My Iceland Trip: The Middle Third

By | October 23, 2012

Our trip recap of Iceland picks up where the first one left off and will cover the next five days of our stay in Iceland.

Day 6 / May 21

We bid farewell to the east coast and went toward Egilsstaðir. The scenery constantly changed and through green and lively lands we entered barren mountains with no sign of live. Some of Prometheus was filmed in this area in Iceland it really could be a foreigh world. Not only were the amount of cars on the road fewer there was no wild life on the roads and no fences designating farmland. There was just a freshly paved road winding in and around snow covered peaks and valleys of a black mountain scene. The sights were minimal but this was an incredible drive with the feeling of isolation crushing down around you as you followed a dashed line through the country.

Five hours after leaving Hotel Framtid we arrived at Dettifoss. We approached from the West side, which up until a few years ago was not accessible with small cars. After researching Dettifoss I decided to approach from this side because there were better views. The waterfall is so incredible I think the East side would have been amazing too, it’s just to bad that getting to the East side is about an hour drive so you can’t easily change your mind if you want to switch.

The most powerful waterfall in Europe was a sight you heard before you saw it. The walk was over a kilometer from the parking lot and the terrain was tricky with snow, water, lava rocks and general slipperiness. Closer to the falls the noise and wind kicked up and you climbed up a little ledge and were face to face with a powerful gust of wind and an incredible waterfall. You could lean into the wind coming off the falls, which is risky since there were no barriers on the path so you could get as close to this scene as possible.

We walked around Dettifoss for about half an hour, getting different vantage points and trying to comprehend how large this area was. Once back in the car we resumed our voyage to Lake Myvatn and our home for the night.

Dettifoss Dettifoss Iceland Iceland

The scenery closer to Lake Myvatn changes from black and white to oranges, reds and rolling hills. The color change is due to the sulfur coming out of the earth and being stained from the active geothermal nature of the area. Getting a first hand look at this you can stop at Hverier and look at the steam vents, hot mud bubbles and get a mouthful of disgusting smells. This was a confusing day for us since it was cold and windy but the steam vents were warm but smelt, so if you wanted to get warm you had to pay the price.

The clothes we wore this day were given a healthy dosage of Febreze so the “yuck” smell could be eradicated. Like most things we saw this day the weather was a bit of a damper but it was definitely worth stopping at Hverier, especially since it is located a stones throw away from the main road.

After a long day on the road we arrived at Reykjahlíð and went to the nearest gas station/grocery store and picked up some few hot dogs. It’s not glamorous but not knowing what the guesthouse has to offer for supper it was probably the best choice we could think of.

Dimmurborger Guesthouse
Situated a few minutes south of Reykjahlíð along Lake Myvatn is an unassuming guesthouse which offers incredible views of the lake, amazing food and beds of amazing comfort.

Iceland Iceland Iceland

This was our second multiple night stop at a guesthouse and our favorite of all the guesthouses. When I checked in we were offered the option to have a room with a private bathroom and shared facilities (instead of all facilities being shared) and I took it without hesitation. From our window we could see several psuedocraters on the Lake and the roll shutters blacked out the room entirely. Breakfast was a typical spread but in addition to the quantity of food it offered large cups of coffee and trout that was smoked on site. We would not hesitate to return to Dimmurborger Guesthouse.

Day 7 / May 22

We were staying at the same guest house tonight so we had two days to explore Lake Myvatn and surrounding sites. Extra time here is necessary because there is so much to see and a bit of walking around the sites is required.

IcelandOur first stop today was to Hverfjall, a volcanic ring that is 1km in diameter. This sight was a stones throw away from where we were staying so it made sense to stop here first. Unfortunately the wind was immediately noticeable as we began our climb up and once to the top of the rim we only walked a small distance around. If the weather was better we may have been more inclined to stay longer so this was only a forty minute stop on our day. The view from the top was pretty amazing, you could see a large area from up here and appreciated how close items in Myvatn were located to each other.

The volcanic activity in Lake Myvatn has caused some extremely unique lava formations and you can walk among them at the Dimmuborgir Lava Maza. There were multiples paths to take through the maze and we took the Kirkjan (Church) hike which lasted an hour. This was a great activity to do and would recommend it. Plus, when this area was covered for water and the volcano erupted it caused some formations that can only been seen at the bottom of the ocean.

Iceland Iceland Iceland

We had lunch at the Dimmuborgir Cafe with the soup of the day and geysir bread. The soup was a simple tomato and basil but it was ridiculously delicious. The server even offered me a free second serving, something I would never expect in North America. The geysir bread is boiled rather than baked and it takes about 24 hours for the bread to cook. Geysir bread is unique because they bury the bread underground and the heat from the area cooks it through and it comes out super moist and incredibly delicious. It isn’t the kind of bread you would spread jam on but it’s good with some butter; which was a great compliment to warm soup on a cold day.

