After an early breakfast on a gloomy Monday, I checked out of the Hotel and headed off on the first of two ‘hobo’ days. I chose to have the next two nights free from Hotel ties, I wanted to roam a little and see where I ended up. I also wanted to try and see the northern lights and figured that if I spend all night looking at the sky, there’d be little point paying for a room that isn’t used.
My general plan is to complete Route 1, the ring road around the island. Starting on the southern stretch I went to a western starting point; Grindavik and the Blue Lagoon.
The Blue Lagoon is Iceland’s most popular tourist attraction, tour operators will even collect incoming folks freshly arrived at the airport and coach them directly there. It’s a must visit place with hot bathing water and silica mud that has rejuvenating properties on the skin and is reportedly able to help with healing of psoriasis. From the reports and blogs that I’ve read about it, and from friends that have visited it, it’s an amazing experience.
I however, declined this experience. I was always in two minds whether to partake or not and was undecided up to the point that I parked outside the facility. I saw the full facility and it clarified my mind.
Now, I wouldn’t say that I’m particularly sensitive or squeamish about things, however there are two things about the facility that I had considered.
1, thousands of people go in the water, spread the silica mud on themselves (covering whichever ailments they want to cure), and then wash it off in the water, which the rest of the clientele then walk about and bathe in, that doesn’t appeal to me at all!
2, although National Geographic have named it as one of the 25 wonders of the world, it’s not actually natural. The water is waste hot water from the power plant nearby. The plant pumps water from the sea, which is used within its cooling process. The water retains this heat and as effluent, is then pumped into the lagoon.
I am sure that there is no danger or concern about this, however, I want to see and experience a natural Iceland without getting caught in what I think is a tourist trap.
Just on the outskirts of the lagoon facility, on the road leading up to it, are some areas that really show the effect of the water and silica mixed. It’s fabulous looking water, and very surreal in large amounts, which absolutely would add to the spa feel.
Grindavik, one of Iceland’s most prominent fishing towns is just down the road from The Blue Lagoon, so I make this my second waypoint, not long after setting off I find myself driving through the first (of many) Lava field.
It’s a bit bizarre, as far as you can see is a sea of what looks like large gravelled area where the gravel stones are the size of armchairs and sofas, and they all covered in a plush green moss. I wish I was more of a geologist to explain why it looks this way. I would think that a lava field was flat where the sea of molten magma has cooled. Maybe someone can explain that to me?
Gridavik itself has a drab grey appearance covering it. I get the feeling that it’s purely a hardy and functional town, the buildings serve a purpose and nothing is superfluous. I pass through a housing suburb where all the grey single storey buildings with sloping grey roofs on four similarly grey walls shout utility and robustness. It has a prestigious place in the industry of Iceland on which it holds its hat! It has no time for colour!
Moving on from what felt like a sorry start to the journey, I’d only covered a few miles when I passed a sign showing the ‘place of interest’ symbol and the name Selatanger next to it. I also saw that this was down gravel road. Iceland has a network of gravel roads that link the tarmac roads. They’re the equivalent of our B roads in the UK, not equivalent by quality standards mind you, simply the next best thing that is on offer. This was not a planned place to go, but I wanted to get along my first of these gravel roads. After all I’d paid additional car insurance to cover for any damage by gravel so I wanted to get my money’s worth!
Off I went!
Now, these gravel roads have a speed limit of 70 km/h, that’s around 45 mph, If this one was a typical example then either I drive like a wimp or the Icelanders are changing tyres and suspension parts regularly! 20mph at a max was the limit! huge potholes, large rocks, even hundreds of not so large rocks littered the road. The image above was the smooth part of the gravel, I was concentrating too much to get out and take a snap of the rough parts! As you can see, there’s nothing in the distance so I had no clue what I was heading for. About 2km along I was already getting fed up with the road and thinking of turning back when I saw a black beach appear over a hill….
After having a stroll around for a while, watching the stark contrast of white waves from a powerful sea breaking on a black sand, I figured that it was worth the bone shaking road. I also figured that it could be worth hiring a ‘proper’ 4×4 if I visit Iceland again.
I realised at this point that of my 650km journey along the south, I’d managed only around 55km in an hour and a half! I’d best get cracking!
I resisted any more detours and pushed on to my first destination, Seljalandsfoss. This is a 60mtr (200ft) tall waterfall; and while this is kinda impressive in itself, the best part about it is that you can actually walk behind it. It’s pretty awesome, and loud, and wet!
Getting wet has featured a lot so far with this trip, I’m pretty sure that the sogginess will continue!
Along with the wet, it’s also windy! What’s the one thing a waterfall needs to do to be successful in it’s singularly focussed task? Yep FALL! These guys are just totally out of luck today!
So that’s water ‘flowing’ uphill, yep a bit windy today.
I make another push on and take in the scenery, as you travel along the road, you find there are huge walls of rock that extend for mile after mile. every once in a while small settlement will sit at the base of the wall. It made me wonder about the settlers and when they started to arrive; after all of their time rowing across a freezing Norwegian sea, facing all the cold and harsh weather the sea would throw at them, possibly starving and dehydrated, exhausted from their journey. They finally and heroically get to land, and there before them stretching as far as the eye can see in either direction, are these bloody great big impenetrable rock barriers of loose gravel and sheer faces. I can only assume that they said ‘sod this, we’ll make camp here folks’ and they’ve stayed there ever since!
Another waterfall of interest is Skógafoss , this would be my penultimate stop today as the light was starting to fail. Skógafoss is the waterfall with the longest drop in Iceland, again it’s another awesome fall and attracts many visitors. I’m glad I’m here at this time of the year. Considering that winter is coming, there are still coach loads of people being ferried to all the tourist spots. Luckily they are not constant so I can usually wait until a load leaves before I go and enjoy the sights in relative peace.
This time, there was a constant stream of folks arriving so I had a wander any way. It’s a huge fall.
My final stop for the evening was definitely planed to be so. This was to be my first attempt at seeing the Aurora Borealis. I set myself up at an old DC-3 aircraft wreck.
This is a US Navy aircraft that crash landed in 1973 following ice build up on the wings. All of the crew walked away safely, but the US navy decided not to recover the plane. I can kind of understand why, it was a 4km drive on another gravel road, it took around 20 mins to get to the wreck from the main road. I think I’ll hire a proper 4×4 the next time I come.
To see the Aurora, as everyone knows, you need a clear sky and minimal light pollution. I think I picked the right place. I also think that I’m on the set of Prometheus. This is about as desolate as any place I’ve been.
That’s the same view all around me. It’s pretty cool, and as much of Iceland is, it’s pretty black!
I spent the night waiting, and waiting but the Aurora didn’t appear unfortunately. The clouds were patchy, but at one point in the early morning, the moon was so bright that it lit the wreck really well. so before I went to sleep, I had to try a shot…