Iceland part 4: East Iceland

Part 1 of this amazing Iceland adventure took place on the Reykjanes peninsula, part 2 continued in West Iceland and part 3 in North Iceland. If you want to read those 3 blogs first before you start reading this one, then click here to go to part 1!

Day 8 of 14: from Mývatn to Hallormsstaður

We are halfway through our road trip in Iceland. Today we leave Mývatn and drive towards East Iceland and our first stop will be at Stuðlagil (Studlagil) Canyon. We are back on the ring road, although I would have loved to go further north, take a detour on road 85 and visit The Arctic Henge or go to Raudanes Point. If only we have the time! I think to properly visit the country including the Westfjords (which is maybe the most unspoilt part of Iceland), you need a month and a good amount of money from your savings account.

From Mývatn it takes us about 1 hour and 45 minutes to get to Stuðlagil and we spend most of the time driving on the ring road, listening to the radio and singing along with the songs (out of tune of course, nobody can hear us anyway). Thankfully we mostly hear English songs, because our Icelandic is really limited (to ordering a beer). All of sudden I think about The Hardest Karaoke Song In The World, which I first heard before going to Iceland. The video is hilarious and the song genius; the best promotion for Iceland! I will share it with you now. I love it and I can sing along without any mistakes (really, I am not even ashamed to admit it and that means I know more Icelandic than just ordering a beer)!

We reach road 923, which can be reached coming from either the west or east and somewhere in the middle of the 923 is the turn to dirt road Jökuldalsvegur. It takes us south on the west side of glacier river Jökulsá á Dal (also known as Jökla) and we drive for another 19 kilometres. The scenery gets more beautiful, in between the mountains I see waterfalls with basalt columns as their backdrop. The sun is coming out and I am grateful to be here in Iceland, being able to make this trip. The best birthday gift I every gave myself.

We reach the Grund farm where we find a parking lot and park our car. We stretch our legs and go for a walk. There is a path to the riverbank, which is about a 5 minute walk. The view down to the canyon is pretty good and the columns just look spectacular. It may only be a short walk, but the path is pretty steep and since it is muddy as well, I decide I do not go down any further. Another frustrating moment for me, because I would like to get closer, but I do not want my knee to give up and get stuck somewhere. I tell Astrid to continue if she wants to and she does, but she comes back quickly. You can hear the water flowing from above and in the middle the basalt columns are red, like they are on fire. The canyon is stunning!

Stuðlagil Canyon was actually hidden for quite a long time underneath the water. When the hydroelectric plant Kárahnjúkavirkjun was built, the water flow in the glacier river reduced really a lot and that is when the basalt columns showed themselves. I do not know if the people were happy with the power plant, but at least something so beautiful emerged to the surface. If you want to go down to the river and into the canyon, you have to come from the east side of the river. You can find the driving instructions on the Visit Austurland website, I will share their link at the end of this blog. We did not choose this option, because we would have had to park our car far away and hike for a few hours to get there. But the view I got to enjoy from the west side was pretty good!

We drive back on the Jökuldalsvegur and stop before the bridge which leads to road 923. There is a little waterfall which is really beautiful and we just admire the view for a while. It is so quiet today, we hardly see any tourists. I love it (although Astrid and I are tourists ourselves).

We turn east, go back on the ring road and soon we stop at Rjúkandafoss (Rjukandi Waterfall). I have no idea how many waterfalls Iceland has actually, but each and every one of them is worth a stop (I cannot get enough). Rjúkandafoss is one of them and it is so easy to reach from the ring road. We walk alongside the water for a while and you can walk all the way up to the top of the waterfall if you want to. A bit further from the waterfall we find ourselves a pick nick spot, where we sit down and have lunch. How great is it to be able to have lunch outside this time of year.

We continue our drive towards the east side of Iceland. Just before Fellabær we pass by Vök Baths, but without realizing it. We did not have time to go bathing there (although I would have wanted to), but I wanted to stop there to have a look (that is me being the travel agent who is always curious). However, we did not see the sign (our fault, that is what you get when chatting away and driving). We are already crossing the bridge to Egilsstaðir (Egilsstadir) when I realize we missed the turn. I do not want to ask Astrid, who is driving, to turn back and I will save this one for my “next time I visit Iceland list” and then I can go bathing as well :). Vök Baths are floating pools on Lake Urriðavatn, it is a geothermal destination. Just like GeoSea in Húsavik it is a great place to unwind and let the body and mind relax.

