- Day 1: NOT A CLOUD IN THE SKY
- Day 2: FROM FERRY TO FJORDS
- Day 3: THE LONELIEST HOTEL IN EUROPE
- Day 4: SKINANDI A NO-GO
Day 1: NOT A CLOUD IN THE SKY
Thinking we had a lot of driving today, we got up, got an early breakfast, and prepared to leave the Metropolitan Hotel in Reykjavík. The skies were nearly cloudless this morning and we kind of wished it was like this yesterday when we were at Gullfoss.
As we were settling the balance, we engaged in a brief but friendly conversation with the receptionist, who gave us pointers on where to find fiskibollur (fish cakes) as well as some talk about the rúntur (the unadulterated pub crawl in Reykjavik) and the tradition of eating hákarl (rotten shark) washed down with brennevin.
It was 6:30am when we finally left town for the waterfalls Hraunfossar and Barnafoss. This time, we went through the tunnel that passed under the Hvalfjörður, which reminded us of driving through the many tunnels in Norway nearly two years ago.
We were greeted with nearly cloudless skies and an empty car park when we got there at 8am. The bright sun made the glacial Hvítá River a milky turquoise color. We first went to the children’s waterfall Barnafoss.
This was the falls that once had a natural bridge over its rushing rapids, but a pair of kids apparently fell into the river at the bridge while the parents were at mass in town.
I thought this waterfall was more like rapids than a legitimate waterfall so it would’ve been cool had that natural bridge been there. I know there was a saga that said the mother of the kids that fell into the river used a spell to destroy it. But perhaps it was really more like natural erosion that did the natural bridge in, though I had no idea when that event might have taken place (unless the saga contained some truth in there about the time).
We tried to use the morning shadows to get decent views of the falls since the sun was shining directly into our view.
Then, we spent a good deal of time trying to photograph Hraunfossar in a variety of ways. This waterfall was really a long line of smaller waterfalls coming right out of the vegetated lava walls and grooving their way between uneven gaps in the texture of the walls. The falls translated as the “lava falls” probably because of the geology responsible for the falls.
Given the long length of the falls, it was very difficult to try to capture the scene in a photograph.
It was a good thing that Julie’s point-and-shoot camera had the ability to capture the scene in a movie, though. Plus, with the sun out, the river flowing right before the percolating waterfall exhibited that powder blue color that really made this waterfall stand out scenically.
It got a little windy while we were chilling out at Hraunfossar, but eventually we had our fill of this scenic place and we were back in the car at 9am.
We continued onwards and drove back towards the Ring Road before we went into a lava field that had some striking formations. Just beyond this lava field was the car park for Glanni, which we got to in about an hour.
At first, we weren’t sure if we were in the right spot because it looked like a place for golfers rather than waterfallers, but we eventually walked down a short trail and got to a decent view of the segmented waterfall.
Glanni was more of a series of waterfalls that were both tiered and segmented. The vantage point we got from the end of the trail was more of a top down view to appreciate this characteristic. However, from what we could tell, there weren’t other trails that would’ve gotten us closer.
So we walked back to the car, and started to head for the Snæfellsnes Peninsula, which was where we planned to find more waterfalls as well as stay for the night at Ólafsvík. We started driving again at 10:30am.
As we were on the southern end of the Snæfellsnes Peninsula, we started to encounter some unexpected waterfalls as well as fields of blooming wildflowers against deep green grassy fields on the mostly treeless Icelandic mountains making up the interior of the peninsula.
Who knew if some of these waterfalls had names. Some looked legit while others looked like they were more under the category of temporary seasonal waterfalls. I guess it goes to show you just how jaded you can become when you see enough waterfalls to start turning down photo ops for them.
I recalled there was a place near the Veiðistaðir Pools, which was on private property, not too far west of Borganes.
We then continued onwards towards Bjarnafoss. There were still more temporary waterfalls and by this point, we simply couldn’t stop for each one of them as we would’ve been doing this drive forever if that had been the case.
Eventually at 12:30pm, we saw the beautiful Bjarnafoss sitting right behind the small farming hamlet of Buðir. With the deep blue skies behind the volcanic mountains and cliffs pierced by the waterfall, we spent about a half hour at the bottom of the falls near a private-looking home with a large car park.
Bjarnafoss was a rather tall and conspicuous waterfall. It looked like there was some unusual geology giving rise to the sheer cliff from which Bjarnafoss got its main plunge from. But as for the waterfall itself, it was very attractive and out in the open so it was easily visible.
