So, after we left Jökulsárlón and Fjallsárlón, we made our way west on Ring Road (AKA Route 1) towards Vik, visiting some sights along the way. We had a pretty action-packed day (made even longer when we took a 2-hour detour for cheeseburgers), but that's how you make the most out of 21 hours of sunshine (well sunshine is a little bit of a misnomer--it's mostly cloudy with a chance of rainbows). Yes, Iceland is one of the few places on Earth that experiences midnight sun for some handful of weeks each summer! Assuming the sun does come out. The sun would basically set around midnight and then rise again around 3 am while we were there. In between, it would get dusky but never dark!
This is a random waterfall we saw from the highway and stopped to check out. It was next to a construction site for a Fosshotel ("waterfall hotel") so I'm not even sure if it was public property or not. Seems like there is a lot of construction going on in Iceland and with tourism booming, it may be vastly different in a few years. There are so many great waterfalls in Iceland that it's easy to feel a bit desensitized to how amazing they are. Obviously there are your famous ones that are packed with tourists each summer (to be covered in future posts), but there are other many lesser-known and off-the-beaten-path ones that are equally as amazing!
Our next stop was to use the potty! Jökulsárlón does charge about $2 to use the restroom so it was a good thing that most of us were able to wait until the next stop. In the small little village of Hof, visible from Ring Road, is Iceland's last turf church, Hofskirkja (translation: church of Hof). It was built in 1884 and is one of six churches in Iceland that is preserved as a national monument, and is still a functioning church as well. There's a small restroom maintained for public use right next to it so if you need to use the restroom, this is a better place than most to stop (although I was quite impressed with how clean Icelandic restrooms are in general--so much better than the US). Like most villages in Iceland, Hof is really tiny, so you can't miss the church.
Creepy graves...in older pictures I saw of Hofskirkja, there were these cute, mysterious little mounds next to it. The crosses seem to be a newer addition as it is now obvious that they mark graves. Not so cute after all but still pretty cute as far as graves go, hah.
The next stop was one of the main attractions of the day, a hike to the famous Svartifoss waterfall in Skaftafell National Park (now considered a part of the larger Vatnajokull National Park). It's considered an "easy" approximately 3-mile roundtrip hike, but it is mostly uphill getting there so we definitely worked up a sweat! Especially since the sun really started shining while we were hiking. And I was wearing a sweater with nothing underneath. I broke the number one rule of Iceland: always dress in layers! Nevertheless, it was a very green, pleasant, and beautiful hike, and we were well-rewarded when we reached the waterfall.
Our first view of Svartifoss from a distance.
Svartifoss is famous for it's black columns of basalt! A very unique-looking waterfall. I wish we had more time to explore some of the other trails in the park, but in the interest of time, we had to get a move-on.
Our next stop--a famous canyon called Fjaðrárgljúfur! So famous in fact, you might recognize it from Justin Bieber's music video for I'll Show You," which was filmed entirely in Iceland. Fjaðrárgljúfur is definitely a bit more secluded as it is a short ways off of Ring Road and there aren't really any signs pointing the way. Which meant, we more or less had the place to ourselves. To get there, you take Road No. F206 near Kirkjubæjarklaustur, which is a bumpy dirt road (F roads in Iceland denote four-wheel drive recommendation or maybe requirement). Side note: getting insurance on your car rental is a very good idea. Although Ring Road is paved all the way around, many other roads are not. We ended up needing our insurance for a chip on the windshield!
The mouth of the canyon.
The path by the canyon is pretty extensive and like most places in Iceland, there is this feeling that there is always more to be explored; there are few dead ends. You could easily spend a day exploring. It's wild yet pristine, natural and largely untamed.
I think my wannabe wilderness explorer fiancé would've been happy to spend the whole day climbing around this canyon, but as I had to remind him, the hour was getting quite late in spite of it still being light out! We still had about an hour's drive before we reached Vik and I hoped to make a stop at the lava field along the way.
Unfortunately we ended up missing the lava fields because we couldn't find a good place to pull over and by the time we had driven through it, we were too tired to turn around. But, I am pretty bummed I didn't get a good picture of this otherworldly sight. The picture above is one that I took from the car. The lava field between Kirkjubæjarklaustur and Vik has moss-covered lava from the 1783 volcano eruption of Laki. From 1783-1784, Laki erupted over an 8-month period, pouring out basalt lava and enough poisonous fumes to kill off over half of Iceland's livestock population and subsequently, nearly a quarter of their human population through famine. It also caused a global drop in temperatures, along with crop failures and droughts around the world which killed an estimated 6 million people. It's crazy to see this last remnant of that catastrophic event and witness how permanently it has changed the landscape.
At the very end of the lava fields area (if you are driving from east to west on Ring Road) is a site called Laufskalavarda. It reminds me of the little troll "love experts" from Frozen (I have a 2-year old niece who is obsessed ok!) seeing all these mystical little rocks.
So the story goes that there was a farm called Laufskalar that was destroyed in an 894 volcano eruption and in its place is a lava mound now called "Laufskalavarda" or "cairns of Laufskalar." When travelers pass this lava mound for the first time, they are supposed to add a stone to a cairn (rock pile) for good luck on their journey. Don't know how much I believe this story as it seems a bit far-fetched. Seems more likely a meeting place for trolls or other "hidden folk," don't you think? Fact: more than half of Icelanders believe in the existence of "huldufólk" or hidden people--elves, trolls, fairies, etc. Visiting Iceland though, it is not difficult to understand why.
Check back next week for another installment in my Icelandic adventure!