East and North Iceland

Reydarfjordur

East iceland

After having spent some beautiful days in the south of Iceland we moved on along the road no. 1 toward the east side of the country. We had quite a long drive to get to our hostel in Reydarfjordur. We didn’t stop for a while when suddenly we spotted a waterfall a ways from the road, which looked very nice and like there wouldn’t be any people (not like all the other places we saw so far). We drove along a gravel road for a bit and then parked the car to walk the rest. It was only a short walk of about 20 minutes til we reached the waterfall. It was very beautiful and just like we hoped, there was no one else. We saw another car parked before but its owners were nowhere to be seen. We had a quick lunch at the waterfall and enjoyed the view, before heading back to our car to move on to our first planned stop for that day, which would be another waterfall named Henigfoss. We always checked our routes on google maps before, but the travel times were almost never accurate. It would take about one third longer than expected to get anywhere, even without there being any traffic. One reason might have been that some of the roads, even the main roads, would suddenly turn into gravel roads instead of paved ones, which made it impossible to drive very fast with our little car.

Iceland Waterfall
Us at our waterfall with no one around

Once we got to the trail head of the hike leading to the waterfall, we saw, not to our surprise, that the parking lot was already full of cars and people. We also read before that the hike to Henigfoss, one of Iceland’s highest waterfalls, would be over two hours, but as we read on the information map, it was only 2.5 kilometers long. We decided to do it anyway, as the trail looked pretty steep and like a good exercise. The trail was always easy to find and stay on and after 30 minutes or so we got to the first smaller waterfall on our way. Litlanesfoss wasn’t as high as Henigfoss, but in my opinion it was just as impressive, due to being surrounded by basalt columns. These vertical columns are created by lava streams that cooled off and then broke into columns.

 

Litlanesfoss
Litlanesfoss is just below Henigfoss and just as impressive

After a short break we moved on upwards to Henigfoss, we reached it about 45 minutes later. You couldn’t get too close because of the big river running down from it, but David spotted some small trail leading a little higher, which he had to go up while I waited, as I still haven’t conquered my fear of heights. The waterfall Henigfoss is about 118 meters high and therefore one of the highest in Iceland.

Henigfoss
At 118 meters, Henigfoss is one of the tallest waterfalls in Iceland

It got pretty cold soon, so we started heading back to the car. It was already late once we arrived at the bottom, so we decided to drive to our hostel in Reydarfjordur straight away. On the way there we passed by one of Iceland’s biggest and most famous lakes, the Lagarfljot. The lake is surrounded by woods and flowers and is 25km long. It’s length may be why the Icelandic people started to believe in their very own lake monster. Just like at Loch Ness in Scotland, the people in Iceland think that a snake shaped monster lives in their lake. The call it the worm! The story goes that back in the 1300s a girl locked a worm into a wooden case with her gold broach, hoping the worm would increase her riches. Soon the worm got so big that she got scared and threw it into the lake, where it still lives on. There have been various sightings from locals, and one of the farmers around the lake finally managed to get the worm on tape a few years ago. When the authenticity of the video was doubted, the Icelandic government ordered a board to review it. It was found to be real, so most of the people in Iceland seem to believe in their worm monster of Lagarfljot lake (even the tourist guide books state its existence as a fact).

Lagarfljot
The tail end of Lagarfljot lake from the trail to Henigfoss

After about 30 minutes of driving we got to the small town of Reydarfjordur, where we stayed at another hostel of Hosteling International. We checked in at the reception and then got the key to our room, which was in a big yellow house. We entered the house and were amazed! It was a huge house with two stories and amazing views over the fjord. Besides a group of people from the Netherlands, we had the place all to ourselves. We thought about going on a boat tour in the fjord, because one of the most important things for David to see in Iceland were puffins. In the end we decided to not go on the tour and try our luck somewhere else, because it was a bit expensive and the sighting of puffins wasn’t guaranteed. We started cooking dinner and suddenly thought that a glass of wine would be nice to go with the amazing atmosphere and views of the house. It was already 7:50pm and most supermarkets we saw on the way in closed around 8, so we jumped in our shoes and rushed to the car. As we found the supermarket we learned that it had closed at 6pm. If it would have been open, we wouldn’t have been able to buy wine or any sort of liquor there, as we learned the next day. For most kinds of alcohol, except some sorts of beer, you have to go to a special liquor store called “vin budin”. The cheapest beer in those stores is about 3 dollars and you can get the cheapest wine for about 6 dollars.

