8 April 2018- from West Iceland to Akureyri in the North……. [Iceland]
It was day 3 of our motor-homing Iceland adventure, and time to get some serious kilometres under the belt. We had spent the night camping on the spectacular Snaefellsnes Peninsula in Stykkishólmur on the western edge of the Peninsula. Day 3 we were bidding farewell to the spectacular West and heading North, leaving behind most of the tourist trail and heading into very sparsely populated territory. There was plenty of snow, amazing scenery and some stops to admire some gorgeous Icelandic horses. We also had our first experience of swimming in Iceland, outside, surrounded by snow!
After another cold night in Iceland we all awoke by 6.45am to a beautiful morning, and the last of a spectacular sunrise. In April the sun is up by around 4.30am this far North, but the morning light lasts a couple of hours, making a pretty start to the day. We had all been woken several times overnight by wind rocking the motor home. Wind is a huge problem and we had to keep a close eye on it as when it gets too strong you can’t drive and need to stay put. Luckily the overnight winds were still just under 20m/sec and we were fine to head off. It did give us a taste of what we were to experience later in the trip wind-wise!
It was a pretty amazing camping spot for the night, and we’d all been warm and cozy in our beds. This time with the luxury of site power and the electric heater (which actually made us too hot). We had a quick breakfast of cereal and released the kids outside in their snow suits for a play while we tidied and packed for the day and did the dishes. We were down to our emergency coke bottle water supply so were being super-cautious with water, and as much as we all would have liked a shower, that was not an option to start the day.
It was around minus 3 degrees but the winds were fairly strong and the wind chill was rather unpleasant and the kids were complaining about being cold, even all rugged up. They did amuse themselves exploring the campground and making snow angels. There were a couple of other overnight campers in camper vans but we still pretty much had the place to ourselves………
Unlike the previous day exploring the Snæfellsnes Peninsula, we had long stretches of driving ahead, and relatively few planned stops or activities until we hit our day 3 camping spot of Akureyri in the North. From our experience thus far, driving in Iceland is rather scenic if somewhat challenging. It was going to get worse today!
Due to the amount of activities and stops the previous day, and a little bit of an issue with the GPS and driving in circles, we’d ended up stopping 90km short of our planned camping spot for the night. The drive time to Akureyri was already in the region of 4.5 hours and with an additional hours driving on top, we were in for a long day.
We set off by 8.30am and it was another beautiful clear day (if cold and windy). Before long we came across a field of Icelandic horses and there was a spot we could pull-off so we had a little look, much to the kids excitement!
After bidding farewell to the horses we were heading away from Stykkishólmur and back towards the main part of the Snæfellsnes Peninsula. This section of road is where we got ourselves into trouble the night before and pretty soon we recognised the spectacular scenery, we’d driven this section a couple of times the night before…………
As we were driving through this amazing section of roads and bridges the Sat Nav twice told us to take turn-offs onto single-lane gravel roads, but seemed happy when we decided to stick to the main highway instead, not wanting a bumpy drive up a gravel road in a motor home.
All of a sudden it decided that we were now incorrect and the number of kilometres and time increased dramatically, despite road signs indicating we were still traveling in the correct direction. Having learnt from the previous days experience, today we were running the motor home Garmin Sat Nav, along with Anto’s phone and a google map. After another couple of laps up and down the same section of road and both forms of map yelling at us I dragged out the 2017 edition of the paper maps that Þorgils had left for us. It was now that it became clear that we did in fact have to take one of those gravel roads to get around the fjord we were driving back and forwards past, and we were not going to be able to stick to sealed highways.
We’d now been driving for an hour and hadn’t progressed past the same section of road we’d travelled the night before and were feeling despondent when we realised the road we needed to take was a ‘brown road’ in the map – meaning single-lane, dirt/gravel and full of pot-holes. We were allowed to drive on brown roads in the motor home but no F-roads, they are specifically for certain types of vehicles and were still closed at this time of year anyway.
After consulting all 3 forms of map and mapping device we decided which road was the least-worst option and sucked it up and got going. Unfortunately we were up for 100km of this less than delightful road experience.