We made a brief stop here to try to somehow capture and convey the impressively tall plunging waterfall behind the farm we were stopped close to. Even a waterfall as pretty as this seemed to be a dime a dozen, and we couldn’t even find signage or anything else devoted to this waterfall.
Bjarnafoss would be the last of the waterfalls seen for most of the southern part of the peninsula. Next, we took a road through the peninsula behind the Snæfellsjökull. As the road was climbing, we noticed a handful of small ephemeral-type waterfalls though they really weren’t anything worth stopping for.
As the road was climbing, we had an opportunity to look back at the scenery of the southern Snæfellsnes Peninsula. Against the blue skies, the scenery was pretty though it turned out a little flat in the photos.
Next, we drove up through a pass before descending down into the northern side of the Snæfellsnes Peninsula. By 1:15pm, we arrived at Ólafsvík, which was several hours before when I thought we’d be here. In any case, we were able to check into the Hotel Ólafsvík with their basic but adequate rooms with shared bathrooms. With the cost being well under 50% of a night in Reykjavík, we were a little relieved in the wallet.
For lunch, we decided to have some hot dogs from a place across the street before deciding to drive around the western tip of the Snæfellsnes Peninsula. By about 2:15pm, we were back on the road.
Before we were able to make some serious progress going around the peninsula, we were already distracted by a pair of waterfalls that appeared to go further inland but were somewhat visible from the road 574.
First up was a waterfall in the distance that appeared to be Kerlingarfoss. When we left the road 574 to find a rural road getting us closer, we weren’t sure at first whether we were going the right way or not. The road was awfully bumpy and there were several spurs that dead-ended at private farms.
In the process of seeking out a closer look at this waterfall, we did get somewhat better views, but it just wasn’t as satisfying as we had hoped.
As we continued on the bumpy road, we then saw another waterfall. This one looked like it had a more satisfying rectangular shape in the distance. Like with Kerlingarfoss, we looked for a closer look at this one as well, but all we could get to was another private farm.
However, at least this waterfall allowed us to photograph it with the Snæfellsjökull glacier right behind it. Even though the waterfall itself was quite distant and in shadow, it was cool to see the glacier. I wondered in hindsight whether it was one that we were supposed to walk to in order to get closer since vehicular access didn’t seem to be possible.
There certainly weren’t any signs that guided the way so we figured we had had enough of chasing this waterfall around and went right back to the main road.
When we left this diversion, we continued heading west on road 574 towards the town of Hellissandur. That was when we saw a signpost for Svöðufoss, which ended up taking us back to the exact same spot we took our initial photos from. So I presume that that waterfall we had been chasing was called Svöðufoss.
We didn’t spend much time in Hellissandur and next drove towards the western slopes of the peninsula. It was almost like a miniature version of New Zealand’s Mt Taranaki and its so-called Surf Coast (at least in a geographical sense).
But in this instance, we weren’t going around a conical mountain like Mt Taranki in New Zealand. Instead, we were going around a glacier draped all over what appeared to be an old volcano. And surrounding this mountain was a series of black-sand coastlines with some pockets of dramatic cliffs.
Eventually, we drove onto a rough unsealed road branching off the road 574 and climbing the western slopes of the volcano capped by Snæfellsjókull.
We arrived at the short pullouts for the signposted Klukkufoss at just before 4pm. After a brief walk in the cloudless skies, I was able to photograph the falls but it really didn’t look all that impressive compared to the ones we’ve seen earlier on the trip so far.
On the way back to the parked car, I was enjoying the nice panoramas of the ocean along with some long expanses of just grasslands and low-lying shrubs. Indeed, Iceland seemed like a somewhat undeveloped place where Nature ruled more than societies.
By 4:30pm, we continued south along the peninsula as it started to wind its way to the east. By now, the road started to turn a bit bumpy and unsealed though perfectly doable by 2wd vehicles. It almost appeared like this area would be completely sealed in time, but we happened to catch it while road construction was still going on.
At around 4:45pm, we made it to a seemingly popular place called Djúpalónssandur. It was basically a kind of beach or coastal area with both scenic and historical qualities.
The historical aspect came from a shipwreck that took place here. Some of the rusted remains were still lying on the sandy part of the coast.
I had a pretty good time photographing Snæfellsjókull through a natural arch as well as getting a kick out of the four lifting stones of varying progressively bigger sizes and heavier mass. Apparently, there was a saga pertaining to these stones (having to do with trolls or something).
Personally, I lifted a couple of these, but I passed on the last one due to the potential for back problems.
