The Wonders of Iceland: Part 2 - Waterfalls, Glaciers, Auroras and Hot Springs
Seljalandsfoss, Eyjafjallajökull, Skógafoss, Hálsanefshellir Cave and Sólheimajökull
We head off on another day of adventures after a delicious breakfast of waffles with fruit, bread and cheese. They have Earl Grey tea which I've been dying for since we left New Zealand, so I'm pretty happy about that.
Our first stop of the day was at Seljandsfoss Waterfall. It's an impressive waterfall and you can walk right up to it, but if you get too close, you get hit by the spray which can get very icy.
I've got my 10 stop ND filter on to try and capture the movement of the water and sky as it's very sunny and bright at the moment.
On our way to the second waterfall, we pass by Eyjafjallajökull, the volcano that erupted in 2010 causing a huge volcanic ash cloud to cover Europe and disrupted flights for days. In the photo above, you can see the mountain ranges in the background. It's a picturesque setting and feels like the epitome of Iceland - especially the red and white buildings that dot the landscape all over Iceland. Driving through the country, in many ways I am reminded of the south island of New Zealand.
The next waterfall we visit is Skógafoss. This one is pretty awesome because there's almost always a rainbow next to it, especially on a sunny day like today.
Unfortunately the spray from the waterfall makes it hard to get a good photo of it but I do my best.
We stop for lunch at the Reynisfjara black sand beach, which was voted one of the best non tropical beach in the world by National Geographic. The beach is definitely not for swimming in though, if you happen to get caught by a wave, you are gone. These waves are called 'sneaker waves' and Linas tells us that there is no rescue team on standby because no local would be foolish enough to jump in to save anyone. Many people get too close to the water thinking it's fun, but then a sneaker wave comes along and they get swept away. Quite a number of fatalities have happened along this beach.
There are many interesting rock formations along the cliff side, including 2 caves with amazing geometric formations. Out in the distance there are a couple of pillars of rocks, that according to Icelandic legend, are in fact trolls turned to stone. Interestingly enough, a large part of the population of Iceland (around 70%) actually believe that elves and trolls exist.
After eating our picnic lunch on the beach, we head towards the Sólheimajökull glacier to do our glacier hike. A few of the tour group are not too keen for the hike so they go off to explore mor of the south coast, but the rest of us gear up with some crampons, ice picks, helmets and safety harnesses.
Our guide for the glacier hike is a Scottish guy called Kyle. He's only been in Iceland for a few months but he's quite experienced and very knowledgeable. He takes us up to the base of the glacier and teaches us to correctly equip our crampons before we begin our ascent.
Kyle explains that due to global warming, the glacier is one of the fastest shrinking. The signpost in the photo shoes that the glaciers used to extend to that point in 2010, and you can see how far back it has shrunk in the last 8 years.
The view from the glacier looking back down the valley to the lake is phenomenal!
Kyle is excellent at stopping every once in a while to tell us about the history and glacial geology - how the crevasses are formed, and the effects of global warming on the glacier.
This glacier walk was definitely the highlight of this trip so far - I am disappointed we did not have time to visit Vatnajökull, the biggest one in Iceland and explore the blue crystal ice caves, as it was too late in the season, but we will save that for another trip.
In the evening, we get back to the guesthouse and Linas grills up some lamb shanks (which I don't eat) along with some nut-steak for the vegetarians (which is delicious!).
The weather forecast is again cloudy so not much chance to see the Aurora. We all decide to head to bed and book in a Northern Lights tour for the next night when we get back to Reykjavík, but are not too hopeful as there is a huge storm due tomorrow.
I try to sleep but I can't help but getting up and looking out the window every once in a while. AT about midnight I decide to just go out to the lounge area and sit by the window reading. I heard that sometimes the clouds clear up a bit in the middle of the night and I didn't want to miss any opportunity to view the Aurora.
Around 2:30am I looked out the window and could see a faint white glow slowly moving and getting brighter. At first I thought I was just really tired an imagining things but as I kept staring out the window, my excitement grew as I realised that I was seeing the Aurora Borealis with my own eyes!
