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2007-07-01 13:19 - A Strangely Norwegian Feel

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The Hotel Edda had some kind of promotion going on where we got a free breakfast on the third day's stay at their chain while getting the fifth night's stay for free. Since we didn't get the card stamped at Isafjordur, we were technically on our third and fourth nights (the first two being at Akureyri). Anyways, that meant we got free brekkie for one person. And the food didn't disappoint. This breakfast had everything the Guesthouse Elda in Reykjalid had (except the hverabraud which was local to Myvatn) and more... It actually seemed strangely Norwegian as it had all the fruits, syld (herring), breads, spreads, juices, etc.

With our stomachs stuffed, we headed out to the Hengifoss trailhead. Along the way, we got beautiful views of reflections in the glacial lake dominating the scene between Egilsstadir and Hengifoss. We got to the trailhead a little after 9am and did the long uphill hike to get closer to the falls.

With the cloudless skies and the sun relentlessly beating down on us as we hiked the shadeless trail, we noticed there were numerous opportunities to take the cliff-side trails. Of course there wasn't any real reason to do those trails, which were dangerously slippery and close to the dropoffs. Eventually, the main trail got us a view of Litlanesfoss a little over half way up. The falls were in shadow but we made the most of it anyways.

Finally after over an hour of climbing, we made it to the 1.5km point of the hike which earned us a nice but distant view of Hengifoss. There was actually an additional 1km of rough hiking left to get closer to the falls, but we saw there was a hill that would've gotten in the way had you gotten close to the falls. We knew you had to scramble up a very steep scree slope to get better closeup views of the falls, but we figured it wasn't worth it. The first part of the rough last kilometer of trail also looked a bit slippery and scary.

Even with that said, an Italian couple showed up and the guy went all the way to the falls. And as we had suspected, we saw him scrambling up the dangerous scree slope to get a better look. Not long thereafter, an entourage of hikers from a tour company showed up a few minutes after we took our photos. They proceeded to continue hiking to the bottom of the falls as well so I reckon it wasn't all that bad to continue.

Still, Julie already started her descent back down to the car park. Torn between going the last kilometer and not leaving Julie behind, I opted to follow her back down.

Back at the car park, we noticed the sign talked about another impressive 100m waterfall called Strutsfoss. It didn't look too far from where we were so we decided to try to find it. So we continued heading west in the valley past the turnoff for the infamous Karahnjukar Dam and into an unsealed road following a glacial river called Jokulsa. It eventually ended at a private farm and we recalled from the map that the falls were further than the farm. So much for getting another waterfall bonus trip...

Next, we decided to head towards Seydisfjordur. Along the way back to Hengifoss, I decided to stop and check out some falls on the same drainage as that of Karahnjukar. Eventually, we'd start up on Route 93 past Egilsstadir and climb up into the moors. But not before doing another 45-minute pause to check out Fardagafoss, which was actually two waterfalls on the same stream (with the lower one being more impressive than the upper one, I reckon).

After heading down from the moors, the steep road wound its way towards the town Seydisfjordur as well as the similarly-named fjord. With each hairpin turn, the views were dramatic as steep mountain walls surrounded the picturesque town. In fact, the scene seemed strangely Norwegian. After all, it had the dramatic fjord-like scenery (complete with cascading waterfalls and several on the main river near the road), the red timber buildings, and heck even the power lines and hydroelectric structures were all reminiscent of our memories of our Norway Trip.

Of all the numerous waterfalls, which started with Gljufurfoss and ended with an obscure one just downstream from Gufufoss, it was Gufufoss which was the only one with a reasonable car park to check out. The rest could only be seen without haste by foot along the highway or scrambling near the river I guess. There was also a lot of construction going on along this road. We were sure if they were for avalanche mitigation or for more hydroelectricity.

Down in the charming town, we had our Lunch/Dinner at a bistro at the Skaftafell Cultural Center. We spoke to the head chef there who apparently used to be one of three chefs at the local hotel nearby. They ultimately left and started this bistro we ate at. Needless to say, we got seafood there and it was good. Sure we splurged on the price, but we were already feeling good about being in Seydisfjordur.

Before we left town, Julie wanted to take photos of this museum near the end of town called Taekniminjasafn Austurlands. Without knowing we had to pay to see the inside, we went inside and checked out the displays. A guy eventually came out to us and guilted us into paying for museum admission, which we weren't aware of until I noticed a sign just outside the door indicating as such.

Anyhow, we actually got a very informative tour about how hydroelectricity was harnessed as well as how machinery was built and then about telecommunication in the early days of the late 1800s. At least this tour gave us a feel for what all the things on display actually were since the signs were in Icelandic. I think any scientifically-minded person or engineer would really appreciate this tour. I certainly did.

Finally, we started our drive back to Egilsstadir. It was only 26km but we made numerous stops to try to photograph some of the major waterfalls. We had a hard time trying to figure out where to stop (especially with all the construction going on), but at least we got to stop for Gufufoss. Unfortunately, the sun was shining right against my line of sight we I got terrible photos of it. As for the rest of the falls, like I said earlier, it'd have to be done by foot and there really didn't seem to be any infrastructure supporting such an option unless you walked along Route 93 and risk being roadkill by rubberneckers trying to pay attention to both the road and the incredible views.

We ended the day spoiling ourselves with some Kjoris soft serve ice cream, but unfortunately they ran out of the yummy waffle cones. Oh well, better luck next time. Tomorrow, we have a very long day of driving as we're getting an early start and will eventually end up at Skaftafell...

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2007-07-02 10:46 - Glaciers Galore

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As planned, we awoke at 4:45am in anticipation for our long haul from Egilsstadir to Skaftafell. We awoke to cloudy skies, which contrasted sharply from the nice weather we had been enjoying for the past three days. I figured of all the days we had to have bad weather, we mind as well have it be our travel day.

Without further adieu, we were off and headed south on the Ring Road. We initially thought it would be smooth sailing because it was on the most used road in the country, but the Eastfjords were littered with alternating sequences of paved then bumpy unpaved roads. We actually had to make a decision at one point to take either the 939 or stay on the 1. The 939 would've taken us to back to the one in a very short shortcut going over a pass but it involved a 17% grade. The Ring Road was also unsealed as it traversed a different pass with a 12% grade. We figured it would be safer to take the long way around and not risk sliding on a gravel road with a steep grade.