Another interesting thing here was that apparently someone was showing off his photography or art gallery as he posted them on the formations around here. That was rather an interesting way to show people your work without actually being out there and exposing your work to the elements. It was a kind of advertisement graffiti, if you will.
I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone turn a natural attraction into an art gallery, but hey, why not if no one made it illegal and it shows off your work, right?
There were still more trails leading to some named places that I really had no clue about. I wasn’t sure if they were attractions or towns. And given that we still had to swing all the way around the glacier and back to town, we couldn’t take the chance of getting caught up on more hours of exploring (though the weather and the scenery made it difficult to pass up).
By 6pm, Julie and I finally checked out the hamlet of Arnarstapi, which was home to a collection of impressive sea arches.
Although the waters remained calm this time of year, you had to look down precariously at all of these arches. Better to leave the birds to nest and fly around the area rather than humans attempting to get closer to the cliffs’ edges.
We had pretty much a field day photographing these arches as they were all very tall. We didn’t bother trying to climb on top of these arches as I’m sure they’re not very stable.
When we finally got to the last arch sighting, we laid our eyes on the the familiar-looking one (actually a multitude of them) seen in brochures as they pertained to Arnarstapi. Although getting to the bottom of the facing cliff to get a better look seemed doable, Julie and I figured it wasn’t the risk.
So we settled for just looking through the arch with the body of water in the background through its span instead of the sky.
There also seemed to be smaller companion arches on the same sea stack containing this arch. So that added to the intrigue a little bit and kept us at this arch for longer than the other two.
Another surprise in the Arnarstapi area revealed that there were waterfalls plunging over some cliffs and directly into the ocean. Too bad we wanted to get back to our hotel in time to shower and then look for dinner or else we could’ve tried to explore a little more to find a way closer to those cool cliff-to-sea waterfalls.
After having our fill of Arnarstapi, it was time to head back to the car. En route, we noticed there were more blooming wildflowers fronting some small tarns or watercourses with a hint of the Snæfellsjökull glacier in the distance.
So we finished off the circular loop going around the glacier Snæfellsjökull. We passed by Bjarnafoss once again though this time there were shadows all over the cliff it plunge across.
At a little over 7:30pm, we’d eventually get to a nice waterfall just east of Ólafsvík. It was nice to photograph as the shadows helped to lessen the overall brightness of the scene. Not much was known about this waterfall so we just took photos of it and then kept going.
We’d eventually get back to town another 15 minutes later and decided to have some pizza across the street after the dinner menus looked awfully expensive (for a buffet no less). Although it was still quite bright outside and the sun was clearly way above the horizon, the town was quite dead.
We tried to walk off the food we ate by walking to the falls in the back of town called Bæjarfoss. The charming falls was a great way to end off a day of tour beneath the still cloudless skies. It was still bright enough for us to think it was 4pm, but it was 10:15pm by now.
Although the walk was short, there didn’t seem to be much signage to help us find the path to get us closer. So we ended up walking through some seemingly residential areas until we noticed some footpaths (still unsigned) along the watercourse coming from the waterfall.
The whole falls was in the long shadows of the evening, and when we had our fill of the falls, we looked back towards town seeing how much of it was still under the light of the day even though it was almost 11pm by now.
Once we had our fill of the falls, we headed back to the hotel. Even though it was still quite bright outside, we had a feeling that we were going to have a midnight sun even though technically it might sink briefly below the horizon sometime shortly after midnight.
I had entertained the notion of doing the guided midnight walk on the Snæfellsjókull Glacier or at least witnessing the midnight sun from town. But we knew that tomorrow we had to drive at least an hour to get to our morning ferry which would leave for the Westfjords and that didn’t leave us much time to sleep in or risk oversleeping.
So under such conditions, we tidied up and went time to sleep with our eye patches on to keep the light out.
Day 2: FROM FERRY TO FJORDS
Julie and I got up at around 6am. We knew we had to leave the hotel early but since breakfast was already paid for, we didn’t want to miss out on that either. It was a good thing we didn’t ditch brekkie because having it here compared to the Metropolitan was like night and day.
The breakfast at the Hotel Olafsvik had such variety and it was good. It was a shame we had to rush as we ate because of the scheduled ferry that we had to catch. So after barely a half hour of stuffing ourselves, we headed out east by 7:10am and made our way to Stykkishólmur – site of our ferry departure to the Westfjords.
We intended to make a beeline for the ferry to get there in plenty of time, but there were simply too many waterfalls to ignore along the way. In fact, barely 15 minutes had passed before we were distracted by a tall waterfall near the Mávahlið farm.
