11 April 2018 – The scenic East fjords and the stunning iceberg lagoon …….. [Iceland]
Day 6 of our Iceland adventure was another scenic one, we were heading East, winding our way through the fjords on the East coast, spectacular snow, mountains and icy waters. We communed up close with some Icelandic horses, and camped for the night in hands-down the most amazing place I’ve ever seen in all my travels – the Jökulsárlón glacial lagoon and ice diamond beach – complete with icebergs, seals and giant pieces of ice that shimmer like diamonds on black sand!
After several early starts and long days, the kids were up even earlier this morning at 6.30am. After the adults had been up rather late (this time successfully) aurora hunting again, we were not impressed!
Anto whipped us up an omelette and toast for breakfast, in the tiny motor home kitchen, and then we cleaned and packed up for the day while the kids had a play in the campsite playground. This was the first day in many there wasn’t a thick cover of snow on the ground at camp, so we didn’t need the snow suits. It was still rather chilly though!
Our original itinerary for day 6 had a lot of driving on the agenda, well-over 6 hours. We needed to head East to the coast and then wind in and out of many fjords, stopping in villages and towns on the way, with plenty of scenic stops and a few activities thrown in. The main goal for the day was to make it to the glacial lagoon and ice diamond beach, so we wanted to leave ourselves plenty of time to enjoy what was promising to be some spectacular scenery. There were a lack of open camp grounds on the East coast, meaning we needed to make it to Hof to possibly find an open camp site for the night. We somewhat doubted we’d get this far given how long driving on the icy and poor roads takes in the motor home! Here is our ambitious plan for the day…..
As we headed out of Egilsstaðir, we drove past the lake, which legend has it is home to the sister of the Loch Ness monster. We didn’t spy Nessies sister and we had plans to check out Loch Ness later in the trip while in Scotland. The kids were a little disappointed there was no monster action for the morning……
Having not enjoyed the poor driving conditions on some of the roads, we were dismayed when the route for the day was adorned with a large orange sign claiming the road was often impassable in Winter. Given this was the ‘main route’ East we weren’t feeling all that confident about what the day would bring. It was still open though, so off we set.
Despite there not being huge amounts of snow in Egilsstaðir, within 5 minutes of leaving town we could see why the road was often impassable, we had to head over a few mountain ranges to get to the East coast. There was the thickest snow we’d seen to date. The roads had obviously been cleared regularly by snow-ploughs but we were often driving next to snow piled higher than the roof of the motor home, and we spotted houses buried in deep snow!
As we came out of the mountain range and towards the coast, we started seeing less snow and the first of the fjords that are a feature of this part of the country. Like other parts of Scandinavia, Iceland has many fjords formed by millions of years of glacial activity. A fjord is a deep, narrow and elongated sea inlet with steep land on three sides. The opening toward the sea is called the mouth of the fjord, and is often shallow. The fjord’s inner part is called the sea bottom. If the geological formation is wider than it is long, it is not a fjord. Then it is a bay or cove.
As we wound our way in and out of the fjords, we were not travelling far in a straight line distance but circumnavigating each fjord. Most had the odd house dotted along and a town at the mouth where there was some flat land.
The first stop for the morning was Breiðdalsvík, a harbour town on the mouth of a fjord. As we were approaching we spied yet another beautiful black sand beach, and much to the kids delight plenty of Icelandic horses!
We had to drag the kids away from the horses to have a quick wander around the town. Being off-season there wasn’t much open in the town, although they did have a pool. While the thought of sitting in warm water was appealing we stuck to some photos and a leg stretch before heading back to the motor home…..
Off in the motor home and we were winding our way back around another few fjords. There was definitely less snow here, and it was interesting seeing some rather spectacular mountains, framed by stormy skies. There was of course, no trees!
Our next stop was Djúpivogur, a small town sitting along a fjord. The town was known for its interesting art work, including a sculpture made from bits of fridges. We found a few great sculptures and the famous ‘egg sculptures’ on the harbour. We attempted to visit a cafe, Langabúð, famous for its cakes and knickknacks, but it was of course closed. Instead we had a snack in the motor home, overlooking the harbour and then got moving again…….
