Day 2: A TRUE 4WD EXCURSION
We awoke and didn’t take long before we checked out and left the Hotel Skaftafell just before 8am.
It was cloudy and drizzly weather on this day. 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 (einbreið 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.
But recalling from one of the signs we noticed before getting here, we knew that having the bridges built and completed here in the 1970s was the key to making East Iceland more accessible via the Ring Road than ever before.
We were on our way to Kirkubæjarklaustur (or “Klaustur” [pronounced cloister] for short). It was during this stretch that we stopped briefly for a roadside waterfall known as Foss á Siðu, which was a tall but light-flowing waterfall behind the Siðu farms.
Truthfully, this waterfall was not all that remarkable given its light flow. But perhaps it got some notoriety in the literature simply because of the attractive farms fronting it as well as its conspicuous location on the Ring Road.
Otherwise, it would’ve just been another one of those dime-a-dozen waterfalls that tend to get taken for granted.
The drive then continued onwards to Klaustur where we were way too early to check into the Hotel Geirland guesthouse at 9:45am.
We spent some time here to get closer to the waterfall for a closer and more intimate look at this rounded falls. The canyon further upstream from the falls looked intriguing, but for all intents and purposes, it was sufficient for us just to check out the falls and then continue with our touring.
We also drove to the far west side of Kirkubæjarklaustur 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.
We couldn’t quite figure out why this was the case given that so many of the other waterfalls seemed to be flowing pretty well. I guess this thing would only flow during the wet and harsher climates of the Spring season than in the Summer. Still, something didn’t quite add up about this falls.
Next, we had originally intended to do the rather lengthy out-and-back detour to Dyrhólaey 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. If conditions were too bad to make it on our own, then we’d take a 4wd tour to get there tomorrow or the day after. It was the very reason why we were spending so many nights (3) at Geirland in the first place.
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.
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.
So that was the first time we did a river crossing on our own. I was still fearful of more of these crossings, but I suppose I considered myself initiated on driving a 4wd road.
The drive then continued onwards alternating between rough hills and smoother plains. There were a few sections where we continued on driving in very rough riverbeds full of larger rocks and mini boulders. And progress on those sections was quite slow going given we didn’t want to be disabled out in the middle of nowhere.
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 further difficulty.
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.
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. It turned out that the best views of the falls weren’t from the endpoint of this trail, but from an opening prior to the end.
At the very end of the trail, it was a bit too precarious to try to peer totally over the edge of the cliff for a cleaner look at the falls. That was just too much risk for us, especially when we knew that we could get a pretty good view of the falls already.
In any case, 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 worried about these things on unpaved roads in general, but especially on this trip since it has happened twice already (once in Buffalo, New York and once in Vatnsdalur in Iceland)!
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 on the very same bumpy roads we took to get here. At least in this instance, we had some confidence in getting back knowing that we made it here in the first place with some trepidation but at least with some success.
Before we returned to the Ring Road, we made a brief stop at Fjaðrárgljúfur, 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. Besides, it was foggy this morning anyways.
At 1:15pm, we were back at the car and we made our way back towards town. On the way, we noticed another tall waterfall that was kind of on the quality of Foss á Siðu from this morning. But this was more or less a standard roadside waterfall, and we didn’t find a way to get closer (not that there was one from what we could tell).
While in town, 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 Kirkjugólf, which were basalt column floors that previous discoverers had thought were manmade for the church.
So given its close proximity to our accommodation, we had little trouble getting there. Then, we got out and did the short walk on some grassy-matted plains leading to the hexagonal flooring of Kirkjugólf.
Although the short walk was interesting, the postpile flooring was where we spent most of our time (as we should be). It was especially interesting to see wildflowers growing out of the cracks between the hexagonal patterns.
By 3:20pm, it was finally close enough to 4pm to check in to Hotel Geirland, which we did.
Then, we headed back to Fjaðrárgljúfur, 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.
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 this part of 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 Skógafoss, Seljalandsfoss, or other beauties, which aren’t all that far away from our guesthouse…
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