We arrive in Egilsstaðir, but do not stop. We continue our drive, because next we want to visit Seyðisfjörður (Seydisfjördur). The drive on road 93 to Seyðisfjörður is just beautiful, the sun is shining bright, the road is asphalted and the views are spectacular. We are driving on Fjarðarheiði (Fjardarheidi), a mountain pass at an elevation of 620 metres above sea level. The road is actually pretty steep and alongside the road we see the poles for measuring the amount of snow. I can imaging in winter during heavy snowfall the village will be cut off from the rest of Iceland (well… there is always the sea on which you can travel by boat). So you have to be prepared if you are visiting this part of Iceland in winter: you cannot travel on this road in severe weather conditions. There will be avalanches, heavy snowfall and even landslides can occur, which makes it really dangerous. But not today, today it still feels like summer in Iceland.

After being on road 93 for only 5 minutes we see Fardagafoss waterfall on our right side and there is a little parking lot next to the road and a short hiking trail towards the waterfall. We keep driving and zig zag our way over the mountain pass. We see the immense blue Heiðarvatn (Heidarvatn lake) on our left side, which is popular for fishing trout. And just before we reach the village on the other side of the pass, we drive by Gufufoss on our right side, another impressive waterfall. You can almost have these places to yourself this time of year. No mass of tourists at the waterfalls and even on the road it is still very quiet.

After about half an hour we reach Seyðisfjörður. We park our car at the Samkaup Strax supermarket. The little town is nestled between Mount Bjólfur and Strandartindur. As soon as we get out of the car we can feel a very relaxed atmosphere. It may be a small town, but it has museums, shops and restaurants and from Seyðisfjörður you can do all kinds of outdoor activities. We go for a walk and can even leave our coats inside the car, since there is hardly any wind.

The centre of Seyðisfjörður is known for its many (and original) early 19th-century timber houses and the town as well as its location are very picturesque. The first thing we see is the rainbow walk / street which leads to Seyðisfjarðarkirkja (Seydisfjardarkirkja). It is probably the most photographed spot in this town and it cheers you up just looking at it. Before walking to the church we have a drink at Nordic Restaurant and I look around inside and find myself standing in front of a window and I see the lagoon; it makes a pretty picture.

The town has some visitors of cruise ship Maggalan that is anchored in the port, but it is not crowded. Everybody just seems to be enjoying their walk around town or sitting on a terrace, having a drink and soaking up the sun. We walk towards the church. Seyðisfjarðarkirkja is a blue church (and therefore different than most churches) and makes a pretty picture together with the rainbow walk. The colour blue is quite unusual for Icelandic churches, but I love it (blue is my favourite colour). We go inside, since this is the first church we visit which is actually open! Inside the church looks just as pretty as the outside.

From the church we walk around the lagoon Fjarðará, which looks like a mirror today. It is a lovely walk and again I end up taking so many photographs, because it is such a picturesque town. If you want to travel to Iceland from mainland Europe by car, you can take the ferry boat from Hirtshals in Denmark and after 2 days you will arrive here in this town. Today we do not see the ferry boat, but the cruise ship Maggalan, which will sail back over the fjord to the open sea by the end of the afternoon.

After our walk around the lagoon we sit down for a warm drink at Kaffi Lára El Grillo Bar and I treat myself to a Skyr muffin which is really delicious. Skyr is an Icelandic cultured dairy product, which reminds me a bit of Greek yogurt. We chat with 2 ladies who are travelling on the cruise ship and they come all the way from Australia. They started their cruise adventure in Ireland and tell us about their journey and their day today. They love this town just as much as we do and they walked up to the Gufufoss waterfall as well. Tonight their ship goes back to Ireland.

We leave the village around 5 pm (click here for more information about Egilsstaðir) and we drive back towards Egilsstaðir. We stop at Heavier Mountain, where we see some modern artwork, which is difficult to explain and I do not want to say the wrong thing or offend its creator. I love it when artists express themselves in their own way and that way art never gets boring. But to me the Icelandic nature is a piece of art on its own! I will post a photograph of Heavier Mountain below.

