Arrived at Keflavik airport around 10:30 pm Friday Feb 27th courtesy of Iceland Express, greeted promptly by a driver from the Northern Light Inn and soon in bed. A good hotel with comfortable rooms. Saturday we were taken to the airport and picked up our car - which was an upgrade from a Honda Jazz to a very nice Octavia Skoda saloon. On to Reykjavik, first stop Kringland Mall where I bought a Siminn sim card and 600 Kr worth of talk time for 500 Kr. Cheaper, I think, directly from the shop there than buying it elsewhere. This is a great place if, like us, you like to check out other people’s supermarkets. We found interesting things here for packed lunches. We had lunch at the Hilton's Vox restaurant, definitely one of the best meals of our week and a must for any foodies. I had lamb tenderloin followed by a delicious rosemary creme brulee, probably the best I've ever had.
On to the harbour next where we saw Iceland’s naval fleet of two coast guard boats. Did you know Iceland had no army, air force or navy? Interesting flea market with a good liquorice stall, lots of books, fish and clothes. Went to the recommended hotdog stall and shared our food with a very cheeky thrush and then the National Museum. This is well set out with lots of information in English about Iceland. Then drove out to our hotel, the 2 star Bjork, where we were told we had some 'interesting news' - they were overbooked and we had to go to the city centre 4 star art deco Borg Hotel! What a beautiful and friendly hotel! Very good rooms and great showers!
Dinner was some lovely fish and chips at the Icelandic Fish & Chips café down near the harbour. At 8pm off on a chase for the northern lights with Siggi of daytours http://www.superjeep.is/ - 12 of us in a huge supertruck. Great fun but the lights were just barely visible -- you could only be sure you'd seen them by looking at a photograph taken with a 15 seconds exposure. To make up a little he took us off road through some mountain rivers which was also great fun.
Sunday was a beautiful sunny day - we'd booked a real superjeep tour with http://www.natureexplorer.is/ and this was marvellous. We hadn't booked an exclusive tour but in fact we were the only passengers (the jeep holds 5 at most). We were also very fortunate in getting as guide/driver the owner of the company 'Hawk', who not only was an excellent guide but someone with whom we had some great discussions about all sorts of things.
This was their Magnificent West tour at natureexplorer.is/daytours/…
Thingvellir first, then a trip to Langjokull Glacier. Driving up the glacier through a landscape covered with snow was awesome. This was true wilderness. A glorious clear blue sky added to the marvellous vistas. We took vast amounts of photos. After the glacier he took us, again through deep snow to a fantastic lava cave with ice stalactites and stalagmites -- we had to slide down the snow into it and Hawk carved out footholds so we could get out. We didn’t go too far in as the ground was very icy and we didn’t have hard hats and lights. The rocks were extremely sharp, Helen still carries the evidence – wear thick gloves – and don’t take them off to take pictures! Back onto tamer roads to Barnafoss and the lava waterfall (the water runs under the lava) Hraunfossar. I have never seen water so blue as it was in that river. The Barnafoss churns the water like a washing machine but it still looks blue. From there to the hot springs that feed several large towns on the coast. The water comes out at boiling point 180 litres per second. It travels about 65 kilometres to Akranes and takes a day to do this. In that time it loses 37 degrees F in the winter. Following this he took us round the Hvalfjordur (fjiord) showing us a disused whaling station. Thia road is little used now as the main road the 1 goes through a tunnel under the mouth of the fjiord. Hawk knew so much about his country and was able to interest us in everything we saw. This trip is a must.
When we got back it was snowing hard so we had a fast food meal at Nonnabiti, just round the corner from the Hotel Borg-- I had a spelt bread grilled chicken sandwich which was the best of its kind I've ever eaten.
Monday we woke up to snow everywhere and icy roads. Useful to check the roads on the official Icelandic website vegagerdin.is/english/…sw1.html We waited to leave until 10am dropped by Kringland Mall to pick up goodies for lunch, and set off to Thingvellir again. Slow going and we were virtually alone on the roads most of the time, but we got there, walked around a bit, saw the site of the first parliaments, the rift valley between the two tectonic plates and the gorge. We drove on to Gullfoss and Geysir stopping to photograph some of the indigenous Icelandic birch trees. These trees are very small probably less than 5 foot. The Icelanders have a riddle: What do you do if you get lost in an Icelandic forest? Answer: Stand up!
Gullfoss is awe-inspiring, especially, I think, covered in ice and snow. It is huge, with a vast river emptying into a gorge in two stages. If you haven’t seen this waterfall check it out on Wikipedia which has some great pictures. Because it was such bright sunlight we were able to photograph the rainbow over the falls. No entry fee to see it, not particularly good Health and Safety compared to British standards but as long as you are sensible and keep children well under control it’s ok.