As we wound our way in and out of the fjords it was scenic driving (and the road conditions were fairly decent). The mountains would tower over us and while some were covered in mossy grass many were bare earth. The lack of trees and grass meant that they appeared to be made entirely of loose dirt or shale.
Just when we thought the scenery couldn’t get much better, the sun finally came out and we went past a lagoon with cloud covered mountain tops and thousands of geese. There was uncharacteristically little wind, so we got some spectacular shots of the mountains reflecting in the water while listening to thousands of bathing geese calling, the sound was rather amazing……..
It was approaching 2pm when we arrived in the town of Höfn, on the edge of the Vatnajökull National Park. Vatnajökull, also known as the Water Glacier in English, is the largest and most voluminous ice cap in Iceland, and one of the largest in area in Europe.
Our first stop was finding an open grocery store, as our supplies were running low. With more food on board and our credit card wincing again (we were buying very basic supplies and every shop would be over $100 Australian), we went and parked on the edge of harbour and prepared lunch. Again we were eating toasted cheese and tomato sandwiches and Icelandic hot dogs. Vegetables would have to wait for Scotland, they neither looked appealing or affordable!
We weren’t sure why there is a giant unicorn horn on the edge of the harbour, but unicorn obsessed Astrid was impressed!
There were a number of walking trails and hikes originating in Höfn, including many to the base of the glacier. Given the poor weather (it was now raining again) and late hour we decided to view the glacier edge from the car and head to Jökulsárlón glacial lagoon. The Vatnajökull glacier is so large (it covers 14% of Iceland) that we would be skirting the edge of it for more than a day’s driving! We had an hour and 20 minutes of driving down to Jökulsárlón. We were skirting the edge of the glacier for the entire drive. Despite only being able to see the edge of the glacier from the highway, it was not hard to miss, you would repeatedly glimpse the huge walls of ice peaking out between the mountains. Interestingly there were plenty of farms, right up to the edges of the glacier.
After driving through fairly bare fields and along the coast for quite a long distance, we were starting to doubt that the Jökulsárlón lagoon was anywhere in this area (contrary to our maps and GPS, of course). All of a sudden out of nowhere it appeared…..
When researching Iceland, I’d come across many references and photos of the Jökulsárlón glacial lagoon and the ‘ice diamond beach’. This place just looked too good to be true and we absolutely had to go there! Like many places you come across when you are travel planning, you wonder if they will live up to expectations, well this place does. It is seriously the most bizarre yet amazing place I have ever seen.
We parked the motor home in the sizable car park and jumped out for our first glimpses of the lagoon, this is what awaited us in the late afternoon light……
Jökulsárlón or ‘Glacier’s-River-Lagoon’ (the Icelandic are literal namers) is a glacial lagoon, bordering Vatnajökull National Park in southeastern Iceland. It’s still, blue waters are dotted with icebergs from the surrounding Breiðamerkurjökull Glacier, part of larger Vatnajökull Glacier. The icebergs break off the ice sheet at the edge of the glacier and float into the lagoon and out towards the ocean. It is constantly changing and there are often enormous chunks of ice floating out towards the river and sea.
After a first look at the lagoon we followed the river under the bridge to the ocean where the chunks of ice that fall into the lagoon slowly melt and drift out to sea. The icebergs float out to sea and wash up on the volcanic black sand beach as the waves and tide bring them in. The black sand dotted with icebergs is a sight to behold. The chunks of ice range from tiny to enormous and are crystal clear. We were fascinated that they were so clear we could see straight through them. It was a stormy afternoon but the light coming through the icebergs onto the dark sand made for some amazing shots…… my camera was in over-drive as the kids and Anto were running around through ice chunks like crazy people!
After 6 days Iceland had continued to amaze us, but this place was something else! It was impossible to describe how spectacular and bizarre it was to see these ‘diamonds’ washing ashore and reflecting the light……
Despite the fact that it was cold and windy we could not drag ourselves away…..
Finally we convinced the kids we’d better head back to the lagoon, it did take the promise of seal spotting to drag them away. Yes, the lagoon is often populated by seals frolicking between the icebergs and apparently even small whales. We did not see whales today but we did spot a few seals, often popping their heads up and diving back down for fish!
