Iceland - Wow!

Jul 19th, 2010, 12:51 AM
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Iceland - Wow!

We returned home on Saturday from a week long self-drive tour of Iceland. "Wow" was the one word that I found myself involuntarily uttering - it really is the most amazing place. We stayed in Reykjavik, Hveragerði, Kirkjubaejarklaustur and Skaftafell, driving as far as Höfn and back - around 900 miles in total. We started off driving the Golden Circle and took in many waterfalls, thermal areas, bird cliffs, the iceberg lagoon and many other amazing sights. I intend to write a full trip report for anyone interested and have many pictures to sort out, which I'm starting to put on Flickr at the moment. If you are interested, please check back later, as I will be adding to this over the next week or so, as I manage to sort through my shots.
Maria_H is offline  
Jul 19th, 2010, 01:37 AM
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Oooh, gorgeous photos so far. Iceland really is amazing; I love its clean air and incredible landscapes. Glad to hear you had a good trip!
Amy is online now  
Jul 19th, 2010, 01:05 PM
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hi maria,

glad you had such a good time. we went two years ago and enjoyed much of it a lot, and had some not so great times too! [seems to be par for the course for my recent hols!] I'd certainly be keen to read a more detailed report by you.
annhig is offline  
Jul 19th, 2010, 02:12 PM
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Hi Maria,

Beautiful pic's. Look forward to hearing about Iceland (always been a dream of ours) and what your "self drive" tour was like.

pja1 is offline  
Jul 20th, 2010, 06:11 AM
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Like many people, Iceland has long been on our "must see" list and early this year, before anyone had heard of the Eyjafjallajokull volcano, we decided that this was the year we would visit. Icelandair now fly directly from Manchester, our local airport, and the flights seemed reasonably priced, so we were all set to plan this trip independently. We started by getting a few brochures - just to get an idea of distances, the best area to visit, etc. Then we looked at hire car prices - ouch - about £600 minimum per week for a basic car! We then realised that the packages weren't that badly priced after all and started to rethink our plans

We had a brochure from "Discover the World", who offered a wide variety of self-drive tours of varying lengths, which could also be tailored further, if required. As Iceland was all new to us, we realised that their one week long "Essential Iceland" tour would probably suit us just fine. This gave us all the independence we wanted, with the advantage of someone else doing all the booking for us and Atol financial protection for the not inconsiderable amount of money this was going to cost. By the time all the problems with the volcano kicked off, we were glad we had taken this route, as in the event of the holiday being cancelled - or us getting stuck out there - we would not have been out of pocket and would have had someone to turn to in case of emergency.

The package included Iclandair flights from Manchester, 7 nights hotel accommodation with breakfast and car hire. The company also provided us with a road atlas of Iceland, a guide book and an outline of what to see on the the tour, with page references to the relevant parts of the book. My dealings with the company were very good and I'd have no hesitation in using them again.
Maria_H is offline  
Jul 20th, 2010, 06:22 AM
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Wow is right! Great photos. This has been on my list for a while but I still have yet to visit. It is a shame because from the East Coast it looks like even a 4 night weekend would be pretty do-able.
flygirl is offline  
Jul 20th, 2010, 06:23 AM
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Flights and Car Hire

The flights from Manchester also serve Glasgow where the plane stops to set down and pick up passengers on the way out. This made the outward journey 4 hours, though we were not required to leave the plane for this stop. Coming back the flight was direct to Manchester, taking us just 2 1/2 hours. The Glasgow passengers had to return via Manchester - and were also required to leave the plane and go through UK security before re-boarding. The planes were equipped with reasonable legroom and seatback entertainment systems. In economy, soft drinks were complimentary and snacks available for purchase.

Flights were on time and with the additional Glasgow passengers, almost full. The only delay we had on arrival, was the queue for our hire car at the National/Europcar desk. We waited in line for about an hour, while the painfully slow process of going through the paperwork and trying to sell everyone extra insurance took place. We were further delayed when the German guy in front of us tried to use a debit, rather than a credit card, to secure his hire car, which seemed to cause a major problem and much discussion.

