Friday, September 12, 2014

Iceland Part 6- Akureyri (Whale Watching)

I apologize for making these Iceland posts drag on- I just find I have so much to talk about that a post gets long pretty fast!!

After spending the night near Husavik, we drove to the town of Akureyri. Akureyri is the 2nd largest town in Iceland with a whopping population of 17,754! It was also the first time we had seen a traffic light since Reykjavik. Akureyri was actually having a town festival that weekend so we lucked out with many things to see and do. On the way to Akureyri we stopped by another waterfall- Godafoss! This one is beautiful and one you often see in ads for Iceland.

Akureyri itself was nice, but not a whole lot to do in town. We were lucky it was a festival that weekend because there were local concerts and they have botanical gardens, which were beautifully lit up with soft live music playing (and for some reason people dressed as zombies...). Oh, and we also found Santa's house a little out of town. However I'm pretty sure Santa lives in Canada, so this must be his summer home.

The green building in the last photo was our hostel- Akureyri Backpackers! It was a more "hostelly" type hostel, but it was nice and had a great bar that was the happening place in town!

Since we got into Akureyri at 10am, we had a whole day ahead of us and we ended up deciding to go whale watching (Husavik is more known for whale watching, but Akureyri is a good spot too). It was a beautiful day, though quite cold when the boat was moving! At first we were worried that we wouldn't find any whales, but finally another boat out in the fjord found some and radioed in the 2 other whale watching boats out that day to come on over! There were 3 humpbacks that gave us quite a show for the rest of our whale watching tour. I had seen whales when I was in Mexico, but I had never been so close to one before- they came RIGHT up to our boat!

It was an amazing sight and I am glad we splurged on this excursion!

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Iceland Part 5- Reydarfjordur to Husavik

The morning after the Northern Lights we slept in a bit and then began the drive up north. For the record- this was the most boring drive of the whole trip! It was basically driving through a very arid area for hours. Sarah and I joked that I always drove on the boring days, which sucked for her as a passenger (we traded off driving days and it certainly was fun to be the passenger on the scenic route so you could take it all in!).

Our first major stop was Dettifoss waterfall! It turns out we were very lucky to make it to Dettifoss as some of the roads had been closed due to the volcano eruption (the eruption itself wasn't much of a danger, but eruptions+glaciers= flooding!). However everything was all good and I managed the 30km drive through a FREAKING DESERT without problem. Unless you count inhaling the smell of dust for a long drive a problem (which we did). Thank god for the 4wd, which made me able to pass all the smaller cars that needed to drive slow! I heard there is another road that is paved, but it was closed that day (we had intended to take that road back out and found out from a local that it was closed).

We kept driving down this road (which looked like this for the whole 30km) wondering how in the world there was a waterfall at the end of it. But finally we pulled up to the small parking lot at the top of a gorge and there is was! It was a gorgeous (pun intended) site after all that dust.

Dettifoss is the most powerful waterwall in Europe, but there is nothing stopping you from walking right in it, except you know...not wanting to die! It seemed crazy dangerous, and Sarah kept getting mad at me for getting too close :)

There was also a gorgeous double rainbow by the falls- and y'all know how much I love rainbows!

After Dettifoss we drove back down to the main road and continued up north, stopping by Krafla Power Plant (I was SOO excited to pee in the outdoor toilet by Krafla, but it was GONE. Only the shower remained. So sad.). But across from Krafla is Namafjall, which has neat bubbling mud pools and steam vents.

After these stops, we drove north to the town of Husavik. We decided to go for a hike on mount Husavik and we got a map from gas station, but struggled to find the turn off for the road to the hike start point. I finally turned up this gravel road that lead up the mountain, BUT THE PARKING LOT NEVER CAME. I found myself driving UP this mountain on a rough gravel road that was on the edge of a cliff. It was like a 90 degree incline. Oh my goodness did I ever need the 4 wheel drive at that point. Finally I found a safe place to park the car and we got out and hiked the remaining distance up! We had heard there were natural hot springs on the top we could get in, but we never found them :(. And yes, somehow I managed to drive back DOWN that mountain and the car and Sarah and I all survived! I just went sloooow and in a low gear.