We completed driving around Lake Myvatn and decided to back track from yesterday and see some attractions we missed. Instead of turning to Hverier we went the other direction up to Viti and Krafla.

IcelandViti crater has beautiful blue water, except when it’s covered with snow. When we got to Viti we were barely ten feet away from the car when we realized that the trip up here was a bit of a waste. This started the trend of us posing for photos with disgruntled faces on (later seen at Látrabjarg and our final day in the Westfjords).

Viti isn’t the only site in this area so we continued on the road to the Krafla volcanic area. Like Dettifoss from the day before we had to cover a bit of ground until we saw anything and the snow and mud were made a little more uncomfortable with the rain that was lightly falling.

Iceland Iceland Iceland

It took us about twenty minutes to arrive at the nearest attraction but we weren’t sure what we were looking for. The area that wasn’t covered with snow was brightly colored and steam could be seen rising in some areas but we didn’t feel like exploring so our stay was cut short. Between Krafla and Viti this excursion was a bit of a letdown. However, in warmer weather it would probably be a really beautiful area but in late spring it wasn’t quite worth it.

On our way back to Lake Myvatn, just outside of Reykjahlíð we stopped at an incredibly blue lake called Bjarnarflag. When you come down the hill and see this shimmering lake you think it’s an oasis. This beautiful lake shouldn’t be confused with the Lake Myvatn Nature Bath, since this lake is not safe to swim in with water coming out of bore holes at temperatures up to 200 Celsius. This blue lake is the site of Iceland’s first geothermal power plant and Bjarnaflarg became slang for us on the trip if we wanted to express excitement or frustration.

Viti crater was a big let down because it was covered in snow…bjarnaflag!

Lake Myvatn Nature Bath
After a day of hiking and exploring the area in chilly conditions we headed to the Lake Myvatn Nature Bath. The Nature Bath doesn’t has many amenities or upgrades as the more famous Blue Lagoon but it was definitely worth the trip, even with the high admission of 2500ISK/person ($20CDN/person). The warm water and numerous resting spots were a great way to unwind but we spent more time in the hot tub area with a temperature exceeding 40 Celsius. Below you will find a minute long video of the Nature Bath that I took.

An hour of relaxing our body felt like an eternity and when we were tired and like jelly we packed up and headed back to the Dimmurborger Guesthouse.

Day 8 / May 23

We had another solid sleep at the Dimmurborger Guesthouse and felt rested after our trip to the Nature Bath. We took advantage of the great breakfast at the Guesthouse, which was the best of all the places we stayed at. We had a large serving of coffee, cereal and smoked fish. The view of Lake Myvatn from the sunroom was incredible and it felt like a place you could spend hours just sitting and watching the outdoors. The sun was up this day and eventually became the warmest day of our trip exceeding +19! Comparatively, back in Edmonton a cold front moved in and it was only +8.

IcelandOn our way to Akureyri we stopped at Goðafoss. Waterfalls were feeling a bit repetitive after a week of seeing so many amazing ones and I feel like we didn’t appreciate how beautiful this one was until we were back home. The falls are beautiful and can be viewed from far back as you approach it, across a bridge or up close but all we did was park, briefly walk around and return to the road. We weren’t in a rush, the weather was amazing but for some reason we thought Goðafoss wasn’t worth our time. Learn from our mistake and take time to appreciate Goðafoss because looking at photos of what we missed was a fairly big disappointment.

The second largest city in Iceland with a population of 17,000 was a spot I looked forward to on this trip but it left me wanting more. The city has charm, complete with little hearts on their red lights, a selection of art and culture but none of that appealed to us when we got here. Maybe we were put off by the difficult check in process at Gula Villan (more on that below) but we didn’t have the excitement of exploring Akureyri I felt earlier in the trip.

The weather was beautiful in Akureyri with a temperature above 16 we didn’t need a coat and it felt like a heatwave compared to the windy single digit temperatures we experienced before. Being in a major city we were able to get some wine at the Vinbudin and were pleased to have our first taste of alcohol since we arrived. Akureyri also has free parking as long as you indicate what time you parked your car. Residents of the city have transparent clocks on their windshield and they move the hands to show when they parked but writing the time on paper and leaving it on the dash worked just as well. Parking was limited by the guesthouse so it was nice not to have to worry about paying for parking while we were on foot for a few hours.

Iceland Iceland Iceland Iceland

We had almost a whole day to explore the city but after a few hours of walking around we were bored and walking in circles. Nothing in the near vicinity stood out to us so we did what was natural for us, we got in the car and drove. We left the city behind and were soon travelling up a quiet road along beautiful Eyjafjörður. We had no purpose for this midday drive than to get on the road and explore, and it didn’t disappoint.

