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Ring Road Trip Report Part II - June 2008

06 Jun 2008 - Hverjfall, Myrvatn Nature Baths, Litlifoss, Henigfoss

Its repetitive and boring but I must tell the truth - another fantastic day in terms of activities and yes - weather.

After breakfast we hiked to the top of Hverjfall. The hike to the top of this crater was not hard. The crater is the best preserved tephra crater in Iceland and one of the best in the world. Other than one other person we had the crater to ourselves.

The next objective was the turquoise waters of the Myrvatn Nature Baths but... first I said I would meet my wife there - I would hike - after all - only 2.3 kms - about 1.5 miles. I told her I would be there in 30 minutes. Well... 1.5 hours later I was there. Let's just say that the combination of my skills as Daniel Boone, Davy Crockett, etc. - let me down. I did take some nice bah-bah pictures.

The Nature Baths was a set of lovely pools in natural rock using the run-off from a nearby thermal power plant. The water is kept around 96.8 degrees and is colored by the silicates - but no salt. The baths are much identical to the famous Blue Lagoon at Keflavik but far more casual. There were only three or four other people in the baths.

Our next stop was back to the small supermarket to purchase some items for lunch. We then drove a short distance to an area near the baths that was a beautiful contrast of lava and green - with lots of sheep. We sat on the green pasture and enjoyed an al fresco lunch.

The next two hours were spent driving to the east until we met the eastern seas of Iceland. We crossed a high plateau and descended into a magnificent glacial river valley. We stopped at our hotel and checked-in and then headed off to explore.

We considered several hikes and then settled on Henigfoss - the third tallest waterfall in Iceland. We drove down and around Logurinn Lake. We passed several of the forests for which the area is famous. Keep in mind these forests look like saplings - but in Iceland - these are forests.

The hike to Henigfoss was spectacular. On the way we passed a smaller water, Litlifoss, that was bordered by some amazing basaltic columns. Our trail to Hengifoss required us to cross a large stream. Henigfoss was great - our stopping point provided a great view of the waterfall and several other smaller waterfalls. The whole hike was about 2.5 miles and involved an elevation gain of 750 feet.

We went back to the hotel and checked out the dining room and menu. The dining room was rather sterile and the prices were high - well - maybe stratospheric - a reindeer steak was - $80 USD. A bowl of the day's soup - mushroom - was $12.50 USD.

Dinner was at Egilsstadir. This was a farmhouse with the same name as the town-village. It was and is the original farmhouse. The dining room was cozy and friendly - it sits on the lake. The service was great as was the food - an excellent dining experience.

The meal.

Starters.

Smoked goat and goat cheese
Scallop wrapped in salmon on white wine risotto -

Entree.

Six lamb ribs with vegetables and scallion mash

Wine - A Rioja - 85% Tempranillo - perfect.

Total bill - $203 USD. Not quite a bargain but within the ball park for Iceland.

As for the Icelandic Air Herad hotel. Modern, clean, sterile. Our room overlooks the lake - we have free WiFi, CNN, SkyNews, and a reasonable size bed.

Tomorrow we continue to head south.

07 Jun 2008 - Flats, Reindeer, Hohn

Today we saw some amazing country as we travelled in and out of fjords moving to the southeast corner of Iceland.

Enroute we found we had a flat. Then we found we did not have a jack. Then we found a fisherman with a jack - but it did not get the car off the ground far enough to change the tire. Then we found a farmer with pieces of wood to complete lifting the car and changing the tire.

Our next stop was a farmhouse 20 miles up the road where we found an Icelandic man that fixes tire. He fixed the flat but we discovered that the tire had several bulges. This made it unsafe to drive so we continued another 70 miles on the spare.

On the way to Hofn we made several stops to look at swans, horses, sheep - and... wild reindeer. Surprisingly they were white with huge antlers.

Once we got to our hotel in Hofn we spent lots of time talking to Hertz. We have gotten very good value from our Icelandic mobile phone.

We will probably have dinner at the hotel tonight. Tomorrow at 10 AM we will resume our car saga.

08 Jun 2008 - Tires, Vatnajokull Glacier, Kirkjubaejarklaustur

We woke up to the most perfect sky yet in Iceland - perfectly blue with barely a wisp of cloud anywhere. When we went to bed the night before it was windy and rainy.

The short story of the tire saga is that we tracked down the garage mechanic. He did not have a new tire or a jack but gave us another tire as a spare. He said that the one we had, with the bulges on the sidewall, should not be used under ANY circumstances.

After a stop at the petrol station, ATM, and visitor center we headed east. We stopped many times to take pictures of the approaching Vatnajokull Glacier - the largest piece of ice outside of Antarctica and Greenland. We also took pictures of many birds to include some really nice swans.

Our objective was to get to Joklasel for a Skidoo trip on the glacier. You can either have the operator pick you up from a spot on the ring road or drive F985 yourself. The "F' indicates that the road is a four wheel drive road and it is 16 kilometers from the ring road to the restaurant on the glacier. We drove.