Reydarfjordur
The view out our balcony at the hostel in Reydarfjordur

North Iceland

The next day we would leave the east of Iceland and head to the north of the island. As it was the 4th of July we decided to buy some alcohol for the first time on this trip so that David could celebrate Americas national day the proper way, even if it would end up being with Icelandic beer. Before heading out of town we stopped at the vin budin and got some beers for David and wine for me, since while I am German, I don’t really like beer.

Einstock Beer
Einstok makes a good pale ale for a decent price!

We had quite a bit of a drive ahead of us again, and for the first hour and a half we drove through the highlands without seeing much besides the obligatory group of sheep next to the road. We finally got to our first stop, yet another waterfall named Dettifoss, which is Europe’s most powerful waterfall. It is only 44 meters high, but the amount of water falling down it’s edge is impressive. It was also impressive how many people and cars were waiting for us at the parking lot. We stopped and walked the short way to the waterfall. There are two turns to the fall, we went from the second as you head from the east, which seemed to be the better choice. The viewpoint is above the waterfall and unfortunately there is no way to go down to it’s bottom, but you can still get pretty close to it and it looks very impressive. On the way back to the parking lot we turned left to see another smaller waterfall coming down the same stream, Haffragilsfoss. It was a lot smaller and had far less water than Dettifoss, but the way it was shaped it looked really nice.

Dettifoss
There was a double rainbow forming at Dettifoss as the water crashed over the powerful fall

Our next stop on the list were two former volcanic craters, Viti and Krafla. As we couldn’t see a real road going to the spot where it appeared on Google maps, we thought we would probably not be able to find one and just head up by foot, but as always, Iceland seemed to be more than prepared for the tourists. Just as we thought we must have already missed it, a road appeared to our right with a sign for Krafla. We drove for another 10 minutes or so, passing one of the many geothermal plants, of which Iceland gets the majority of its energy and electricity. It was the first time we passed one so close and we where hit by a wave of rotten egg smell, thanks to the sulfur in the hot ground. After surviving the smell, we reached the parking spot for the craters. It was a short walk up the edge of the crater, which rewarded us with great views of the area over the crater and the very blue lagoon in its middle.

Viti Crater
The water in the middle of the crater was incredibly blue and steam came up from nearby vents

After a short while we moved on to the next stop, Namafjall, which was only about 15 minutes away and one of the most crowded places we’d seen so far. Namafjall is an area with a bunch of geothermal steam vents, where the incredible heat of the ground streamed out. It looked very cool but an unfortunate side effect was the typical sulfur smell of rotten eggs, which seemed to cover the whole area. This made us leave pretty fast and move on to our last stop before heading on further north to Dalvik, where we would stay at an AirBnB for two nights.

Namafjall
A geothermal vent at Namafjall

After 20 minutes we reached Myvatn lake, where we stopped shortly to take some pictures of the Icelandic horses. We got some great shots, but also found an incredible amount of mosquitos, which almost didn’t let us get back into our car without taking one million of them with us inside. It was then that I remembered that I read about the lake before and thought the translation of the name was interesting, in Icelandic it is called the mosquito lake! That explained the huge amount of mosquitos and so many people walking around with mosquito nets over their heads.

icelandic horse, myvatn lake
Icelandic horse at Myvatn Lake

We reached Dimmuborgir, a valley with big lava rocks being displayed in all kind of crazy form and variations. The place looked pretty surreal, but would have been nicer if it wouldn’t have been made so touristy, with paved walking paths all over. The really great thing about all the natural sights in Iceland is that even with them being so crowded and sometimes almost too easily accessible, they are all free!

We only stayed for a short while and then drove on for about an hour til we reached our destination for the night and the next days in the north of Iceland. There we would find our favorite accommodation that we had ever stayed in, some great hikes up to the snow, and an amazing island 1,000 feet above the ocean full of puffins! To read about it and see some cute puffin and horse pictures, click here!

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