Day 2 had been incredible and it was achieved on pure adrenaline. Today, I still had that adrenaline rush and it was accompanied by a solid night’s sleep. Anything was possible. While I aimed for more awesomeness, life decided it would throw in some of the unexpected.
I had awoken early this morning and eager to hit the road. The Snæfellsness Peninsula route I drove yesterday is a detour from highway 1, so I needed to finish the northern side of the peninsula, return to highway 1, and cover some solid distance to get to Akureyri. While the Freezer Hostel last night wasn’t my style overall, my top bunk and down comforter were super comfortable. I felt as rested as a jet-lagged person could.
The Freezer Hostel was in Rif, a small fishing village of 150 people. Being sparsely populated, the views of the ice capped stratovolcano were easily seen. It was even more stunning in the morning sun. The view was so distracting that I missed my turn and ended up in the humble, yet beautiful Rif harbor. After taking in the harbor view, I pulled over and watched a truck carry a fishing boat back to the water. I don’t see that everyday.
I was already running behind schedule and debated whether to skip the last waterfall in the Snæfellsness National Park to catch back up. I’m glad I didn’t. Even though it was along a very rough gravel road, Svöðufoss was the most powerful waterfall I had seen yet. Its falling waters sandwiched the Sæfellsnessjökull volcano between the the glacier like a perfect reverse Oreo. White outside, chocolate middle.
I had seen a second waterfall from the gravel road on my way in, so when I noticed the gravel road continued passed the Svöðufoss parking area I decided to keep exploring. The road got too rough for my little 2wd mini Kia, so I pulled over and hiked the remainder of the way to view Kerlingarfoss. Oh, the things I do for waterfalls!
Once both waterfalls were properly photographed, I needed to move it. Nearly six hours of driving to get to my hotel in Akuyeri and I’m barely a mile from last night’s hostel.
Oh, look, horse pens!
Once back on the paved road I finally head to Ólafsvík, the village I had eaten dinner at the night before. Last night I was too hungry to stop for images of the picturesque view into the north ocean- not this time!
Oh yeah, there’s that waterfall behind my dinner place. “You should explore that, too,” shouted my waterfall ADD. I gave in without a fight. I hiked up the stream to the Bæjarfoss waterfall on the cliff behind the restaurant. I spend way too much time getting the perfect angles of the fall, the Ólafsvíkurkirkja church, and the ocean. Totally worth the delay, right?
“Seriously, Acacia. Move it!” Yelled my inner self. I finally fueled up and was ready to go- only two hours behind schedule. I’ll make it up… Right after a stop at Kirkjufell, the most photographed mountain in Iceland and its waterfall buddy, Kirkjufellfoss. Or so I thought…
Around the time I should be pulling up to Kirkjufell, Google’s navigation had me turn left off the ring road. A few hundred feet from the main road, I approach a set of signs I did not recognize. One sign was blue and written in Chinese, and the rest looked Icelandic; none were in English. Under the unreadable signs, there were smaller signs with images that I could understand. The speed limit. No camping. A third I forget.
It is important to read signs when entering a road in Iceland as some roads can be very dangerous or require 4wd to continue on. Ignore a posted warning sign, and you are on the hook for a hefty rescue bill- assuming you survive. While I did not understand all of the signs, it was clear none were of the dangerous road and 4wd notices I was to avoid. Me and my car will survive, so I press forward.
Half way down the road, Google tells me my destination is coming up in a few hundred meters. I look around for a parking lot and there are only a couple scattered homes. Then Google tells me I have arrived. I’m in the middle of a road with no waterfall. There was a mountain across the bay that looked a bit like Kirkjufell, but this was definitely not the right angle if it was. I decided to pull to the home at the end of the road for directions.
The home at the end of the road looked like it was a bed and breakfast. There was a little table with seating out front, small swing set, the front door was open, and it was right on the water. A cute remote getaway twenty minutes from the national park. I park, pull out my camera and take a pic before heading up to reception.
Before I could click my camera a second time, a man, in what looked like a security guard uniform, walks to the front door and whistles harshly at me with a sharp hand signal indicating I shouldn’t take pictures.