Aside from seal spotting you could hear the chunks of ice crashing off the ice sheet and into the water, the sound was rather impressive, even for the small chunks! Over the Summer months you can do boat tours through the lagoon to get up close to the seals and icebergs. They don’t start until May so we had to make do with the impressive views from the edge…….
Our original itinerary had us heading to Hof for overnight camping, but we’d always doubted we’d make it that far. Our research had indicated that camping in the parking lot of the Jökulsárlón lagoon was allowed provided you had your own toilet facilities. We decided that spending the night on the edge of this lagoon free-camping was a pretty rare opportunity so we decided to stay put and hoped we weren’t going to be moved on.
Dinner was fish, veggies and falafel. While we were cooking and eating it had started to rain and most of the crowds had left. There appeared to be a few other camper vans looking like they were planning to stay the night (despite their lack of toilet facilities).
I had been hoping for some spectacular sunset photos over the lagoon and on the ice diamond beach. With the storm clouds it wasn’t looking good. Once the kids were fed and in bed (again we had to skip showers as the free camping in the parking lot for the night meant we were using our precious water supply). Around 8pm I headed out with my camera in hand, not feeling all that hopeful given the views I had from the motor home window weren’t all that inspiring.
Well there definitely wasn’t much of a sunset, but blue hour did not disappoint. I got some of my favourite photos of the trip in the rapidly fading light……
The blue light certainly gave the ice diamond beach a totally different quality. With all the tourists, bar a couple of crazy photographers, gone for the night I had the place pretty much to myself. Even with gloves and a coat on though it was absolutely freezing, and I lost feeling in my hands after not too long, totally worth it though! Thank goodness for a camera with high ISO performance, I’d decided to shoot hand-held in the fading light (mostly for speed and efficiency) and I still got some great shots.
The storm clouds broke briefly so I headed back to the lagoon for a couple of last shots in the fading light. The wind had dropped and without many people (or drones) around it was still and beautiful……. All of these were shot hand-held at high ISO too!
Finally at 9pm I headed into the motor home for coffee and to defrost, no sunset but some spectacular shots nonetheless.
The aurora forecast for the night had been quite high earlier in the day and we had high hopes of a repeat of the previous night, but in an even more spectacular location. Utterly exhausted from being up late every night waiting for green skies, Anto and I had our pre-aurora nap. Getting back up around 11.3opm. As predicted it was still rather cloudy. The sky had a distinctly green glow, and our test shots confirmed that there was indeed aurora activity, it was just not going to be visible behind the clouds.
While disappointed we weren’t going to get the holy grail of Northern Lights photos over the lagoon, we did get some interesting green cloudy skies, and the chance for a little more sleep!
Not to worry, it had been an amazing day of scenery again and we were camped at one of the most spectacular places on earth, so no complaints! We had plans to check out the lagoon again in the morning light before heading off for another day of amazing Iceland as we followed the coast South. There was plenty more spectacular scenery awaiting us…….
Daily statistics for Wednesday the 11th of April 2018 in the East and South-East of Iceland – we started the morning in Egilsstaðir at a balmy 2 degrees (no wonder there wasn’t much snow!). As we wound our way down the Eastern fjords the actual temperature was around 5 degrees (and windy) but with an apparent temperature of around 2 degrees. Hofn for lunch was 6 degrees and raining. Upon our arrival in Jökulsárlón the actual temperature was 7 degrees with an apparent of 4 degrees and 35km/h winds. The reason I froze while out taking blue hour photos was that the actual temperature had dropped to 1 degree with an apparent of minus 2! I do not regret freezing for those photos though……
The total walking for the day was 7.7km, a rather paltry effort, in no short part because of the large amount of driving. We definitely put away some kilometres for the day. Our total driving for the day was a bit over 340km or slightly under 5 hours of total driving for the day. Here is the map of our driving adventures for the day (as you can see we had modified our itinerary quite a lot from our plan):
Up next – more of that spectacular Jökulsárlón lagoon, in the morning light followed by its sister lagoon, the Fjallsárlón Glacier Lagoon. We also hiked to the Svartifoss waterfall and discovered the Laufskálavarða lava ridge before a stormy and adventurous end to the day in Vik.