IcelandWe drove up to Dalvik (44 KM outside of Akureyri) and drove back. The area was beautiful with snow capped mountains, rich blue waters and green farms. We were back in Akureyri around 4:30PM, bought some food for our drive tomorrow and went in search of supper. We were in a city with plenty of food options yet the day felt a little anticlimactic so we went for something simple and familiar opting for SubWay before returning to the guest house.

Iceland Iceland Iceland

Gula Villan
Located a stones throw away from the downtown area and waters edge guesthouse Gula Villan has no right housing as many people as it does. There is one bathroom upstairs for at least four rooms. If this place was full capacity it would be a bit complicated. The check in process was frustrating when no one answered the door or phone at 11. We were forced to leave and return 30 minutes later and finally someone answered. Perhaps this is what we expected guesthouses to be like in Iceland but the last week has spoiled us with a quiet sleep and amazing breakfasts; both of which were lacking here.

There was no sound protection from people watching the television down the hall or from the sound of doors opening and closing. We were the only guests having breakfast in the morning so a special container was set aside for us in the fridge that contained meat, bread and yogurt. Compared to previous meals we had this was a small spread. Knowing we had a big drive ahead of us and how limited road food would be we skimped on our portions for breakfast so we could make a sandwich for the road.

Day 9 / May 24

Because of the distance we were covering today we had dreaded this part of the trip. This was a long day in time and distance from Akuereyi as we made our way from the middle of the country to the doorstep of the Westfjords.

Immediately outside of Akuereyi we saw some Icelandic horses by the fence near the road. These horses always looked amazing when driving and I took full advantage to pull the car over and get close to one. A few others were curious what I was up to and came to the fence too. The ability to stop the car on the road, not have to worry about blocking traffic and taking a moment to get out and look at your surroundings was something I never got tired of in Iceland.

When we crossed into the area of the Westfjords we saw the quality of roads decrease instantly. We were on narrow and bumpy gravel roads with steep grades on switchbacks and felt that we were a careless turn away from driving into danger.

The gravel slowed our drive and we tried to break up the distance by making detours to look at attractions along the way. We tried to break up our drive by making detours and looking at attractions along the way. The best stop we made was going to the authentic sod houses in Glumbaer. We didn’t pay to enter the houses seeing the turf roof was interesting enough.

Around 3:30PM we approached the Kirkjubol Guesthouse (after leaving Akuereyi at 9AM). We checked in, unloaded our luggage and decided to carry up the road to see Holmavik and Dragsnes, which have a population of 375 and 67 respectively. We took advantage of the cooking area at the guesthouse and picked up some supplies at the grocery store in Holmavik. We didn’t know what kind of pots or pans the guesthouse had so we played it safe and picked up frozen pizza and some vegetables.

With supper taken care of we made the 33km drive up the fjord to Dragsnes to see two sea stacks. The story of the sea stacks being trolls who were trying to separate the 7KM stretch of land that connected the Westfjords to the rest of the country was more interesting than the stacks themselves as they were a little disappointing. Perhaps I was expecting stacks like what we saw at Vik but these were a little of a let down. Still, we were able to explore the countryside and stayed busy so it was an enjoyable trip for that reason. Dragsnes also has hot tubs located right beside the road that look out over the rocks into the water. We didn’t see anyone in there and with our bathing suits left at the guesthouse we didn’t stop to look, but on a warmer day it might be a nice way to relax.

We returned back to the Guesthouse, cooked our pizza, drank the other bottle of wine we bought the day before and played a game of Yahtzee after making the game sheet from scratch. With no one else in the house we were able to spread out and unwind after a long day. Compared to our stay in Akuereyi the quiet was incredibly welcomed and made for a nice evening.

Kirkjubol Guesthouse
I described this guesthouse like an oasis on the the fjord. We were a stones throw away from the water, a spot frequented by seals was visible just outside the window and in addition to having full cooking facilities we were the only people in the guesthouse. A space large enough for 10 adults was all to ourselves. Perhaps if there were other guests we may have thought differently about this place but this was definitely a benefit of coming in the off season.

There was a full cooking facility, multiple bathrooms and a large living area with a table, couch and TV. The Guesthouse is usually full in the summer and they cater to families with children.

Breakfast the following morning was ready for us right at 8:00AM (the host came in at 7:30 to prepare it and was done by 7:50). We are becoming used to these “traditional” breakfasts and knew what to eat in order to fill up for another full day on the road.

