The morning we arrived into Akureyri forecasted that a long day would lie ahead of us. Still being exhausted by the hike up to Hengifoss waterfall the day before in Seydisfjordur (read about it here), this time even more breathtaking sights were awaiting me. But the excitement had its price: 10 hours in a coach. For someone energetic as me a huge challenge. But in the end, it proved being well worth the wait.
There are quite a few advantages when you travel to Iceland on a classic cruise ship. One of them is that one some vessels you are still able to open up the porthole windows by yourself.
And it is quite a feeling to stick out your head out of your cabin window and have the cool ocean breeze kiss you good morning while watching the clouds play hide and seek with the coastline at the horizon. Wearing your pyjama.
I could have rented a car far in advance in order to travel to all the sites that we were scheduled to visit during this marathon excursion, but to be honest, it was simply the convenience that made me decide against it.
Of course, you are much more flexible when traveling solo, but as this was the very first time to Iceland and the shore excursion package I had bought was absolutely fair priced, it was fine to me to actually integrate me into the large group that had found itself after breakfast down on the pier in front of the ship.
Akureyri is an important port and fishing center and Iceland´s second largest urban area. With only 18,200 inhabitants, this seems a bit odd in direct comparison to other secondary European cities. But it still is called the Capital of North Iceland.
Other than the more Southern regions of Iceland, Akureyri is located in a geographically rather mild climate with tough, but not severe winters. This helps the city to operate its port year round and makes it therefore a highly popular destination for cruise ships.
But with a long bucket list to mark off, no time this time for city sightseeing. After collecting the last latecomers, off we went.
We followed the ring highway No 1 North for a bit along the fjord before the road branched off into the countryside.
After enjoying the lush green meadows that flew past the window for a while, it was time to step of the bus for the first time to meet one of Iceland´s most prominent waterfalls: Godafoss, “Waterfall of the Gods”.
While not being the largest cascade in Iceland, the legend of Godafoss says that the lawspeaker Þorgeir Ljósvetningagoði once threw his religious statues of Norse gods down the falls when the country was officially declared to belong to the Christian religion.
The water poured down so powerful that its spray filled the air with so much mist that, depending on how the wind blew, you could get pretty dang wet.
And even though the canyon measures only 12 meters in height, it is the width of over 30 meters that make it so powerful and respectable.
The bus met us a bit later at the iron bridge a bit further down the stream from the falls. And soon after everyone had made a quick halt at the local bathroom, off we went again.
Our funny driver, who was not tired of talking constantly over the public address system, turned left onto the 85 with direction Húsavík.
The drive towards Húsavík is very picturesque. This is something that I was generally absolutely astonished by.
Iceland´s scenery is so ever-changing, just like the weather! You simply cannot take your eyes off the windows as you might be afraid to miss something.
From one minute to the other, the view changed just like zapping from one to the other tv channel.
The closer we came to Húsavík, the more beautiful became the panorama. Fresh green meadows lining along the coastline in front of distant snow-capped mountain ranges. Gorgeous!
Here and there, tiny little wooden cottages and farm houses nestled in this surreal environment.
As a horror movie fan, I instantly thought of how difficult it would be here to flee from a home intruder. Iceland actually is a very popular filming set for science fiction movies.
A little later we reached the small town of Húsavík. An important place for the production and export of silica as well as popular whale watching starting point for tourists.
Apparently, the town is supposed to be the first place in Iceland that was settled by a Norse. A Swedish viking is said to have stayed for a winter back in 870 A.D., leaving behind two slaves and a man when he left during Spring.
The male and female slave (I was not aware that slavery had also been an issue with the vikings…) established a farm in the area and the story continued from that point on.
Húsavík means “Bay of Houses”. One of its landmarks is the Húsavíkurkirkja, a wooden church that was built in 1907.
Again, time to mount the bus. We followed the coastal road for about 50 minutes before it turned back into the countryside.
The sky was blue and the sun shining, letting the green grass glow magically. I had never been to a country where the weather was so moody. Rain, sun, wind, rain and sun again.
As if it came out of nowhere, as soon as the road progressed back into the country, the green meadows waved to a beach made of what looked like dark gravel or sand.
It was such an abrupt change in scenery and I would have loved to run down the hills to touch it, but time was always an enemy and the bus kept rolling.
Before we continued to our next stop, the Asbyrgi canyon, time to fill up the energy levels with a nice Icelandic lunch.
We learned that most “hotels” or hostels are normally schools that have been designed and constructed to host tourists as well. In a region with a climate you cannot always rely on, quite a good idea, I think.
Asbyrgi canyon is a horseshoe-shaped depression right inside the Vatnajökull National Park.
It is approximately 3,5 kilometers long and about 1 kilometer wide and the surrounding cliffs tower up to 100 meters above the ground.
From the parking lot, it is a short walk through a little forest of silver birch trees. This completely adds to the mystical atmosphere that this place surrounds.
Geologically, the formation of the canyon must have taken place after the first Ice Age while a legend insists, that the unusual formation, which is also referred to as Sleipnir’s footprint, was formed when Odin’s eight-legged horse, Sleipnir, touched one of its feet to the ground here.
Having been eaten by the highly aggressive mosquitos (repellant is a MUST pack for Iceland!) I found myself back on the bus again.
This time we headed down South. Past the window sported hills and rocks of different colors and the lush green meadows had turned to a more hillside scenery.
These extreme changes fascinated and captured me and I tried to snap as many photos through the dirty windows as possible.
