Thursday 4 June
Saying goodbye to Joel at 0615 we headed to Iceland. Joel is heading back to Christchurch to prepare for uni exams. He has been such great company over the past couple of weeks. He met us in Oslo as we boarded the flight to Bergen. He had this huge excited smile on his face that just never went away. He has been a star amongst the passengers, chatting eagerly to everyone. He definitely has to be classified as a good bastard.
Landing in Keflavik around nine we grabbed the rental car and headed northwest into the bleak and almost barren volcanic landscape. Our first stop was Pingvellir. This is the place where the Vikings held council over a thousand years ago. Supposedly the world’s earliest parliament. In the Viking days bad bastards were banished from their community for a period of time and the real bad ones permanently. If they returned the victim’s family could terminate them. When Norway took over in the thirteenth century they brought in beheadings for men and drowning for women. The site with its grand rock faces, waterfalls and board walks is still used for national celebrations.
A drive across the top of lake Pingvallavatn through more rugged volcanic land, this time with shrubs and other vegetation, brought us to a valley where swampy land had been drained and is farmed.
We then visited the Gullfoss waterfall which is to say the lest impressive.
Geysir was the next stop where the main attraction bubbled up before blasting it steam hight into the air every few minutes.
After checking into our hotel at Hveragerdi we headed up the road to Fakasel Horse theatre. Here the unique to Iceland horses strutted their stuff. Brought here by the Vikings over 1000 years ago they are unique with their 5 gaits, the fastest being the super tolt or flying trot. Size-wise they look more like a pony. If a horse leaves Iceland it may never return in order to keep the breed pure.
A tasty lamb soup capped of the show followed by a drive around the local district. It was interesting to see new houses being built using a small tower crane. Also farms that often hosted a small church on their land.
Friday 5 June
It was nice not to have to be up too early this morning. We did a bit of catching up, enjoying having plenty of Wi-Fi access again before setting off to explore the Southern area. We headed slightly NE with great views of Mt Hekla, one of the more frequently erupting volcanoes in Iceland. I love the scenery here – small farmlets, with large barns and often a wee church dot the landscape which is often fairly barren lava field. There are plenty of Iceland horses around and I am quite fascinated with the sheep – it seems the black ones can have white lambs and vice-versa.
We stop for a short climb up Gaukshofoi for views over the river to Mt Hekla and then carry on past dams and wind turbines. We stop for a great vegetable soup at a small restaurant with more great views towards Mt Hekla before heading back to the coastal road towards our stop for the night, Vik.
There are numerous waterfalls along the way and one area I likened to a waterfall theme park with several falls, one of which we were able to walk behind and another that we clambered over a large rock to get to and then walked through a cavern. At 4om high it was pretty impressive.
We also drove by Mt Eyjafjallajokull ,which erupted in 2010 causing chaos to air traffic around the world, and Myrdalsjokull, the fourth largest glacier in Iceland.
After having pretty nice weather all day , we encountered rain and cold winds when we reached the beach and cliff area, which is also a bird sanctuary. There were some lovely rock formations and we saw numerous Arctic Terns and Northern Fulmars nesting in the area but didn’t stay too long.
We checked into the hotel which has great views over the beach area towards a row of impressive basalt spires that according to folklore are the masts of a troll ship turned to stone in the morning sun.
Saturday 6 June
Leaving Vic, Sylvia studies the Icelandic travel guide as we drive east. The guide is written with such flamboyance it reads like the back of a wine bottle. Along the way we spot a few rather small birch trees stunted by the harsh Iceland climate. The guide book described them as “birch woods of magnificent proportions meet a wealth of wild flowers and vegetation”. Some bugger must have picked the flowers and given the vegetation a dose of round up. I am sure the guy or guyess that wrote the guide book was or is practising for a PHD at Cambridge.
In all fairness the scenery here is pretty overwhelming. There are hints of NZ here and there mainly in how quickly the vista changes. From endless lupins through flat growth-less plains, volcanic shingle plains and lichen covered boulders, to grass mounds resembling breasts, nipples included (there is a thing around here about stacking stones!!) The road is built up above the tundra a meter to three meters in places. Long one-lane bridges with passing bays have steel decks. Clumps of land rise vertically like they have been shoved up in the middle of a plain with vertical sides. Farm buildings are sheltered under the vertical cliffs that run up to Europe’s largest glassier occupying eight percent of the land mass here. Many farms have jumped on the tourist train and offering accommodation and more.
The sheep were originally brought here by the Vikings. Short and stocky with no tails and very tasty, we are not too sure about their colour. One coloured skewbald had both a black and white lamb.
As we headed now northeast we checked out the Skaftafellsjokull glacier. A 20 min stroll from the car park with a small terminal lake. Further up the road we found the Jokulsarlon glacial lagoon. Here growlers floated from the terminal lake under the road bridge to the sea, some cast on the beach. There is lots of touristy activity here but not one sign saying “swimming with the icebergs”
Arriving at Hofn we enjoyed a meal including local lobster, scallops, lamb and ice cream. A little expensive but that is Iceland.