Top o' the mountain

After that adventure, we decided to visit the Husavik Whale Museum. We actually both really enjoyed it and learned a lot about various whales and their habits. My favourite part was the skeletons on the 2nd floor. Each whale died of natural causes or accidents and the museum even listed where they came from and how they preserved the bones. It was really quaint and neat to hear about how Magnus from the next town over found a beached whale on his property and the museum came out to get it.

After the whale museum we headed to our hostel on a farm called Arbot. It was alright, but definitely not our favourite hostel of the trip!

But let me leave you with a shot of the friends I made in Husavik! I went up to take a picture and all the horses in the paddock came up to say high :)

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Iceland Part 4- Hofn to Reydarfjordur (The Northern Lights)

The next part of our road trip was heading up the east coast to the town of Reydarfjordur (and yes, I am proud to say I memorized how to spell that town name!). There weren't any "major" attractions on our route, but it was a beautiful summers day and the road hugged the coast going in and around all the fjords on the east side of Iceland. So you would have mountains on your left and ocean on your right- it was beautiful!

We had left early enough from our hostel that despite all the pit stops for photos, we got to our hostel in the early afternoon. The hostel was sooo nice! There are a couple different buildings that house the hostel, but we were lucky enough to be in the beautiful house that overlooked the water and mountains. We decided to relax that afternoon and picked up frozen pizza and beer from the grocery store. We drove around the area for a bit, but mostly just tried to soak up the beautiful warm day!

That night we had planned to hit the hay early, but we overheard two other people in the hostel discussing the forecast for the Northern Lights that night and they were saying it was high. Now, Sarah and I had no expectations of seeing the northern lights on this trip as everything we had read said the summer was no good for it. However, there is a website that forecasts the aurora borealis, and it was promising! We busted in on their conversation and invited ourselves along.

They were super excited to have us along and we stayed up in anticipation of heading out to the "country" around 11pm when it would be starting to get really dark, however at 10:30pm Elodie came running and said it had already started! You never know how long it will last so we jumped in our cars and drove about 10 minutes out of town and then we set up our cameras. At first it was dim, but then it became so distinct and cool.

I wasn't expecting this, but it was actually WHITE, not colourful. I later learned that you often need a camera to capture the colours. Please enjoy a small selection of the million photos I took that night.

I'm not going to lie- being from Toronto just seeing the stars was a huge treat! But yes, the northern lights were simply awesome (in the true sense of the word). It has always been on my bucket list and it did not let me down. Sometimes I just stopped working my camera (I kept adjusting the settings to try and capture the lights) and I just stood and stared. It was like this very visible white mist that danced and floated above our heads.

I think we spent about 2 hours out there before heading in. I actually had trouble sleeping that night because my heart was so full of the beauty I had just witnessed. Simple awe-inspiring and I am so glad that Sarah and I had overhead that conversation or we would have missed it all (and missed the opportunity to make new friends!).

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Iceland Part 3- Vik to Hofn (Glacier Hike and Glacier Lagoon Boat Ride!)

We woke up early at our hostel in Vik and drove back down the road a bit to meet our glacier hiking group! Funny story- the night before Sarah and I had an argument about where the meeting place was. I had thought it was 2 hours up the road, but Sarah thought it was back down at the glacier we saw earlier in the day. Our voucher didn't say where to meet so Sarah looked it up online and it said where Sarah had thought was the spot. Turns out we were wrong, but that group let us go on their hike (same company, same price, same start all worked out!).

We hiked for about 45 minutes to get to the glacier and it was very foggy and scenic! The original start point was only a 15 minute walk, but that part of the glacier had become unstable (water builds up under glaciers), so we had to hike further in to a safer spot.