This waterfall was grooved into a cliff with a mat of green grass and wild yellow flowers blooming in the foreground.
The hits didn’t stop there however. Another 15 minutes later, we were treated to gorgeous views of a smaller but picturesque waterfall called Kirkjufellsfoss as it sat behind a calm reflective pool.
Composing the photographs on this one was tricky because there was a mountain behind it that seemed to want its entirety framed with the waterfall. However, that made the waterfall look puny. So it was either going to be the mountain or the waterfall, but getting both didn’t seem to be allowed (though that didn’t stop me from trying).
As we looked towards the ocean, we could see the namesake Kirkjufell mountain. In fact, we got to pause a little bit here as we filled up on petrol at the economical Orkan Bensin self-help gas station.
Here, my Icelandic lessons came in handy as the machines were pretty much in Icelandic but I was able to navigate my way through to successful payment and fill-up at the self-serve station. Perhaps it was because it was self-help like this that we definitely saved a bit on gas.
Another 15 minutes after this, we stopped along the road to photograph the impressive Grundarfoss. This was high enough and conspicuous enough to be seen from this distance.
However, I think we could’ve gone closer to the falls, and we probably should have gone there had we had more time. Unfortunately, we were worried about running late for the all-important ferry at this time so we decided to keep going.
After passing by yet another waterfall, we finally arrived at the registration center for the ferry at the northern end of Stykkishólmur at 8:30am. We did it in plenty of time to get all the processes cleared and we got on the ferry as it left at 9am sharp.
The next 3 hours were spent in the lounge area of the ferry. We did take a few photos here and there from the top, but it was cold and we figured we mind as well get some rest. And so we slept our way through much of the first section of the ferry ride.
Our sleep was sensitized enough to notice when the ferry was stopping for something. And it turned out that the ferry was making a stop, except the surroundings weren’t land yet. Apparently, the ferry was making a stop at some island, which seemed to be kind of a sleepy fishing hamlet.
After looking at some of the maps inside the ferry, we realized that the island happened to be Flatey Island. So from this point forward, Julie and I were pretty awake and we noticed the scenery around us as the ferry quickly made its way to the end point of its journey.
At 11:30am, the ferry landed at the Westfjords as advertised. The sleep did us well as we drive off into the heart of the Westfjords wide awake and refreshed. We opted to take the more inland route instead of following the birders around the coast out west.
Apparently there were serious birders on the ferry as I had overheard some chatter about it, and I was sure they were in search of the toucan-like puffins out there. So while there was a seemingly large group of cars going west, we were like one of the few cars going east.
Anyways, we’d get to a junction at a pass on the unsealed road and decided to make a quick detour to a place called Fossdalur that I had read about. Given the name of the place, perhaps there was a worthwhile waterfall to stop at before returning back to this junction and continuing north towards Dynjandi, which was the major waterfall attraction of today.
The sun was still up in between clouds moving about here and there. It certainly wasn’t the cloudless blue sky day like yesterday but perhaps this weather would allow us to take some long exposure photographs.
At noon, we got to see a short but powerful waterfall that was just labeled Foss on the map. We actually couldn’t tell if we were at Fossdalur or not, but our map indicated such.
In any case, there was a walk that was said that it could be done as a long shuttle hike one-way through the Fossdalur valley. I doubted that we’d have the time to do this, but the possibility of seeing what was there was certainly intriguing.
Oh well, we reckoned we wouldn’t have a whole lot of time to do any walks and then get to Ísafjörður later on today so by 12:30pm, we headed back to our intended route.
As we were finally back heading north on the inland route, we went over a couple of bridged streams. One of them looked very significant, and I wondered if this was the watercourse responsible for Dynjandi since the GPS map indicated we were very close.
In any case, we eventually reached a junction and swung around as the road descended then headed back in the southerly direction. At first, we saw a wide and impressive cascade, but from our pre-trip research, we knew it wasn’t Dynjandi. Still, it could’ve easily gottten attention if it didn’t require you to look over your shoulder to view as we descended the mountain pass towards Dynjandi.
At 1:45pm, we arrived at a pretty bustling car park (for a place so remote) at Dynjandi. This waterfall was quite huge but I had a feeling that photos wouldn’t really do it justice. The falls fell in several tiers with the uppermost tier being the widest and most impressive with its trapezoidal shape.
By this time, it was pretty clear that clouds had now dominated and there probably wouldn’t be much more sun for a while. It was even drizzling in some stretches at Dynjandi.