And so we continued to weave in and out of other fjords on Iceland's east coast. There were numerous times where sheep would be picking at something on the road so we had to wait for them to get out of the way. There were also numerous farms that looked either dilapidated or abandoned. We could tell whether a farm was abandoned or not by whether or not it had a car that looked like it was in driving shape. In any case, it was evident how poor this area was and I'd bet many of the sheep out here belonged to abandoned farms that have since reproduced and wreaked havoc on the country's depleted soil.

Three hours after our departure from Egilsstadir, we went through a somewhat short tunnel and immediate were greeted by the sight of glaciers in the distance. It wasn't long thereafter that we filled up at Hofn and took a few glacier photos from afar. We then continued driving along a long desolate expanse of black-graveled plains undoubtedly scoured by glacial action. One valley after another and one single-lane bridged over glacial rivers after another, there were always glacier tongues in sight. All of these glaciers were in fact extensions of the vast glacier Vatnajokull, which is the largest glacier in the world outside the Arctic Circle. The immensity of the desolation within the glaciated plains was something we had never experienced before on this scale, and it was truly a treat to drive through.

Still, most of the glaciers were nice to look at the from the road, but it was hard to take the time to take a detour to get closer to one of the glaciers. We did, however, stop by a glacier lagoon (Jokulsarlon), which excited Julie because it appeared in a James Bond movie. But the lagoon of icebergs and melting ice drifting along towards the black-sand beach and awaiting ocean waves were truly something to behold. Behind the loose ice pieces and bluish ice were intact glaciers clinging to mountains in the background. Of course this was a very popular stop for tourists so there were many other people around here. There were even amphibious boat tours to get closer looks from within the lagoon, which we opted not to do.

We eventually got to the Hotel Skaftafell just before noon, but it was too early to check in. So we had ourselves a lunch of truck-stop-type food, which was affordable by Icelandic standards. We then went into the Skaftafell National Park to do the hikes considering we had all afternoon today. We were certainly way ahead of schedule as I thought we were going to do this hike tomorrow morning and the drive to get here from Egilsstadir would've taken all day.

Anyways, we hiked to the glacier terminus of Skaftafellsjokull, which was disappointingly dirty and flat. Certainly it was nothing compared to something like the Briksdal Glacier we had seen in Norway. We then hiked the full 1.5km length trail from the visitor center to Svartifoss seeing Hundafoss and Magnusarfoss along the way. The hike was mostly uphill but you can gain an appreciation of the glacial plains once you looked behind and observed the landscape below you.

Past Magnusarfoss, we saw there was another car park. Julie was giving me a hard time because it would've reduced our hike had we parked there. Oh well, can't cry over spilled milk, so we continued on and it wasn't long before we saw the 20m falls surrounded by pronounced basalt columns. By Icelandic standards, this waterfall wasn't really much considering its relatively tiny waterflow, but it was still a busy trail without ever a moment of being around the falls without other tourists trying to get their shots. On this day, we heard many of the visitors speaking French and Spanish so we reckoned those were the tour groups that came today.

By 5pm, we were back at the car park. I knew there was a fourth waterfall around here so we drove a little further beyond the visitor center towards a rocky car park. I walked up the trail from the other side of the watercourse and it wasn't long before the trail met the first hairpin turn of the road and immediately nearby was the lookout platform of Thjofafoss with a hint of Hundafoss. Clearly this waterfall wasn't visible from the Svartifoss trail. Nonetheless, I was glad I saw it, but again it wasn't much to brag about.

We then continued to drive the road which ascended steeply in a single lane. It eventually ended up at that car park that Julie gave me a hard time about. We called it the "cheating car park" but I wouldn't really recommend parking here just to cut a few minutes of the hike. Besides, if you have bidirectional traffic on the steep single lane road, someone's gonna have to do a hairy reverse to find a pullout at one of the turns to let the other guy pass. Not exactly a fun experience I reckon.

Finally, we got back to Hotel Skaftafell where we checked in and went into our miniscule room. We got the idea that South Iceland was definitely more touristy and the services, accommodations, crowds, and prices reflect this. We still have a week left on the trip, but it's all in the South... [read more]

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2007-07-03 11:21 - A True 4wd Excursion

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We awoke and left the Hotel Skaftafell in cloudy and drizzly weather. Our drive continued through the massive black plains of sand (sandur) where sometimes it was hard to distinguish between where the road's paved shoulder ended and the black gravel from the glacially scoured valley began. There was even a very long single-lane bridge (einbreid bru) with pullouts within the bridge as it traversed a particularly wide glacial river. It's hard to imagine how difficult it must've been to cross these monsters before these bridges were built.

We were on our way to Kirkubaejarklaustur (or "Klaustur" [pronounced cloister] for short). It was during this stretch that we stopped briefly for the Foss a Sidu, which was a tall but light-flowing waterfall behind the Sidu farms. The drive then continued onwards to Klaustur where we were way too early to check into the Hotel Geirland. We spent some of this excess time visiting Stjornarfoss, which was a small yet intriguing waterfall on the way to the guesthouse. We also drove to the far west side of Kirkubaejarklaustur in search of Systrafoss. Unfortunately, this twisting waterfall wasn't flowing at all. We couldn't believe that a named Icelandic waterfall could actually go dry like this during the start of their summer when the falls should be pumping.

Next, we had originally intended to do the rather lengthy out-and-back detour to Dyrlohaey considering we had another six hours or so before we could check in to the Hotel Geirland. However, we thought we might as well scout out the 4wd road to Laki just to see how bad the road is and more importantly how bad the river crossing would be. And so that we did.

The road initially started out paved to some other accommodation called the Hundabakkar, but sure enough the road went gravel and then became the F206 which was bumpy with large rocks strewn about the mostly single-lane road especially on the hills. Clearly a low clearance vehicle would have a very hard time getting through on this road. After about 20 minutes of driving, we started to drive into what seemed to be a riverbed. It was very rocky but still driveable but it wasn't long before we saw what appeared to be a pretty deep river crossing. By this time, there were three 4x4s behind us so we pulled off to a rocky shoulder and let at least the first two vehicles with monster truck wheels go through without a hitch. The third SUV noticed our hesitation.

The driver of that vehicle got out and said something to me in Icelandic.

"Uh, taradu ensku? Eg tala ekki islensku," I said.

