Monday, March 12, 2007

Weekend break in Iceland (Part II)

Day 3 - Saturday
Having got up and had a leisurely breakfast at Hotel Ranga, we had to decide what to do with our day. The weather was looking pretty uninviting and the list of things from the itinerary (some waterfalls and a black sand beach) didn't look like it would take up that much time. M was obsessing about going to see this glacial lagoon thing - but it was 265km East of the hotel and she didn't have her licence with her so I'd have to drive all the way there and back in one day (bear in mind that the road isn't exactly motorway so covering that distance would take far longer than it would back in the UK). We decided to hold off on the decision until we got to Vik.

Two Waterfalls
First stop was the Seljandsfoss waterfall just a few miles down the road from the hotel. The waterfall plunged into an ice coated, fairly circular pool. We did climb the steps to look down into this pool but chickened out of approaching the edge at the top due to the amount of ice on the ground. A few miles further East we came to
Skógafoss, a considerably wider waterfall than Seljandsfoss - approx 25 metres across. There were quite a few seabirds nesting in the cliffs adjacent to it.

The Icelandic "A1" (
Þjóðvegur 1)
About 90km East along road number 1 (the 830 mile long Icelandic ring road) from the hotel we hit the village of
Vík. It is known for its black sand beaches, but by now we'd decided we wanted to visit the glacial lake at Jökulsárlón, so Vík would have to wait. We filled up on snacks and fuel at the Esso garage and headed outo into the unknown. At this point the rain had switched from mild drizzle to a full on downpour - and the downpour was fairly relentless. The landscape was increasingly barren and bleak. We did stop off at a summer picnic site for a driving break - but the picnic table was somewhat inaccessible! The terrain did change from barren rocks/snow/ice to rocks covered in green lichen (still with snow and ice). Kirkjubæjarklaustur is the first notable town after leaving Vík - I use the term town loosely as it is quite a small settlement, but a welcome respite from the desolate wasteland before and after it!

We pressed on from Kirkjubæjarklaustur heading further east on the Þjóðvegur 1 ringroad. The landscape was flat leading up to the cliffs to the North of the road, and consisted of black sand/rubble with various rivers and streams meandering through it, and a number of bridges of varying length. At the far side of the main valley the Skaftafellsjökull glacier peaks out of the cliffs, fed by the vast Vatnajökull icecap above.

Finally we reached our destination (after M and I panicking that we'd somehow missed it - we were off our detailed map by this point and relying on some crummy tourist map of the whole country which barely marked anything!)

Jökulsárlón is a glacial lagoon where the glacier above meets the sea and breaks up. The result is spectacular with floating icebergs of blue ice drifting lazily in the lake. A few seals could be seen swimming amongst the chunks of ice. They appeared inquisitive but cautious and stayed their distance. The car chase on the frozen lake in Die Another Day was filmed nearby and the jet powered kayak race featured last year in the BBC show Top Gear was also filmed there. You can see this suspension bridge in the clip. We bumped into an Irish girl at the glacier lake who we'd seen before at Geysir, she was planning on going all the way to the East coast. From a tourist perspective going at the beginning of March was very quiet, which made visiting tourist sites quite pleasant.

Returning to Vík
Having turned the car around and headed back to the West, we stopped off at an information point showcasing the wreckage of the original road bridge - destroyed by a jokulhaups in 1996 (surge of water/rubble caused when a volcanic eruption occurs under a glacier.)
After crossing the flood plain again we stopped to look at some basalt columns (known as dwarf cliffs or dverghamrar) and we stopped to take a photograph of the green lichen covered rocks whichnow sported considerably less snow than they had when we'd passed them earlier that day due to the torrential rain.

Another waypoint þykkvabæjar Klaustur was the site of an Augustinian Abbey in 1168. It was a good spot for some scenic photos it was slightly raised above the barren plain - though M and I got slightly damp feet reaching the information sign.

We arrived in Vík with just enough light left to visit the black sand beach and admire the rock pillars near the cliff, before heading back to the hotel.

Evening meal and hotel
Mindful of the cost of hotel eating we tried to find somewhere else to eat in the nearby town of Hella. The establishment chosen was a local bar - the food was edible, but nothing special - and frankly overpriced for what it was. After a brief interlude on the way back to the hotel where an Icelandic nutter (obviously with a bit of Erik the Red still in his veins) tried to scare us off the road by aggressively tailgating us in an immense American truck thing (similar to a Dodge Ram), we arrived ready for a well earned rest back at Hotel Ranga. We indulged ourselves with a couple of drinks in the bar (Viking beer is quite nice IMO) and had a brief chat with a friendly Icelandic couple who succeeding in convincing M to not be such a wuss and to go out to the outdoor hot tub (at 10pm in the dark/cold/rain). We got out to the hot tub only for them to turn the light off next to it about 5 minutes later - so we got to sit there in the dark! This would have been great for skywatching had the sky not been completely overcast! We never did get to see the Northern Lights unfortunately :-(

Next day - þingvellir. (Pronounced like: Thinkvellir we think!)

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