It was an exciting drive. The road is steep, narrow, with many hairpin turns, and points where you drive over the top of a ridge where you can't see if there is even a road on the other side. A major bridge had been washed away so that it was necessary to ford a serious river - that was more than exciting.

The trip started at 2:30 PM but we were up there well in advance. Since it was early in the season the restaurant was closed. We were lucky because we had the makings of cheese sandwiches and some apples. Some other travellers, Americans, were eating candy bars and chocolate coated raisins.

The operator arrived at a little after 2:30 PM and we got geared up - gum boots, full length suits that were fleece lined, gloves, and helmets. We were given a short, 2 minute instruction, on the operation of the skidoo (snowmobile) - and off we went. Joanne and I shared a skidoo.

Driving the snowmobile was not as easy at it looked. We drove on the glacier and made several stops to take pictures. At one point we stopped on the edge of a crater. The view was literally stupendous due to the perfect nature of the day - visibility unlimited. We would see the highest peak in Iceland and the perfect scenery all around us.

I might add that due to a combination of factors the driver and passenger of our skidoo fell over twice. That is probably not even a record for this type of activity. The fall-overs occurred on the trip up the glacier - we were perfect on the return leg.

After the exhilarating skidoo trip we changed clothes and drove back down to the ring road. Once again the scenery was fantastic. It was nearly 5 PM by the time we got to the ring road and our destination for the night - Kirkjubaejarklaustur - was about two hours away.

We continued to drive west along the ring road. We went through areas of clouds and sun. The area is magnificent because along the entire length you see glaciers that extend all of the way down from the mountains literally to the road. There are many places to stop to either view the glaciers or hike to them. Since we were short on time we had to settle for viewing.

As we drove we Jokulsarlon - this is a large lagoon and it is filled with icebergs. You can take boats out into the icebergs but we did not since we had been to Antarctica and had that experience in an even greater context.

We continued along the ring road making more stops. We looked at areas that had been destroyed by immense glacier floods. This happens when a volcanic event melts a glacier and sends huge amounts of water and icebergs flowing down the river. There is one area that tells of a huge flood in 1996 that destroyed 6 kilometers of road and many bridges. We saw the girders of one of the bridges two miles from the location of the bridge - these were big steel girders.

We arrived at Kirkjubaejarklaustur and checked in at our Icelandicair hotel - Klastur. The hotel is very modern. There Internet is free but they only give you a user name and password that is good for one hour at a time.

For dinner both of us had.

(1) Fried Puffin with Blue Cheese
(2) Leg of Lamb with Mashed Pumpkin

Since we have not seen many Puffins this was a good opportunity to get close to one of these birds.

09 Jun 2008 - Waterfalls, New Car, Landmannalaugar, Selfoss

Today was another fine day.

We started off the day with visits to two waterfalls - Skogarfoss and Seljalandfoss.

While we were at Skogarfoss it began to rain. This waterfall is quite beautiful in that it drops straight down and is quite wide. The waterfall looks good at a distance and is great up close. There was a trail that led to the top of the waterfall but we did not do it - too much rain.

We pushed on to Seljalandfoss. This waterfall was a narrow but powerful waterfall. The best part was there a trail that allowed you to go up and behind the waterfall. Actually the trail allowed you to go completely under and around the waterfall. While we were under the waterfall a person from Hertz called to say that he was almost to our rendezvous point.

Oh - the car. I called Hertz and they agreed to send us a new car at a point where we were going to the highlands. I will write more about the car rental later. As you will see it was important to have a robust four wheel drive car.

Our next goal was quite a ways and challenge - Landmannalauger. The location is a hot springs area set in a flat gravel plain between a glacial river and the front of a fifteenth century lava flow. All around this are sharp peaked obsidian and rhyolite mountains that are brightly streaked in orange, grey, and green. In the distance is Mountain Hekla which is an active volcano.

Imagine our surprise as we started to cross beds of snow and ice and then came upon a bulldozer which was cutting a path through snow and ice. After the bulldozer let us pass we immediately came to a section of road that was covered with large rocks and some boulders almost as large as our car. The next surprise was the missing section of road and the missing bridge.

While we had a four wheel drive we were not prepared to drive it up a steep slope - around the washed out area and then ford the river. We gingerly got the car turned around - no small feat - and declared out mission a success.

We will stay at our hotel in Selfoss for two nights. Once again today we generally had very good weather although there was some rain now and then. Tomorrow is our last full day of exploration - we are hoping for good weather. We will eat at a very famous lobster restaurant tomorrow - a final blow out dinner to be sure.

10 Jun 2008 - Pingvellir, Geysir, Gullfoss, Farewell Dinner

Our first stop was Pingvellir - also called Thingvellir. This location has great historical significance for Iceland. It is the location where the clans - or whatever they had in Iceland - gathered - and where laws were made. It was also a place for punishments. This was also the site at which Iceland became a republic in 1944. The other significance of Pingvellir is that it is where the Northern American tectonic place meets the mid-Atlantic plate. You can literally walk down a rift that is the place where they meet. For the geologically oriented - Iceland is moving away from North America at 2 centimeters (.75 inches) a year.