Nonetheless, we proceeded to do the walk to get up to the uppermost tier of the falls. As we were making our way up, we immediately started to notice there were signs fronting smaller waterfalls that were part of the main stream.
So we used each of those stops as an opportunity to catch our breaths as the trail pretty much was a non-stop climb that seemed to get steeper the higher up we went.
The first waterfall was called Bæjarfoss. This one was pretty short though stocky, but it didn’t give us too many reasons to linger for much longer, especially with the obviously larger tiers still yet to come. So we took our photos and kept going.
The next waterfall was Hundafoss, which was also short. However, this one seemed to be more like something on the order of 10-15ft or so and looked much more like it could’ve been rapids. So we didn’t linger too long for this one either.
The next waterfall was Hrisvaðsfoss, which appeared to be some more waterfalls similar in character to Bæjarfoss except it was segmented into two main parts with one of them having two tiers. It was intriguing and it seemed like the waterfalls started to get better the higher up we went.
Next, we climbed up to a side view of Göngumannafoss. This one was a gusher and the cliffs were partially obscuring this waterfall since we were viewing it from an angle.
While we were at Göngumannafoss, we realized that we had climbed up high enough to look back towards the fjord. Indeed, it was scenic in a very eerie and desolate way since much of the landscape was green mats of grass and shrubs with a lot of low mountains without trees or sharp gorges except for mini examples of them where there were watercourses like this one on Dynjandi.
The next waterfall was called Strompgljúfrafoss. This one was a plunging short tier that was right below the main tier of the waterfall apparently. The name suggested there was a gorge, and from seeing this tier, we could definitely notice a small gorge carved out by the force of the water channeling its way through here.
When seen in its whole context, we could’ve very easily thought of it as a component of what we believed to be the main part of the Dynjandi waterfall. It was certainly a little misty when viewed directly, but it wasn’t so bad that we couldn’t take long exposure photos of it.
Finally, we made it up to the last waterfall where we saw a signpost that said Hæstahjallafoss. The signpost here was far enough away to make us wonder if it was talking about the main trapezoidal waterfall or not. But since we didn’t see any more signs, we assumed this must be the case.
It took a while for us to pry ourselves from the Dynjandi waterfall, but all good things must come to an end and started to make our way back down to the car park.
On the way back down, we got pretty sweeping views of Arnarfjörður from the higher vantage point that we earned. And with the all-downhill (but steep) hike, it didn’t take us long to reach the bottom once again.
Once we were at the bottom, we still found it difficult to pry ourselves away from Dynjandi. The waterfall was just too attractive, and it was even harder to try to communicate our desire to stay here through our photographs and movies.
So we continued heading towards Ísafjörður at 3:15pm, where we were to stay this night. The drive persisted on unsealed roads, and there was a small detour that caught our eye as we saw a pair of waterfalls going down another cliff as we headed north.
There seemed to be a significant enough pullout or car park for this place so we made a quick stop here noting that there was a signpost saying Mjólkávirkjun. There was a big pipe alongside one of the waterfalls that was apparently tapped for hydroelectricity or diversion for something else (not sure).
The scenery out here still looked raw as the road climbed and the green mats started to give way towards the brownish and reddish soil, which could still be seen under the overcast skies.
Eventually, the unpaved road gave way to pavement as we got to Þingeyri. And not long thereafter, there was a long tunnel through the mountain as it seemed like civilization was seemingly getting closer in this remote place in Iceland.
Once we got out of the tunnel, the hits just kept coming as we found ourselves in a somewhat steep valley featuring a couple of stringy but noteworthy waterfalls.
Just like in Norway, I’m sure many of these waterfalls would’ve gotten some love in places where waterfalls were more scarce, but here in Iceland, they seemed to be a dime-a-dozen, as Julie liked to say.
As we approached the town of Ísafjörður before 5pm, we were quite surprised at the size of the town (almost city-like). This was really strange to see considering all the remoteness we had passed through to get here. It was this place that really reminded Julie and I of Norway where development met steep-walled fjord scenery. The difference between the two is that Norway is mostly granite fjords while here in Iceland, we saw mostly softer volcanic-cliffed fjords so the walls sloped more than they did in Norway.
We’d eventually get to our accommodation at the Hotel Edda in town, which was converted from a middle school during summer. This seemed to be a creative way to make use of the facilities when school is out. We were surprised at how big and clean the rooms were and you wouldn’t know you were in a school if no one told you.
After checking in, we decided to do one last brief excursion out to the waterfall in Tungudalur, which we noticed on the way into town shortly after leaving the long tunnel. By 5:30pm, we were at the car park for the falls and its field of purple wildflowers in the valley.