But the best was yet to come …
It was a little descend down the rocky trail from the parking lot and a huge cloud of mist presaged what we were about to discover down in the canyon.
And that truly took my breath away.
When we speak of waterfalls, we normally have a picture of a cute little cascade surrounded by a picturesque scenery where couples in love have a picnic at the shoreline.
I have no word for Dettifoss.
Maybe massive? When you stand close to the edge and you see these masses of water pouring over the cliff, you are actually left with nothing to say.
The roaring sound is so loud that you hardly hear your own voice and you realize, how small you are compared to this natural wonder. How unimportant.
For those movie maniacs amongst you: If you have seen the Alien remake “Prometheus”, Dettifoss is featured in the opening scene where the white skinned alien falls down the wall of water.
And it is even more impressive in real nature. Breathtaking. So out of this world.
Having a venturous mind, I walked back close to the edge before heading back to the parking lot where the bus was already waiting.
Dettifoss was such a spiritual experience for me, I could have easily stayed there much longer with only watching the water fall down over the edge.
But time was running and the day had already advanced to afternoon. There was still so much to see and I was afraid that my camera´s battery would not last until the end.
Outside, a world like from another planet passed at 100 km/m. It seemed like that we were the only people on the road and I was just waiting for a flying saucer to appear suddenly in the picture.
If anyone would have told me that we were on a secret moon mission or something like that, I would have completely believed him.
And the hot spring area called Hverarönd, that we were heading to next, would have had absolutely underlined this.
Knowing that Iceland is a volcanic country that is highly active (we all remember the eruption of world-famous Eyjafjallajökull a few years ago that caused air traffic to stand still for weeks!), I personally had not been standing on a geothermal spot ever before.
But here, in the middle of this surreal piece of land, glowing in the sun in all shades of red, orange and yellow, it truly felt like being in another world.
Just if we had crossed a secret line on the ground that had transferred us into a different dimension.
Boiling hot mud pots, also known as fumaroles, and the smell of rotten eggs in the air hit me out of nowhere. But my unrestrained curiosity forced me to forget all of this and explore this magic place all over.
Almost everywhere, hot steam was gushing out of the ground. Thankfully, the area was well fenced and it was absolutely essential to stay on the tracks.
Our guide informed us that many people who had been eager to come just a little bit closer had suffered from severe burns. And I was not ready to end my vacation yet. And not this way.
Everything is at a boiling point in the stunning arctic desert. No vegetation in sight.
The constant emission of fumes has made the ground completely sterile and acidic, thus unfit to sustain flora and fauna. But, the colorful minerals defy imagination.
This barren beauty is definitely a place to visit. You can spend hours gazing in amazement at the ever-changing patterns and hues.
But, be mindful of the sulfur. Too much of it is not only harmful to vegetation, but also to humans.
Wow. I could not think of another word. Having been on the road the entire day so far and being able to eye-witness such diverse immense beauty and natural wonder in only one country left me speechless.
How could I ever just take a vacation close to the beach with nothing but snorkeling and reading the entire day?
We left Hverarönd and continued West towards Lake Myvatn. The red soil formed extreme contrasts with the lush green hills and mountains around it.
Emphasising how close life and death can lie next to each other in terms of vegetation while still forming a perfect union.
The name of the lake (Icelandic mý (“midge”) and vatn (“lake”); the lake of midges) comes from the huge numbers of midges to be found there in the summer.
is a shallow eutrophic lake situated in an area of active volcanism in the north of Iceland,. The lake and its surrounding wetlands have an exceptionally rich fauna of waterbirds, especially ducks.
Ever-changing as the landscape, the weather prevented me to take a closer look at the lake when we stopped there for about 15 minutes.
The sky had suddenly darkened and rain started to pour down. While some of the group eagerly climbed off the bus, I decided to give my camera a break and take a well-deserved power nap.
Our last stop of the day before returning to Akureyri and the ship were the lava fields displaying the most unusual rock formations and caves called Dimmuborgir.
Just a quick hop over from the lake, Dimmuborgir, or the Dark Castles translated from Icelandic, is a place where local folklore believes that earth connects with Hell.
In Reality it was formed by a lava-lake. Flowing from a large eruption about 2300 years ago.
On the site of Dimmuborgir, the lava pooled over a small lake. As the lava flowed across the wet sod, the marsh water boiled with vapor rising through the lava, forming lava pillars.
I might should have paid more attention to these spectacular rock formations that we walked through following a small trail, but at this point I was truly exhausted.
My eyes had seen so much exceptionally over the day, I simply could not take more. My mind was overridden.
Having not only my camera´s battery finally running on low, I could hardly stay awake as our bus began the 1 1/2 hours drive back towards Akureyri.
Our tour guide, still as energetic as 10 hours before, continued to pass on his knowledge via the croaky public address system, but I could not help it but fall asleep.
The moment that we reached the ship again, I could not help it but to retreat to my cabin. I was dead. I remember I was not even able to join my table for dinner that evening, so exhausted I was.
But it was this day that may have most definitely been the most impressive one of all when looking back onto the journey today. It had made me realize how diverse and truly extraordinary Iceland was. And I loved it. To every tiny piece.
It combined to me all the best and the worst that Mother Nature was made of, and that is probably why I am so hooked about Iceland. In my eyes, it impersonates the birthplace of everything. Life as we know it. Truly amazing!
Again, I have enclosed to the post some more pictures that I would not want you to miss out on. Maybe you will get as hooked as I did. Enjoy.