It was pointed out to us by our travel company that although our car hire agreement included CDW, there was an excess of around £800 and they recommended taking out a policy with a company called to cover this, rather than the super CDW offered at the airport. We were then offered a "new insurance" to cover sand storm and ash damage, a problem "since the volcano" that they assured us would not be included by any other insurance and could cost us up to £1000 if we had a problem. We then felt we had been put on the spot, with no way of checking whether we were indeed covered and I'm afraid we ended up paying the extra cover, rather than take the risk. The good news was that when we picked up our car, it seemed that we had been upgraded. We had booked a group "B" car, which the brochure said was a VW Golf, or similar. We ended up with a Suzuki SX4 which although not classed as an off-roader (and so could not be taken on the notorious "F" roads), was 4 wheel drive and just fine on the bumpy gravel roads. It also had plenty of room for us and our luggage. Roads in Iceland come in 3 varieties, major tarmaced roads, minor gravel roads and "F" rated roads, which are only suitable for off-road vehicles - normal cars are prohibited from using these. We saw some very serious off-road vehicles with huge tyres on our travels!
Maria_H is offline  
Jul 20th, 2010, 07:58 AM
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Fantastic photos, enjoying your report. I'll file away this information for a future trip!
LowCountryIslander is offline  
Jul 20th, 2010, 12:05 PM
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Maria - if you want a laugh at what we thought about the roads, you may like to click on my screen-name and look for my iceland trip report.

I think that going with a tour company was a much better idea than going independently - which is what we did. for example, car hire cost us about £100 per day - it was for a big 4x4 however, which i was VERY glad we had, even though we weren't allowed to go on the dreaded F roads with it. we did not take the extra insurance we were offered at the airport - mainly to cover damage to the bottom of the car - and I spend the whole of the hols dreading every bump and rock [and there were plenty of those, as you know].

We saw some very serious off-road vehicles with huge tyres on our travels!>>

the biggest we saw was getting on the ferry at Baldur - the wheels were the size of a small car, and dwarfed the vehicle itself. but then, the roads!
annhig is offline  
Jul 21st, 2010, 12:18 AM
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Hi annhig - yes, I did read your great report before I went (along with a few others) and found it very interesting. We tried to go without any preconceived ideas and not too high expectations but we were blown away by a lot of what we saw.

A couple of hints and tips before I forget them, some may have been mentioned by others but it's no harm to repeat.

Alchohol is expensive and not sold in supermarkets. If you fancy a can of beer in your hotel room in the evenings, or whatever your favourite tipple, it is possible to go through duty free after you collect your baggage at Reykjavik airport. We picked up a few cans of beer for the equivallent of around £1 each - it would cost more like £5 - £6 in a restaurant. Don't forget that drink/drive regulations are very strict though - one beer may put you over their limit.

It's a good idea to pick up a few snacks and soft drinks to keep in the car and the bigger petrol stations are good for this - some have cafes too. Often we found ourselves miles from anywhere to eat at lunch time, so a good breakfast and a snack at lunch, kept us going until our evening meal.

Credit cards are very widely accepted and we got a better rate (183 vs 175 to £1) for the purchases we made with them. Some smaller garages in the middle of nowhere are un-manned and have self-service pumps which take credit cards for fuel. Fuel prices were similar to the UK, around 190 kr per litre.
Maria_H is offline  
Jul 21st, 2010, 04:38 AM
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Arrival in Reykjavik and an amazing sunset

Our flight arrived late afternoon and it was about 5pm local time before we were driving off from the airport, by which time it was raining fairly heavily. At this point I remembered that I had forgotton to pack our umbrellas - not a major disaster, as we had waterproof jackets and overtrousers but they would have been useful at times for keeping the rain off the camera. It took us around 45 minutes to drive into Reykjavik and a further 20 minutes or so to get our bearings on the map and find the Hotel Cabin. The hotel is about a block back from the waterfront about half an hours walk from the centre of town. There are 3 classes of room - basic, de-luxe and superior and we were in a middle of the road, de-luxe room on the 6th floor with a view of the car park. The room was modern, clean and comfortable with 2 single beds pushed together and a decent bathroom and we were quite satisfied with it.

It was still raining, though not quite so heavily, so we decided to eat the buffet meal at the hotel and see if the rain stopped further before heading into town. The meal cost just under 1500 krona - a bargain for Iceland - at around 175 krona to the pound, about £8.50. The meal consisted of a couple of types of soup, bread, a hot pasta dish and a selection of salads. Soft drinks, tea and coffee were also included. It wasn't perhaps the most exciting meal but was perfectly adequate and filling. By the time we had finished eating, the rain had slackened further and it looked like it might brighten up, so we set off to walk along the waterfront to the centre of Reykjavik.

