Day 2: WHERE’S THE AKUREYRI SUN?
Even though it was cloudy and bitterly cold yesterday afternoon, I figured the Akureyri Sun would show up tomorrow given the changeable weather in the country. Well, when we awoke and looked out the window, we were disappointed to see continued cloudy skies. But no matter. I figured this would be good for waterfalling since cloudy weather usually means even lighting for long exposure photographs. So today, we set out to see as many waterfalls as we could before returning to Akureyri in the evening.
With our 7:30am start, we started out by going directly to Goðafoss (the God’s waterfall). But on the way just before the turnoff to the desired waterfall, we saw a sign indicating the Sprengisandur Road (F26) and the way to Aldeyjarfoss some 41km away. Since this was also one of the falls we intended to bag, we figured we mind as well do this one now.
So we headed down the relatively smooth gravel road, which was mostly along the Skálfandafljót River cutting its way through a very wide and largely bare-looking desert with some green mats of grass adding some color to the otherwise brown and black terrain.
We’d eventually encounter a fence blocking further progress for the time being. It turned out that the fence was unlocked, but I had to get out of the car, open the fence, then drive through the gate before getting back out of the car to close the gate again.
It was just like at McLean Falls in New Zealand. Anyways, that signalled the start of the actual F26 section where we were greeted by a scary sign showing a car going into water with 4×4 text next to it. Needless to say, we had no intentions of crossing any rivers in our rental SUV especially with the size of the Skálfandafljót River paralleling the unpaved road we were on.
After a few minutes of bumpy driving, we ultimately made it to a car park amongst the barren black expanse at 8:45am. It was very cold the moment we got out of the car, but in this 5 degrees Celsius and drizzling weather, we walked for a few minutes downhill towards a precarious overlook of the thundering Aldeyarfoss waterfall. The falls was probably about some 20m or so tall but the basalt columns surrounding it made it rather interesting.
We didn’t linger too long here due to the cold, and also because we knew it was getting late in the morning (it was 9:15am by now) and there were many more falls to bag today. Just as we were about to pull out, a big caravan of Suzuki SUVs were also pulling into the car park. Seemingly inconsiderately, they parked in a way that trapped us in and we couldn’t get out. Julie took the initiative and honked the horn and finally someone moved his SUV.
On the return drive, we ended up going north on the east side of the Skálfandafljót. From this vantage point, we saw the same waterfalls as before, but now they seemed to be a little more distant and seemingly not as photogenic. I guess I should’ve photographed those falls when I had the chance earlier.
Within another hour, we finally made it to Goðafoss. There were numerous people on the other side of the Skálfandafljót River and we knew that was the tour bus crowd. We were on the east side of the river and decided to walk down a path that ultimately yielded us full views of the horseshoe-shaped falls from both the top and the bottom.
Although the literature made it seem like it was a pretty voluntary move, I wasn’t sure if it was one of those situations where you either had to convert or die (i.e. convert by force given the power of the Christian world at the time) or it really was as benign a transformation to simply move away from Norse deities and into Christian ones.
When we had our fill of the waterfall from the bottom, we then climbed up to an outcrop where we got a nice top down view of the horseshoe-shaped segmented waterfall. We got the idea to do this because we noticed photographers setting up their tripods from such a position while we were down below.
Anyways, from realizing the experience we were getting from this side of the waterfall while noticing where the tour bus crowd were scattered about on the other side, we doubted the tour bus crowd got as good a view as we had.
At 11am, we were back in the car and drove off in the direction of the scenic Mývatn Lake. However, we didn’t make any stops considering the poor colors thanks to the dreary cloudy day. A few minutes more of driving east of Reykjalið and then we turned onto a mountain road that would ultimately take us to the west side of Dettifoss in the Jökulsá á Fjöllum River in Jökulsárgljúfur National Park.
