Iceland Day 4: Flows and Floes

Dawn at Hvoll – a gray, cold,drizzly one. It was one of those days that justified our constant routine of donning 4 layers before stepping outside. Our fist stop  was a traditional turf house setting at Nupsstadur. The church here had very typical charm and at its rear were the very well preserved graves of family members dating right back to the early 1800s. It turned out to be another one of those recommended stops that look like not much from the side of the road. It’s also a great base to start hiking in the summer but in the wet and gloom, we could not afford the time to do so. One of the most striking bits of scenery was a waterfall that seemed to be flowing upward with the prevailing wind blowing strongly against the cliff.  We nearly lost our tripod here as I had left one on top of a turf roof to take a video! Thankfully we stopped just down the road at a bridge and noticed that one was missing and found it lying where we left it – no one else had visited in the meantime clearly.

The Turf houses and the church to far right. In the background is the upward flowing waterfall

The Turf houses and the church to far right. In the background is the upward flowing waterfall

We would soon encounter our first views of the vast skeidararsandur 5 minutes out from the turf church. We couldn’t resist stopping to take images of this magnificent wasteland and Marianne took her first pano of the trip after seeing some of my previous successes.  Once again, the conditions were awful but the scenery all the more spectacular for it and that overidden  any thought we may have had to stay warm in the car. The bridges look very sturdily constructed but one can’t help but think that in a flooding situation, they might be washed over. Having said that, the asphalt ground seems to soak a tremendous amount of moisture before even showing it. This is particularly deceiving when driving on gravel roads in a 4X4.


After endless bridge crossings and grey bleakness, we came across skaftafell national park and a series of glaciers flowing from the vast vatnajokull icecap. The national park had just opened and it was here that we would see the most number of tourists on our trip to date ….a hefty 5 or so groups !. We were short on time due to our prolonged stops at other places so instead of doing the full circuit, we decided to visit the 2 icons of the park – svartifoss and the skaftafelljokull (glacier). Svartifoss was a short 700m from the parking lot and is a unique falls flanked  by vertical basalt columns that are, as its namesake suggests, blackening in large areas. It is a very photogenic falls with endless photo opportunities and angles.  One tip for would be photographers – don’t try to take a bottom up view of the falls. I tried for a moment and because of a change in wind, the entire cascade ended up falling on me for a few seconds before I clumsily ran away while protecting the camera.

Svartifoss - it's basalt columns have been the source of inspiration for buildings in Reykjavik , and CGI for the movie Stardust

Svartifoss - it's basalt columns have been the source of inspiration for buildings in Reykjavik , and CGI for the movie Stardust

Following another thorough soaking, we then made our way to sjornaripa, a viewpoint of the mighty skaftafell glacier. The walk took us about 45 minutes stopping along the way to take some images of ptarmigans and chip & twiggy.  I’d never seen a ptarmigan before and if you haven’t, imagine a chicken but not just any ordinary chicken ; one that wears wooly leg warmers and there you have it , a ptarmigan. The scene that greeted us over the last ridge was nothing short of breathtaking. I may have been impressed by the front of Perito Moreno glacier, but from above, this glacier was just a beast! A slow moving, magnificent beast that draws you in hypnotically. The elements above the glacier were particularly harsh with a gale blowing up the glacier face. Satisfied and starting to get hungry and cold, we headed back to the car for the customary cheese spread and ham sandwich for lunch.

skaftafell marianne

Marianne trying her best not to get blown off the surface


The result of some persistence on Marianne's behalf to take the 36 shots making up this pano

The result of some persistence on Marianne's behalf to take the 36 shots making up this pano

The next glacier down the range of mountains was no less spectacular than skaftafell. Svinafell glacier was different in that it’s most remarkable feature was its stripes of black. It lay in a sheltered valley out of the wind hence, in the silence, you could hear hollow falls or ice and rock within the glacier itself. Listening with an imaginative ear, one might even hear the groan of the glacier moving itself. I almost lost my beloved black beanie here but thankfully Marianne wandered over where I had walked about 5 minutes after I noticed that it went missing. Now there’s an unwritten benefit of travelling with a loved one 🙂

The giant fingers of Svinafell gripping the earth

The giant fingers of Svinafell gripping the earth

Driving away from the glaciers was difficult to do but made easier by the fact that we would be driving to the ice lagoons. Jokulsarlon was the most famous of them and the one we chose to visit given that the day was getting long on us and causing some fatigue. Kilometers away, the lagoons flank themselves naturally in surrounding hills and a deathly eerie calm fell on the landscape approaching this area. When the bridge across the river suddenly appeared through the fog, the ice bergs appeared too in their full turquoise glory. Magnificent and other superlatives as usual – even more remarkable was the colour of the water and the wildlife within the lagoon – seals and birdlife among the icebergs from glacier fronts. The only slight disappointment was that none of the ice reached the gravel shores. The fog was quite dense and at times I’m sure it was raining without us noticing. We felt the humidity and dampness after an hour there and finally packed up and made our way to Vagnstaddir hostel where there would be no one to greet us!

jokulsarlon detail-1356


jokulsarlon hover

Some of the icebergs appeared to hover above the surface

We did however bump into rolf and Sylvia again and spent the evening chatting away to them. There’s nothing like a premade hot chocolate in a warm recliner after a cold day in the wild to stimulate convsersation. They were such pleasant company and a good way to end the evening in a social circumstance after the day’s isolation with mother nature. The hostel itself was very pleasant with a cute and cosy living area that was well heated and sunroom for those summer months that seem so far off from the weather we had been experiencing. There was a great deal of trust demonstrated by the hostel owners. They let us pick any room and didn’t come by to collect our vouchers or cash. We couldn’t even find anyone to give them to early the next morning when we left! We decided to leave a note with the vouchers on the kitchen table and hope that they would find it. As it turned out, 2 minutes after pulling out of the driveway, we noticed a car madly speeding after us ! We thought we might have been in trouble some other reason but it was just the hostel owners in their pyjamas trying to track payment down ! They simply turned around when we said that we had left the vouchers on the table – no questions asked ; another refreshing display of trust 🙂


Posted on May 31, 2009, in Iceland, M&D Corner, Photography and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Hello dylan and marianne,

    Hi i’m one of the travellors you met on the trip.
    I wonder if you put the dates correctly in you blog.In your blog I feel I did the same trip with the same circumstances. F.e I met you in Husey on 30 april
    Please let me know how to obtain some of your beautifull pics ?


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