Iceland: The land of the fire and ice

6/26/2016

Iceland: The land of the ice and snow. From the midnight sun where the hot springs flow. See the waterfall’s arc on shores so dark where only green fields dare to grow.

In the summer of 2016, we were fortunate enough to witness the beauty of the wonderful country of Iceland. Lot of research went behind planning for this trip, as we always like to go far away from the beaten path. With eight full days in our hands, we decided to road trip the entire Ring Road, also known as Route 1 (the road encircling the entire island, which is little over 800 miles). This is a national road which connects most of the inhabited parts of the island and from which smaller roads connects to peninsulas, fjords, shores and glaciers. We landed in Reykjavik, spent a day and  half doing all the touristy stuff most people do, including the Blue Lagoon and the Golden Circle. on our way out of the town, we packed our groceries and snacks for next few days and  started our trip clock-wise. Most places we would stay at had kitchen facilities, so we planned to cook our own simple dinners. Other reason we planned to make our own dinners was that it gave us a lot of flexibility to make the best of our day. We were also not restricted to stay in or near the town to be able to eat and we could stay at small cottages away from towns and at most exotic places. We took advantage of the 24 hour day light and decided to end our days when we got tired rather then looking at the clock. We did many day hikes throughout our trip and we ended up discovering plenty of unlisted waterfalls, caves, beaches, canyons, glaciers, wildlife, and geothermal pools. Scenery we witnessed was way too beautiful to capture in camera or on GoPro and also to describe. We tried to take many photos but you will have to take my word and actually go there to see what I am talking about. I am hoping that my photos will inspire you to put Iceland on the top of your travel list.

Reykjavik and Golden Circle: Opera House on the waterfront in Reykjavik is worth mentioning, the architecturally stunning box-like buildings of the opera house made of steel and glass are visually stunning. The Observation deck at the building of Perlan in Rekjavik offers 360-degree panoramic views of Reykjavik and surrounding mountains. This building (Perlan) also has winter garden, exhibits and a restaurant. Also noteworthy are two geysers at the Golden Circle, Gysir and Strokkur (which erupts more frequently) – reminded me of the ‘Old Faithful’ in Yellowstone NP. Tectonic rift in Thingvellir National Park was another amazing site located on the Golden Circle.

Some of the other places we visited are listed in photos below: Photo description clock-wise: Midnight sun as seen from our airplane,  Church of Hallgrímur in Reykjavik, Sculpture of Sun Voyager in Reykjavik, Gullfoss (one of the most popular waterfall located on Golden Circle), Strokkur- Iceland’s most famous and active geyser, which erupts every 6-10 min, the Blue Lagoon(Geothermal Spa in Reykjavik), Geothermal pools near Blue Lagoon area, and the Blue Lagoon.

West Iceland- Snæfellsnes Peninsula, Snæfellsjökull National Park and Kirkjufell: 

Highlight of our journey to the west Iceland was a visit to Snæfellsjökull National Park, a home to the Snæfellsjökull glacier, which is an active volcano and also a star player as the Center of the Earth in the novel Journey to the Center of the Earth (1864) by Jules Verne.

Kirkjufell was another one of my favorite, one of the most picturesque free standing mountain I have seen, looks even more stunning from behind the kirkjufellsfoss waterfall!

Photo description clockwise: Entrance to the Snæfellsjökull National Park,within the crater of Snæfellsjökull active volcano, adorable Icelandic sheep, Raudfeldar Canyon – a creepy canyon we accidentally discovered while driving- by chasing the river and a flock of large white birds, somewhere within the Snæfellsjökull national park, Lava Field waterfall, Kirkjufell and Kirkjufellsfoss, adorable Icelandic sheep blocking our way, friendly Icelandic horses, more lava waterfalls, The Ring Road and more of the Ring Road.

North Iceland: 

We stayed at Hotel Borgarvirki located east of Vatnsnes peninsula- 18 kms from the Ring Road and close to the rock formation of Hvitserkur. Driving across the northern part of the Island included visiting stunning Godafoss, Powerfull Dettifoss, Selfoss and surrounding waterfalls and Myvtan Nature Bath which is also known as the Blue Lagoon of the North.

Making our way to our next night’s stay- private cottages (Solbrekka Guesthouses, Mjóifjörður)  located on Eastern Fjords was quite an experience. Making our way to the Mjóifjörður driving on a narrow road, crossing the mountain range and ice-fields, making sharp turns along steep cliffs, passing through unexpected dense fog with zero visibility certainly gave us plenty of adrenaline spikes.