He then said something to the effect that you're Icelandic is fine, but he switched to English and asked if the ford was too deep. I told him I wasn't going to try it, but then he looked at our vehicle and told me we can easily handle anything 1m or less in depth. So with that, he took the initiative with his similarly sized SUV and we followed suit. It turned out it wasn't that bad.

The drive then continued onwards alternating between rough hills and smoother plains. Eventually, we'd pass by a scary-looking sign indicating that river crossing paths may change depending on the current conditions. The track up ahead sure looked intimidating, but at the same time, we noticed there were people on some overlook way across the river on some outcrop. We figured that must've been Fagrifoss.

Once again, the SUV in front of us waited for us before going through the pair of river fords. The first one looked scary and it had a current, but it was short. After seeing how he got through with no problem, we followed suit and encountered no difficulty. The next ford also looked deep but it turned out to be not as bad.

Then, the road continued along some rocky track before reaching a signposted junction for Fagrifoss. The generous Icelandic guy continued towards Laki, but we turned right and headed up the rocky hill towards the car park. I rolled down the window and waved at the SUV before us to try to show our appreciation. It wasn't much longer before we joined two other big SUVs at the car park. They were on their way out though so Julie and I had Fagrifoss all to ourselves.

The falls itself was at least 30m tall with a few strands twisting and splitting amongst the rounded volcanic cliffs. All the views were from the top of cliffs so it was not possible to get to the bottom of the falls. Still, the falls were quite satisfactory to see anyways and we took what photos we could. We didn't want to linger too long just in case the new tires we got from Akureyri were about to go flat after all the sharp rocks I've seen on the 4wd road. I also worry about these things on unpaved roads, but especially on this trip since it has happened twice already!

I had also realized that our last two river crossings were on the river that fed Fagrifoss. In fact, we could see the 4wd river crossing signs from the Fagrifoss overlook. I shuddered at the thought of the river being higher and possibly sweeping 4x4s over the 30m waterfall!

We opted not to go to Laki and drive another 15 miles or so on nasty roads. So we headed back towards Klaustur, but not before making a brief stop at Fjadrargljufur, which was a scenic gorge not too far from the Laki turnoff. Unfortunately, some film crew was shooting some Peugeot commercial so we couldn't see the gorge from the bridge. We decided we'd come back later in the day for that.

Next, we had ourselves some $20USD fish and chips at the N1 station in town. We then spent some time at the visitor center inquiring about the Landmannalaugur road, which was also a 4wd road. The clerk said our car should be able to handle it, but they do offer tours for about 2700 Ikr per person each way, which was actually surprisingly reasonable considering the type of road it goes on and how much fuel it would require. I guess we'll figure out whether to do it on our own or not tomorrow morning when the bus leaves at 9:30am from the N1 station.

With still some time to kill on this day (we were way ahead of schedule - especially with our Fagrifoss excursion, which I had allocated a whole day to do on a 4wd tour either tomorrow or the day after), we checked out the Kirkjugolf, which were basalt column floors that previous discoverers had thought were manmade for the church. In actuality, the hexagonal patterns were naturally occurring and they're very similar to the top of the Devil's Postpile Formation in the California Central Sierras.

By now, it was finally close enough to 4pm to check in to Hotel Geirland, which we did. Then, we headed back to Fjadrargljufur, but not before being stopped by the same filming crew on the Ring Road who I guess decided to do some shooting on this busy highway. We'd eventually get to the gorge, get our photos while battling annoying midges, and then get back to Klaustur. We opted to have pizza at the Systrakaffi, which costed us about $25USD but I didn't feel like spending another $80USD for dinner for things like lamb, fish, or other mains again.

And with that, we returned to our guesthouse room. We still have tonight and two more nights at this guesthouse so we have lots of flexibility about what to do for the next few days. In hindsight, I probably booked one too many nights in Iceland (not cheap as you know), but you can never tell these things when you're planning the trip. At least we're allowing ourselves some time for the weather to get better so perhaps we might be able to get good photos of Skogafoss, Seljalandsfoss, or other beauties, which aren't all that far away from our guesthouse... [read more]

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2007-07-04 12:01 - Independence Day

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Today was July 4th - Independence Day for Americans. But it was also the day that I didn't have to drive because we hopped on a Reykjavik Excursions (Kynnisferdig) bus which would take us to Landmannalaugur and back. The mostly cloudy skies were light enough to let the sun get through for moments. So we figured we'd get some decent photos of the landscape though not the blue skies and bright colors of the volcanic landscape the postcards would lead you to believe.

The morning went by uneventfully. The bus arrived on time, we paid the two-way fare for each of us, and we found a seat towards the back of the bus. The bus was literally a bus with big wheels and probably with some four-wheel drive capability. I didn't think it was suitable for the mountain roads due to its size, but indeed this was going to be our ride. Then, the driver started off. The whole time we were on the road, I was hoping that we got our money's worth with rough roads and river crossings. I didn't want this to be something where we could've driven on our own.

At first, the road was indeed tame and the rivers were bridged. We stopped by some guesthouse near a big waterfall to pick up a few more passengers. The stop wasn't really for us so we didn't get a chance to see this waterfall. Oh well, we'll have to do this one on our own. But the falls certainly looked pretty big.

Anyhow, the tour continued and as the road got progressively rougher, we finally had our first river traverse. We'd eventually get to the Eldgja chasm which was not too far from that river crossing. There was actually a car park with two footbridges to get through the river. However, the bus crossed these rivers and got to a closer car park. We were given about an hour to explore Eldgja and Ofaerufoss. It turned out that the hike to get to the falls and back was at least 45 minutes so there was hardly any time to get closer to the falls (though one guy did do that) for more photos. There used to be a natural bridge between the upper and lower tiers of the falls, but an earthquake knocked that bridge down. There was a guy on the bus who was here 20 years ago and actually stood ON that bridge!

Anyways, the swarming midges made things a bit uncomfortable at the waterfall. When it came time to leave, everyone beat a very hasty retreat back to the bus. I managed to get a bite on my arm so I guess these midges do bite (though the vast majority of them don't).

Next, the bus took off for Landmannalaugur and it quickly became apparent that we'd get our money's worth after all. The road was very rough, narrow, and forded several rivers and creeks. The driver made a few photo stops along the way and he'd eventually get to Landmannalaugur at about 1:45pm which was nearly an hour behind schedule. We'd only have until 2:45pm to explore the area so we hastily did so by taking photos but we didn't get far enough to the thermal pools. Apparently, other tourists on the bus managed to see thermal pools next to the campsites, which were something Julie and I missed. It was also strange to see so many cars, tents, and even some structures in an area so desolate. In fact, 2wd cars were parked here and it was then that we learned that if you came from the west, you could make it by 2wd.

