Days 5, 6 & 7- Vik, Vatnajökull Glacier walk, Svartifoss, Glacier Lagoon, Hofn
By the time we were ready to close our droopy eyes, tuck the cold feet in warm duvet, and call it a day, It was already 11 pm. It was dark outside… where was the Midnight Sun, I wondered. Likely, brooding behind the thick blanket of rain clouds that had appeared on the horizon a day before, out of nowhere. Arctic storm, they muttered.
We had been in Iceland for 5 days already. Why does time start flying at the speed of a racecar on the Autobahn, when you start a holiday… The same time that refused to budge another week, during all those months of planning and anticipating.
We had a few glorious sunny days flitting between touristy spots on the Golden Circle on Day 1, the perfect Day 2 spent on Vestmannaeyjar (Heimaey Island), the long but awe-inspiring Trek to Landmannalaugar on Day 3 (when the first rain clouds blossomed) and the verdant, lush hike through Fimmsvorduhals on day 4… In a tolerable light drizzle. By this day thankfully, I had picked up a long raincoat from “Icewear”, the expensive purchase touted as a souvenir, but a useful one at that.
Day 5- Reynisfjara, Vik, No Dyrhólaey
This particular day-number 5 (whose end, began this story) was the first day of disappointments. Not everything stays perfect on any holiday or so we reminded ourselves.
We woke up in Hella in our beautiful “English” summer cottage to a typical dreary English winter morning… torrential rain, billowing wind, and poor visibility. The task of packing and shifting our bags to the car was wet and squelchy, one hand busy muscling the car doors from being blown away and trying our best to not get groceries all soaked and mushy. Forget the undergarments that needed drying (let’s not shy away from practical details).
This day, as our expectations stood, we were to behold the pretty Southern town of Vik, its rustic red and white church spire framed by lupins, in the foreground and a contrasting dark background of black beach with lava stacks, looming over the horizon like the giant trolls that they were representing. We had seen a lot of such pictures, in every season, and were paying a lot to live around Vik and close to the mystical Reynisfjara (black beach), the deadly black beauty. I was hoping to spot puffins in plenty and up close (having been disappointed at Storhofdi due to timing) and maybe hike to the Dyrholley lighthouse. The day was to be winded down by having hot chocolate from a cafe called Skool Beans… Run from inside a school bus and savor some beautiful Arctic macarons.
But in reality, smashing all vain expectations, the day was so dark, so brooding and so wet that other than the window wiper and the tail lights of the car in front, there was only a world of grey to be seen. Since we had driven a part of this route a few times (to and fro from Vestmannaeyjar ferry terminal) we knew exactly what we were not seeing– the expansive verdant plains on either side of the road flanked by majestic snow-covered volcanic peaks.
Light Fog or were they stratus clouds, blanketed everything… Including the gorgeous views of the supposedly stunning Southern coast of Iceland.
The mighty Reynisfjara was washed out… Wet and cold. Either because we had seen so many pictures already or because the rain was just annoying, the wow factor never came. There were still too many people, and the expected contrast between the water and the beach and the sky was missing because it was all a grey blur… And there we still a queue to climb the columns which were best located.
Took some mandatory pictures of the basalt stacks and quickly ran back to the car.
Drove to the town of Vik in a downpour and spotted the church on a street high above the town so turned the car towards it. Now, usually this would be a beautiful walk up and down the side of a hill to get a good picture against the omipresent lupins. But in the rain, it was just me and my doggedness that stepped out of the car… Trying to get a decent vantage point for a tolerable pic to remember this spot.
One ray of sunshine was that we spotted the Katla wool shop close to the church and decided to enter it.
Warmth of a small hill cabin engulfed us as two large canines trotted out to welcome us and immediately laid next to our feet for belly rubs. These two were so sweet and so friendly that finally there was a smile on my grumpy face. The owner then sauntered in all smiling and warned us that the greedy dogs will seduce us with there beatific faces and we would end up rubbing them all day long…
We picked up the most genuine Icelandic lopapeysa headbands and a woolen throw and some soaps from this gem of a shop.