The photos do not do justice to how bad these roads are. There are blind hills ‘blindhæð’ and more pot holes than road. It was bone-chatteringly bumpy. Everything in the motor home was clanging and moving around. Despite having thought we’d found good ways of stacking things so they didn’t move around, these roads dislodged everything and there was so much racket from things clanging it was almost unbearable.
The speed limit on gravel roads is 80km/h. In a motor home we were barely doing 5o or 60km/h most of the time and you had to slow down for every blind hill and sections of snow on the road. Somehow the kids fell asleep. The adults were starting to wonder what on earth we’d done deciding to come up into this area, it seems what we thought were ‘bad road conditions’ the previous 2 days were amazing compared to this!
There was slightly less snow in this area and surprisingly a few houses and farms. We didn’t envy the road conditions to get between their houses and civilisation! The drive around the fjord was pretty but not a patch on other sections we’d driven through, and we mostly just wanted to get off the peninsula and start heading North.
Just before midday we hit actual road which was bliss on our bottoms and ears! Then were drove past a farm of Icelandic horses with geothermal activity as there was steam coming out of the ground surrounding the horses. We decided it called for a break and leg stretch………
The Icelandic horse is a breed of horse developed from ponies taken to Iceland by Norse settlers in the 9th and 10th centuries. Although the horses are small, at times pony-sized, most registries for the Icelandic refer to it as a horse. Due to the extreme conditions, Icelandic horses are long-lived and hardy. Icelandic law prevents horses from being imported into the country and exported animals are not allowed to return.
Aside from being extremely cute, the Icelandic horse displays two gaits in addition to the typical walk, trot, and canter/gallop commonly displayed by other breeds. As you are driving around Iceland you see them everywhere. They are used for traditional sheepherding work in Iceland, as well as for leisure, showing, and racing.
The kids were enchanted by the horses and amazed by the steam pouring out of their paddock.
Once back in the motor home, we tried several (closed) camp sites in the area for water and every petrol station we drove past, with no luck. After we’d been driving for 2.5 hours we drove past where the planned campsite for the previous night was and we were very glad we’d stopped in Stykkishólmur instead! Given the gravel roads and the level of tiredness the previous evening, pressing on could have been disastrous.
We were now off the Snæfellsnes Peninsula and in the North-Western region. We’d elected not to visit the West Fjords as part of this trip – the morning driving had skirted past the edge of the fjords, which looked amazing but our research indicated you needed a good few days to explore them properly and we were pushing our luck with doing the ring road (with the inclusion of the Snæfellsnes Peninsula but minus the West Fjords) in 9 days.
Our plan was to stop at Blönduós for lunch and a swim. We hadn’t showered in 3 days and I was seriously regretting not having stayed up late to wash and dry my hair during our one night in London. Thank goodness for beanies! Despite the fact that none of us were getting sweaty we all really wanted a shower and we were not convinced we were going to find one at tonight’s camp site either. We were also weary from so much driving so a break for a swim seemed like an excellent idea.
Public swimming pools are in every town and city in Iceland. Seriously, the town may have a hundred people and they will have a pool. Swimming pools are a massive part of Icelandic culture. Every town we drove past we saw a sign for the swimming pool. Our internet research had indicated that Blönduós had an excellent swimming pool.
As we drove into town (the population of which is under 900 people, but that is huge for this part of the country) we spotted the swimming pool sign and headed that way. First we had filled up on petrol (no stations had water) and checked every camp site in town (none open, all pipes were frozen and no water was available). So we parked at the pool and walked across the road to the local ‘Bonus’ for more supplies. It was well past lunch time and on todays menu was the Icelandic favourite of hot dogs. It’s the only cheap form of food in Iceland, so Anto whipped some up for him and the kids and I had my usual cheese and tomato toasted sandwich and Icelandic potato salad.
The adults were tired and concept of going out in the cold in swimmers wasn’t all that appealing but we really wanted a shower! Public swimming pools in Iceland are almost all outdoor and are heated geothermally. The Blönduós pool was outdoor, and surrounded by snow. The kids were excited it had a water slide! There is a protocol for swimming in Iceland, which we were well aware of. Many tourists are sometimes taken aback by their strict rules about showering but it wasn’t an issue for us.