Wow. That’s rude. No need to scold. But I needed directions, so I try and get his attention. He walks away forcefully. Geeze. You are officially the first rude person I’ve ever met in Iceland, sir!
Before I could turn around, a much kinder man approaches me and says, “You know you’re in a correctional facility, right? This is a prison.”
I am? This is beautiful, on the ocean and there’s no gate or fence or anything surrounding the facility? The front door is open. There’s even a swing set!
Yes. Apparently, Google had led me to the Kvíabryggia prison despite saying it was taking me to Kirkjufell. Thanks, Google.
I apologized to the man and asked for directions. He said the stop I was looking for was just up the main road. I thank him and drove on bemused. How was that a prison? It does explain the weird signs, but there wasn’t even a gate or fence. I drove right in. Wait, Iceland has prisons? My brain went on, and I collected myself in time to look back and snap a pic of the facility from the main road.
Turned out, that mountain I could see from the prison was Kirkjufell mountain, just the other side of it. Right across the highway from the mountain was Kirkjufell falls. The stop I was looking for was literally on the main highway. #thanksgoogle
Here’s my summertime morning pic of that famous Icelandic image. The next time you see a pic like this, remember, there’s a prison on the other side of that mountain.
The Kirkjufellfoss waterfall was not what I expected. It was two levels, not the one level seen in the famous pics, and it was taller than I thought. I was able to walk pretty close to it, too. I decided to make it my goal to show how unfair it was how much credit that famous picture gets. While it is well framed, it neglects all beautiful scenery in this area. I will show the world how beautiful this spot is! (Aka. I will procrastinate another hour by taking way too many pictures).
After over photographing the Kirkjufell area, I stopped in Grundarfjörður, the nearby village, to use the restroom and write some postcards. Ironically, while being the closest village to Kirkjufell, there were no postcards of the famous pic available at the store. There was one of the mountain at night, so I grab that; I also purchase another postcard of the ugliest picture on a postcard I can find. My two days in Iceland had been nonstop amazement, why was my postcard selection limited to boring grass and a road sign? I mailed the card off to Alan ironically.
I had completed the sights I wanted to see in this region of Iceland. To finish driving the north side of the peninsula meant passing some gorgeous fjords via scenic viewpoints. I stopped, of course. The fjord bridges across the water have low rails and are a thin two lanes. I felt like I was gliding across the sparkling water of the Eyrbyggja Fjord. Magical.
Once passed the fjords, Google wanted me to turn right and head back to Borgarnes. I didn’t want to repeat an area of Iceland I had already seen on this trip a third time, and decided to stay on my current road and travel around the remaining western fjords. Google said this fjordic view route was only 14 mins longer than the route to Borgarnes.
Unfortunately, what Google maps doesn’t understand about Icelandic roads is that the speed difference required for traveling on gravel roads vs paved ones is not the same. Sure enough, my 14 mins longer route turned to gravel roads and remained that way for hours. The fjords were each unique and driving them was fun at times, but my shaken body and white knuckled hands were thankful when I finally returned to paved roads.
I had a small moment of reprieve along that gravel route. An unmarked ravine with small waterfalls. It was nice to stretch my legs over the falls and take more pics.
Once relaxed, I pressed on and made it to back to the highway. My route brought me to the border of the remote west fjords region and northwest part of the country. It was primarily grassy prairie with some sheep and small hills. Beautiful in its own right, but less impressive than the views I had been witnessing. The area is also barren in terms of sights, except one awesome moment. Recall that ugly ironic postcard I purchased earlier? I passed that exact spot. I recognize is from the sheep and ram warming sign. It was the first of that sign type I had seen this trip. I bust up laughing. Life has a sense of humor. Honestly, the area is prettier than the postcard suggests.
After a few more hours stuck to the drivers’ seat, I see my first indication that I have made it to north Iceland. I’m only a short way from my next scheduled stop, Kolugliúfur Canyon!
