Iceland Day 2 : Blue Skies and Ice
By Day Two, morning routines had been established – namely, we ate breakfast, I got dressed and Dylan packed away all the gear. Hehe. Well, okay I admit I packed the food, but only because I wanted to make sure that Dylan wouldn’t eat my share of lollies! The heaters are just amazing in Iceland, and with all our fancy quick-dry gear and poly thermals, they were a dream to wash since they dried by the next morning. Dylan would then down a swig of coke to keep at bay the road-induced dozing and off we went! I think he had a hard time concentrating; the scenery was just so surreal! Good thing there weren’t too many oncoming cars, and the Suzuki Grand Vitara we hired handled quite well.
Our first stop was really quite random. Heading east along Route 32, Dylan spotted a lookout which was not named and drove up. After a short walk uphill, the views of the Thjorsa valley and delta-like appearance of the river that greeted us was simply amazing. I think this was about the point that Dylan got bitten by the Panoramic-Bug. Very dangerous, this bug. It is known for notoriously chewing up a LOT of memory card space! This lookout was also the first of our many encounters with sheer cliffs. Unlike Innes National Park, where the cliffs would taper off to the coast and you didn’t really feel like you would fall to imminent death, rock shelves in Iceland frequently drop perpendicular from the edge or even more than 90 degrees. A little terrifying for the likes of those afraid of heights!
Our next experience in trying to find Stong , an old farmstead, was an exercise in knowing that we should have asked. Stong itself is an archaeological dig some 20 minutes into a very rough dirt road which stopped in a river crossing that we did not attempt (there’s fine print in the rental vehicle contract about river crossings and not being covered and so forth…). Unfortunately, this meant that Gjain was therefore not accessible to us. We found out later that we were not looking for Stong after all but its more recent reconstruction which went by the name of Thjolveldisbaer. This place was 2 minutes off the main road! The two turf-covered buildings were interesting if not a little brown from winter still – I’m sure it looks just gorgeous in summer covered in green.
We would visit many waterfalls that day all of which were spectacular. The first of these was Iceland’s version of Mount Field’s Horseshoe falls. Hjalparfoss, however, was a raging torrent and set in the extreme opposite of Tasmania’s quiet forest. The fall is guided to its base by basalt chutes in almost alien-like formations. The stream then flows through what looks to be a gateway from a scene in Stargate rather than reality and was stunning in an architectural sense.
Our next stop would take some getting to. The waterfall pair of Haifoss and Granni were some 10 km on a very rough dirt road heading toward the highlands. The actual turn off to the falls along the road was not signed however (probably fell down in the big gusty winds) and Dylan happened to take a lucky guess when he saw a track heading toward the only canyon in sight – if it were just me, I would’ve given up and gone straight back down! I really am afraid of getting stuck in a mud puddle, let alone in Iceland, up a dirt track, with maybe 2 tourists visiting every other day! After a short trek through snow and a blustery freezing wind, we arrived at a magnificent scene; with sheer cliffs on either side framing numerous waterfalls plummeting off a plateau on the opposite canyon wall into a swift-flowing river below, it was a sight to behold. As the winter ice had not yet completely melted, these falls gave the appearance of falling into massive pots carved of ice. The roaring waters of Haifoss in particular were deafening even from the other side of the rift.
The journey back is always faster and we retraced our steps back along Route 32 to the Ring road after a quick stop for lunch, which consisted of cheese spread layered thickly across bread and topped off with cold meat. With such cold temperatures, there was no need to worry about spoiling food, and in fact we quite safely drove around with milk, cheese and meat in our boot during the days and storing them in hostel fridges overnight. Our next stop was Seljalandsfoss. Certainly one of my favourite waterfalls, but one of the wettest if only because you can actually walk behind them! When we arrived, we dragged on our waterproofs for the first time ever. I will forever be so grateful that I had some sort of mad shopping spree that possessed me to buy those because after that day, we wore them for 12 hours a day, every single day. Not only did they keep us dry, they kept the wind out and I have never been toastier in my life! Well, I was wearing two more pants and three more tops underneath those outer garments, but hey, it was cold!
So back to the fosses (waterfalls). Seljalandsfoss is the largest, most visited and one of the most beautiful falls in Iceland. We spent over an hour at this site, having a field day with all sorts of angles and trying to keep the huge amounts of spray off our lenses. It was a bit of a challenge as the day was quite sunny as well, so while I got the blue skies I was hoping for, turns out that it was a memory card-chewing day too as we had to bracket almost all our shots to capture the full dynamic range of the scenes we saw. Anyway as we were getting ready to go, Dylan says, “Wait! Can you just stand near the falls for one last shot?” So I went as close as I could without getting blasted with spray (still a good 10-15 metres from the water) and I probably stood there for about 8 minutes, wondering what Dylan was doing… turns out he took the picture below AND a HD-vid.
Slightly further on, Glujurjarfoss is also worth a visit as its bottom half is only visible through a narrow canyon. Dylan had planned to wade through to its base and as I watched him take off his boots and socks I thought about painful numb cold feet and sure enough, no more than 10 seconds into the wade he was jumping back out again! There’s pretty much only one way to take these falls if you’re not prepared to freeze your feet off and wander inside.
If Seljalandfoss was beautiful, Skogafoss some 20 minutes down the road would match it. It’s the start of a trek to Thorsmork which we did not have time to do, so we contented ourselves with wandering around the base and up the stairs to the top (well, Dylan went up). The amount of water falling from this fall is impressive and in the sun, rainbows emerged vibrantly from amongst the spray. Whilst I was composing a panorama at the bottom of the falls, Dylan climbed to the top, and it would be the first time he met Rolf and Sylvia, a like-minded, very friendly German couple who were travelling the Ring road as well, and started at about the same time we did. We would bump into them several times more, and form what I like to call a travelling friendship.
I eventually met Rolf and Sylvia at the Vik hostel. This was a lovely place with a setting on a hill overlooking the small town, on the southernmost tip of Iceland. It’s frequently raining in Vik and on our one day there, our experience did not deviate from the norm. The hostel had wifi access and all the standard facilities and its owner was very helpful in telling us what there was to do and see around the area. That evening, we drove out to the wildlife reserve on the far west side of Reynifjara to see if we could catch anything at sunset. Whilst I was trying to make something out of waves and black sand, Dylan came hurrying over to tell me he had seen puffins!! So I hurried back with him, but unfortunately darkness was closing in fast, and my puffin sighting was limited to 6 black blobs on the edge of a cliff. They flew off shortly after into the night. According to the hostel owner, they had just arrived on the shores and in a few days time, that whole area would be closed off for their nesting season. We headed back after that, and planned to go to Vik beach the next morning.
-M (edited from D’s memoirs)
Posted on May 21, 2009, in Iceland, Photography and tagged dylan toh, Everlook, everlook photography, haifoss, hjalparfoss, Iceland, Landscape, marianne lim, Nature, Photography, seljalandsfoss, skogafoss, thjorsa valley, Travel, Waterfall. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.