In my excitement I sprinted down the hallway to wake up Maurizio and we quickly threw on jackets to go outside and look at the lights.
We could see the lights getting brighter and brighter and then some of it was forming a trail and starting to dance across the sky.
It was such an amazing sight to see. The aurora was still there for about 2 hours, faintly, but it was hard to see much after the initial appearance as the clouds started coming back in and covering it.
I'm glad that we did get to see something in the end, even if it wasn't a full on storm like I'd wanted. Next time I will have to plan a much longer trip in Iceland to have the best chance of seeing something even more magnificent.
Hengilssvædid Geothermal Hot Springs Hike and Hellisheidarvirkjun Geothermal Power Station
After staying up all night to watch the aurora, I was pretty wiped out, but I soldiered on and joined in the hike. The weather was pretty cold, with huge wind gusts almost blasting me off the cliff sides but it was worth the trip. The view was fantastic all around, and after about an hour's hike you reach an all natural geothermal hot springs that you can go and sit in.
The hot springs are actually quire well set up, with paths built along and steps for people to safely get into the water. Even changing areas for people to swap into their swimsuits.
The only issue in the recent years is with the large volume of tourists coming through, a lot of them are not very considerate and leave trash, towels, empty bottles around the place. Linas walks around and fills three whole rubbish bags with trash as the tour group enjoys a dip in the hot springs. He does this every time he take a tour group up there.
I've learned that Iceland is a very environmentally conscious and green country. Our next stop after this hike was to the Hellisheidarvirkjun Geothermal Power Station located on Hengill volcano.
We are taken on a guided tour of the power station and learn about how it works. Apparently 100% of the power generated in Iceland is from renewable sources, with 70% from Hydro and 30% form geothermal.
99.9% of the homes in Reykjavík are heated with geothermal heat.
50% of the water in Reykjavik is directly drawn from already heated geothermal sources, while the remaining 50% is drawn from freshwater reservoirs an is actually heated in the powerstations to about 85 degrees Celsius and piped 27km (using gravity) to Reykjavík, while only losing 1-2 degrees Celcius of heat. Amazing!
They also are working on an experimental project to completely remove any hydrogen sulfide and carbon dioxide released from the geothermal process, by reacting it with basaltic rock, thus making it 100% green energy with zero emissions.
I'm so impressed by the dedication to sustainability here in Iceland.
After our power station tour, we head back to Reykjavík to check into our hotel (also rated as sustainable) and have a shower before meeting up with the group for a farewell dinner.
Maurizio and I had a little spare time so we head out for a quick walk around the town in the gusty wind and rain.
We pick up a few souvenirs and explore some of the design shops. I really love this city and streets and wish I had more time to explore. The buildings are very cute and colourful in the typical Scandinavian style.
We meet up with the rest of the group for a farewell dinner at a local restaurant. Someone orders the local delicacy, fermented shark and it gets passed around for people to try. I skip it but Maurizio gives it a try and finds it not as bad as he'd thought it would be.
I order a beef burger with waffle fries and it was pretty good, but very expensive. It seems that everything in Iceland is very expensive actually.
For dessert, we order a shot of Brennivín, or 'Black Death' as it's known. Brennivín is the signature spirit of Iceland and it's pretty strong.
It's not as bad as we thought, kind of like vodka, but it has quite a nice almost grape flavoured aftertaste.
After dinner we head back to our hotel and say our goodbyes. It's been a wonderful trip with a great group of people and we were very lucky to have such a good tour guide.
I'm really sad to be leaving and wish I could spend more time in this beautiful country, there's still so much more to see and explore, and I'll definitely be planning a trip back sometime.
I would highly recommend a trip to Iceland to anyone, it's the best place I've been to so far.
We have an early flight out to London the next day, where we will be resting for a couple of days and just catching up with a few friends before we take a train to Amsterdam.
Stay tuned for more of our adventures in the Dam!