By 2:45pm, we got back to the bus as promised. And not long after, we headed back to Kirkjubaejarklaustur. There were far fewer passengers on the way back than this morning as many of them opted to spend the night at the huts here, camp, or catch the connecting bus to Reykjavik. The driver proceeded to head back towards Eldgja. Julie and I had a little food coma from the snacks we ate so we took brief naps. By the time I awoke, the clouds rolled in and I realized that we were going through fog! It wasn't long thereafter that the driver returned to Eldgja to make another stop there for those passengers coming from Reykjavik.

During this stop, the driver (who didn't speak much english) made some conversation with a Dutch couple with us listening in and partaking somewhat. The driver then noticed that the bus behind us was in trouble. It turned out that the other bus was really stuck in the mud. Apparently, the other driver attempted to take a different line through the river and didn't even make it to the river. By this time, passengers from both buses were spectating. Our driver tried to help the other driver, who was a strikingly-dressed Madonna-lookalike female driver. However, he wasn't successful. In the mean time, a pair of rescue trucks showed up and eventually managed to tow the stuck bus out of the mud. The incident was comical because drivers from both buses (including the Madonna-lookalike that drove the stuck bus) took photos!

Anyways, with that bit of delay over with, we'd eventually make it back to Klaustur by 6:40pm. Time to take a shower and have a hearty dinner. [read more]

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2007-07-05 12:50 - A Busy Extra Day

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With many of the things we wanted to accomplish while being in Klaustur being done already, we had this extra day to try to remain ahead of schedule for the remainder of the trip. For today, that meant going to see Skogafoss, Seljalandsfoss, Dyrlohaey, and that waterfall we missed on the Landmannalaugur trip yesterday. As usual, the day started off mostly cloudy but the clouds were light enough to let some of the sun break through for very brief moments.

After another one of our subpar brekkies at the Hotel Geirland, we headed off directly for Dyrlohaey. It wasn't long before we reached its signposted turnoff and took the rather bumpy road towards a car park on top of a hill with a lighthouse. I couldn't believe they let 2wd vehicles on this road, but indeed they were - flat tire or not. And so Julie and I took photos of both the lighthouse and top-down views of the impressive double sea arch known as Drylohaey. We couldn't see there was a way down and I had the feeling that you have to book a tour or something to see it from the bottom like in the post cards. There was also a path that led to the top of the arches, but we weren't interested in doing that. It kind of reminded me of a thicker version of the London Bridge on the Great Ocean Road in Australia. Except this big arch doesn't look like it will collapse anytime soon like the one in Oz.

We continued heading west and it wasn't long before we finally arrived at the long anticipated Skogafoss. This 62m classic rectangular waterfall didn't disappoint as it was easy to get postcard shots of the falls. However, getting shots closer to the falls proved a challenge since it was very misty. Also, the sun refused to show itself enough to create rainbows in the mist. We noted that we'll be staying at the Hotel Edda in Skogar for the next two nights so perhaps we might get lucky in the coming days...

Next, we continued west and noticed several noteworthy waterfalls seen alongside the Ring Road. Once again, it was hard to tell which ones were worth stopping for and which ones we should ignore. It seemed this big black plateau was very moist because they all seemed to come down from it. Perhaps most striking of all were the Seljalandsfoss and Gljufurarfoss which were west-facing waterfalls coming down that same plateau. We spent lots of time photographing at Seljalandsfoss but only scouted Gljufurfoss, which was the one I knew I would have to wade to in order to get whole views of the falls.

As we headed back towards Klaustur, we still had a couple more things to do. First, Julie wanted to check out some sea stacks near Vik I Myrdal. It turned out that we were also hungry so while we were in town taking the few photos we could of the sea stacks, we also had a hearty meal at Halldorskaffi. The Halldor's burger was delicious (if expensive at $20USD). Julie's $20 pizza of shrimp and cheese was weird. Oh well, so much for her experiment...

By the time we left Vik, it was well after 5pm. I was still itching to do that waterfall on the way to Eldgja near the guesthouse at Halskola. And so we took our hired Suzuki Grand Vitara into the mostly tame F208 all the way to the guesthouse, which was about an hour detour from the Ring Road. The rain really started to come down at this time so it seemed to wash off some of the heavy dust on the car finally without generating new grime on the car.

Finally at around 6:30pm, we got to the desired car park and immediately started making our way up the trail as the rain started to come down harder and harder. After some 15-20 minutes of uphill walking, we finally got to see the falls, but it was hard to get a good view of it.

No wonder why the Landmannalaugur tours don't spend time here.

Anyways, I got the photos that I could without getting the lens wet from both the mist and the rain. It was a pity that such a powerful waterfall (albeit only 20m tall perhaps) be so difficult to see, but that's Mother Nature for you...

Julie beat me down to the car where some of the locals pointed out an Arctic Fox to her. When I finally came down, Julie pointed it out to me. It turned out to be this tiny brown little fox, which took me by surprise since I thought Arctic Foxes were snow white. Anyways, the local there told Julie that they're normally wild, but this one was a kept as a pet.

With the rain coming down full on, both of us put our wet bodies into the car and drove back to Klaustur. The rain continued to fall and I was hoping it would revive Systrafoss back in town. But when we got back at around 7:45pm, Systrafoss was still mostly dry. Oh well.

However, as I compose this blog, the rain is continuing to fall. Perhaps this might revive the falls by tomorrow morning... Either way, this seems to put a damper on our prospects for seeing rainbows at both Skogafoss and Seljalandsfoss tomorrow or the next day... [read more]

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2007-07-06 00:16 - Foul Weather

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So far the weather in the south of Iceland has been gloomy with periods of drizzling rain. There was hardly any sun nor any hope of those nice postcard pictures of the famous waterfalls Skogafoss nor Seljalandsfoss with rainbows nor blue skies. But the weather really turned foul last night when the winds were howling rattling the windows and the rain was coming down making loud sounds as they crash against the corrugated tin of our guest house unit. I had trouble sleeping last night because of it. The only bright side to all of this is the hope that Systrafoss might be revived. But I also intended to wade in cold water to see Gljufurarfoss but with the cold winds and threatening rain, I'm not sure it's doable...