About half way into town, is the modern scuplture "Sun Voyager", which represents a Viking ship. I'm not often a fan of modern sculpture but this is really beautiful. We continued into town and spent several hours exploring. It is a relatively modern city, the buildings in the old part of town date back around 100 years at most. A huge new conference centre and concert hall is currently under construction on the harbour front, a striking piece of modern architecture. Many whale and puffin watching trips were on offer round the harbour. We spent a few hours wandering about, sightseeing, window shopping and checking out (expensive) menus - average starters seemed to cost around 1200 - 2000 krona (approx £7 - £11) and main courses 3000-4500 (approx £17-26). There is a large lake in the middle of the town, quite an attractive area with the new town hall at one end and lots of bird life. We walked up the hill to see the statue of Leifer Eriksson and the Hallgrimskikja Church which towers over the city rooftops.

By this time it was gone 10pm and as the sun was sinking to a clear slot beneath the remaining clouds, it looked like we might get a good sunset. A road runs directly from the church, to the Sun Voyager sculpture, which we though might be a good place to watch the sun going down. We were treated to the most amazing sunset over the bay. The sculpture made a fantastic silhouette and looking the other way, reflected the rays of the setting sun, making it look almost as if on fire. The sun finally set at around 20 minutes before midnight. It dips below the horizon for a few hours, leaving a period of dusk, where it doesn't entirely get dark. We set off back to the hotel ready for a good nights sleep.

Breakfast for the de-luxe and superior rooms is served in a seperate dining room on the 7th floor. It consisted of a typical cold buffet of cereals, fruit and yoghurt, bread, ham, cheese and boiled eggs, juices, tea and coffee. A perfectly adequate and filling breakfast to set us up for our adventures ahead.
Maria_H is offline  
Jul 22nd, 2010, 06:23 AM
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The Golden Circle

The previous evenings clouds had now gone and it was a beautiful morning as we set off on our first full day in Iceland. Our next stop was to be Hveragerði, a short drive directly but the stop was placed to enable us to drive round the Golden Circle route. We decided to first head north-east from Reykjavik, following the coast. Once out of the suburbs of the city, we found ourselves in scenery very reminiscent of parts of north-west Scotland with its rugged mountains and lochs. Heading towards the town of Akranes, the road takes a shortcut across the mouth of a long inlet, by way of a toll tunnel. We went through the tunnel, then returned along the road that skirted the water. At the far end of the inlet was a track to the highest waterfall in Iceland but as it was 5.5 km each way, we didn't have time for this walk. We continued along the inlet making stops at a pretty waterfall and a view point over the inlet. Some information boards at the view point explained that the area was the site of much British and US military activity during World War II.

A little further along, we took a side road (49) signposted to Þingvellir, the first stop on the Golden Circle route. This good gravel road went through spectacular and remote scenery and we didn't see any other cars until we rejoined the tarmac road on the main tourist route to Þingvellir. The site was the location of the Athling, the world’s first parliament. It is also the site of the rift between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates. You can walk along a path between the impressive cliffs which are the edges of the earth's plates - hoping it won't pull apart any further just for the moment! There are plenty of information boards to explain the historical and geological significance of the site and an couple of possible parking spots with information centres, etc. It is a pleasant area to stroll round for an hour or so.

As we continued our journey to Geysir, the weather started to deteriorate with black clouds and rain. The gravel road we found ourself on was also in poor condition, full of ruts and potholes and it was a bit worrying when the trailer being pulled (too fast) by a large off-roader coming in the opposite direction, bounced several feet off the road and threatened to head in our direction. We eventually rejoined tarmac and thankfully arrived at Geysir without incident. It was still drizzling when we arrived and we stopped at the cafe at the visitor centre opposite the site for a coffee and snack, hoping the weather might improve - though it didn't much.

The geo-thermal site has various bubbling pools with hot streams running from their outfalls and a distinct smell of sulphur in the air. The English word geyser derives from the Icelandic "geysir" - and though the original Geysir is not quite so regular, when it does perform, it can send a spout of boiling water some 200 feet into the air. We saw it perform on a much more modest scale but more reliable is nearby Strokkur which spouts a jet 60-100 feet every 5 minutes or so. With the rain, spray and steam from the geysers and bubbling pools, it made for difficult photographic conditions but I did manage to get a few reasonable shots.