Drove down to the main Street in town which was overshadowed by a huge icewear store next to a huge(r) Kronur and was milling with tourists who would just shop some more rather than be wet and miserable anymore.
By now we had almost everything we already needed or wanted in terms of souvenirs or essentials and we picked up a coffee and warmed ourselves browsing the aisles while our son was trying to finish yet another book about trolls. 😊(Incidentally our favourite souvenirs from the trip, apart from sheep skin were the books).
Not knowing what to do next and feeling a bit crappy spending all this precious time trapped inside a shopping complex on this beautiful island… I thought what the hell, let’s accept the vagaries of weather as part of the quintessential Icelandic experience and we stepped out again in the rain determined to make the most of whatever. In hindsight, this was a good mindset to have because the next 8 days were nearly the same!
Me, Stubbornly, and the rest of the company begrudgingly, trooped to the Vik beach, got wet some more.. no sea or sunset or stacks to be seen.
Spotted a shade of yellow and realized it must be the Skool Bus cafe… Though they were just shutting down, the staff obliged us with a coffee and hot chocolate which we sipped in our car as we decided to call it a day and head to”The Barn”… This was our first ever shared bathroom accommodation but the apprehension was laid to rest as it was squeaky clean and well-maintained property with a well-stocked communal kitchen.
By now, constantly checking the weather app hoping for better weather at the next stop had become a tic.
Thanks to this I noticed that there was a window of no rain early the next morning from 4-6 am… And the maniac in me decided we’d wake up early (which would also help us get unused clean washrooms) but we might be able to hike to Dyrhólaey or see Reynisfjara sans the “Reyn”.
Day 6- Glacier Walk, Svartifoss
In reality, by the time we finished brekkers and the washing up.. it was nearly 6… It had started drizzling again… Though we got to see some more of the vista without the mist.
Getting ready early turned out to be lucky as we had underestimated the time to reach the next stop.. for the glacier hike near Vatnajokull. We reached in time, geared up with harnesses, ice axes, and carrying our crampons, boarded the super-jeep (glad for this Icelandic experience), and headed towards the moraine on a bumpy ride.
The glacier hike with local experts was great, though we had the shorter safer version that was allowed with a 10 yr old kid. We were dreading a lot of rain but thankfully while on the glacier it was mostly cloudy without any rain so we could enjoy the hike.
Interestingly, our group had a couple from the US who were the directors/ producers of the Netflix documentary… The Volcano-Rescue from Whakaari which we saw later, and in retrospect realized that we must give nature the due respect… Especially in a place like Iceland.
We had planned to do the Svartifoss-Sjonarnipa hike that day but were tentatively looking at the weather. As we finished the glacier hike, dark clouds again loomed but it had not yet started pouring.
Taking this as a positive on the whole, we decided to take the hike. And what a great decision that was. The weather stayed mild, cloudy but no rain and since we opted to hike this in the counterclockwise direction, we had the advantage of having the beautiful trail mostly to ourselves. This particular trail leads up to another lip of the Vatnajokull Glacier with majestic views.
Svartifoss was brilliant too.. and one could figure out why the architect of Hallgrimskirkja was inspired by this natural formation. There is a detailed post on this hike that you should read.
By the end of the hike, it was 6 pm already and I presume weather gods who had been too indulgent so far, decided to go on a rampage.
We were to sleep tonight at Hofn, and on our way, we were going to pass by the Glacier Lagoon, the gem of the South Coast.
Earlier in the day, I being a typical nagging wife was questioning my dear husband, as to why we hadn’t booked the Glacier Lagoon on the same day as the hike since it was on the way to Hofn (pronounced hup) and we could have avoided driving back next morning.
Now I understood why. Of course, we didn’t/ couldn’t have predicted the weather earlier but by evening it started to pour in earnest. But worse than the rain was the dense fog. 20 mt visibility, if you could believe me 😅
Could see absolutely nothing other than the tail lights in front, which I thought was a crutch to hold on to but which thoroughly irritated our dear driver daddy.. who’s used to lead.