This was a 4wd-only road (really more of a high-clearance road, but we saw a few 2wd vehicles along the way). We figured that they warned it was a 4wd road because we did notice a few big stray rocks conspiring to pop tires along with a few potholes. The washboardy road made sure we couldn’t go faster than 40km/h unless we wished to get the jarring of our lives on this road.
I was hoping the canyon was below the clouds so we could see Europe’s most powerful waterfall, but after braving the near-freezing weather (2 degrees C with horizontal rain and arctic winds), we were faced with fog even at the overlooks of Dettifoss. To make matters worse, the mist from the waterfall made things even colder as we couldn’t tell if it was from the waterfall or the rain.
There were many photographers there trying to make the most of the situation, but it was a pretty crummy day to be photographing Dettifoss. Trying to salvage something from this stop, we also walked a little further to Selfoss, which could only be seen from a distance on this side of the gorge.
It didn’t seem like we’d be able to make it to the brink of that waterfall unless we crossed some streams along the way, which we didn’t feel like doing. However, we did notice some people on the other side so we remembered that for tomorrow when we expected to be back here again but on the other side of the river.
Next, we decided to skip the Hafragilsfoss car park and head right for Hólmatungur. By this time, it was 2pm and Julie was already sick of the cold dreary weather so she decided not to do the hike. With that, I headed off into the cold and did the 3.5km loop hike.
On this hike, I saw a series of waterfalls at an area called Katlar meaning the cooking pots. Even with the crummy weather, it seemed I descended below the fog and so the gorge with its waterfalls were easily visible. There was a gusher in the main river as well as several smaller cascades and waterfalls flanking the walls of the turbulent gorge.
Once I had my fill of the Katlar area, I took the trail back up to a connecting trail leading to another waterfall in this area further downstream. But on the way back up, I saw an impressively large cascade on one of the side streams going into Jökulsá á Fjöllum River.
The path looked to be its own loop but that wasn’t apparent until I was on my way back up to the main trail passing by that large cascade. The cascade tumbled amongst green vegetation and seemed to be big compared to the smaller ones haphazardly feeding the main river.
Once I rejoined the main trail, I followed it along the rim of the canyon to the south. Eventually, I’d start to hear and see a cascade further downstream though not on the Jökulsá á Fjöllum watercourse.
Back on the main trail, I saw a signpost with a map right at a trail junction. That sign made it clear that I was at Hólmarfossar (you see I had originally thought this waterfall was Urriðafoss). So I guess that waterfall I saw on the way out of Katlar was the Urriðafoss.
It was getting late in the day as I started back along a path cutting right back to car park area. This trail drenched my pants as I would consistently brush against wet foliage protruding onto the trail.
As I was back at the car park area, I decided to go up the hill on a separate path in search of Réttarfoss. I wasn’t sure if this was another cascading waterfall or if it was on the main glacial river. Julie was impatiently wondering why I didn’t head straight for the car park and going up the hill instead.
But when I got to the top of the hill with the fog and drizzle conspiring to ruin the situation once again, I managed to see and photograph what I could of the impressive horseshoe-shaped Réttarfoss on the Jökulsá á Fjöllum. Boy was I glad I did the extra detour.
Finally after 5:30pm, I returned to the car and we headed back south on the 4wd road to the Ring Road. At 6:45pm, we arrived Kverir or Námaskarð, which included numerous boiling mud pots and hissing steam vents along with some colorful hills.
Julie and I decided to spend a bit of time here at this geothermal feature considering our somewhat disappointing experience at Dettifoss. So this was kind of like salvaging some kind of good vibes on a day when the weather conspired to make us stay indoors.
After I paid the bill and handed over the merchant copy, I told the young dark-haired waitress “Takk fyrir mig.”
“No way,” I said.
“Yes! That was really Icelandic.” The surprised waitress walked off and tended to her business before I could process the situation and engage further in the conversation. In any case, I knew we had to pack up and leave Akureyri tomorrow with lots to do.
Hopefully the weather will cooperate tomorrow, but given our luck, I’m not so sure the famed good weather in Akureyri that Icelanders have been talking about will show up as long as we’re here…