Geysir is the water spout that gave the name for them all. It doesn’t work much at the moment but Strokkur a few metres away, erupts every few minutes. At Geysir we met another English couple who were staying at Ranga and said the food was good but expensive, and told us about a pizza/fish place nearby. We spent the night at the Geysir Hotel, which is set up as cabins. Not luxurious but very pleasant, and although we were the only customers in the restaurant they served some lovely lamb and halibut. We went out to see the Northern Lights around 10 but no luck, but we did see Strokkur erupting in the darkness (streetlights from the road helped).
Tuesday was another drive on icy snowy roads with very little traffic at first. We were advised that the safest way would be through Selfoss, where we also stopped at a bakery. This is the largest town on the southwest coast. As we were early we drove on to Skogar to see the Folk Museum and Skogafoss. The folk museum was very good, with both a collection inside of tools, fishing equipment including a fishing boat, musical instruments, fabrics costume and embroidery etc but also a number of buildings outside. The man who started the collection many years ago was in the museum waiting to welcome everyone. He’s 86 now but very spry. He demonstrated one of his many musical instruments, playing God Save the Queen.We particularly enjoyed being able to go into the old schoolhouse and turf roofed farm buildings. These buildings are full of furniture and tools from the correct period and made the trip very interesting.
The Hotel Ranga, set out on the plain of the Ranga river, was probably the nicest of the 4 hotels we stayed in. Friendly, built of Canadian logs, a big bed, and 2 hot tubs outside, we will definitely stay there again if we come back. The hot tubs were great even when the temperature was –10C. Dinner was excellent - goose cooked two ways -- but expensive, as we'd been warned. We enjoyed what was a community experience of staying up until well after midnight looking for the Northern Lights and sharing ideas of the best way to photograph them. Sadly, even though the forecast was 'moderate', much better than the 'quiet' forecasts of the last few days, we saw very little, just a small band.
Wednesday was another superjeep trip with Hawk. The plan was to go to the Myrdalsjökull glacier and Thorsmork walking area but even Hawk and his super jeep were defeated by the deep snowdrifts. We still had an excellent day visiting black sand beaches with black basalt cliffs (including a whale skeleton and a crashed DC3) and waterfalls, and the Solheimajokull glacier tongue.
This was actually more impressive than walking on the Lanjokull glacier Sunday. That was just walking on snow, here it was obvious that we were looking at a glacier. Particularly interesting was an area where we could see a section of the glacier and all the strata caused by volcanic ash over the centuries. I asked what the glaciers were like in the summer - evidently they aren't the pristine white one imagines, but often dirty, at least at the edges.
We had dinner at the Galleri Pizza in Hvolsvollur, about 2 miles from the hotel. Called Galleri because the walls are lined with picture for sale, the cook was cook at the Ranga for several years. We had delicious fish and chips but I've seen the pizzas praised frequently on the web, and Hawk told us it was one of the best pizza places in Iceland. Back to the Ranga planning to go to bed at 9 - the Northern Lights forecast was worse than last night's when we saw very little. I went out to reception about 8:20 to ask about getting some ice cream from room service and was told that the lights were active (unusual at this time). And they were - much better than we'd seen them before! I woke up Helen and we went out in the extreme cold to look. They were active for about an hour, even with some movement. Lots of excitement among both guests and staff. Finally we'd had a proper view of the Northern Lights!
Thursday we drove back to the airport to return the car. We'd hoped to do the south coast route of the Reykjanes peninsula but the roads were still too bad. We went out to the tip of the Reykjanes peninsular where we noticed they had normal yellow sand. The northern Light Hotel were very good collecting us from the airport again and then taking us out to the Blue Lagoon. Something we are glad we did as it was very relaxing. Lots of difficult ‘rules’ like you get dry in one area and dressed in another – but only if you have taken your towel with you! It was not busy at this time of year but because the air temperature was so low there was lots of steam. I wonder if a local swimming pool might be better. We did get ‘Senior’ admission though which pulls the price down considerably.
Dinner at the Northern Light Inn was good, and the service to and from the airport and the Blue Lagoon excellent. Although we were concerned that we wouldn't get to the airport until about 6am (after a 5am breakfast at the hotel) and our flight was 7:30am check in and security were a breeze.
This was a fantastic trip. It was Helen's dream for decades and surpassed her expectations (and mine). We loved all the snow cover but it would be interesting to see it at another time of year, so we obviously have to go back.