 FIFA World Cup. Of course we had to do our duty free shopping while waiting for our gates to be posted on the board. They only post the gate 90 minutes prior to departure. A word of warning, once you go through Passport Control there are very few seats by the gates so people line up everywhere. Our gate was a mad house with lots of people standing around. We then went through another passport/ticket check before going into a waiting “pen” to get on the bus to go to the plane. Best advice is to relax and chill while waiting to board.
We had a fantastic time on our almost 4,000 KM journey through Iceland. We saw amazing scenery, stayed in interesting locations, had lots of fabulous meals, took tons of photos and we laughed (sometimes so hard we cried). We would highly recommend Iceland to anyone, just budget accordingly. Iceland is not a destination – Iceland is an Adventure!