The reception attendant carefully explained the protocol to us and we headed inside, boys and girls to our respective change facilities. You get issued a locker key, with a wrist band. In the dry area (where the lockers are located) you take off your clothes and store them in the locker. You then shower and wash your hair in the open shower area. Towels and soap are stored in racks in the wet area and once washed you can put your swimmers on and head outside. The Icelandic expect people to shower naked and wash their hair and frown upon prudish tourists. They do not care at all about nudity or what you look like, but they are very annoyed by incorrect showering and scrubbing protocol. There are very clear signs everywhere and you are likely to be told off if you don’t comply……
Given our level of filth I would have had a totally public outdoor shower at this point, so was enjoying the hot water and didn’t care at all!
It was not so much fun walking outside in minus 2 degrees, dripping wet, with wet hair. There were a variety of pools and most were different temperatures (labelled). We started in the 38 degree pool and it was bliss! Unfortunately there are no cameras or phones allowed, so no pictures of us swimming. I’ve linked to the pool site above and it was a seriously amazing pool, so check it out if ever in this region of Iceland. It looked like many Aussie public swimming pools, but with snow piled around the edge of the pool and steam rising from the water. Here are some pictures of the locals enjoying a swim (most likely in Summer)….
The kids loved the water slide. The water going down it was heated but you still had to climb up the stairs in the cold! The pool temperature sign was helpfully telling us it was minus 2 degrees! The pool also provided free coffee, so you filled your cup and sat in the warm water drinking coffee while the kids played. These Icelanders had it figured out……
We moved to the 40 degree pool after awhile which was again bliss after all the bumpy driving. We would have stayed all day (and seriously considered it) but had a lot of driving still to go, so reluctantly dragged ourselves and the kids out. It was protocol to wash again after removing your swimmers and we were all happy to comply with another hot shower and hair washing. We then located the hair dryers and swimsuit drying machines (yes the Icelanders have it all!) and jumped back in the motor home, feeling far more refreshed and relaxed. It had been an amazing experience and we vowed to visit more pools during our Iceland stay.
As we left Blönduós it was after 3pm and there was a good 2 hours of driving ahead of us. Pretty soon it was back to the familiar scenery of snow-covered mountains and winding roads. There were still no trees and you can see where the snow cover is thinner not much grows and the dirt is dark in colour…….
You really do feel like you are in the middle of nowhere driving up here. Unless you are doing the ring road trip, most tourists don’t get up into these regions as they are a fair hike from Reykjavik.
When originally planning the day’s itinerary before leaving Australia, there was an option to take a longer route from Blönduós to Akureyri around the coast, but even then we thought the faster in-land route would be better on a long driving day, if less scenic. After the mornings experience of ‘brown roads’ we decided it was in-land all the way on the sealed roads.
We needn’t have worried about missing out on spectacular scenery, we travelled through multiple spectacular mountain passes and the snow was amazingly thick at times…..
It was lucky the roads were in better condition. There was a lot of snow, black ice and steep descents. Out the side windows we’d see mountains rising above us on one side with thick snow, and drops down into valleys on the other side. The roads weren’t single-lane but they weren’t wide and it was mildly terrifying at times.
We managed to avoid plunging to our deaths, luckily most of the time you could pretty much drive in the middle of the road as there were few other vehicles. We spotted many off-road vehicles with enormous snow tyres. The only way you can travel many of the F-roads and the only way some locals can get to their houses.
Through the last of the mountains by 5pm, and everyone well and truly over driving and we came into Akureyri, which is situated in the North East region and is Iceland’s second biggest city, after Reykjavik. At a population of around 18,000 it’s huge for Iceland and tiny by most people’s standards.
We headed straight to our planned camp site, which was out-of-town slightly, near the skiing area. It didn’t look quite as closed as other camp sites and while there was no one currently around, there were fresh tyre tracks and signs that people may have been staying here. There was no water available but we figured we could camp there either way so headed back into town to find dinner, with a plan to return later.
Back in town we finally found a petrol station with water (yay!), but no hoses other than for toilet emptying. We figured worst case we could fill the coke bottles from the tap and use those to fill our tank. Planning to come back later we headed to the harbour side for an explore and some food.
