Iceland Day 10 – September 10, 2018
Our late bedtime the night before did us no favors when the alarm went off bright and early in the morning. Day 10 would be our longest driving day of the trip as we would leave the Westfjords and jaunt across northern Iceland, spending over six hours driving and countless more at various sights along the way.
After some breakfast and spreading out any clothes that hadn’t fully dried after yesterday’s laundry adventure on the clothesline we put up in the back of Carl, we set out in the foggy and rainy weather. Apparently our good luck with rain-free days had run out, shucks! Our route would have us backtracking on Road 643 back towards Hólmavík and Road 61, before continuing on Road 68 that would eventually lead us back to Road 1, or the Ring Road.
The early morning and lack of sleep was catching up to us (okay, mostly me), so we made a small pit stop at Prestsbakki to get out in the fresh air and stretch our legs. We grabbed some photos of Prestsbakkakirkja and heckled some sheep that were sleeping nearby. Though it was only a few minutes, it felt good to get some brisk fresh air in the lungs, and wake me up a bit for the long journey ahead.
I had to admit popping back onto the Ring Road (Road 1) left me feeling a bit empty. The Westfjords were just so damn fantastic and magical that I felt really underwhelmed entering northern Iceland. Not that northern Iceland isn’t amazingly beautiful, because it is, but there was just something lacking that the Westfjords had. Maybe it was the sheer isolation and loneliness of the untamed wilderness of the Westfjords, or maybe just simply the lack of people. I haven’t put a finger on it yet. Nonetheless, it was a hard feeling to shake on this 10th day of our road trip.
We weren’t back on the heavily-trafficked Ring Road for long before turning north on Road 711 to drive up the Vatnsnes peninsula to our first item on the itinerary, Hvítserkur.
Hvítserkur is a 15km tall volcanic plug, or sea-stack. Folklore says it’s a petrified troll that got caught out in the sun. I’ll stick to the troll theory! Many people say it looks like a dragon or elephant drinking water, but I find it to be a donkey. Depending on the tide, it’s possible to walk right up to it, but Kubo and I were not that lucky. After driving down the steep gravel road, we parked and walked to the overlook, and then down the steep trail to the shore.
I must admit, I was incredibly underwhelmed by Hvítserkur. I’m not saying it’s not cool, because it is, but I am not sure it was worth the detour and time to come see it on what was a very jam-packed day of a lot of driving and other sights to see. I think we enjoyed playing in the black sand and waves more than we did looking at the sea stack. If I had to do it over again, I would’ve scratched the sights on Vatnsnes from the itinerary and enjoyed a soak in the natural hot pot Fosslaug instead (which we skipped due to lack of time). Lessons learned!
With Hvítserkur checked off the list, we headed south again, opting to take Road 717 so we could check out Borgarvirki. Luckily this crazy bumpy road pleased Kubo and I with it’s steep hills, including the last one up to the sight reaching 18%! Shoot, I barely ride my bike up 18% grades ever, so this was a treat for us. Our great van Carl once proved he was up to the challenge, too, even if he was merely front wheel drive.
Borgarvirki is more interesting than Hvítserkur in my opinion, even if the history behind the fortress is murky. We hiked up into it and then walked along the rim. There is a view dial that explains all the mountains and sights, and the panoramic views are definitely worth it.
According to folklore, the people of this area used Borgarvirki as a defense when the chieftains of Borgarfjörður attacked them in the 13th century. There are ruins of huts inside the walls, and some restoration was performed in 1949-1950 to the walls.
Since it was very sunny and decently warm, and the views were great, we opted to eat lunch after we walked around Borgarvirki at the picnic table in the parking lot. Our tradition of beautiful lunch spots was therefore continued!
The next thing I had on our itinerary was just a short drive down the road, Kolugljúfur canyon. This canyon always makes “hidden gem lists,” but clearly from the tour buses pulling up and full parking lots, it’s no longer a hidden gem.
Kolugljúfur canyon is 1km long and sits on the Víðidalsá river. Keeping with the tradition of trolls, a giantess named Kola lived here on the edges, and loved to just reach in and grab salmon from the river and eat them raw. There are several waterfalls, and collectively they are known as Kolufossar.
We parked Carl in a dirt lot without driving across the bridge, donned the rain gear (which really should’ve been called our “waterfall gear” by this point in the trip), and took off to explore.
As we walked on the narrow, slippery trails around the canyon I can see how Kolugljúfur has earned the reputation as one of the most dangerous attractions in Iceland. Unlike other popular attractions have been roped off and improved to keep people (and the fragile terrain) safe, these sort of improvements have not happened yet at Kolugljúfur. It really would just take one bad mistake to have a fatal fall into the canyon here! Kubo is a lot less clumsy than I am, and was brave enough to get up close to the falls (though I eventually and slowly made my way to him). I get a bit weird about heights and water, what can I say?
Kolugljúfur was definitely not an underwhelming sight, and I’m happy it was on my itinerary, though it is clear it’s really no longer a hidden gem. By the time we got back to Carl several other camper vans had parked and nearly blocked us in (luckily Kubo is an amazing driver and got us backed out and on our way safely). We continued back on Road 715, stopping to chat up a horse that really couldn’t be bothered with us.
We rejoined the Ring Road, and once again it wasn’t long until we made our next pitstop. I guess that’s the good thing about this six hour drive is we stopped a lot, which helped break up the day. Right after crossing the Blanda river in Blönduós, Kubo decided to pull off and stop so we could walk back to the bridge and grab some photos of the river. This is when we discovered that the lampposts in Blönduós had knitted sweaters on them!!! And the school also had an inflatable bounce pad like the one I used in Bíldudalur.
