We had spent the last 5 days touring central and southern Iceland and today the plan was to reach the eastern end of the country, driving along Iceland Ring Road along the southern coast . Jokulsarlon is about 270 kms from the sleep town of Vik and along the way we wanted to catch a glimpse of Vatnajokull, the second largest glacier in Europe. This is the sixth part of my Travelogue about our Road Trip across southern Iceland, titled ” Glacier and floating Icebergs: Iceland Part 6″. Iceland Travelogue begins here !! . We had been to a lot of different spectacular locations during the last 5 days which included Gulfoss and Geyser, Thingvellir National Park, Kerid Crater Lake and the incredible Skogafoss and Seljalandsfoss waterfalls and yesterday had been to the Black beach and Solheimjokull Glacier walk. It has truly been an astonishing trip. We had almost skidded our car towards an accident and then had a car break down in the middle of nowhere. Everywhere we went, the natural beauty was striking and I myself had never experienced anything so dramatic, so magnificent in my life.
With its strikingly serene beauty, Iceland looks captivating and intriguing. It entices you to visit its desolate, uninhabited remoteness, navigating through miles and miles of unhindered natural isolated beauty. Table top icy mountains , snowy wetlands, blue lakes, turbulent oceans and gorgeous waterfalls peek at you from every nook , every recess, every bend and every expanse. Miles and miles of grassy wilderness, moss, lichens, swamps accompany you in your excursions and drives. And along with it you hear the sound of silence.
As we came back yesterday and let loose the day’s events, we were all thrilled and overjoyed. Never before had any one of us imagined of walking on a glacier and it had been an exclusive experience for the whole group. Hungry from a whole day’s activities, we had eaten home made food while we played loud music and lazed around. Homemade food is integral for an Icelandic road trip. The first reason is that you would need to drive somewhere around 12 to 15 kms on an average to find any restaurant or eatery. Secondly , most of them close by 6 pm in the evening which is really not the regular dinner time for us Indians. Thirdly, home made food is ideal since it gives fresh ,delectable food to which we are habituated and also specially keeps the costs down, giving you an activity to while away the lonely evenings. The next day is our 6th in the tour and the plan was to leave Vestri Peutersay and travel to Jokulsarlon to visit the floating glaciers. In between we planned for a visit to Skaftafell and we were booked at a BnB in Hofn, a fishing village east of Jokulsarlon for the night.
By the time we were ready to leave the next morning, the sky was dark and overcast and it was raining. You could almost smell moist air from the sea further south, and the temperature was dropping southwards. I was a little wary, we had a long 300 kms of drive for the day and just hoped that we did not meet strong gales or thundering rains today. The owner came to meet us and we paid him his dues for the place. Now most smaller locations in Iceland would accept payment in cash , that too only in Icelandic Kronas or Euros.
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The road was long and as we left Vik we had a last look at the mountain reef and the black monoliths of Reynesfjara on our way. They bade us goodbye and with a heavy heart we moved on. The road dissected open expanses on both sides and the sea ran parallel but just out of view from the road. Iceland’s Ring Road, which runs all along the island is a nice asphalt road, allowing a max speed limit of 90 kmph. Low lying mountains covered with ice, bordered the northern side of the road and we saw many a waterfall jutting out of these cliffs, foamy streaks of water streaming down the mountain slopes.
The rain continued for some more time, dampening our spirits as we were wary of facing it at Jokulsarlon. Now weather in Iceland is a fleeting event, it changes every hundred miles or every hour’s drive. About an hour later, the rain stopped and soon we met with a patch of sunshine.
And then in a flash we were in a land of green moss all around. Everywhere we looked, the ground was a shade of green and brown. It was such a change from the ice and black volcanic remnants that we were used to see in the last couple of days that we soon halted for a break at the side of the road. It was time to have a smoke and loosen our legs for a bit of walking among the greens.
We could soon see Vatnajokull. This is a massive glacier and sits on the central part of Iceland. Vatnajokull feeds many streams and rivulets around this region and is a massive sight. The glacier has five arms which spreads across the most of South eastern Iceland. From a distance, covered in fog and low lying clouds, the glacier looked mystical. About an hour later we reached Skaftafell.
Skaftafell is a prominent tourist destination and the epicenter of the largest national park in Europe, the Vatnajokull National Park. This area of Iceland is also famous for being the filming locations of movies such as Interstellar, Martian, Batman Begins and Lara Croft. It spreads across 5000 sq. miles and is rich in diversity with active volcanoes, gushing streams, waterfalls and sandy plains.
Built on the southern slopes of the Vatnajokull Glacier, it has different glacial walks, ice cave tours and the famous waterfall, Svartifoss. We did not include Svartifoss since we had included the three other waterfalls which we had visited earlier. The road to Skaftafell ended at a huge parking lot, and it was kind of crowded when we reached close to noon. There was a trekking guide office, an administrative office and a small cafeteria nearby.