When we got to the glacier we strapped on our crampons (shoe grips) and picked up our ice picks and got ready to go! Sarah asked our guide once what the ice picks were for, and he said for balance...and for taking cheesy photos! haha. Trust me, this glacier hike is for all skill levels and they even allow kids to do it!

Of course it started raining at this moment- but that wouldn't stop us! We climbed down this huge, steep hill of volcanic ash before getting on the glacier. For some reason I led the group as our guide had to drop back to help people down. I was pretty nervous because I wasn't comfortable with the crampons yet.

The guide took us all over the glacier and taught us all about how they form and develop their shape. This particular glacier is covered in volcanic ash, hence why everything looks like a black and white picture! We were actually just a few kilometres from Eyjafjallajokull, which is the volcano that erupted in 2010 and caused all those issues with air traffic. There was one area that the guides called Mordor because of how dark and rough everything looks.

A moulin (hole made by water)

A Mud Hut? I can't recall what he called these

The glacier was really awesome and it is crazy how fast it changes. Our guide said that every week there are new crevasses and hills and that the volcano ash makes it even more crazy because it blocks the sun from melting the ice- leading to all those black hills- they were once UNDER the ice and the ash blew into a hole...then the sun melted the glacier around that hole and only the ash covered hump remained.

Honestly, this was one of the BEST experiences of my life! We has booked our tour with Icelandic Mountain Guides (this tour) and they were great, especially with our mix up with the meeting spot! A glacier hike is definitely a must do in Iceland.

After that experience, we drove off to Jokulsarlon, a lake full of icebergs that was a couple hours up the road. Along the way, we passed through Eldhraun, which is a huge field of lava covered in moss. We learned on our glacier hike that the volcanic ash is basically crap for growing things until the moss and lichen grows on it, which gives it nitrogen and turns it into great soil! So it is important to leave the moss alone.

We also stopped for a second at Nupsstadur, which is a turf farm from the early 20th century. Our guide said you could go up and walk around, but the gate was closed when we went by so I just took some shots from the bottom of the driveway.

After Nupsstadur, we passed through Skeidararsandur which is a huge black sand desert. It is HUGE and you drive through it for a very long time (the same with Eldhraun!). Somewhere on all this black sand is a plane that crashed in the 1970s (see photos here), but we didn't know where it was and I wasn't about to go offroading on a giant black beach to find it.

We had planned to stop at Skaftafell National Park, but we were running super late (the glacier hike went long- not complaining!), and when we got near Skaftafell it was piss pouring, so we decided to skip it.

Finally, not far from Jokulsarlon the skies cleared up and there was a beautiful view of rainbows and glaciers, so we decided to hop out of the car for a few minutes to enjoy the sunshine :). It was super windy, though! They actually warn you about the wind when you rent a car because your insurance doesn't cover the door getting blown off.

Finally, we arrived at the Glacier Lagoon (as it is locally known) just in time to catch our tour boat! We had booked to go on a small boat around the lake (our tour was the Zodiac Tour). There was a large boat option, but we paid extra to go in the smaller boat that lets you get right up to some of the icebergs (but not toooo close- they can flip over at any minute!). It was so beautiful and we actually saw a bit of the glacier break off while we were there- it was SO loud. I was hoping to see an iceberg flip too, but no luck there. Fun fact- this lake actually has seals in it too! We saw some, but no good photo ops.

Me in my sexy boat suit- our boat is behind me

The glacier

After that, we headed out again to our accommodation for the night- a cute little farm called Holmur about halfway between Jokulsarlon and the town of Hofn. We decided to head into Hofn to find dinner and ended up eating at the N1 gas station (the N1s had nice little fast food places in them and we loved the hot dogs there). Hey- Iceland was expensive and we had to save money where we could!

Holmur Farm (glacier behind it!)

Anyway, this day was SO much fun and I think I will end it here because I have already posted about a million photos :). More tomorrow!

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