After another quick pitstop at the N1 station for some coffee and a bathroom break, it was time to hit the Ring Road again for our trip through the pretty Langidalur valley.
Near the eastern end of Vatnsskarð pass we stopped to look at an interesting monument on Arnarstapi hill. I barely had a chance to read a sign that had been erected protesting overhead power lines before a tourist rather angrily approached me asking if I knew how to read a map. Now, I am a proud Millennial that does actually know how to read a map (though I never had issues with Google Maps in Iceland), so I must admit I was quite happy to help this man decades my senior figure out where he was. I mean, I only spent days upon days of my childhood with an atlas on my lap, navigating my mom and I across the U.S.! I cannot recall where he was trying to get to, but I easily found it on the map and told him how to turn around and get there. Well, this man remained livid that he somehow got lost in Iceland, and turned around, muttering and huffing and puffing about being lost. I shrugged, and went to look at the monument.
The monument is for Stephan Stephansson, “The Poet of the Rocky Mountains,” or Klettafjallaskáldið in Icelandic. Yes, MY Rocky Mountains, 3500 miles away! Stephan was born in Skagafjörður and then emigrated to Wisconsin and then Alberta when he was 19, where he became an renowned Icelandic poet. Pretty neat stuff!
Yes, the angry lost tourist was still huffing and puffing about not finding his accommodations by the time Kubo and I drove away. For all we know, it’s still there, being mad about getting lost.
I feel like day 10 involved a lot of churches, so it is fitting our next check on the list was for Víðimýrarkirkja, one of Iceland’s few preserved turf churches. Víðimýrarkirkja was originally built in 1834, and has been restored several times since. The timber is original, but the turf has to be renewed. The national museum owns the church.
Unfortunately, there was a truck pumping the sewer right down the road, so Víðimýrarkirkja was a stinky experience… luckily visually it was amazing!
We walked around the church but otherwise didn’t spend a ton of time thanks to the strong sewage smell. We turned north on Road 75 for short jaunt to our next turf-filled experience!
Our next stop was Glaumbær turf house. The present farmhouse consists of thirteen buildings, with original parts built in the 18th century. The farm itself dates itself back several more centuries, so it’s quite the historic place. There is an admission fee to enter the turf house, which we did not partake in.
Next door to Glaumbær is Glaumbæjarkirkja. This is the first church we had come across that was unlocked and that we could go inside. You can light a candle for a small donation, which Kubo did. Overall, it was very interesting to see the inside of one of these tiny Icelandic churches, and note all the history about them.
We spent a decent amount of time walking around all the turf structures and checking out Glaumbaejarkirkja. Kubo found a gigantic mushroom which amused us for more than it should, and we finally made our way back to Carl to continue on. It had begun to spit rain off and on at this point, and I know I was weary from all the driving of the day and was eager to push on to our stop for the night, Hofsós.
We rounded around Sauðárkrókur, and continued along the shores of Skagafjörður. At times it seems like the road was below sea level, which led me to wondering out loud how often Road 75 floods. Oh the things we pondered during our trip! We made a quick stop at an overlook with the Ferjumaðurinn, or “Ferry Man” statute. It started raining pretty hard, so we didn’t stick around too long.
After traveling across the end of Skagafjörður, we turned north on Road 76. Our last stop for the day, aside from Hofsós itself, was Grafarkirkja, the oldest turf church in Iceland.
Upon arriving, there is a closed gate on the road, which might make it appear that Grafarkirkja is off limits. But all you have to do is open the gate, drive through, and make sure you close it behind you. Then follow the road to a parking area and walk out a short ways to the church.
Grafarkirkja was built sometime in the 17th century, and is preserved by the national museum. It’s quite a stunning place, sitting lonely with a circular turf wall around it and a single tree.
Finally it was time to settle in our final destination for the night, Hofsós. Hofsós is one of Iceland’s oldest trading ports, and sits on the Höfðaströnd coast of Skagafjörður. The small town sits on the Tröllaskagi, a peninsula between Eyjafjörður and Skagafjörður. Tröllaskagi has the highest average elevation outside of the central highlands, and obviously is very mountainous.
We weren’t quite ready to settle into the campground for the night, so we parked Carl at the church and peeked over to the swimming pool, which we would visit in the morning for a quick swim and shower since the campground charged for showers. We discovered a path that led down to Staðarbjörg, fantastic basalt column cliffs that make up the shoreline of Staðarbjargarvík cove. Now, I am quite fascinated with basalt, and had no idea that Hofsós had a shoreline of these beautiful geological features, so I was so excited!
Legend has it that Staðarbjörg is a trading post for the elves. Hell yes!
Our appetite for basalt filled, we settled into the campground for the night. Once again, we made more German single serving friends, who we shared a picnic table and can opener with as we prepared dinner. No grocery store mistake this time, Kubo cooked up some BEEF steaks (from actual moo-cows, not horses) and baby potatoes. While he cooked, I walked through town down to the pool to check what time they would open in the morning, watched the sun set over the fjord, and found another inflatable trampoline bounce pad.
With a few 2% Viking beers downed later, our 400km day was laid to rest in our sleeping bag.
Follow along on our entire 19 day Iceland road trip adventure! Click here for a comprehensive itinerary, with links to each day’s adventure.