20 Days in Iceland – Part II

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Part I of our trip can be found here.

Day 8: Lake Mývatn II

Today marked our first day of no rain. None. Not even at night. It was wonderful.

We woke up a little earlier to secure a cooking area and table at our campground’s kitchen. We’re not sure who had the better breakfast: us or all the midges. After breakfast, we packed up our tent and headed out to explore more of the attractions around Lake Mývatn. We first went to Dimmuborgir, which translates into “dark castles”. So you know this place is going to be awesome.

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Afterwards we went to the pseudo craters around the western side of Lake Mývatn. The bugs were particularly bad here. Make sure to stick to the path. We accidentally took a wrong turn and followed a pair of (stupid) Germans into a dense swarm of midges. It was one of the most terrifying moments of my life. I imagine our experience closely resembled that scene from Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds” – except instead of crows there were midges.

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Given how nice the weather was, we decided to drive to Húsavík to go on a whale watching tour. Despite being branded as the whale watching center in Iceland, we didn’t actually see many whales. Must have been the time of year? We did see two pods of blue whales though. And we went by Puffin Island, which as its name suggests, is home to a massive colony of puffins.

When we arrived back on dry land we headed back to our car and drove to Godafoss – one of the most impressive waterfalls in Iceland. We admired its view against our first day of blue skies here in Iceland. The sun was so rejuvenating.

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Day 9: Driving to Snæfellsjökull National Park

Today made a good driving day as the weather resumed to its usual cloudy / rainy-ness. After awhile you’d think we’d get used to the rain, dampness, and lack of sun. Well, we didn’t. And after having such beautiful weather yesterday we were super grumpy to have to don all our rain gear again. We drove along the remainder of the Northern part of Iceland towards Snæfellsjökull National Park.

We stopped at Helgafell (translates to Holy Mountain) where, according to legend, for first-time visitors who climb to its (short) summit, three of their wishes will come true. Under certain requirements of course – you cannot speak on the way up, you can never look back, you have to make your wishes facing east, you cannot tell anyone what your wishes are, and your wishes must be benevolent. Spoiler: it doesn’t work. We wished for no rain. Maybe the gods didn’t hear the “no” part.

We also made a brief stop at Kirkjufell, a scenic mountain with a nice waterfall. Ideal for picture-taking and testing out our rain gear some more.

When we arrived at Snæfellsjökull National Park we first stopped briefly at Skardsvik, a white sanded beach surrounded by volcanic rock. Who would have thought Iceland would have some decent sandy beaches?

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Afterwards we went on a (6km roundtrip) hike through the lava fields to some cave. When we reached the cave it looked a little too sketchy to explore – the bottom was covered in a murky puddle, so we turned around and walked back to our car. Plus, it had started raining (again) outside. And we were getting hangry.

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We found a pretty sweet campsite just outside the park that encroaches into the lava fields. We managed to set up our tent in the hurricane-like-rain-conditions and then buckled in for the night.

Day 10: Snæfellsjökull National Park

Today we explored more of Snæfellsjökull National Park, starting first with a return visit to Skardsvik to eat our breakfast. There are some picnic tables in this area, making it an ideal spot for eating. Plus it wasn’t raining outside so that always helps. Afterwards we went to Saxholl crater and hiked around its rim. It wasn’t that impressive or even particularly all that scenic, just super old. But it was a good way to get the blood pumping first thing in the morning.

We then went on a guided tour of Vatnshellier cave. Tours start every hour on the hour from 10a.m to 6p.m through the summer months (mid May to end of September) and lasts about 45min. We didn’t book our tour in advance and just showed up right before they opened at 10a.m. We handed over our money; they handed over a helmet and a flashlight.

The pathway inside the cave isn’t particularly strenuous. Or long. You do have to climb down (and then up again) a spiral staircase though. The tour itself was pretty awesome. Icelandic people really take their troll folklore pretty seriously. And at one point our guide asked us all to turn off our flashlights to see how dark the cave was. It was the first moment of complete darkness in over a week since having arrived in Iceland during the height of its midnight sun.

Afterwards we went to the shoreline to see Londranger – a pair of steep cliffs rising out of the ocean. We then went to Djupalonssandur. There were supposed to be four rocks of various different sizes that people would use to test their strength back in the day. Except there were five rocks. And we couldn’t figure out which one didn’t belong as they were all heavy. I couldn’t even lift the lightest one, which is supposedly 23kg. The weights of the other three rocks are 54kg, 100kg, and 154kg.

