Saturday, July 18, 2015

Hofn to Vik

The first thing we did in the morning was one of the cooler things we did on the trip. At the base of the Breidamerkurjokull glacier, which itself is a smaller part of the Vatnajokull glacier, the largest glacier in Europe, is a natural glacial river lagoon. As the ice breaks off the glacier, it floats slowly out to sea from inside a small bay. That means the water in the bay is salt water, which I learned when I decided to take a refreshing drink from it. The icebergs sit in the lagoon for many days before they finally enter the larger sea. This creates the perfect setting to boat among the icebergs. A couple of companies offer this service but the coolest is the company that uses an amphibian boat. Massive tires on land, prop boat in the water. Awesome.

What is not so awesome is the wait. We had pre-booked tickets but it is an open voucher. When you show up, they assign you a time based on the demand. I waited in line for about 20 minutes and at that point is was around 11am. The first available trip was not until 1. But I did better than many because they reserve a few seats on each trip for pre-booked tickets. Most people buying on the spot had to wait until 1:30-1:50. It is very busy there, but I can see why. It isn't terribly expensive, and the experience is unique. The icebergs are gorgeous, with varying shades of deep blue and white. And the guide takes a basketball-sized piece of ice from the lagoon and breaks off small chunks for everyone to sample. Doesn't get much fresher tasting than 1000-year old glacial ice.

We then stopped at Skaftafell National Park, home of Skaftafellsjokull glacier and Svartifoss. Unfortunately, the hike to the glacier itself, round trip, took a good hour. It was worth the hike as it was a beautiful day and you could get almost right up to it. But that didn't leave any time for the 90 minute round trip hike to Svartifoss. Too bad, because it sure is pretty. Oh well, out of all the things I wanted to see, this and Asbyrgi canyon were the only two I missed. Not too shabby.
On we marched to Kirkjubaejarklaustur, often abbreviated as "Klaustur" for obvious reasons. Near here are two peculiar natural monuments. One is called Dverghamrar, which translates as "dwarf rocks". It is a formation of basalt columns that looks like natural pillars holding up the rock above.
The other is called Kirkjugolfid, or "The Church Floor". This is also a monument of columnar basalt, but the majority of the column is below ground. So all you see is the stony tops, giving the appearance of a stone church floor. It is quite incredible to look at. It really looks like it was manufactured by humans.
Then we went to Fjadrargljufur, a narrow and beautiful canyon that has beautiful lighting giving it an otherworldly appearance. It was stunning.
Finally we stopped at Reynishverfi, the "black beach". The "sand" on this beach is all lava rock that has been ground down into smaller pebbles. It is like nothing I've ever seen. One Icelander told me that it doesn't have to be very hot for the sand to be unbearable to stand on unshod. The waves were very strong there and the sun was dipping low on the horizon, so it was the perfect ending to a perfect day. We settled down to sleep at Hotel Vellir, a beautiful little farm hotel.

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