A few kilometers further along the road brought us to our next stop, Gullfoss. There are 2 car parks and we ended up at the upper one which had a small cafe and shop. The rain appeared to be stopping, as we followed the track towards the waterfall, then we found ourselves getting wet again - not from the rain but from the spray from the falls. My reaction, as we got our first sight was "WOW"! What an enormous, thundering waterfall - much bigger than I have ever seen before. The breaking sun made a rainbow in the spray over the falls and I had to choose my spot carefully to try and get pictures without getting the camera soaked. The wide, fast flowing river starts to fall over rocks before tumbling into a narrow chasm at one side of the river, creating so much spray, it is impossible to see the bottom. We followed the path to see the water plunging over the edge, my heart in my mouth at the huge drop, especially when one guy crossed the barrier so that his partner could take a picture of him right on the edge! Another path returned up above the falls but I kep well clear of the edge, as I'm not too keen on heights and these cliffs were unprotected. The weather cleared a little and we had our first views of glaciers on the distant horizon.

It was now time to find our next hotel - the Hotel Ork in Hveragerði, a straight forward route, via the town of Selfoss. We found the hotel easily enough, on the left as we entered the small town. Our (standard) room was pleasant, comfortable and reasonaly spacious with views over the back towards a golf course. As it was raining again and already gone 7pm, we decided to eat at the hotel, rather than investigate the village. We had lobster soup, followed by Arctic char, served with prawns and vegetables - a pleasant meal with decent sized portions. My other half had a beer and I just had a soft drink and with coffee to finish, it cost us 9600 krona, about £55.

We slept well and woke up to a bright sunny morning. We had decent buffet breakfast, much similar to the day before setting off on the next leg of our journey.
Maria_H is offline  
Jul 22nd, 2010, 07:16 AM
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great photos so far!

We have a stop over in Iceland in November. Only 10 hours so we won't have time to do the Grand Circle. We intend to walk around Reykjavik and visit the Blue Lagoon though.
I love waterfalls so I guess we'll have to take a longer trip (in summer).
sassy_cat is offline  
Jul 22nd, 2010, 10:39 AM
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Lovely photos, Maria. And I am enjoying reading about your trip. Thanks so much for the report!
julia1 is offline  
Jul 24th, 2010, 11:59 AM
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Hveragerði to Kirkjubaejarklaustur

Before leaving Hveragerði, we had a walk round this pleasant little town with its tree lined streets, grass verges and flower borders. The town is known for its many greenhouses, which are heated by hot water from volcanic hot springs. In the middle of the town is a small geo-thermal park with various hot bubbling pools and steaming holes. Plumes of steam can be seem rising from various points on the hillside above the town. A pleasant park leads down to the river and a waterfall and there is apparently a spot above the town where you can bathe in a warm stream, though we didn't get that far.

We followed the ring road (route 1), through a large flat area, heading south-east from Hveragerði. The waterfall of Seljandfoss, is visible from a long way off, as you approach the mountains across the flood plains. Above the cliffs is the notorious Eyjafjallajokull volcano, though this remained covered by clouds as we passed, so we didn't see it. Some damage had been done to the road by the floods caused by the recent eruption but this has now been largely fixed, just leaving the odd gravel section. The surprise as we parked near the waterfall was how green it was, the lush green grassy slopes were filled with masses of colourful wild flowers. The narrow plume of water, plummets over cliffs that would once have been the coastline. It is possible to take a narrow path that goes along the cliffs right behind the waterfall and out the other side - quite an experience. The air was thick with spray as we peered out through the thundering curtain of water. We then followed the path beneath the cliffs to see a couple of other smaller falls. The sun was shining and it reached about 18C, which was very pleasant.

As the road headed past the mountains, we headed back into thick cloud and rain and the temperature plummeted to 11C. At the little village of Skogar we turned off to visit the Folk Museum. This consists of a couple of museum building, full of local historical artefacts. Outside are several old buildings - a church, a school and some old turf houses (that made me think of hobbit houses) all of which we could go inside. It made an interesting visit, despite the rain and there was also a small cafe where we got a snack and a coffee. At the back of the village the impressive Skogafoss waterfall, thunders some 60 metres over the cliffs. Legend has it that when the sun shines, gold hidden by one of the original settlers can be glimpsed behind the falls - but we didn't see any!

We were now at the southernmost part of Iceland and before we reached the town of Vik, we took a gravel side road to Dyrhólaey, where the guide book said there were lots of nesting sea birds. As we headed towards the cliffs on the coast, we came back out into sunshine again. We parked at the end of the bumpy track, in a small car park at the top of amazing volcanic cliffs, with views to the black sandy beach and rock stacks below. The distant mountains were still covered in thick black cloud, though we were in pleasant sunshine. We saw a few puffins, just beyond a roped off bird sanctuary area but not as many as the guide book had led us to believe. Other sea birds were nesting on the cliffs but not easy to see without getting perilously close to the steep cliff edges. The black volcanic scenery was quite amazing and spectacular.