Photo description clockwise: Icelandic Turf houses along the way, Selfoss- a beautiful small waterfall near Dettifoss (I strongly advise not to miss this one), mighty Dettifoss- most powerful waterfall  of the Europe, more turf houses, geothermal pools in Mývatn District- an active volcanic area of the north, Icefield on our drive to the Eastern Fjords, the unique lava rock formation of Hvitserkur located on Vatnsnes peninsula, Selfoss again and the Godafoss- one of the most spectacular waterfalls of the north.

East Iceland and the Fjords of the east:

It was late in the morning when fog and clouds started clearing out, we could see stunning views of the waters of the Fjords and mountain range right behind our cottage. We took our time exploring the area, there were so many waterfalls of all sizes that we lost a count for. We hiked in, around and above many many beautiful waterfalls. We finally started driving back out of the Fjords and headed south.

We stopped for a hike to Hengifoss waterfall in the afternoon. This was the first time we saw formation of volcanic columns. Waterfall is also surrounded by basaltic layers mixed with thin layers of red clay creating beautiful backdrop.

Driving through the meadows of purple flowers, our next stop was black sand beach before getting to the town of Hofn, our next night’s stay.

Photo description clockwise: Hengifoss, waterfalls of the East fjords, east shore with lava cliffs and black sand, our cottages- Solbrekka Guesthouses in Mjóifjörður located on Eastern Fjords, Icelandic Nootka Lupin Flower Fields, friendly Icelandic horses, icefield around the fjords, waterfalls of the East fjords, water at the East fjords.

Southeast and South Iceland: 

The reason we did our road trip clock wise was that we wanted to save the best for last. Yes, South coast of Iceland has more diverse terrain and dramatic views than anywhere else. If you only have limited time to spend in Iceland, I strongly recommend you plan to spend at least two full days in the south. After leaving the town of Hofn, still on southeast, we spent almost half a day at Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon, which is located next to the Vatnajökull Glacier and the National Park. This was our highlight of the day, and it was hard to leave this stunning lagoon. We then took another hike to Fjaðrárgljúfur, a beautiful canyon not too far from where we were staying. This was a true hidden gem and totally worth a short hike.  Our next night’s stay was at the Horgsland cottages in Kirkjubaejarklaustur. After checking in, we were headed to the Skaftafell national park to visit Svartifoss, but instead of hiking to the waterfall, we ended up hiking to the glacier as recommended by the ranger.

Next day was spent exploring the south coast. First stop was at the Skogafoss waterfall, probably one of the most beautiful waterfalls of the Iceland. There are stairs next to the waterfall takes you up to the viewing platform. We climbed the stairs to the top of waterfall and discovered hiking trail next the river which we chased for a while.

After spending plenty of time there, we took off to visit the plane wreck site. Apparently US Navy’s DC 3 plane was forced to wreck on the Sólheimasandur black sand beach of the south Iceland due to running out of fuel and has been left abandoned since 1973. The road leading to the beach is now closed but you can walk about two and a half mile to get to the airplane and the beach. This location is photographers heaven!  Next stop was Dyrholaey, which literally means a door-hole, is a massive arch formed by erosion in the ocean.

Another one of the unforgettable experience was to climb on iconic hexagonal basalt columns on the black sand beach near the town of Vik. This beach is made off of small black pebbles and was one of the most picturesque beaches I have ever been to. We spent another night at the same cottages.

Sunday was our last day on the road. We needed to drive back to Reykjavik to catch a flight next day. We still had a couple places we wanted to visit before heading back to the big town. Funny but sad at the same time, we were kind of having `waterfall fatigue’ after visiting so many waterfalls. I remember experiencing this on the Hana Drive in Maui, Hawaii, it is when you get to see so many waterfalls, and they keep getting better and better and at the end, where you feel that you have seen it all, there comes the best one!!  Seljalandsfoss waterfall totally was that grand finale of all the waterfalls. This is the one where the path leads to the backside of the waterfall. It was so much fun walking behind the fall.

Photo description clockwise: walking behind Seljalandsfoss waterfall, on the top of Skogafoss, Fjaðrárgljúfur, a beautiful canyon near Kirkjubaejarklaustur, Seljalandsfoss waterfall, Skogafoss, Reynisfjara shore- black sand beach of South Iceland, Basalt columns at the Reynisfjara shore- black sand beach of South Iceland, Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon, Skogafoss, US Navy’s DC 3 plane wreck site on the Sólheimasandur black sand beach, Dyrholaey, hiking on the top of Skogafoss, Glacier in Skaftafell National Park, Horgsland Cottages, hay cut dried and tied up in large bundles looking like giant marshmallows, Reynisfjara shore- black sand beach, Seljalandsfoss waterfall and Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon.

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