According to folklore, Kolugliufur was named for the troll Kola who dug the canyon. The Víðidalsá river runs through the 131-165 ft deep gorge. After walking around for a bit, I found a path down to the cliffs, under the bridge, that I could climb to the top of the falls from. The second waterfall of the day I would sit atop.
Once people saw my hiking path, they decided to follow. Not wanting to face a crowded cliff I headed out. My next stop was 40 mins away and, again, off the main road.
The route to this stop was, of course, all gravel and prairie. It was also only 1.5 lanes wide, so someone always had to pull over when a vehicle was coming the opposite direction. It was starting to feel tedious. Then, the landscape started to change.
Lava hills and the ocean water of Sigríðarstaðvatn started to come into view. The contrast of color from the blue water, entering the yellow prairies, with red hills behind it was a new experience for this trip and I soaked it in. I was headed for that entrance of that water, the Húnafjörður Bay on Iceland’s north coast, to hike to Hvítserkur.
I finally make it to Hvítserkur and searched for the hiking trail down to the black beach. I found two options. Hvítserkur was to the left, but a gradual and longer hiking path was available on the right side of the parking lot. The path would take someone almost out of view south to get down the cliff, and they’d need to walk the beach back north to get to the rock. Not too appealing for someone behind schedule. The other option, was straight down the cliff from the scenic view point. I took the steep cliff route hoping I could motivate myself back up and save some time.
Totally worth it!
The way back up took all hands-on-deck. Knees to my chest and into the cliff side, hands grasping rocks, using all I had a couple times. I got to a point where I was going to have to elevate myself a bit and catch the next rock. I make it on my first try! As if to mock my human struggles, a pile of sheep poo was a few inches from my face.
Ah ha! I MADE IT!
I finish climbing my way up and head to the car so I can find a local stop for food and restrooms. Google said the nearest town was Ósar. I drove over, and life thought it’d be funny to lock me in a bathroom.
The outdoor restrooms in Ósar required messing with the handle to get the door to close and lock properly. I follow the instructions on the door and get the door locked successfully on the first try. When it was time to exit the restroom; however, the door wouldn’t budge.
I lifted, I pulled, pushed and even slammed my body against the door. I was stuck. I also couldn’t tell if the lock had turned or not. Was the lock stuck, or was the door stuck, or both? I tried all I could to get both to budge. After trying a few more minutes, I decide it’s time to ask another restroom visitor for help.
Moments later, someone enters the stall next to me. He started speaking Chinese, so I waited for the next person. The next person spoke Spanish… Dammit. Someone speak English, please! I return to slamming my body against the door till someone hollers from the other side, “You need help, man?”
“Yes. The door is stuck!” I shout back.
The gentleman comes over and starts pulling on the stall door from the outside while I pound my body from the inside. His friend comes over to help… I was finally free!
I thanked them and walked away feeling beat up… They laughed. I was not so thrilled. Ok, where’s my hotel? I’m done.
My hotel was 2 hours away…
I hit the road again. After driving on some more gravel roads, I find myself driving through the mountains. The steepest roads yet. Iceland doesn’t have shoulders on the roads. The road ends at the cliff. While a few of the most dangerous turns have a small barrier, most do not. I was white knuckling the steering wheel with the last of my physical abilities.
The views were unique and the scenery changed every 20-30 mins.
Once through the first set of mountains I could see purple clouds in the valley ahead. The setting sun flashed a rainbow of colors on the clouds and hillsides. I stopped at Monumento a Stephan Stephansson, a memorial for the poet and playwright, for the view and some fresh air.
Eventually, I was in that cloud covered valley and had fun chasing the little puffs.
That was, until I had to climb back through them.
After another set of mountains, I made it to my stop for the night, Akueryi!
This city was amazing. A northern cabin cozy feel with some European inspired buildings amongst a fun hip vibe. I was really digging this place. The city’s energy brought my exhausted self to life again. I walked around the town center before grabbing dinner and a beer in the very happening hostel cafe and bar.
I wrote some postcards and then it was time for a hot shower and bed. Mmmm… bed…
Credits: Article and images by Acacia Thornton