The main road continued through the town of Vik and then back into heavy rain. We crossed a large flat area of sand and volcanic rocks and a huge ancient lava flow. The lava was covered in thick pillows of moss and it certainly felt a strange, other worldly place.

Our next night's stop was at the small village of Kirkjubaejarklaustur staying at the Hotel Klauster. We had a superior room on the upper floor (no lift) which though comfortable enough, was no better than the standard room at the Ork. Again we chose to eat at the hotel - the menu was fairly restricted and expensive but it was still pouring down outside, so we didn't want to venture any further. We had soup, followed by cod and though there was nothing wrong with the quality of the meal, the portion was exceedingly small - I think even my 4 year old grandson would have uttered "is that all!" Tastefully arranged on a large plate was a small fillet of cod, with a crumb topping, next to it a dessert spoon full of cauliflower puree and an inch long floret of broccoli with about half a dozen, half inch pieces of various vegetables tastefully arranged in some sauce. Fortunately we were able to fill up with our bread rolls from the soup but for the price charged (3750kr around £21.50 - and that was one of the cheaper dishes on the menu), the meal was very small indeed and not very satisfying after a busy day sightseeing. The whole meal cost 11,800kr - around £67, for 2 courses with just one beer and a soft drink and we were glad that tipping is not expected in Iceland! The room was OK, if a bit noisy (thin walls) and the breakfast much the same as elsewhere but we were glad that this hotel was not re-used on our return journey.
Maria_H is offline  
Jul 24th, 2010, 02:25 PM
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hi maria,

enjoying yoru report very much. It's a shame that the food prices you encountered were no lower than the ones we found a year [or two?] before. you certainly don't go to Iceland for cheap plentiful food. we never did work out where the locals get their meat from - the only meat we found in supermarkets was salted lamb or pork.

looking forward to more,

regards, ann
annhig is offline  
Jul 28th, 2010, 03:54 AM
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Kirkjubaejarklaustur to Skaftafell and a church floor made of salt

Again the clouds had vanished overnight and we woke up to a lovely sunny morning. We had picked up a small tourist map of the village and decided to take a local walk before leaving. We parked near a waterfall at the end of the village and followed a way marked path, steeply up through woods full of wildflowers at the side of the falls. The stream at the top of the falls is crossed on a wooden bridge and the path then passes a lake and crosses the moorland above the cliffs. The rolling landscape up here was very reminiscent of the Peak District or Yorkshire Dales with the exception of Arctic terns darting about and hovering over the grass. The path returned downhill at the other end of the village then crossed a field to Kirkjubaejarklaustur's natural wonder and tourist attraction, known as the "church floor". We arrived, just as a coach party turned up and we listened with amusement to several people discussing what they were looking at. "I think he said the tiles were made of salt" said one, "perhaps they never finished the church" and "do you think it's a sacred site and we shouldn't walk on it". Then their guide caught up and explained how the top of the basalt columns had been sheared off by glacial action leaving what looks rather like a tiled floor in the middle of a field - a bit like a mini giant's causeway. We continued back to our car along a path near the river, where we got dive bombed by some nesting Arctic terns causing me to run to get away from potential missiles! The pleasant walk took us a couple of hours, including a lot of stops for picture taking and waiting for the coach tourists to leave the "church floor".

We continued along the ring road, stopping briefly at Dverghamrar (Dwarf Cliffs), for views of some impressive cliffs made from basalt columns. We then visited the farm at Núpsstaður where there is a tiny turf church, not much bigger than a garden shed and a some old farm buildings also with turf roofs. If anywhere made me feel like we'd slipped into Middle Earth, it was this place, with its little turf roofed buildings and strange shaped cliffs, where I'm sure you wouldn't be surprised to finds trolls or dwarves! The Núpsstaður area is a UNESCO World Heritage site. The towering 2500 foot slopes of Lómagnúpur can be seen to the east, which was the direction we were heading and we stopped at the road side, near a lake to get view back at this steep sided mountain, marvelling again at the tiny and pretty wildflowers along the lake's edge. I'm sure passing cars may have wondered what I was doing on my hands and knees near the side of the road - not praying to Mecca but trying to photograph some tiny flowers!