So after yet another subpar brekkie at the Hotel Geirland, we headed off to see if Systrafoss was indeed revived by last night's rain. It turned out that it started to trickle but the water didn't make it down the cliff as the strong winds blew its piddly stream back up into the sky. Another guy must've had the same thought because he too left right before us and headed back the other way just as we were approaching Systrafoss.

Anyways, we continued onwards towards Skogar so we could use the Wi-Fi and check out emails and credit card statements. Not long after that, we headed back to Seljalandsfoss to see the so-called spooky waterfall Gljufurarfoss. I got pretty good shots of the falls disappearing into the narrow slot alcove when viewed from afar. I was determined to try to see the falls past the short narrow slot canyon with boulders wedged above. So I took off my socks, wore my chacos, and started wading.

Well, the water was ice cold. I didn't even make it half way through the slot before the cold river hurt my feet. In no time, I beat a hasty retreat back to the open grassy area. Julie was busy taunting me that a real man would've stayed there for five minutes. Ha!

While the day was still young, we next did some miscellaneous waterfall touring with the extra time we had before we could check in to the Hotel Edda Skogar. During that time, we saw Gluggafoss, various other neighboring waterfalls, AEgissufoss, and Arbaerfoss. Gluggafoss and neighboring waterfalls were interesting in that we accidentally stumbled upon historical sites relating to the Njal's Saga. We really didn't know what it was all about until we paid the visitor center in Hvolvollur a visit while reading up on it in our guidebooks. AEgissufoss was memorable because we could see Mt Hekla (which is still an active volcano) behind the wide river waterfall. We thought we could get similar views of Arbaerfoss, but we worried about trespassing and settled for profile views looking downstream.

By now, the afternoon was nearly over and we headed back to Skogar to check in to the hotel. The weather remained mostly cloudy which seemed typical of Southern Iceland it seems. After taking care of business back at the hotel, we tried looking around the small hamlet for dinner. Unfortunately, we either had to settle for pizza and hamburgers at a Skogar Cafe or ultra expensive food at the Hotel Skogar. The overpriced dinner buffet at the Hotel Edda was already out of the question.

So we decided to drive for about half an hour east into the rain and towards Vik I Myrdal, and return to Halldorskaffi. I had a craving for the Halldor's Burger again and Julie was determined to have fish no matter what the price was. And so I got my $20USD burger and Julie got her $50USD fish. We figured it beat anything we would've had in Skogar.

Finally, we returned to the Hotel Edda where Julie continued to take advantage of internetting. Meanwhile, I wanted to do a quick hike to a waterfall in the next drainage east of Skogafoss, which we noticed from the road on the way to Vik. It seemed like a foss that was easy to get to, but upon doing the hike, it actually turned out to be around 30-45 minutes with a pair of tricky scree sections. Still, the falls were nice and I probably would've lingered longer were it not for the annoying midges that were still around.

And with that, I rejoined Julie at our substandard accommodation (by Edda standards). So far it seems that everything about South Iceland was either more expensive, the people more distant, the food more expensive, the accommodations and brekkies more substandard, and the weather more foul than in North Iceland. Oh well, three more days in Iceland to go. Julie was already homesick. I was already getting tired of spending oodles of money on this trip and figured it's about time to go home. Still, we've got to finish our waterfalling, and tomorrow, I anticipate hiking the latter part of the Thorsmork-Skogar trail to see the waterfalls along the river on which Skogafoss flows. We'll see how that turns out as literature about doing that excursion as a day hike is minimal at best... [read more]

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2007-07-07 09:59 - The Skoga River

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Today was the day I was going to hike along the Skoga River. For me, it was an anticipated hike because I knew there were heaps of waterfalls on the hike. Given the long distance of the hike (which I wasn't sure of at the time but I knew it was at least 8km), Julie opted to stay in and check her emails while touring the area around the hotel. So at 6:45am, I headed out, but before I could gather momentum, I realized that I still had the car keys, which Julie wanted me to leave behind. So back to the Hotel Edda I went and gave her the keys. At 7am, I finally started off. With hardfiskur, canned tuna spread and crackers, and 2 1L Nalgene bottles full of Icelandic tap water, I headed off initially wearing a jacket, but it didn't take me long to take it off.

The day was still overcast (it's been this way for the last 4 or 5 days in South Iceland) and I also had to walk nearly an additional mile to go around the farm and ultimately to the base of Skogafoss. It took a little over 20 minutes for this bit of road walking. Then came the arduous climb up to the top of Skogafoss. There were already a handful of photographers with tripods up and about taking photos of the beautiful rectangular-shaped waterfall. Still, I was huffing and puffing my way up to the top.

Once at the top, I climb over the sheep paddock ladder and headed onto the trail, which skirted the Skoga River. It didn't take long before I saw the first waterfall on the river. Shortly thereafter, I saw another one. The going was getting good already.

As I continued hiking along the river while the trail gradually went uphill, I saw more and more big waterfalls. They varied from the wide river types to the taller thunderous plunging types. There were even a few tributary waterfalls that were noticeable and graceful. I took my time at each of these waterfalls as I carried my tripod with me.

When I got to Foss #7 (not counting Skogafoss), I was finally caught by another day hiker who intended to go all the way to the mountain pass near the hut shelter. I wasn't sure I'd make it that far.

And onwards I hiked. One waterfall after another kept showing up. It was almost like a game in which I'd keep hiking just to see which waterfall would come up next.

Eventually, the trail would skirt alongside a deep and narrow gorge. There were still loud waterfalls hidden beneath but alas it was difficult to get a few of some of them except from the top down. Nonetheless, I saw up ahead there were still other waterfalls to check out.

By Foss 13, I was surpassed by a group of Icelandic teenagers who were picknicking near one of the tributary waterfalls.

Onwards I went, still amazed at each waterfall I saw. Eventually the Skoga River split up and the trail followed the eastern fork. When I got to Foss 25, I was amazed at yet another 30m tall double waterfall with a tiny natural arch on the cliff above it. Quite cool.

The trail then ascended sharply again to get past this waterfall and then I saw Foss 26. It was a thunderous but shorter version of Skogafoss. Shortly after this waterfall, the trail flattened out and I was surprised to see a group of people picknicking past a bridge as well as a 4wd vehicle! Obviously, a 4wd track must intersect with this trail at some point.