We spent a brief time photographing the falls here while smelling the fragrant wildflowers blooming as well as exploring some of the trails here that seemed to go both up above the waterfall as well as further along the steep valley back towards the long tunnel that was hidden from view.
The steep climb to get up closer to the falls yielded a somewhat anticlimactic view as the waterfall appeared to get smaller and smaller as the cascades that emmanated from it were now below us. So we didn’t have a desire to follow some of the people here who kept climbing up above the waterfall towards the top of the mountain.
When we briefly explored the valley trail, we saw there were still more surprise waterfalls we in the distance near some farms. But since it was getting late in the day, we decided not to go any further and turn back.
On the way back to the car park, we were able to better appreciate the main waterfall with large purple mats of wildflowers dotting the entire area between the trail and the main drop of that waterfall.
It wasn’t much longer before we returned to town looking for a place to eat well after 6pm. We ultimately settled on this place called Fernando’s, but they served a dinner buffet (amounted to about $30/person). It was too bad we couldn’t try out their normal dishes, but at least we got to try fiskibollur finally. It was actually quite tasty and even presented as if it were a pastry. Quite interesting.
With this eventful day over with, we had no problems getting cleaned up and into bed. Even the drapes were much darker than before so it really did feel like night. Of course if we had looked out the window, we would still think it was late afternoon even with the overcast skies.
Day 3: THE LONELIEST HOTEL IN EUROPE
Given the practically non-existent nights, I had no trouble waking up at around 5am.
So while Julie was getting busy packing and ready for the day, I went outside our hotel and walked around for a bit taking photos as I noticed immediately that the fjord’s waters were calm and reflective.
Indeed, it was so quiet and serent that it was real easy to take photo after photo trying to somehow get both the reflections of the entire mountains backing the developments and harbors without making the photos look flat.
Some time during this photo excursion, I managed to somehow tweak my right knee when I was descending down from one of the concrete railings. I wasn’t quite sure why it happened or how, but my right knee started to bother me as I tried to walk it off and hope it would go away.
Since there was no complementary breakfast at the Hotel Edda Ísafjörður, we decided to get an early start on our drive out to Djúpavík. We had left around 6:15am but there was enough light to make it seem like it was 9am.
The next three hours or so was spent weaving in and out of several fjords and mountain passes with scenic moors very reminiscent of what we had seen in Norway a couple of years ago.
Many of the fjords had big cascades with seemingly no name and we had stopped for many of these. Even then, it was difficult to tell which ones were legitimate waterfalls and which ones were merely thinner seasonal ones. Some of the major ones seemed to require trespassing on private property to get decent views.
In between the waterfalls, we had also stopped to check out some of the beautiful fjord scenery that really made it feel like we were in some place that not a whole lot of people know much about. We figured those people not in the know were really missing out.
However, it was during the drive that my right knee started hurting again. I guess the strain of stick-shift driving on mountain roads for several hours while hiking in between put a toll on my knee or something. I had a similar condition in Norway, and at least Julie surmised it was the stick shift.
Anytime I had to initially get out of the car to walk or straighten out my leg, it hurt and I had a feeling my right knee was swollen.
When we arrived in Hólmavík, we filled up on petrol and had more reasonably-priced Icelandic pylsur (hot dogs) at the cafe there. Still, walking at the time was very painful and I really got worried about how my knees would be for the rest of this trip.
After the short brunch, we went across the road to the visitor center where they had a free internet terminal. There, we checked email and paid some bills. It also bought me some time for my knee to recover a little.
We left Hólmavík at around 11:30am and headed north to Djúpavík. The road became unpaved again once we got near Drangsnes. The arctic winds were blowing hard and there was a serious wind-chill factor even though the sun was shining.
However, there were dark clouds moving fast out at sea and bumping against the ocean-facing mountains on which the road hugged to avoid the white-capped seas. It was also at this time that I realized that I couldn’t find my light jacket as I stopped to take a photo.
That was when I replayed when I last had the jacket in my mind and deduced that I had left it at Fernando’s in Ísafjörður. Well, it’s a bit too far to go back so we considered it lost.
Clearly it was too cold to go out in my short-sleeved hiking shirt with this Arctic Wind blowing so I had to get out the thicker jacket. Better not get this one lost, I reckoned.
And so we made several more stops to try to seize the moment and capture the beauty of the wild Strandir Coast. There were a couple of attractive waterfalls we stopped for as well as some scattered isolated summer houses and heaps of dry, dessicated driftwood strewn about the coastline.
