19th Aug. Waterfalls, fumaroles, lava fields and craters.
The Bolearis slid into her mooring alongside the quay in Akureyri around 6.00am, nicknamed the ‘Capital of the North’ and regarded as an important port and fishing centre. As we vacated our cabin for breakfast at 7.00am, the grey cloud hanging on the surrounding mountains seemed to be lifting and visibilty was good, an essential element for a day of sight-seeing. The port is considered to be one of the best places in the world for whale watching, however we have seen plenty of those and today we wanted to see what was on land, we had enlisted on an 8hr expedition to see the highlights of the region.
We had left Akureyi behind and by 10am our coach was climbing the mountain on the opposite side of the fjord to the ship. All journeys on this island are either steeply up, precipitously down, or through a tunnel, there seems to be very little on the flat. Depending on the lie of the road, through our chosen seat window we either had tremendous views, a wall of grey rock, maybe the occasional mossy bank to keep the interest. Today our first port of call was to be the waterfall of the gods, Godafoss. We approached this mighty cascade from high in the mountains, its spray could be seen from a distance, floating high into the air, drifting away on an unseen breeze. Godafoss is set deep into the valley floor, we were practically on top of the falls by the time we could see its curtain of water, falling into its own made abyss.
Disembarking from the coach we made our way along a busy meandering cinder pathway to take yet more photos of a yet another impressive waterfall. However this one is special; it plays a role in the story of Thorgeir Thorkelsson, preserved in the Islendingabook, written by Ari Thorgilsson in early 12th century. When Christianity came to Iceland it divided the people against those who wished to keep venerating the old Norse gods. Suitably impressed and my SD card a little fuller, it was back to the coach and ‘upwards and away!’
Up and over the next mountain we could see on our descent the placid, blue Lake Mývatn, alongside which we were to have our lunch. Fascinated by its mountainous reflections and abundance of bird life, we travelled along its southern shore for several miles before rolling into the carpark of a small hotel.
We had been prior warned by our guide that there would be flies, indeed this lake’s nickname is ‘Midge Lake’, so it didn’t bode well. On exiting the coach we were surrounded by swarms of tiny annoying insects. Thankfully they didn’t bite, but they are incredibly stupid, swirling around your head in apparent madness, smacking into ears, nose, eyes, all the parts that really annoy!!!! Waving them away is totally ineffectual, there are too many. Only a head net would do the trick, but we hadn’t one. After ten minutes of standing outside the restuarant performing a crazy arm waving dance we were eventually allowed inside, where for some reason the little B*****S wouldn’t follow. Perhaps they knew they could bide their time and have fun later.
Lunch was mushroom soup followed by fresh salmon from the lake and it was delicious. I felt it was such a shame that our party consumed large quantities of a noble creature who feasted greatly on those pointless annoyances waiting for us on the other side of the exit door.
After a frantic dash to the the haven of the coach, next stop was the bubbling, mud pools and egg smelling fumaroles of Namaskaro. Exasperatingly, having travelled over yet another mountain, the midges were here too!
A panorama containing small scattered mounds of brightly coloured earth exuding wisps of steam and foul smelling sulphur drifted across what could only be described as a Lunar landscape met our eyes. In fact NASA brought their moon buggies to this area in the sixties to test them on its moonlike surface (or so they thought at the time). And, Perseverance Rover making its exploratory way across Mars at this very moment was also tested on Iceland. After more photos and video were stored away on card, it was time to move on.
The mystical landscapes of Dimnuborgir were next on the list. It is unclear how the peculiar shapes of rocks were formed, but it is suggested that a flow of lava met either ice or water and the resulting explosions led to the weird shapes that appealed to the producers of the TV series ‘Game of Thrones’. It seems that much of it was filmed here and our guide led us to some of those locations. We took our photos, but having never seen the programmes, we were only impressed by the wonderfully alien structures that nature has created. As a plus point for Dimnuborgir, no midges (well not many)!
The next leg of our saga took us back to the lakeside to see the vivid green pseudo craters at Skutustaoir and a return to yet more hordes of tiny, toothless insects! Sue and I practically galloped our way around these pseudo craters, annoyed on every step of the way. The surrounding scenery of mini, grass covered calderas set against the stillness of the surrounding lake deserved longer consideration but these meaningless apologies for wildlife put a stop to that. Even the coach didn’t provide sanctuary on this occasion, windows and roof vents being smothered in these unnecessary excuses for flies, frustratingly we were prevented from wreaking revenge by a driver who didn’t wish to clear their little squished bodies from his vehicle, drat!!!
On return to Akureyri our vehicle wound its way through the township. It is much larger than first appears and boasts all the amenities of a city. Our local guide was particularly proud of its very colourful and busy Lido. I am not so sure that I would fancy a dip in this pool , even if it is thermally heated, do they not know that we are next to the Arctic Circle and during most months of the year it gets a bit coolish here?
Our evening entertainment was again provided by the ship’s song and dance troupe, they really are very good, deserving of a more static venue.
20th Aug. Chasing waterfalls……. again.
We were still mooring up while we had a late breakfast. The water in this fjord was millpond still, reflecting the steep scree and shrubbery slopes, topped with a sweat-band of cloud to perfection. The little township of Seydisfjordur, population 740, nestles at the very end of the 10 mile long inlet of the same name, a string of light industrial buildings sweep along one of its shores. There is still clear evidence of a mud slide of a year ago which forced the whole town to evacuate overnight to another larger settlement in the next fjord. There had been persistent rain over several weeks, and though the population are well used to avalanches, this was unkown in the past. Several buildings were destroyed but thankfully no lives were lost. The citizens have since been putting in place measures to prevent another.
Our chosen tour today was titled ‘Chasing Waterfalls’. As if we hadn’t seen enough of cascading water, this tour promised a ramble and that was its appeal. By 10.30am, kitted out for some serious adventuring we were aboard the coach for a short fifteen minute journey down the fjord.
We stopped at the site of a 19th century deserted village and whaling station of Vestdalalseyri, there is little to see now as the early homes were ‘kit’ houses, they could be moved if the situation dictated, and it did. A well marked, woodchip trail wound up the mountain through the Vestdalur Valley, following a powerful stream that every now and then felt the need to throw itself over a cliff, inviting many camera clicks from those who live on much flatter pastures. Parts of the path proved a challenge for some in our party so the overall pace was not fast, but even those not wholly firm were resolute and stuck to the task and made it all the way to the very last but one series of cascades. Sue and I didn’t mind the pace, the guide was knowledgeable and kept our interest, plus the blue and crowberries were abundant and flavoursome!
Many photos later and feeling as if we had at last burned up a proper amount of calories we headed down from the mountain top towards our waiting coach, now parked a little further along the inlet. On the way we passed a couple of Icelandic horse riders, proud and resplendant on their colourful pony-like steeds. I had saved an apple from my packed lunch earlier in the week and had hoped to feed it to a horse on one of our subsequent trips. After getting permission from their riders the animals accepted the treat with much slobbering and juice spraying as they crunched into the fruit. We continued our downward trail.
We were back on board just in time for a late lunch and a round of afternoon activities. We ate our evening meal watching the island of Iceland recede far into the distance through the window of the aft restuarant. Its towering craggy cliffs gradually disappearing under darkening skies until they vanished from sight, but not from memory. The evening entertainment was provided by the Irish magician of a few nights ago and as before he was excellent, sending us to bed with smiles on our faces.