Akureyri is an important port and fishing centre. The area where Akureyri is located was settled in the 9th century. Akureyri is located atand positioned on the west side of the inland end of the fjord Eyjafjörður. It has a relatively mild climate (for Iceland) and is surrounded by mountains. There is a narrow coastal strip of flat land where the town is situated and the harbour remains ice-free over Winter, making it an important shipping port.
After eating every meal in the motor home over the first 3 days in Iceland, we figured we’d treat ourselves to a meal out now that we were in a town that had restaurant options. Unlike most of the deserted camp sites in tiny towns we’d stayed in so far.
Walking along the harbour we found a restaurant ‘Strikid’ that rated OK and was middle of the road price wise (was hideously expensive rather than unaffordable). The restaurant was up on 5th floor with wonderful views over harbour.
Promptly some delicious bread with chilli butter appeared. Astrid ordered a kids burger with chips, I had a sweet potato ‘steak’ with salad. Anto had a cod with salad and Soren a starter of langoustine with mayo.
All were fabulous but they’d want to be as with 1 beer for Anto it was a $150AUD meal! That was considered quite reasonably priced. Given that take away burritos are around $20 AUD each and fish and chips $30 AUD a person, it wasn’t too bad price wise for good food.
Dinner done we walked over to the church and up the hill for views over the harbour and town. There was plenty of snow around and a very pretty evening.
The town is not huge and mostly situated around the harbour. We had a quick wander down the main street and checked out a couple of shops before heading back to the harbour as Soren wanted to see the ‘big ships’ up close.
Akureyri has a reasonable sized airport and many people on short itineraries fly in. After the days driving we did think that would have been a more sensible idea! The airport is located on the harbour and is rather spectacular, so the kids got the bonus of seeing the ships while watching planes land…..
We were all cold, so we walked back to the motor home and headed back to the petrol station to find some water. The kids stayed in the warm while Anto and I painstakingly filled coke bottles from the tap. Even with ski gloves, our hands were freezing and we carried on until we both thought we’d end up with frost bite. We had enough to refill our tank but hadn’t entirely refilled all our bottles. Our hands were in so much pain that we figured we’d come back in the morning and refill again before heading out-of-town (another rookie error).
It was now after 8pm and it was back to the camp site. There were now a few other campers when we arrived, around 8 or 9 camper vans. It appeared part of the camp site was open. We had power for the night and for the first time it was considered open enough that we paid. After payment was received we got a code for toilets and showers and the staff said that they would try to find a hose for water (the water supply was still turned off for Winter).
It was another beautiful spot to spend the night, at the base of some ski fields and over-looking the town. Another bonus of snow-camping, you can put your nightly drinks outside in the snow to chill!
It was now pretty late and having already (finally) showered twice that day we elected to get the kids off to bed. The aurora forecast was moderate so Anto and I again had another late night waiting for the magical green skies. Sunset is very late and we got another great one, but no aurora…….
All in all it had been a long day on the road, with some very hard-driving. The reward was more spectacular scenery, cute horses, a relaxing swim in a geothermally heated pool and another wonderful camp site.
Daily statistics for Sunday the 8th of April, 2018 in the West, North-West of Iceland and Akureyri – the temperature range for the day was Stykkishólmur (Snæfellsnes Peninsula) was minus 6 to 4 degrees and windy, Blönduós (North-Western region) was minus 2 to 5 degrees. Akureyri (North East region) was minus 8 to 3 degrees.
The total walking for the day was a respectable 7.65km. Not too bad considering the amount of driving we did! Speaking of which, the driving for the day was planned to be 360km or 5.5 hours based on road conditions. With some back-tracking, getting lost and searching for water we did around an additional 100km and with the bad road conditions in the early part of the day the driving was closer to 7.5 hours. Here are the maps of the days driving adventures……
Up next – the 4th day of our Iceland adventures we headed further North, visiting amazing waterfalls, the town of Husavik (famous for whale-watching) and discovered the Asbyrgi, a large horse-shoe shaped canyon. There were more driving mishaps and adventures and plenty of amazing scenery…….