We stop in Egilsstaðir to fuel up our little 4WD and we go south on roads 95 and 931. We are staying in Hotel Hallormsstaður (Hallaromstadur) tonight and we arrive there around 6 pm. The area offers a totally different scenery from what we have seen so far during our trip; we have arrived in a forest landscape. Iceland is so much more diverse than people may think. The landscape changes surprises us all the time and the autumn colours make this area look really pretty.

We arrive at the hotel and check in. The hotel looks great and feels warm and comfortable. It offers wellness in case you need to unwind and you can stay either in a cottage or a hotel room. Hotel Hallormsstaður is located right in the middle of Hallormsstaður forest and overlooks the Lagarfljót. The lovely receptionist tells us where we can park our car, find our room, the restaurant and… the outdoor jacuzzi :).

We think about driving further south to Hengifoss waterfall after our check in (well… that was the plan). The parking for Hengifoss is not too far away from the hotel and it is one of the highest waterfalls in Iceland and has a spectacular rocky backdrop, so I would love to see it. But the receptionist tell us it takes about a 40 to 60 minutes walk from the parking lot to the waterfall. So it will probably be dark by the time we reach it and then we have to walk back in the dark. Not a good idea, although again it is difficult deciding not to go. Iceland simply has too much to offer! Oh well, another name on my “next time in Iceland” list and I better start saving up ;-). If you want more information about Hengifoss, then click here!

As soon as we heard the receptionist say the words “outdoor” jacuzzi, we looked at each other and said: there is a good plan B instead of visiting Hengifoss. We go to our room, change into our bathing suits and go outside and dip into the jacuzzi. The warm water is healing and the view from the jacuzzi is stunning. It is still quiet in the hotel and we have the jacuzzi to ourselves. We shoot a hilarious video to send to our friends back home (so we can make them jealous and no… I will not share it here) and the only thing missing right now is a bottle of bubbles and something chocolate! We bathe for about half an hour, watch the sunset (although it is a bit cloudy) and go up to our room to just chill for a while before going to dinner.

We stay in the hotel for dinner, we have done enough driving. The restaurant Kol Bar & Bistro in the hotel looks really cosy and we already had a look at the menu when checking in at the reception, so I think we will be just fine staying here. I order a mushroom risotto which is delicious and decide to have a cava instead of a beer. Astrid orders a pasta and a Boli beer. Although my birthday was on the day we arrived in Iceland, I think I can still celebrate it and I say an imaginary cheers to dear friend Brigitte back home, who told me to treat myself!

We have a good night sleep and since it is cloudy I know that I do not need to check my phone to see if there is any Northern Lights activity. I wake up earlier as usual and stare out the window for a while. The sun comes up on the other side and it creates a pink glow over the clouds.

Day 9 of 14: from Hallormsstaður to Höfn

After a good breakfast we check out and leave Hallormsstaður. We should really have stayed for another day. We could have visited Hengifoss, Kirkjufoss and Faxi waterfalls, go for walks without having to rush back and enjoy another sunset sitting in the jacuzzi.

We drive back to the ring road, we wanted to visit Eskifjörður (Eskifjördur), but skip it since we have a long drive ahead. Our first stop is at Útsýnispallur Grænafell, a viewing point where we park our car and admire the view over the mountains and the waterfalls. We see a group of cyclist going up the road and we wave at them and say “bravo”. Seriously, cycling in this country is quite tough, so nothing but respect for the cyclists.

We drive further towards Reyðarfjörður (Reydarfjördur), but stay on the ring road. Just like yesterday it is very quiet and we hardly come across any traffic. I guess East Iceland is less popular with the tourists, but I love it here. I enjoy the silence, the serenity of this part of Iceland. We drive alongside Fáskrúðsfjörður (Fáskrúdsfjördur) which looks peaceful. We see the mountains slowly being covered by clouds, but it remains dry. They just cover them like a think winter duvet.

A client at the work, for whom I booked a holiday to Iceland in July, told me about an orange lighthouse in the east and me, the lighthouse freak wants to see it. I tried to look it up online, but it is not the only orange one, since I got various search results online. And so far we have seen a few orange lighthouses along the way. I do manage to find the one she was talking about, after having seen her photographs. Hafnarnes Lighthouse is beautiful and we stop and park our car on the side of the road next to a few abandoned houses, from where it is only a 300 metre walk towards the lighthouse. From there we have a view over Fáskrúðsfjörður on the left and the sea on our right.