The road then crossed a large, flat area of volcanic gravel and sand, the flood plains from the glacial melts and we had what seemed like our daily heavy rain shower. To our north could be seen the edge of a huge glacier which from the scale of our map, we estimated to be at least 15km long. As we started to approach the mountains and glaciers of Skaftafell, we stopped at a viewpoint off the road, with information boards explaining the history and geology of the area. There are a couple of large pieces of bent metal girder nearby - not some modern sculpture but all that remains of the old road bridge. This was washed away by the floods caused by glacial melting after the volcanic eruption of 1996 - a reminder of the extreme powers of nature in Iceland!

We parked up at the busy car park of the National Park Centre where it is was possible to book various trips up onto the glaciers. The sun was shining again and it felt quite warm, so we decided that we would walk one of the many hiking trails from the here and we chose to follow route 6, a 7km circular route. We walked through a camp site then up a way marked path past small birch trees and colourful wildflowers. We saw several waterfalls before arriving at Svartifoss (Black Falls), where the water tumbles over cliffs made up of impressive black basalt columns. We then continued over the hillside to an amazing viewpoint over the glacier before returning back down to our car.

It was only a couple of miles from here to our next stop at the Fosshotel Skaftafell, our only 2 night stay. The hotel seemed more like a motel with several one storey blocks of rooms on a grassy area at the back of the main hotel building. Our twin bedded room was quite small but clean and comfortable but we did have a glacier view - at least when we stood up, as it was partly obstructed by a grassy bank behind the block. There was a warning in tha bathroom that the water tank for the shower only provided enough hot water for a 10 minute shower and would take 30 minutes to reheat, a bit strange but we managed without getting a cold shower!

We had looked at the hotel's restaurant menu when we arrived, which looked fairly expensive, so we decided to check out the cafe at the garage opposite, which I think had been mentioned in reports on Tripadvisor. When we got there it was filled with a coach party of teenagers, there was food and drink spilled all over the plastic tables and the help-yourself "dish of the day" of spaghetti bolognese did not look very appetising, so we decided to hang the cost and risk the hotel restaurant after all. The meal turned out to be one of the nicest we had while we were there - my main course of lamb fillet served with a red wine sauce was delicious and the portions were plentiful. Although the main courses seemed expensive, the drinks and starters were cheaper than the last hotel and the meal cost 10,900, about £62. With 2 walks and a lot of sightseeing in between, we'd had a busy and tiring day and we slept well that night.
Maria_H is offline  
Jul 29th, 2010, 02:32 AM
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Skaftafell to Hofn (and back) via Jökulsárlón

As we had another night at Skaftafell, we didn't need to pack up before setting off along the ring road towards Hofn. Our first stop was the glacial lagoon at Jökulsárlón. Wow! Sorry to keep using superlatives like "amazing" and "impressive" but this really was our reaction! I have never seen anything like this place and to say we were impressed is an understatement. The lagoon is a large lake at the mouth of the glacier. Huge icebergs fall from the edge of the glacier and float off into the lake, some blackened with ground rock but some the most amazing shades of blue. From the lagoon, a small stretch of tidal river takes the icebergs out to sea, as they break up and some of these are then deposited on the nearby black sand beach.

There is a small visitor centre with a cafe at the car park and boat trips can be booked that take you out onto the lagoon amongst the icebergs. The boats are little amphibious vehicles with wheels that drive off from the car park and into the lagoon for a trip that lasts about 40 minutes for 3000kr. A guide gives lots of information about the lagoon and at one point a small chunk of ice is chipped from one of the icebergs and everyone is given the chance of tasting 1000 year old ice from the glacier. For any James Bond fans, we were told that this lagoon was used for a car chase in the film "Die another day". We were told that the lagoon does not normally freeze, as being tidal, it is partly salt water. Somehow the seawater was kept out, the salt water sank and the water froze enough to allow the exciting car chase and to write off a few expensive cars!

After our boat trip and spending quite some time taking photographs near the visitor centre, we walked across the road bridge over the river and on to the beach. The sight of the blue icebergs on the black sandy shore was quite other worldly and looked like some strange sculpture park. Again, we spent ages taking pictures on the beach before heading back alongside the river. We saw many skuas, huge brown seabirds, over the river and seals swimming in it and tried to get some pictures. The best shots were to be taken from the bridge, where we could look right down on the seals as they swam up and down looking like they were having great fun in the water.