Remains from a shipwreck were scattered along part of the beach. Nearby is a short path along a cliff that leads to Dritvik, an old fishing town that is pretty unaccessible.

We then went to the coast of Hellnar, an old fishing village. We hiked along a path that leads towards Arnastapi. The trail follows the shore line and goes through an old lava field. We saw some neat rock formations along the shore. And so many birds.

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Day 11: Snæfellsjökull National Park II

We finished up at Snæfellsjökull National Park this morning. We first went to Arnastapi, another small fishing village.

We then hiked part of Raudfeldsgja, a gorge with a path leading up to a waterfall. Since the gorge was still full of snow we didn’t make it very far on the path let alone to the actual waterfall. It was still really cool though. Even if there were so many birds overhead.

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We then drove to Eldborg and hiked (5km roundtrip) to and around its crater. The start of the trail is rather pleasant as you walk through this beautiful path surrounded by a field of lupine. Lupine was introduced in Iceland to prevent further soil erosion. Turns out that while these plants are quite pretty, they also have the tendency to aggressively suffocate neighbouring plant life. They typically bloom in the early summer in Iceland and are quite the site.

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We instantly regretted wearing so many layers on this hike. The thing about rain pants is that they aren’t particularly the greatest for breathability. But when you’re in Iceland, you need to be prepared to battle the elements at any given moment. Our hearts were definitely racing by the time we reached the top of the crater.

After summiting Eldborg crater we returned to our car for a quick bite to eat. We then drove to Glanni waterfall. There is a gravel path that is quite accessible and fairly short that leads to various viewpoints of the waterfall.

From here we drove down to Grabrok crater. There is a boardwalk leading most of the way up the crater.

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Day 12: Vidgelmir & Surtshellir Caves

Today marked our second day of absolutely no rain! And a day of cave explorations!

We first went on a tour of Vidgelmir cave. We booked our tour yesterday afternoon at the Fljotstunga Travel Farm, the same place that we camped at last night. We met in the lobby 15 minutes before the start of the tour. After everyone had signed in, we piled back in our car and followed our guide to the cave entrance. After donning our hardhats, we began our descent into the cave, which required climbing down a metal ladder into a large patch of snow and rocks.

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We then followed our guide inside a small portion of the passageway. Most of the path was covered in a slick sheet of ice and we were definitely doing some slippin’ and a slidin’. We didn’t get very far in the cave. But we did see some pretty impressive ice stalactites and  stalagmites, which are apparently home to the ice elves during the summer.

After or tour of Vidgelmir cave, which lasted just over an hour, we drove towards Surtshellir, a nearby cave. Unlike the Vidgelmir cave which is privately owned, the Surtshellir cave is accessible to the general public.

We ended up parking at this turnoff which featured warning signs about the dangers of driving on “F roads”  and walked the rest of the way to the cave. Turns out the road to the cave wasn’t actually an F road though. It was just a warning that a series of F roads are approaching. And at least it was a pleasant day to go for a (16km roundtrip) walk. No regrets. Surtshellir cave was a lot of fun to explore.

The entrance to the cave was a little tricky to find, but once we found a good place to descend, we were back in business. We strapped our headlamps on and descended into the opening into the cave. There were still a lot of snow inside the parts of the cave where the ceiling had collapsed.

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Day 13: Glymur

After taking down our tent we drove down to Hraunfoss. It’s a short walk from the parking lot to see these series of little waterfalls emerging from between the lava rocks.

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We then headed over to Glymur, a 198m waterfall that is reputed to be the second highest waterfall in Iceland. And our second favorite hike we embarked on in Iceland. This hike, which is about 5km long, is any adventurer’s dream come true: there are rapids to forge, a cave to pass through, a series of super steep switchbacks to navigate, and not to mention the fantastic views from a super dope waterfall at the summit.

Afterwards we went to Fossarett, (yet another) scenic waterfall.

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Along the drive back down to the southwestern part of Iceland we decided to try out one of the many geothermal swimming pools scattered around Iceland. The change room situation was an interesting experience. You first have to shower naked and wash your pits, tits, and naughty bits. Then you put your bathing suit on and wash yourself a bit more. Oh, and all of this is out in the open. No private stalls. But luckily we had the pool and hot tub (and therefore the change rooms) all to ourselves. And let me just say that we regret not taking more advantage of these geothermal swimming pools. Not only are they super cheap, but they were such a nice way to relax and beat the cold.