When I got to the bridge, I was an amusing sign saying "Many Beautiful Waterfalls In The River."

No kidding!

The sign also indicated that I had gone 8km beyond Skogafoss. By now, it was 1pm and it was time to get back down. Some Belgian backpackers I met at the top answered my inquiry about how much further the shelter was.

"4km," they said.

Obviously, I wasn't going to make it all the way to the shelter (12km from Skogafoss). Still, I was pretty happy with my waterfalling. But now the weather started to drizzle. I better make my way down now.

At 2pm, the drizzle turned into rain. Still, I was hot and sweaty from all the activity and I actually welcomed the wet relief. The only bad thing was that the rocks and shale started to become slippery.

Finally at 3:30pm, I made it back to the busy base of Skogarfoss. By now, my right knee was inflamed and it was a bit painful to go down the stairs by the falls, but I managed. Now, I had to walk the last 20 minutes or so back to the Hotel Edda. By 4pm, I was back at the Edda. I was finally glad to change out of the smelly hiking boots and take a nice hot shower before the crowds would arrive at the shared facilities later in the evening.

As I gloat about this latest waterfall trek, dinner beckons. We're going cheap today (pizza at the Fossbud, perhaps). I realized that this could very well be the least expensive day we've had in Iceland. I didn't buy any brekkie nor lunch. One of our nights in the Edda Hotel is also free thanks to some Hotel Edda Promotion. Julie did buy a shrimp sandwich and gummi bears, but other than that, no petrol was used... I'd say all in all, it was quite a satisfying day in South Iceland... [read more]

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2007-07-08 11:44 - Waterfalling Thjorsadalur

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We awoke around 6am as usual, but as we looked out the window of our room at the Hotel Edda Skogar, we noticed something we hadn't seen our entire time in South Iceland - blue skies and sun!

"This is BS!," I told Julie in unabbreviated terms. We knew this was the day we were to leave the Skogar area and head into Thjorsadalur Valley. So after 7 days of cloudiness and rain, we finally get a chance at rainbow weather for both Skogafoss and Seljalandsfoss on the morning that we're leaving. It figures.

And so we checked out of the Edda, got our free night (cursing that we didn't get the Edda Isafjordur to put a stamp on the first night so our free night we've occurred at the $200/night Egilsstadir Edda instead of the $100/night Skogar Edda), and headed closer to Reykjavik.

As we leave the blue skies and the sun around the south, the weather was partly cloudy as we went further west. Not far beyond Hella, we turned inland and up the east side of the Thjorsa River - Iceland's longest river. After an unfruitful search for Budafoss (because it was a fairly length unsealed detour to a private farm and the falls facing the wrong way), we took a pretty beat-up road through lavaflows towards the Thjofafoss. This waterfall was wide and powerful, but the mountain behind it was what made it interesting.

As we continued our tour of Thjorsadalur, we rejoined the Route 26 and headed for Haifoss. We had a choice to do this one later, but we guessed that the sun was probably in a good spot so why not try for it now. The road was a bit rough with fairly big rocks strewn about but by the time we got to the car park, we saw a 2wd there so we knew it was certainly doable by passenger cars if they take it slow.

The sun was shining brightly this morning and we hastily headed down the path towards the view of Haifoss. The midges at first were swarming, but they seemed to have left us alone the further along the trail we went. Within a few minutes, I exclaimed a big "OOOHHH!" to Julie as I was busily snapping photos. You see, Haifoss had a nice bright rainbow in its mist and so our guess worked out. Haifoss (Iceland's 2nd tallest waterfall) also had a pretty significant companion waterfall. Plus, if you looked down the gorge, you could see more of those technicolor hills that I dubbed the Landmannalaugur Hills since the tourist literature tends to associate them with the popular backcountry destination.

After spending nearly an hour at the falls, we continued our waterfall hunt by going down the rough road towards Gjain. It was merely a little rift area full of fragrant flowers, midges, some interesting alcoves, and a pair of attractive waterfalls. Quite nice.

We next drove the even rougher road connecting Gjain and Stong. Stong is an excavated farm victimized by the 1104 Mt Hekla eruption. That volcano is still active, by the way. They restored the building so you couldn't really tell it was in ruins.

Next, we headed back to the Route 26 and not far from the Stong turnoff, there was the turnoff for Hjalparfoss. This one was easy to see as a side road led to a car park where you could already see the joining pair of waterfalls. They weren't tall, but they were picturesque. There were basalt columns nearby and the colorful volcanic slope off to our left seemed to suggest that this area was a crater in which waterfall fell right in and eroded away an opening so you're left with the falls and pool and not an enclosed crater "lake."

With all this waterfalling going on in the day, both of us were getting hungry and decided it was now time to check in to the Hrauneyjar Highland Center while having a lunch there. It was already almost 3pm by now. I think this place was probably the dumpiest place we stayed at on this trip. The rooms were very small, but at least we were paying a fair price considering it was in the South - unlike the Metropolitan in Reykjavik, or any other place in that city I reckon. Still, this shared facility didn't have its own sink in the room so I guess we'll have to be sharing bathrooms when it comes time to brush teeth - like the good 'ol camping experience.

After having a lunch of hamburgers and fries, we decided to head to Landmannalaugur. It was only 35km away and the Dynkur waterfall (the real reason why we went this far into Thjorsadalur) was going to be about 3 hours of slow driving. Still, we were going on the northern approach of the F208 to Landmannalaugur, but we knew 2wd vehicles made it there so it mustn't be that bad of a road.

So off we went. The road was very washboardy and bumpy. The thunderstorm squalls seemed to envelope us and dump buckets of rain at a time. Meanwhile, the drive was actually quite a fascinating one through black sanded desert. I reckoned it was a taste of what the Sprengisandur Road F26 would've been like, but we weren't going to do it on this trip. Eventually, we'd get to Landmannalaugur, but the thunderstorms were brutal! It was pouring rain and the rivers were muddy. So it was a wasted trip in that we didn't get to see the thermal pools we wanted to see but ran out of time during our tour.