When we left the hotel that morning, my husband confidently stated that there was over half a tank of petrol, so no need to fill up at the garage opposite. Unfortunately it was one of those fuel gauges where the second half of the tank seemed to go down quicker than the first. We realised at Jökulsárlón that if we were to continue our drive to Hofn, we would need some petrol fairly soon - in fact we would probably need some to get back to Skaftafell! The car hire company's map showed a petrol station not too much further down the road, so we checked at the visitor centre to see if this would be open before continuing any further. We were assured it would be open and told that it was at a farm - if there was no-one at the pumps, we should knock on the farm door. We got to the very small petrol station (just a pump each for petrol and diesel) just as the low fuel warning light came on! No-one was around and everything was locked up, so my husband headed off to the farmhouse to see if he could find someone to serve us. He came back and said the only person in the house was a child (who fortunately spoke English) who said her mother had gone shopping in Hofn and would be back later! We debated whether the fuel left would take us to the next station marked on the map, not far from Hofn but decided that the chance of running out of fuel in the middle of nowhere was not worth the risk, so decided to wait it out - a slight sense of panic setting in! Another motorist is a similar position arrived and we had a nice chat about Iceland. Fortunately before too much panic had set in, a car turned up with mother, back from the shops. Our car was refilled and we were off on our way, with a good lesson learned!

To be honest, though it was a fairly attractive town and the area was scenic, it was probably not really worth going out of the way for. The harbour area was pleasant enough, apart from a very strong fish processing smell. We wandered round for a while, took a couple of pictures and then decided to head back. We stopped en route to have a look at some of the beautiful Icelandic horses. We probably saw more horses than cattle or sheep and perhaps shouldn't have been surprised that these too end up on the menu. We couldn't resist stopping again at Jökulsárlón, the sun had come out a bit more and there are always more pictures to be taken.

We ate at the hotel again and had another good meal - I even treated myself to a glass of wine with the meal - though at 1000kr per glass (about £5.70), it was just the one!
Maria_H is offline  
Jul 29th, 2010, 09:11 AM
Join Date: Feb 2006
Posts: 52,444
Hi Maria,

i remember all too well those nervous feelings while we hinted for another petrol station, which didn't generally go away until the machine accepted our credit card! [and at at least 2 places, our cards were rejected; fortunately at both places there were real people there to help].

wasn't the iceberg lagoon great? we went there on a very long day trip on our first full day in Iceland and really loved it. on the way there we went through virtually every type of weather imaginable, apart from actual snow, but it was sunny while we were there which was the main thing.
annhig is offline  
Jul 30th, 2010, 02:50 AM
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Join Date: Nov 2004
Posts: 1,175
Back to Hveragerði

We now had to retrace our steps, heading back to the Hotel Ork in Hveragerði. As our return journey did not include a stay in Kirkjubaejarklaustur, this was our longest single drive. In a sense, it felt a bit of an anticlimax heading back along the same route - up to that point we had been heading off into the unknown and into wilder and more spectacular scenery as we went. We still had places we hadn't visited though and short of driving all the way round, there wasn't an alternative.

The drive was straightforward - we just headed west. Just past Kirkjubaejarklaustur, we visited the gorge of Fjadrargljufur which is a short distance from the ring road, off the road that leads to Laki. The Laki road is one of the notorious "F" roads but the gorge is accessible by ordinary car on a perfectly good gravel road. Walking up the gorge would require wading through the river but a path leads up above the gorge on the right hand side, giving views into the deep gorge with its strangely shaped rocky buttresses and pinnacles. Iceland abounds with tales of trolls and other magical folk and this was another area where we could easily have believed that they lived. We could have sworn that one particular rock was in fact a troll that had been turned to stone when it got caught in the daylight - OK I've read too many fantasy books!

We drove back on the ring road over the lava flows and into some rain. At Vik we stopped at a woollen outlet and gift shop that sold the Icelandic version of tacky souvenirs. We managed to pick up some little troll figures for our grandson but the woollen goods are pretty expensive - well over £100 for a nice sweater.

Once we left Vik, the rain was clearing, so we decided to revisit the bird cliffs at Dyrhólaey, this time taking the little side road to the top of the cliffs by the lighthouse. We saw no puffins on this visit and I was too nervous of drops from the huge, sheer cliffs to get near enough to see any other nesting sea birds. The views were spectacular, including a view of a huge sea arch which we couldn't see from the lower cliffs.

We checked back into the Hotel Ork, this time our room had a view of the swimming pool. There was quite a nice outdoor pool, heated by the geo-thermal springs and a couple of small hot pools. We ate a good meal in the hotel and had a pleasant stroll round the town in the late evening sunshine.