Next on the Golden Circle was Geysir - as in geyser. Yes, this is the origin for the name. For decades Geysir has not been erupting but as luck would have it eruptions generally occur after and earthquake and there was one in Iceland not far from this location less than two weeks ago. Geysir was very good to the visitors as it was regularly erupting every four minutes.

The last and final stop was Gullfoss. This is a spectacular waterfall. The wide Hvita River rushes southward. About a kilometer above the falls it turns sharply to the left and flows down into a wide curved three-step "staircase" and then abruptly plunges in two stages (40 and 70 feet) into a crevice 105 ft deep. The crevice, about 60 ft wide, and 1.5 miles in length, is at right angles to the flow of the river. You can take in the waterfall from a trail - the sound is awesome.

We got back to the hotel at 5:30 PM which was early by the standards of the rest of the trip. However we needed the time to reorganize items as Joanne was taking all of the Icelandic items I used to home station.

Dinner was at the seacoast village of Stokkseyri. The village was about 20 minutes from our hotel. The restaurant was the Fjorubordid . This is not a fancy plain - the menu is short and the emphasis is on freshness and simplicity.

We both had their well known lobster soup on the as a starter. It was good but not fabulous. Before the soup arrived they brought us a huge amount of bread with two dipping sauces - a lightly flavored tarragon and a very pungent, but too sweet, garlic.

The main course was lobster. In Iceland lobster is actually Langoustino. They are large prawns but fresh from the ocean. The lobster was served sizzling warm in the pan cooked in butter and garlic, with side dishes of marinated cucumbers, Tunisian couscous, tomatoes and salad. We ordered 300 grams for Joanne and 400 grams for myself but it all came in one pot - 700 grams = 1.54 pounds.

11 June 2008

We had to wake up earlier than on any day of the trip. In fact, this is the first day that we had a set wake up time - 6:30 AM. It took 1.5 hours to drive to the airport and I dropped Joanne at 9 AM for her 10:30 AM flight.

I then explored the Reykjanes peninsula. This is both an area and a volcanic system situated at the south-western end of Iceland.

The peninsula is marked by active volcanism under its surface, and large lava fields, allowing little vegetation. I visited several cliff-side areas packed with birds as well as a couple of hot springs and sulphur springs.

By 2 PM I was back at the airport and turned in the car and am awaiting my 4:10 PM flight to London and then onward to Singapore.

Restaurants and Eating in Iceland.

There were three memorable restaurants.

Fridric V, Akureyri. This was our best meal in Iceland. The food and service were exemplary.

Egilsstadir. Egilsstadir. The restaurant-hotel is the same name as the town. Good atmosphere and a cosy dining room by the lake.

Fjorubordid . Stokkseyri. The village of Stokkseyri is about 20 minutes from Selfoss. The restaurant is not fancy and there are no views but the lobster - actually a type of prawn - were delicious.

The Hotels. All hotels provided free WiFi except the Hilton. Breakfast was included at all hotels except the Icelandicair hotels - Herad and Klastur. Breakfast charge was 1,000 IKR.

Reykjavik - Hotel: Hilton Reykjavik Nordica - Modern rooms, close to Botanical gardens, good breakfast buffet.

Budir - Hotel: Budir - Some rooms such as ours have a nice view. Breakfast buffet was fairly standard. Dinner at hotel is very expensive. On Saturday night we found service very low and the food poorly prepared. Other restaurants are 20 minutes away.

Saudarkrokur - Hotel: Tindastoll - Delightful hotel. Young German girl was managing the hotel and doing everything.

Akureyri - Hotel: Hotel Akureyri - Modern hotel that is just a block from the center of town. Many restaurants available. Rooms in front face lake but subject to road noise.

Myvatn - Hotel: Hotel Reynihlid - Modern hotel. Most rooms have a good view. Restaurant was expensive but food was OK. A cafe next to the hotel serves hamburgers and soups.

Egilsstadir - Hotel: Icelandair Hotel Herad - Austere. Eat at the Egilsstadir Restaurant by the lake.

Hofn - Hotel: Hofn - Modern. The television had a surprising number of movie-entertainment channels. Hotel restaurant expensive we ate at a cafe near the cross road with the gas station. This cafe had some very good salads.

Kirkjubaejarklaustur - Hotel: Klaustur - Austere. I think virtually all of the Icelandicair hotels are the same. The room has a bed, a phone, and a television.

Selfoss - Hotel: Hotel Selfoss - Modern. Restaurant seems a bit fussy so we did not eat there. Recommend going to lobster restaurant Fjorubordid in Stokkseyri.

Tidbits.

The signs that say 1777 and 1779 are to obtain road information.

We found several roads closed - west side road to Dettifoss, road to Askla Crater, etc. Most of these roads open by 20 June.

Early June travel was perfect. Temperatures were nice and the crazy tourist period of mid-June through August had not begun. A good time to travel.

With the exception of driving two F road we could have done all of the travels with a standard vehicle vice an SUV.

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