Finally after 6pm, we were back at the Hrauneyjar Highland Center. Time to unwind and prepare ourselves for our last waterfall hunt tomorrow... [read more]

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2007-07-09 08:52 - A Leidinni Heim

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Having slept early last night at the rather cramped and rustic Hrauneyjar Highland Center, we got up early and managed to use the Wi-Fi from their lobby. We got quite a bit of internetting done at that time. Before breakfast was served, I battled the midges and loaded up the car on this warm, sunny day. When breakfast was finished, we checked out, and headed out immediately for our last waterfall of the trip - Dynkur. We planned this to be our last excursion before heading back to Reykjavik for our last night in Iceland. It would be our final Icelandic overnighting base as part of our homeward-bound leg of this trip.

Yesterday, the lovely lady with the tattoo on her neck at the Hrauneyjar Highland Center mentioned to us that we could make it to the waterfall if we took our time. We knew it was a 4wd road to get there, but we took her advice and went forward with strengthened resolve. So before 8am, we headed off. It wasn't long before we left the Route 26 and then onto the 4wd track through the black terrains of the Icelandic interior.

At first, the road was pretty manageable with a few larger sharper rocks strewn about here and there but so far it wasn't anything that we hadn't seen on the way to Landmannalaugur from Hrauneyjar. We quickly learned to follow the white arrows, which were sparsely laid out at key junctions of the 4wd track. Along the way, we managed to get to the top of a small black-sanded hill and get nice views looking back down towards Hrauneyjar as well as Mt Hekla's summit.

However, there were a few ruts and even bigger rocks that started to show up and conspire to scrape the undercarriage of the SUV. Still, there weren't too much of a problem except for the nerves.

Eventually, we'd get to the last white arrow we'd see on the way to Dynkur. We followed that path and it quickly degenerated into a real rough and rocky 4wd track. A couple of the ruts looked to be heavily affected by the thunderstorm from yesterday and showed some deep erosion. Even on the grassy part of the drive, the track lines were too deep for the car so I had to straddle the grass in the middle with one of the side banks so we don't scrape the ground as we went.

I was beginning to doubt whether we'd make it out going back this way. Eventually, the track got to a pair of huge boulders seemingly strategically positioned to block the 4wd path. Have we made it to the end already? Still, we saw there was the continuation of the 4wd path which was far more tame than what we had just taken. It made me wonder whether the road we just took past the arrow was incorrect. Still, the arrow led us here. What else could we have followed?

And so we followed the remainder of the 4wd track until it got to a noticeable place to stop as the line of boulders near something that resembled a tiny car park would suggest. And from there, we could see the mighty Dynkur waterfall in the distance. It was a nice but partially blocked view thanks to the canyon before us. I guess we could've explored a bit to see if there were any walking trails that allowed us to get closer to the falls. However, the swarming midges ensured that we wouldn't be outside the car for too long.

And so we headed back. But before we could claim victory on bagging this remote waterfall, the road threw one last curveball at us. As we drove, we clearly missed the way we took on the way in thanks to those boulders that were strategically positioned on the way in. I guess they wanted us to go the other way out to keep the road one-way perhaps? Anyways, the road at first was very tame, but then it put us into a field of very large boulders. This was even worse than the deep ruts and gullies on the way in. Now, we had to dodge rocks too big to run over while trying not to kill the underside of the car when we didn't have a choice where to go. We knew which way was forward since there were sticks up ahead we knew we had to get to.

So after some anxious moments of driving no more than 10km/h, we finally got to the other side and eventually got back to one of the white arrows. Ah, that was better. However, before we could get back on the road home, we missed a turn and it wasn't until the GPS tracking suggested that we took a different path than the one in. So after that 20-minute out-and-back detour, we finally were on the way back.

It wasn't until about 10:30am that we finally made it back to the Route 26, which was paved. By this time, we figured that with the warm sunny weather, why not take one last shot at Gullfoss thinking that just maybe we might see rainbows again. And so we drove the next hour going all the way towards the connecting road Route 31 which then took us over to the 35 and by then we were back on our way to the familiar Gullfoss. By 11:30am, we were at the falls, which was much more crowded than it was when we were last there nearly three weeks ago.

Anyways, as we had feared, we were too early for the rainbows. Had we waited two or three more hours, then the sun would be behind us and we would've gotten the photographs we wanted. Oh well.

And so by 12:30pm, we headed back to Reykjavik - finally taking the first steps back home. Both Julie and I had a craving for Saegreifinn's Lobster - errr Languostine - Soup. By about 2:30pm, we arrived at the Metropolitan Hotel in Reykjavik and checked in. We saw the same nice female Icelandic receptionist who greeted us the morning we left Reykjavik. She recognized us and we engaged in some small talk while I was trying to test my knowledge of the Icelandic language.

I guess checking in early was good because she gave us a corner room which was a bit roomier than last time. Not long thereafter, Julie and I finally got our long-awaited lunch. Yum!

Next, we started to empty out the car and prepare for our trip home. As we were doing this, a familiar-looking Icelandic elderly man walked up to us and tried to engage in a conversation with us. Unfortunately, he didn't speak any english so communication was difficult at best even with my attempts at Icelandic. Julie and I thought he wanted to talk to us because he was the parking enforcement guy. So eventually, I asked if he could come into the Metropolitan with me so we could talk to the receptionist who obviously knew both Icelandic and English.

When we both walked in, a different receptionist was there and she was giving us this surprised "What is this?!" kind of look. Eventually, I told the lady I didn't know what he was trying to say, and she'd finally told us, "Oh he just wanted some small talk."

"OOHHH!" said I.

And with that, the old man stuck out his hand and said, "Blessadur!"

I shook his hand and also said, "Blessadur."

And with that, we finished packing and put our stuff in the room to get everything sorted out.

And so it is, we're on the way home. Or as they say in Icelandic, "A leidinni heim." [read more]

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2007-07-10 15:12 - Iceland Impressions

Now that we're back in the States, I already have the feeling that I will miss Iceland. I will miss the raw and wild beauty of its nature. I will miss the small and charming towns. I will miss the quirky "city" of Reykjavik. I will miss testing my knowledge of Icelandic with those patient enough to help me along. Of course I will miss the waterfalls... But as I write this, more things are coming to mind that I know make Iceland like nowhere else in the world.

Even the smell of sulfur in the tap and shower waters will be missed. I'll miss snacking on small bite-sized hardfiskur. I'll also miss the fresh seafood we almost consistently had...

Still, even as I lament going back to the daily 9-5 and the jet lag that comes with such trips, I certainly won't miss spending crazy amounts of money for basic things like food, petrol (though I don't mind paying high prices for that), accommodations, basically anything made in Iceland... Already a few purchases made in our stopover in New York look like flea market prices compared to anything you buy in Iceland...