When the road started to turn a little more inland, the fast moving clouds seemed to have dominated the scene and we ended up checking out a few more falls in cloudy weather.
At around 1pm, we finally arrived in Djúpavík and checked in to the hotel. Greeting us as soon as we got out of the car was this friendly dog. It seemed genuinely excited to see us and we obliged by petting it.
As we were shown our room upstairs, it suddenly hit us that this place has got to be one of the most charming hotels we’d ever stayed in.
It’s really more of a bed and breakfast, but they maintained the old architecture inside and it felt real warm and cosy in the upstairs guest area. The stairs were a bit steep and narrow though so we only brought up what we needed from our luggage instead of bringing the whole thing.
The receptionist was named Claus and he was an interesting guy in that he was German and it seemed that he was in the middle of learning Icelandic. Claus sensed that I was also learning the language and we immediately hit it off struggling to communicate in Icelandic. As he said, it was funny that two foreigners were talking in Icelandic to each other in the loneliest Hotel in Europe of all places!
After getting settled, Julie and I decided to stroll around the abandoned herring-factory town of Djúpavík (well, if you can call it a town). During the stroll, we were accompanied by the hotel owner’s dog.
There were only a handful of buildings and everything was for the most part abandoned except for the hotel and a handful of houses out back.
Behind the town was an impressive waterfall (Djúpavíkurfoss) making its presence known with its loud noise as it plunged from a cliff and then cascaded down a rocky slope as it ran right before one of the old factories and eventually emptying into the fjord.
The winds were still strong and it was really chilly as a result despite the sun. Claus said earlier that we were lucky with the weather because the skies were foggy and misty for the past several days.
Anyways as we started to head up the hill for a different perspective of both the waterfall and town, the dog that was following us managed to find time chasing sheep while keeping us company. It turned out that her name was Tína.
While walking around, we noticed there was also another big waterfall further up the Reykjarfjörður though it wasn’t nearly as photogenic as Djúpavíkurfoss. Even further up the fjord, there was yet a third big waterfall, but this was even less photogenic than the first two as we had to look directly into the sun for it.
Julie and I opted not to drive the additional 40km to a geo-thermally heated pool right next to the ocean at Krossnes. I’m sure this would’ve been a big draw for people who choose to stay in this lonely spot. Instead, we’ve just decided to chill out at the Hotel Djúpavík.
Dinner was a very at-home affair with both of us having the local fish for dinner. We were joined by a Dutch couple who had sailed towards this fjord. Along with Claus, we would eventually talk about various things such as travel, politics, art, and Iceland.
Before we knew it, it was already 10:30pm and it was time to go to bed and pass on the Dutch couple’s offer to see their sailing boat over a few drinks. It was fun learning some pearls of wisdom from a former politician and an artist who’s exhibiting in New York.
Their stories along with Claus’ reason for coming to Djúpavík were really inspirational and further strengthened our conviction that traveling with an open mind really is the way to enrich one’s life. Clearly, the travel bug has hit us, but we really felt like we were experiencing that rare combination of believing in what we were doing and learning so much we didn’t expect to learn along the way…
Day 4: SKINANDI A NO-GO
Even though Julie and I got up after 7am, which was rather late for our trip, we still felt like we really didn’t want to wake up so early. However, we knew a long drive was ahead of us to Hof í Vatnsdalur, which was a guest house and site of our next accomodation.
But one look out the window and we saw a cloudless sky! So after briefly getting our stuff together, we loaded up the car and walked around the area to take a few last photos of Djúpavík under the perfect sky. What a contrast to the variable weather from yesterday!
The walk was surprisingly warm considering how bitterly chilly it was yesterday. We walked on the same trail we were on yesterday to get up to the hill for a look back at Djupavik. However, we went straight instead of going right up the hill.
We went as far back until we got a somewhat frontal view of that other waterfall, which was a little smaller, but also impressive in its own right.
As we headed back into town, we could see the full extent of the fjord without a cloud in the sky! The mountains still clung onto what vestige of snow was left, and even some more waterfalls in the grooves of the mountains in the distance revealed themselves.
We opted to skip the breakfast this time around but we did talk to Claus the German Hotel helper. We continued our attempt at talking to each other in Icelandic while also signing the guest book, paying the bill, and taking some photos in front of the hotel.
I’d have to say that this was truly one of the more unforgettable places we’ve ever been at and we thoroughly enjoyed the company from Claus and the Dutch couple who joined us over dinner. We will also not forget Tína the local dog accompanying us on our walks around the area yesterday.