We decided to camp back at the Sandgerði campsite, which was where we spent our first night in this country. It turned out to be a good call since we also found two cans of unopened Icelandic beer at the cleaning station at the campgrounds. It is common for hikers and campers to leave behind whatever fuel and food they have when their trip is drawing to a close.

Day 14: Summer Solstice

Today marked the summer solstice – the longest day of the year. And our final day with our rental car.

We drove back to Krisuvik for more mud pot magic and explored the area in more depth as the weather from two weeks ago prevented us from straying off the boardwalk.

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There was noticeably more traffic in this part of Iceland than when we arrived two weeks ago. And because we were in the southwestern part near the airport that meant we were surrounded by a fresh set of tourists. The kind that hold up traffic to take pictures of anything and everything. The worst was probably when we encountered someone who parked their car in the middle of the road and then got out to take pictures. There was literally no way to pass around. Not cool.

We returned our car at the airport and then took a bus into Reykjavik. The campsite was super busy and parts of it were blocked off for some special summer solstice festival.

Day 15 – 18: Reykjavik

No buses are going into Landmannalaugar yet. None. This is rather unfortunate. But I guess safety comes first, right? We don’t want to have to be airlifted out for being a bunch of dumb-dumbs who try to hike the Laugavegur before the trail actually opens. Besides, this just means we have plenty of time to explore the capital of Iceland: Reykjavik. Plus there’s a geothermal heated swimming pool located right around the corner from our campsite.

Reykjavik might be a bit small, but it sure does have character. The city centre is about a 20-30 min walk from the Reykjavik campsite. There is also a bus stop located in front of the Reykjavik City Hostel, which is located right in front of the campgrounds. Considering we didn’t have much going on for our remaining days, we opted to just walk everywhere.

Here are some of our highlights from our stay in Reykjavik.

Laugardalur Swimming pool – located right around the corner from our campgrounds is one of the largest geothermal swimming pools in Iceland. In addition to a massive pool there are various smaller pools with varying temperatures: both hotter and colder. There’s also the sweetest waterslide. It’s not just for children. We pretty much spent two half-days in this pool playing with various pool toys. Obviously the waterslide was our favourite. And since we went first thing in the morning we practically had it all to ourselves.

Citywalks tour – we went on a two-hour Citywalks tour. Our guide, Eric (who was incredibly hilarious) discussed the history of Iceland and Reykjavik all the while walking throughout the city and pointing out important buildings or areas that helped shape this city into what it is today.

Hallgrimskirkja –  a Lutheran church whose design resembles that of basalt lava flows which are prevalent throughout Iceland.

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National Museum – a collection of artifacts from Iceland’s past during the days of the Vikings.

When we weren’t exploring the city or having fun in the thermal waters we mostly hung around our campground. There’s a large kitchen and seating area where we spent a number of hours playing cards and fixing up snacks.

Day 19: Blue Lagoon

Entrance into the Blue Lagoon is a bit steep: 45€ . Each. Especially compared to the small cost of admission into Iceland’s numerous geothermally heated pools. But this man-made lagoon is rich in minerals like silica that supposedly leave your skin, nails and hair feeling radiant, younger-looking, and silky smooth. Besides, this was also supposed to be a day of rest and relaxation from completing the Laugavegur Trail.

We booked our tickets online prior to our trip. We also opted to pay a bit extra for pick-up and drop-off from the Reykjavik campsite. Although it wasn’t actually “a bit extra” but rather an additional 23€. Per person. Given that we didn’t have a car, this was our best option.

We arrived at the Blue Lagoon shortly after 10:30a.m. After waiting in line for a good 30 minutes to show our tickets (and if you think that is bad, you should have seen the line of people who needed to purchase their tickets), we parted ways at our respective change rooms to don our swimsuits. While towels, slippers, and a bathrobe are available to rent, we brought our own supplies. We then met back up at the entrance into the lagoon, dropped off our towels on the racks and took the plunge into the Blue Lagoon.

The water was nice and toasty. We almost wish the weather was crappier so as to better appreciate the warmth and comfort from the Blue Lagoon.

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Day 20: Home Sweet Home

We woke up around 5a.m to take down our tent, eat a quick breakfast, and pack away our gear. We then waited at the bus stop in front of the campsite at Reykjavik City Hostel for the Flybus airport shuttle. After sleeping in a tent for nearly three weeks, showering haphazardly, and eating bland food that we cooked with our stove set, we’re happy to return home.

L & K

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