I know as I review all the photographs taken of the trip and update the World of Waterfalls website, I'll be bitten by the travel bug again and look forward to the next waterfalling adventure. Clearly, this waterfalling activity is more than an obsession. It's a way of life for us...

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2007-07-14 06:03 - New Featured Waterfall

Horseshoe Falls, New Zealand

Horseshoe Falls, New Zealand

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2007-07-15 12:37 - Good News About The World of Waterfalls Domain

We have just recently been able to acquire the domain:

Now, you don't have to worry about the dashes in the name.

Whether you type in or, you'll still end up at the World of Waterfalls Home Page.

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2007-07-16 07:08 - Iceland and New York Updates Progress

Currently, I'm in the middle of naming and cataloging the thousands of photos taken during our epic Iceland/New York trip. I envision finishing the naming of the photos in two weeks and it will take another two weeks or so to get all the formal travel blogs updated as well as the corresponding web pages cataloging the waterfalls and attractions of both these regions. Please bear with me for the next month as I try to get the web page updated as fast as I can.

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2007-07-17 07:41 - New Featured Waterfall

McLean Falls, New Zealand

McLean Falls, New Zealand

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2007-07-19 07:25 - Paradise Lost?

Hawaii may be considered a paradise, but there are issues jeopardizing this perceived status. Why is this so and what can we do about it? After reading a book about the evolution of Hawaii and witnessing its nature firsthand, I too, have become concerned about these islands. Its why I felt strongly enough to write this article and why I think everyone who treasures such a unique place should care... [read article]

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2007-07-20 10:53 - Snapshot of the 2007 New Zealand Autumn and Winter

So what's the rainfall like in New Zealand this winter? Looking for a glimpse into how the waterfalls will be flowing on your next trip to New Zealand? Below is a brief summary from the National Climate Centre in Auckland. You can read a PDF of the full summary by following the link at the end of this post.

Climate Summary for Autumn 2007
It was warm and dry especially in North Island's east. Rainfall was well below normal resulting in loss of soil moisture in that region. In fact, it was their driest Autumn on record. Temperatures were above average, especially in the eastern and central areas of the South Island.

Climate Summary for June 2007
Temperatures were below average in the South Island, but remained warmer in the North Island's north. Rainfall was below normal in the northeast of South Island, but above normal in the south of the island. Still, sunshine was above average in many regions with some pretty strong westerly and southwesterly winds.

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2007-07-21 16:42 - New Featured Waterfall

McLaren Falls, New Zealand

McLaren Falls, New Zealand

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2007-07-22 11:48 - Do Waterfalls Matter?

This was something I've always pondered when it comes to waterfalls. I always ask myself this question as a test to see if this hobby is nothing more than a collection of sightings that no one cares about or if there's a deeper meaning to it all. Through our waterfalling experiences I certainly feel like I see the big picture on how the world works and how waterfalls enabled me to open my mind enough to gain this perspective. But am I blowing this out of proportion? Is there something else I ought to be focusing my leisure time on? [read article]

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2007-07-25 07:31 - An Icelandic Dilemma

Upon our trip to Iceland, Julie and I have observed some disturbing developments with respect to hydroelectricity and the inundation of some beautiful waterfalls and relatively unspoiled wilderness. This is evidenced by our observations at Lagarfoss north... [read article]

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2007-07-26 07:15 - New Featured Waterfall

Marshall Falls, New Zealand

Marshall Falls, New Zealand

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2007-07-27 06:42 - Any Hope for Australia's Drought Situation?

After lots of flooding and increased rainfall in parts of New South Wales and Queensland as well as welcomed rain in the parched Southeast a couple of months ago, I was wondering if we were starting to see signs of a reversal of their drought. Earlier this month, a climate report on the past year came out and I started to take a look at it.

It turns out as expected that from June 2006 to June 2007, the country has experienced the lowest rainfall on record in numerous parts throughout the country, but especially along the coasts of southeast Queensland, southern Victoria, southeast SA, northern Tasmania, and western WA. Obviously the rains towards the end of that period statistically hasn't done to relieve the lack of rain from before. Exacerbating the fear is that the development of a La Nina (signalling generally rainier conditions) has currently stalled.

A more thorough report of the climate summary for the past year can be seen at the following link... [read more]

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2007-07-30 07:46 - Tall or Wide? Which Waterfalls Are Better?

I think it's a given that all waterfalls have a certain allure or charm to them. However, after seeing my wife react to falls such as Niagara Falls, Dettifoss, and Gullfoss (all of which are wide waterfalls) versus Haifoss, Hengifoss, and Glymur (all of which are Iceland's tallest waterfalls) on our recent trip, I started to wonder whether the waterfalling community likes one type better than the other.

So just for fun, I'm going to throw out some waterfalls of both types to try to get a sense of which ones are more scenic. I know I like the tall and narrow types more, but others like my wife like the shorter and wider but more powerful ones. What's your preference?

Wide with high volume waterfalls include:
-Niagara Falls
-Iguassu Falls
-Victoria Falls

Narrow but very tall waterfalls include:
-Angel Falls
-Yosemite Falls
-Catarata Gocta (Peru)
-Tugela Falls

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2007-07-31 07:12 - Angelic Disappointment

This was the year we were supposed to visit the biggest and baddest waterfalls in the world. We've been fairly successful so far finally getting to see Niagara Falls and some of the mightiest waterfalls in Europe (in Iceland). However, our plans were to take us to South America for the next series of falls. Included amongst them were Iguassu Falls and Angel Falls.

But as we were researching for our Angel Falls (Venezuela) trip, we were disappointed to be greeted with numerous travel advisories. Included in the advisories were statistics that Venezuela has the highest per capital murder rate, 100% of murders go unsolved, kidnapping, muggings and carjackings are rampant, etc. It really makes you wonder why this is happening and why they can't leverage a world famous attraction to bring in tourism dollars.

Of course, upon further research, we learned that Venezuela exports oil. Perhaps that's why they don't need tourism dollars as much?

Personally, it's a real big shame that we can't visit the world's tallest waterfall because it would be putting our lives at risk. Perhaps in the future, things might change and improve there.

For more on the warnings and travel advisories, get a sampling from the following links:
US Travel Advisory
The Latest from the Frommers Message Board about Angel Falls

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