One minute it is sunny and the next we see the fog coming in, turning the area into a mysterious world. We can literally see the fog closing in on us. We watch for a while and then we decide it is maybe better to move on. This lighthouse is definitely worth a stop. The view is amazing, the cliffs give it a dramatic look and the abandoned houses something spooky!

For quite some time we have to drive on a very foggy ring road and we cannot even see the sea, that is how dense the fog is. We know the sun is somewhere behind it and sometimes it tries to get through, like when we reach Breiðdalsvík (Breiddalsvik), where we have a bit of visibility. But as soon as we leave the village the fog covers everything again. We miss the turn to Beljandi Waterfalls as a result of the fog, but realize we probably would not even be able to find or see the waterfalls in these conditions. Did I mention I have a list with “places to visit a next time I visit Iceland”?! 😉 Funny enough I do get a glimpse of Streitisviti Lighthouse.

We reach Djúpavogshreppur, which is the southernmost district of East Iceland and Djúpivogur is a very charming village, which has a long history of trading. Today the main industry is fishing and tourism has been increasing a lot in the last few years. When we enter the village we stop at the sign to learn about the area and see once more how active Iceland is when it comes to recycling. We have seen it in so many places or in our accommodations.

We drive a bit further and park our car in the centre of the village, on Mörk street. We see a few tourist busses coming into the village and tourists from every are walking around or going into the restaurants. We go for a walk and stop at Langabúð, which is the oldest house in Djúpivogur, originally built in 1790. It has been renovated and now it serves as a cultural centre. It houses some of the works of sculptor Ríkarður Jónsson, a heritage museum and coffee-shop with delicious treats and a display of local handicraft. Well… so I read on a website, but today it is closed unfortunately and I just have a look inside throught its window.

We continue our walk to the little harbour and see starfish and jelly fish in the clear water. There is still a bit of fog, but it covers the outside of the village. Still no wind today and the water is smooth as a mirror. I walk onto the jetty to admire the boats. This is what I love to do… Being at the coast, a beach or harbour… walking, taking photographs… I love the coastal life!

We see a little shop called Bakkabúð and next to it is a pick nick table and we decide to eat outside again. Our car is parked opposite and we get our thermos bottle to make a cup of tea and have a sandwich. We love being outside and from where we sit we have a great view over the lovely harbour.

After lunch I want to drive towards Djúpivogur Lighthouse, but I do not think we can actually get close. Instead we stop at Eggin í Gleðivík (Gledivík), an outdoor sculpture by Icelandic artist Sigurður Guðmundsson, consisting of 34 big eggs. The artwork is on the coast, about 1 km from the centre of the village, so actually within walking distance. I love the eggs and wait for a tourist bus to leave so I can take photographs without having people in front of the eggs. In the distance I see the lighthouse and guess what? It is orange 🙂 Before leaving Djúpivogur we stop at Collection nature art craft by Villi.

We leave Djúpivogur and continue our drive towards Höfn. The fog is clearing up but the clouds are still low and covering parts of the scenery. But we can finally enjoy the beauty of this part of the east coast. After about 20 minutes we stop at Barkináfoss, a beautiful waterfall. We can park our car next to the road and we walk towards the waterfall and can actually get really close.

Another 40 minutes on the road and we see another beautiful orange lighthouse: Hvalnes. Of course I have to stop and Astrid so far has not complained about me wanting to see as many lighthouses as I can. But then again, I can remember holidays where we stopped quite often at (shoe) shops (which is her thing), so I guess we are even now 😉 Next to the lighthouse is a long stretchy black pebbled beach, but the fog has closed us in again. We move on…

We drive for another half hour in East Iceland. We enter the Almannaskarðsgöng tunnel and I say to Astrid: when we get out of the tunnel, the fog has cleared up. It was a joke, but funny enough when we come out of the tunnel, it actually is sunny!

Travel Blog by Elisabeth, One Lucky Traveller

September 21, 2019

my Travel Tips for East Iceland

Our road trip has not come to an end yet! Do you want to read the next parts of this amazing journey? Click here! You can also sign up with your email address to get an alert for a newly published blog.

For more information about East iceland / Austurland click here! And if you want some footage of our adventures in this part of the country, then watch this YouTube video I put together (still no comments allowed, I am still learning how to shoot and make videos 🙂

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