Sunday 7 June
We woke to a glorious sunny day and set off from Hofn heading up the Northeast coast to Egilsstadir. (The Iceland language is incredibly tricky with lots of funny vowels and letters that sound like something else. For example Hofn is pronounced Hopn, Pingvellar is prounounced Thingvellar – all very confusing).
The guidebook, which has a tendency to rather over-use superlatives, described this area as the most stable with the same beautiful fjords, waterfalls, mountains etc only in even more majestic proportions… The scenery certainly is impressive, even if it doesn’t quite live up to the guidebook descriptions.
We took a brief detour to Stokksnes with some great views over a very calm sea towards the glacier and mountains. Unfortunately the road to the end now requires payment to the owners who have set up a viking café. We decided to continue on instead. Alongside the road, steep shingle banks (something we became very familiar with over the course of the day) lead up towards craggy peaks that looked like they could easily slide down the slopes on top of the scree.
We left behind the whooping swans and greylag geese of the lagoons in favour of the eider ducks and oyster catchers of the fjords. The plains gave way to steep mountains, often topped in pyramid or cone shaped peaks and all striped from the layers of basalt. We also saw a lot more sheep, a lot fewer Icelandic horses and even a few reindeer.
We arrived at the small fishing village of Djupivogur and stopped for traditional Icelandic fish soup and delicious carrot cake at a lovely café in an 18th century building by the harbour. As we were driving out we stopped to photograph a series of sculptured eggs atop posts beside the harbour – sculpted by a local artist to represent all the birds of the local area.
We then wound our way up and down a number of small fjords passing some quaint fishing towns and one rather odorous one with a large factory on the wharf. We stopped at Reydarfjordur to visit a War Memorabilia museum. There were a number of Nissan huts and old WWII vehicles as well as some good dioramas depicting scenes from the war when the allies used the town as a base. There were a couple of very interesting women taking money for tickets etc – almost like something out of the movie “Deliverance”. They were quite harmless though and resumed their card playing as we wandered around the exhibits.
Early evening we arrived in Egilsstadir and had some fun trying to find our hotel. The GPS kept directing us to a very dilapidated looking building and I was getting a little concerned but when we finally gave up and went to check the building was most of the way through restoration and had in fact only opened 2 days earlier. The room was small but clean but the restaurant was not yet operating so we headed into town for dinner at a small café with some great “healthy” pizza.
Roger has attracted a number of sideways glances over the last few days from people wrapped up in gloves, hats, ski-jackets and hiking boots who don’t seem to be able to believe their eyes when they see this bloke wandering around in shorts and jandals. He does deign to put on his jacket every now and then but regularly comments on how warm it is when we pass temperature signs stating 7-degrees. I am definitely looking forward to warmer climes when we get to the rest of Europe but am not sure he will enjoy them as much.
Monday 8 June
An average breakfast at the newly opened but not quite finished Valaskjalf hotel in Egilsstadir, set us on an interesting journey into the high country. Heading northwest on highway number one we viewed some pretty barren country with hints in places of the Central Plateau in NZ. Large areas of just rock, volcanic shingle, stunted shrubs and the odd excuse for a tree.
Turning west onto route 901 we headed through the high country farms. At 400 odd metres above sea level there is still lots of snow on the hills above us. Remembering that Iceland, although just below the Arctic Circle, is considered part of the Arctic as the average temperature in July doesn’t get above ten degrees. As with coastal lands, every now and then there are green grass paddocks mostly with deep ditches running around and through them. It seems that anywhere that grows anything more than a few weeds here is swampy ground. Like the rest of the farms there is no sign of irrigation, the green must come from good hardy grasses and fertiliser. The wintering stock sheds up here are huge.
The guide book’s wine-bottle description of this land goes “on a clear day the lack of vegetation on this route is compensated for by the fascinating vistas, featuring remote lakes, rocky passes and rushing streams. But, when the rain shadows and mist descends, obscuring the view, the atmosphere becomes charged with eerie presence, creating the brooding mood and scenery that ghost stories are made of!”
Funny thing is after finding route 907 to the south closed we arrived at Morudalur, one of the earliest settled farms around here, now with modern turf roofed buildings a 1949 church and a cafe. The girl in the café, working there for the summer, had just completed her degree in creative writing – maybe she will be writing guide books one day.
Getting back onto route 1 we headed northwest to route 864. Five kms up the road and it is barricaded closed. Next was 862 to see Europe’s largest volume waterfall. Hyped up in the guide book this was somewhat disappointing. We had seen for more impressive falls through the high country.
Next was route 863 to the Krafla Crater. It was by now blowing a gale to the point we had trouble standing on the top of the crater rim. As we walked back to the car some guy asked me how the swim was in the crater lake. I explained the lake was iced over and he looked surprised. For some reason he thought my long shorts were swimming togs!!
We checked out the Myvatn Nature Baths. Picturesque as they were with great views, the wind was so strong we passed up the swim.
Arriving at Sel Hotel on the south side of Lake Myvatn our room had a great view over the lake and a number of small perfectly shaped craters. The wind is so strong it’s creating white caps on the lake and rocking camper vans in the car park. The locals just accept the weather as “this is Iceland”.