Day 10 / May 25

In a country as isolated and closed off as Iceland is the Westfjords are even more isolated and reserved. This area is often neglected by tourists due it not having the same glitz and glamour of the rest of the country, but here you trade in signs of active volcanoes for quiet fishing villages. A “large city” is described as having a few thousand people and the further north you go up a fjord the more unique and peculiar they become.

The Westfjords were the best, and worst, part of our trip. The weather impacted our enjoyment but between the rain and terrible road conditions we would occasionally glimpse beautiful blue waters and mountains that fall off the edge of the world and know we were in a remarkable area.

We left the Kirkjubol Guesthouse shortly after 9AM and made our way north. The elevation change in the drive saw the temperature drop from 8 to 4 and suddenly we were driving in an area that was mostly snow covered. Some banks of snow by the ditch must have been 10 feet tall. Every time the fjord road would take us by the water the wind would sway our vehicle and as we retreated back into the protection of the land the drive became calmer. We stopped to take a few photos along the way but mostly got out of the car and marveled at how strong the wind was.

We arrived at Ísafjörður around 12:30PM and headed straight to our pit stop for the night at Gamla Guesthouse. We arrived between the time of no one being at the front desk so we had to go a few blocks over to get our room key from Hotel Ísafjörður. Our room was still being made up so we changed into warmer clothes and went out exploring the city.

The weather hadn’t improved while we drove so it was still rainy and a bit windy. The weather impacted the sights we could see around Ísafjörður, especially some of the nice hikes that would look down upon the city. After a few minutes you had covered the main shopping area and were going in circles. Amongst the dreary weather we found an incredible bakery in the center of town called Gamla Bakery. The selection was impressive, the cost was reasonable and what we bought tasted delicious. This bakery was a definite highlight, not only in Ísafjörður but on our trip as a whole.

There are only a few places to get food in Ísafjörður but Gamla Bakery is one that should be your first stop if you’re up that way. With food in our stomachs we drove up the peninsula to Bolungarvík. The guide books suggested visiting a fishing museum and a chance to drive through multiple kilometres of mountain tunnels (photo link) Some tunnels were even single lane!

There are so few people that live in this area that it made sense to build a single lane tunnel instead of a multiple lane one (none were photographed). There are turn outs every few hundred meters but it’s terrifying to be driving through the heart of a mountain not knowing if you’ll be headlights to headlights with another car as you go around a corner. Thankfully the tunnels are straight and there was few vehicles but it was definitely something that caught us by surprise, even with the guide book preparing us for these.

While in Bolungarvik we went north up the gravel road and reached a distance milestone: we crossed the 66th parallel. We made it to N66° 09.699′ – W023° 14.88′, took some photos and headed back.

Back in Ísafjörður we were limited for supper options so we opted for a nice meal at Hotel Ísafjörður. It was nice to get out of the rain and enjoy a catfish special looking out at the harbor. Entertainment in the evening is limited so with a full belly we went back to the guesthouse, had some wine (which we picked up at Vinbudin earlier in the day) and did research and used the wireless connection to see how things were back in Canada.

I wrote a lot about Ísafjörður, and I think if the weather had been better this may have been one of our favorite stops on the entire trip. When we are ever this way again we’ll make sure to properly explore Ísafjörður and the surrounding area.

Gamla Guesthouse
A nice Guesthouse located near the heart of Ísafjörður (I suppose you would have to be out of town to not be near the heart of this small town). The rooms were large and there was plenty of space for us to spread out our bags and dry out from the wet weather. There were multiples showers and bathrooms on the main floor and even though there were others staying here you couldn’t tell. The room also had a sink in it, which is convenient and something we always appreciated. The curtains let in a bit of light but it did a good enough job. With a comfy bed, soft pillow a quiet hall and some wine we had no problems getting to sleep.

This Guesthouse may have been the cleanest one we have stayed in, plus they also had an amazing breakfast. Like places before it there was a traditional spread of meat and bread but what separated this breakfast from others was the amount of food that was available. When you don’t know when, or where, in the day you’ll have lunch or supper it’s good to fill up with one good meal and Gamla Guesthouse did breakfast right.

2 thoughts on “My Iceland Trip: The Middle Third

  1. Gordo

    Call me crazy, but your photo linked from ‘Single Lane Tunnels’ shows a multi-lane tunnel…

  2. Sean Post author

    By golly you’re right! It’s the only photo I had in the tunnels and when I was looking at the thumbnails to determine what to attach and I didn’t look to see if there were two lanes or one. This photo was taken at one of the emergency pull outs that had a first aid kit, fire extinguisher and a phone. There was such a loud sound from the fans I couldn’t hear anything coming from behind so I got out, took the photo and ran back as quick as I could.

    Also, you know why there wasn’t a photo of the single lane tunnel? Because I wouldn’t dare pulling over in case someone else approached me. In any case I’ll revise the link.

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