Reykjavik and home

The direct drive from Hveragerði to Reykjavik isn't far and the weather was sunny and bright, so we had a choice of what we were going to do on our last day in Iceland. We'd considered revisiting Geysir and Gulfoss in better weather, touring the Reykjanes peninsula or perhaps the Blue Lagoon but instead decided that it might be nice to see if we could get a whale watching trip. The internet access had worked fine at the Hotel Ork and we had been able to get some information online and found that many of the companies offered several trips per day. We found a pay and display car park near the harbour and posted in enough coins to last us for the day. There were several kiosks offering whale or puffin watching trips but the Eldring one caught our eye and we asked at their kiosk if there was anything available for that day. The next trip was at 1pm, about an hour and a half off, so we booked our tickets and then wandered round town until it was time to board. The trip cost 8000kr each (around £45) and was expected to last about 3 hours.

We boarded the boat from the Eldring whale watching centre which has a small cafe and gift shop in addition to lots of information about the whales. The boat first heads round a small island not far from the shore and the home to lots of puffins and other sea birds. We could see the pufflings (young puffins) skimming across the water, as they learned to fly. The boat then headed into open water in search of whales. A commentary told us about the whales and bird life and that we were most likely to see Minke whales and very occasionally hump backed whales. About 2 hours into the trip, we were in an area with a couple of other whale watching boats and saw lots of seabirds on the water, a good sign that whales might be feeding. We were told that one of the other boats had sighted a whale and we went to look but though our guide said she had seen it, I saw nothing. A little later there was another sighting - this time I got a couple of glimpses of its back and fin before it vanished under the waves. The trip was now running late and had to head back to port, arriving back about half an hour late. We had seen puffins, gannets, Arctic terns and lots of other sea birds but only a glimpse of the elusive whales. None of what we saw was close enough to photograph. We felt a little disappointed but unfortunately wildlife can't be persuaded to appear to order, so it's a chance you have to take with these trips. I believe that some of the companies offer you another trip if you see no whales at all but as it was our last day, this would have been no use anyway and we had officially had a sighting, albeit a brief one.

We headed back to book in for our last night at the Hotel cabin and found we had been upgraded to a Superior room. These are similar in size to the deluxe rooms but are on the top floor with a sea view and a bathroom with a walk-in shower. We opted to eat the buffet at the hotel again, rather than walk or drive back into town, then headed for a walk to the botanic gardens. The gardens are open until 10pm in the summer and contain a pleasant cafe with some tables outside. The walk was a bit further than we'd anticipated from the map and it might have been better to take the car. The gardens are quite pleasant and would make a nice place for lunch on a sunny day but probably not worth going out of our way to visit.

As our flight was at 8am and as we needed to check in at 6, we were up about 4am, to allow ourselves plenty of time for the drive back to the airport. Breakfast was advertised from 7am, so we thought we would be too early and intended to grab something to eat at the airport. When we checked out at 5am, we were told we could have eaten in the downstairs restaurant which was already set up for breakfast. We'd already had a few cookies to keep us going it was too early to really feel hungry, so we carried on to the airport. It was probably just as well, as We had to queue at the office to hand back our car keys and wait while the car was inspected before heading to check in for our flight. There was one long zig-zagging queue for all the Icelandair flights due to go out - about 6 flights within about an hour - so we had to queue for around 40 minutes to get to the check in desk. We just had time for a quick bite to eat and a browse round the shops before boarding our plane for the 2 1/2 hour flight back home.


We were expecting Iceland to be scenic but tried to go without too many pre-conceived ideas - Iceland exceeded our expectations in terms of amazing scenery. The weather was very mixed and also very localised - sometimes we only had to drive for half an hour for it to change. Temperatures ranged between 10-11C in the rain and 15-18C when the sun came out, which was quite pleasant. Other than the last full day, which was sunny, we had some sunshine and some rain every day but the weather didn't stop us from seeing or doing anything we had planned.

The Icelandic people we came across were friendly and helpful and everyone spoke perfect English. Eating out is expensive but apart from a couple of museums and boat trips, most of what we saw cost nothing at all. It was a shame we had to retrace our steps but short of driving all the way round (a much longer trip) there was no alternative. We found a week at this busy pace long enough to enjoy without feeling overtired - any longer and we would have needed some relaxation days in between.

Would I recommend it - most definitely!
Maria_H is offline  

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