Part 3: Iceland, South West
Today John and Sonia were spending the day with someone they met at a bike show in the UK last year. We were invited as well but wanted to spend some more time exploring on the bike.
Our first port of call was going to be Þingvellir National Park where the European and American tectonic plates are pulling apart. Apparently Þingvellir is pronounced ‘?i?k?v?tl?r?’ in Icelandic… When you see things like that you may understand why one of the towns in the Faroes became e-i-e-i-o when we spoke its name and Þingvellir became Ping Valley. Anyway, this is a very scenic spot where we did see the waterfall but managed to miss both the site of the World’s oldest parliament and the largest natural lake in Iceland!
Even we would have had trouble missing the Gullfoss waterfall which is said to be one of the most popular tourist attractions in Iceland. I’m not surprised, it’s stunning. The water flows down a series of steps then falls 32m into a crevice which is at right-angles to the flow of the river. My words can’t do it justice so you’ll just have to look at the pictures. The weather was glorious and only marred by the fact we were walking around in bike gear which, while perfect for when we were riding, was too hot for walking in. It was at this point we resolved that tomorrow the bike would stay at the hotel and we’d take a tour.
Retracing our steps a few miles we visited Geysir from which the name geyser derives (Geysir itself is from the Icelandic verb Geysa, meaning ‘to gush’). Geysir is dormant apart from after earthquakes and we were rather hoping not to get caught up in one of those but 50m away is Strokker which is still performing for the tourists. An innocuous looking pool starts to pulsate…suddenly a huge blue bubble appears then whoosh! the spout. Sometimes another smaller gush would follow. Wait a few minutes and the spectacle is repeated.
In the background we could see some very dark mountains with a white icing that was obviously a glacier. They didn’t look very far away and Kevin noticed on the map that a road goes through so we decided to explore. Unfortunately the road petered out into a gravel track and about a mile or so in ‘one of us’ (i.e. me again!) chickened out and asked to turn round.
Our improvised trip is apparently the Golden Circle Tour so we didn’t do too badly despite missing a couple of interesting sights. We then had a 70 mile ride back, mostly retracing our steps, to Reykjavik where the weather was not so good. As we approached we could see it getting darker and it was beginning to spit with rain by the time we reached our hotel. We spent a pleasant evening chatting to John, Sonia and Olafur (the Icelandic motorcyclist they’d spent the day with). We were joined later by Robert who had ‘met’ John on a Triumph forum. He’d been born in England and moved to Iceland at age 12 not being able to speak any of the language. You can only imagine how difficult it must have been for him going to school. It was very strange listening to someone who spoke perfect unaccented English while effortlessly pronouncing Icelandic place names (which I have to admit none of us managed to master).
It was raining quite hard for most of the evening and we hoped it would stop by tomorrow when we had a jeep tour to the Eyjafjallajökul volcano booked (yes, that one).
We woke up to another glorious day ready for our volcano tour. Our guide, Áki, turned up in a very clean, very high, Landcruiser. The wheels weren’t huge but were big enough to satisfy John’s newfound passion for BIG WHEELS!
Our first stop was the very picturesque Seljalandsfoss waterfall which cascades 60m down the mountain. There is a cave at the bottom allowing you to walk behind the waterfall which is quite surreal (and quite damp too). The view from there is lovely – bright blue sky, and brilliant green grass thanks to the volcanic ash. You look towards the Westman Islands which were quite badly affected by the eruption in 2010 as their main port is in direct line of the glacier melt and was inundated after the eruption. The other local areas all rallied round and helped them with re-housing etc.
After that we were on gravel road, much like the one we abandoned the other day. This time, in the 4×4, we got going much quicker as Áki was obviously used to driving along the road. He explained that the tour company was originally just his dad doing the odd tour but since the volcano erupted business has been brisk as more people visit Iceland (perhaps the exchange rate going from 90 kroners to 199 kroners to a £ helps too!); both he and his brother drive for the company. His dad now just does the maintenance and I can imagine, seeing the way that Áki was attacking the gravel and river crossings, this would be a full time occupation.
As we approached the Gígjökull glacier on the right we were alongside a small meandering river bed. During the eruption, which melted part of the glacier, the river went from just where we were to the other side of the valley many hundreds of metres away. It was a staggering thought. During that time the melt water was so fierce they were concerned for the bridge across the river so they blew up part of the road a bit further down to allow the water to have an escape route.
As we looked at the glacier we saw a crevice which we assumed was quite small until we were told that a helicopter could fly into it and turn around; that tricky Icelandic perspective again. There was a lake in front of the glacier before the eruption but the force from the melt destroyed one of the banks and there is now just empty space.
The tour promises more than 30 un-bridged river crossings. We weren’t disappointed although we might call some of them streams. Our crossing count going in was 16 and we came back the same way.
We then stopped at the Stakkholstgya Canyon where we had a short hike along the river bed, avoiding the water which every year chooses a different course. With the obvious exception of Áki, Kevin was the only one of us adventurous enough to undertake the tightrope of precariously balanced rocks to get to the other side of the river and was rewarded with another waterfall, this time coming through a hole at the top of the gorge.
Our last stop was Gljúfurárfoss that we approached via a small canyon which was very wet and very cold.
Who knew that sitting in a car with the odd walk could be so tiring? We all snoozed (except Áki) for most of the way back to Reykjavik and ‘some of us’ (not me this time!) could be heard to snore.
There are more photos in the Iceland 2012 Album