This time we had no plans to venture into any trek to the falls or glaciers. We still needed to drive around 150 kms to Jokulsarlon, which is the main location planned for the day. Thus we just ambled around the place, took a breather, while the children went for a little walk. After some coffee and biscuits we decided to move ahead. This next location was one of which I had read a lot and viewed hundreds of pictures.
As we started southwards, winding away from Skaftafell, we soon arrived at a junction with a deli and everyone felt hungry. The deli was nice, had a few varieties of burgers and sandwiches with colas, hot beverages and water. We decided to stop to feed our hungry stomachs.
The weather dulled again from a bit of rain and some distant thunderous black clouds, as we started from Skaftafell. The crackling lightning looked beautiful behind the mountain ranges and the glacier and rain came bursting down the skies. Luckily it did not last long. The sky cleared again as we neared Jokulsarlon, and by 3.30pm we reached there.
Jökulsárlón Glacier Lake
If you have been thinking you have seen it all in Iceland, here is what can still shake you up from your reverie. The Jökulsárlón Glacier Lake is a wonder of nature. A large glacial lake, Jökulsárlón started forming as the layers of ice from the Vatnajokull Glacier started receding from the shores of the Atlantic Ocean. The lake meanders its way down into a river and meets the Atlantic Ocean forming a wide mouth as it approaches. And as it flows, it carries chunks and boulders of ice along with it, in two different shades of blue and white merged into each other. The lagoon is now the deepest lake in Iceland and falls to a depth of 250 meters to a volcanic river bed. During summer, the lake melts enough to allow boats ply around its mouth , enthralling tourists with the beauty of natural icebergs floating on its clear ,tranquil waters.
We drove towards Jökulsárlón from Skaftafell, absorbing the beauty of Vatnajokull as it bears witness to the beauty of nature which engulfs you all through the way. The mountain reefs and the glacier ridges go past you till you come to a huge expanse towards the south east corner of the nation. A bridge takes you over the lake and leads you to the wide expansive parking lot for the visitors to Jökulsárlón lake.
It was windy and cold. As we parked our cars and got out of the car, we drove deeper into our winter jackets and parkas. The chill blew against us, it was mid-afternoon around 4 pm and the sun was slowly weakening over the western horizon. We started walking along the shores of the lake , elated with the beauty of pristine nature around us. The icebergs rose at arms length, the sounds of chunks thumping and breaking into smaller pieces reaching us from afar. Smaller crystals float on the waters and reach the shores where you can literally pull out an iceberg from the waters and taste the ice cold droplets.
The walk spreads a couple of kilometers around the lake, a broken rocky beach bordering it and I took a walk along the sides , the waters carries the sparkling crystals towards you. The mammoth presence of Vatnajokull is visible at the further end of the lake, misty and mystical, the layers of snow and ice melt into each other over the expanse of the lake.
Here we met with some unexpected guests. A pair of seals were swimming between the icy chunks and were having a bit of fun and frolic. The were oblivious of the stream of visitors around the lake, living in a world of their own, busy with their own antics. Perching from one ice boulder to another, they jumped and dipped and swam and made merry. It was a fascinating watch.
Sunrise and sunset are the time to be there at Jokulsarlon. We waited till sunset , as the colours changed hues, reflected the golden yellow of the sun in every nook and ridge of the icy clumps, the sparkling ones reflecting a myriad of colours through its icy crystals. A small hillock adjoins the beach, and one can trudge up the way to the top. But the exceptionally strong winds makes you unstable on your feet and you need to be careful as you come down the hillock towards the lake. My camera ran out of charge by then and thus had to restrict shooting images with my smartphone. Sunset brought out a heavenly setting to the nature around and you need to be blind not to feel ecstatic with the beauty around.
It was a tough moment when I had to decide that it was time for the group to leave. This was supposed to be and had been one of the foremost sights in Iceland, which had totally enthralled and fascinated us during our trip. And as we started on our cars and turned our cars towards Hofn, the dying rays of the sun painted a mesmerizing view on one of the most beautiful sights we had seen during this tour. One never to miss when you are in Iceland.
The sleepy town of Hofn is at the eastern tip of Iceland. Facing the pacific on one end, Hofn is a settlement built around a fishing harbour. Quite a few hotels are available here and a few restaurants too. We reached Hofn, about 75 kms from Jokulsarlon, around 6.30 in the evening and witnessed the last rays of the sun setting over the horizon. It was cold and windy here too and “Milk Factory”, the BnB where we were booked for the night looked warm and inviting.
It was a day very well spent, and we had driven close to 270 kms from Vik . It was time we all needed to rest for the night, for tomorrow we were travelling back to Reykjavik, the capital of Iceland. It would be like a long drive home.
If you would like to read a summarized version of my Iceland Road Trip, with more emphasis on how to plan it out, CLICK HERE !!