By 9am, we bid a fond farewell and headed south towards the Ring Road. As we were weaving in and out of the fjords we traversed yesterday, we could see how much of a difference the lack of clouds and the presence of sun really made.
It didn’t take long before we found ourselves once again on the part of the Strandir Coast where we were flanked by mountains with some snow left on them on one side with the ocean lined with washed up white driftwood on the other. With such bright skies, the driftwood really shone brightly against the dark volcanic coastlines.
It was a shame that such perfect weather was on a transit day because we really didn’t want to leave the Strandir Coast like this. This was the kind of place where the nature really sinks into you when she reveals her subtle beauties.
Indeed, the drive was an exercise in a mix of slow driving (noticing many things like the subtle features of the wrinkles in the cliffs next to us as well as sheep freely using the road we were driving on) with our heads in the mindset of knowing we still had a place to get to that was pretty far away.
Once we got back to Holmavik, we then continued south as the road eventually went from unsealed to sealed. So that was when progress was made much faster than before.
Some time after 1pm, we took a fairly lengthy detour over unsealed road towards Hvítserkur, which was a small double arch sitting on a black sand beach. It seemed to be a favorite spot for the birds in the area.
We walked to the overlook which provided a rather unsatisfactory view of the arch, but there was a steep path that led to the black sand beach where we could at least shoot the sky through the arches for more meaningful photos.
So after taking our photos of the attractive arch rock in the distance, we noticed that it seemed like the tides were low enough to enable us to get closer to it. So that strengthened our resolve to make the descent down to the beach.
The steep descent wasn’t good for my already ailing right knee, but I managed. I was actually more concerned about the stiffness I felt after driving for such a long time. So perhaps the exercise and movement was what I needed to get that circulation back.
Once we made it to the bottom, we wasted no time getting as close to the rock as we could. There was a lot of bird poop on the dark rocks attesting to the notion that birds really loved this rock.
So Julie and I got our shots of the interesting attraction, and then starting noticing other subtle features around the area like a small waterfall with some reddish color on the cliff containing its waters. I wasn’t sure if that was legitimate enough to count as a waterfall, but it was interesting nonetheless.
After our excursion to Hvítserkur, it was about 1:30pm when we headed back to the Ring Road then took another lengthy unsealed road towards our guesthouse – Hof í Vatnsdalur. At first, it looked like we were about to live in a farm, but then we saw the guest house which looked amazingly modern and right on par with some of the hotel accommodations we had been staying at so far (it was way better than our hotel in Reykjavík like many of the other places we stayed at).
I tried to talk to Jon (one of the owners) in Icelandic inquiring about the Skinandi Waterfall. He drew me some directions on how to get there on a piece of paper and that was what we had to go on for tomorrow morning’s hike.
It was too bad the owners were busy sending their sheep to the highlands for the summer so that meant there would be no home-cooked dinner. No worries though. We drove the half-hour towards Blönduós to fill up on petrol and have dinner at Pots and Pans (or Potturinn og Pannan).
Julie loved her trout, which was the fish of the day. I tried to manage the cost a bit by having a burger, which was pretty ordinary.
After the dinner, we decided to drive to Forsæludalur to scout out the trail to at least the first waterfall – Dalsfoss.
As we drive towards the trailhead following Jon’s directions, it immediately seemed sketchy that we had to drive on a grassy 4wd road to get to an unsigned brown patch of grass. From there, we followed the rest of the 4wd trail past a gate and towards a waterfall with a fish ladder.
It had a signpost (saying Stekkjarfoss) which gave us hope that perhaps we were on the right track (at least to Dalfoss). Moreover, on the way, we saw a glimpse of a big waterfall within the canyon which heightened our hopes even further.
Unfortunately, after nearly half an hour of rough hiking along the river, we finally hit an obstacle of deep water inundating what would’ve been the continuation of the path to at least the base of Dalsfoss. We couldn’t find the path up to the top of the canyon, which was what Jon told us was the way to Kerafoss and Skinandi.
Having already had a bad feeling about the vagueness of the trail and the fact that it seemed like we were trespassing on someone’s farm, we ended the day deciding we weren’t going to do the 6-8 hours of hiking to Skinandi and back tomorrow.
I guess sometimes, you have to know when to saw when, and this was certainly “when.”
Given this sudden free-up of time, we now looked forward to having a lot more time at Akureyri tomorrow and ultimately more time in Mývatn a few days later. Perhaps in hindsight, my ailing right knee might have also appreciated the fact that it wouldn’t have to be put through that much additional stress…
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