June 29, 2009
Today was going to be a short day of driving. We got up about 8:30 am; there were about ten Chinese tourists there, but they had mostly finished cooking their breakfast, so they weren’t in our way. Except there was some excitement when all the cooking and showering caused the smoke alarm to go off.
Once again we were lucky with the weather: sunshine with a few high clouds. Our route took us past the numerous tongues of the Vatnajökull glacier, which we had seen last night. We stopped a couple of times to take photos, and within an hour we reached the much-photographed Jökulsárlón lagoon. This lagoon with its very large icebergs has been featured in several movies. The tongue of the glacier reaches almost to the road, but it has receded enough to form a lagoon in which icebergs calve off the glacier. Some of them were pristine, some were dirty, and many were eroded into fantastic shapes. At the time we arrived, the tide was coming in and bringing sea water into the lagoon, so the seals and terns were busy catching fish there.
We walked up the shore, which was gravelly, until we could see past the icebergs to the foot of the glacier. We spent quite a bit of time photographing the various views, and also a couple of skuas which were fighting over a fish. We noticed that the tour boats only went out into the lagoon a bit, but not anywhere near the glacier, and decided that really wasn’t worth 2,800 ISK. The lagoon was a beautiful place and we stayed there for quite a while.
It wasn’t far down the road to Svínafell, where we would be staying tonight. But when we arrived there we found out that we could not check in until 6 pm, so we decided to drive to Skaftafell national park to have lunch and to go for a hike. At lunch it was discovered that when Christine had packed up the food this morning, she hadn’t known that we put the salami and sausages into the fridge last night. So, no salami and sausages. Oh well, jam sandwiches would be good to have too, so they were on the menu today.
After lunch we checked out the information centre before going on our hike. Our little hiking book had a couple of trails in Skaftafell, but newer information never hurts. So we bought a copy of the park map – English sold out, only Icelandic, sorry. Based on those, we decided to walk to Svartifoss for the first point of interest, then continue up the hill and go on another trail that would take us over to the glacier viewpoint.
The trail up to Svartifoss was very well-groomed. Not quite wheelchair-accessible but definitely smooth. We could see the rocks around the falls for quite a while before we got there; the columnar basalt was surrounded by greenery. The top of the falls was through irregular columns, and below that were perfectly regular columns. Our hiking book called it a “lava organ”, which was probably a literal translation from German but very apt in this case.
Looking at the park map, it showed a higher route which would go across the mountain to the glacier lookout, so we decided to go that way. The day was bright and sunny – 20°C according to the news at the information centre – so off we went. By now we were above the birch forest and into the willow tundra.
After a while we were getting close to where the high route was supposed to turn off, but we couldn’t see any trails heading off to the right. When one group coming down from the big hill up ahead jokingly asked if we had flashlights for when it got dark, we started to get suspicious. There was no sign of a cross-mountain trail higher up, even through binoculars. So Neil and Christine headed straight across country in the direction the trail should take, if it existed. The two of us remembered passing an old distance signpost not far back, so we backtracked to that.
Sure enough, there was an overgrown path leading off through the willows from there. We managed to follow that path all the way to the other end, although it disappeared completely in rocky areas. It wasn’t easy to see it in the bogs, either, but following a straight-line course worked pretty well to join up the bits, and we met up with Neil and Christine again just before reaching the glacier overlook.
The view over the glacier was spectacular, and we took quite a few photos. We talked with a Danish girl who lived in Halifax (Canada) for a bit, then hustled down the trail to catch up with Neil and Christine.
Back at Svínafell, we checked in and got the key to our little hut. There was a pair of bunk beds, a table, a sink with cold running water, and a kettle. It was a really good setup, although you might call it “cosy”. Paul and Rosemary had showers while Christine and Neil went over to the swimming pool. Rosemary bought a blue pullover sweater at the little shop, then we sat out on our porch enjoying the sunshine and watching the snipe flying around the fields.
Christine made a lamb stew for dinner, which was very good. The dining area was very noisy due to a large French group and bad acoustics, so for tea we headed back to our little hut. After dinner we just sat around and read, or finished off our journals.