As the GPS showed us approaching the lagoon, I was swiveling my neck to behold this majestic sight but nothing was visible. In fact, the fog was worse and denser near this water body. We saw some cars turning towards the lagoon exit and couldn’t help but wonder if they were off their rockers.
Of course, everybody, unlike us, probably didn’t have the luxury of time and 16 days on the ring road. And probably they just had to see whatever they could see before returning back to Reykjavik (many tourists do only Reykjavik and the south coast, the lagoon being the last point).
I was trying to find pictures from this evening but clearly there was too much tension in the car, all eyes on the road ahead to bother with any photography!
Anyhow, we learned the next day that all boat rides had been canceled the previous evening because of zero visibility.
Hence the importance of keeping a wider window during planning.
Nobody had mentioned fog in June. This was so scary and so not predicted that I went into a bit of panic. Road.is though seemed completely calm mentioning these same roads as easily passable. I guess Icelanders are used to this and as long as you stick to the lane you shall eventually cross the fog zone, though not without much stress.
We reached Hofn, fixed a meal, and dozed off. Not before eyeing the gloomy vacant town with unease. Where were the tourists? Were we the only stupid ones staying in this stupid sleepy town? This was all my internal dialogue happening. DH has a more solid steady head. Thankfully
Day 7- Glacier Lagoon, Diamond Beach, No Múlagljúfur Canyon hike, No Vestrahorn
Day 7 was probably the wettest and clammiest, by far. Now, I was descending into that low mood that accompanies the lack of sunlight and the incessant deluge with everything squidgy and slushy. I was tired of the wet raincoats which needed to be worn as soon as one got out and to be removed every time one got back in the car. But worst was the lack of a view. Icelandic road trip is all about the spectacular vistas and to be missing most of this leg was getting to me. To top it off, we were getting late for the boat ride… meaning we should have reached by 9:30 for a zodiac tour at 10 (with Ice Lagoon) but we were reaching at 10 sharp as per the GPS.
Expecting some prior gearing up and safety briefing, this was cutting it too close, and missing it would have been the last straw.
I tried to speak to them on the phone (which in hindsight was smart) but they said they of course couldn’t make others wait. However, the person on the other side did mention that we should try to reach the big blue truck directly as we run towards the lagoon and not dawdle to take pictures, etc…. Couldn’t he see that there was no view to take pictures of?
We raced, as much as was allowed by the speed limits and the visibility, and screeched into the parking lot where I promptly jumped out first and reached the truck drenched.
The fellow behind the counter wanted to say get lost. But for some reason he didn’t… maybe he saw I was at my breaking point… maybe he thought we deserved a soaking ride after all and he gave us our wet suits and drove our family in a separate super jeep going full-throttle and full-bumpy, and made us reach the rest of the group already assembled on the beach, who had made the same ride slowly and smoothly in a bus. Because they had been on time. (*Sheepish expression)
Glacier Lagoon would have definitely been a mind-blowing experience if the weather had been any better. I imagine it would have been a placid, calm, and cold place of ethereal beauty.
The beauty was still there, in the form of glacial blue icebergs but in a not-so-restful setting. It was a steady downpour. Though we were not cold or essentially wet…the rain with the wind was like shrapnel on the face and add to it the water from the Lagoon being splashed from all sides. Somehow water managed to trickle inside my boots and enjoying anything in wet squelching socks is not very easy. Nonetheless…
We finished the tour, went back to the shop, shed our dripping wetsuits, spent 10 minutes rummaging through the pile of wet-wetsuits to look for the car keys which we thought were in one of the suit pockets and then walked to the car park getting soaked yet again.
When one is planning, and imagining a trip, there are so many nuggets of information that come up, one of them I vaguely recalled, mentioned some delicious food trucks at the lagoon parking. While DH headed to pay the parking fee, I tried to look for them. They were so close but thanks to the downpour, we hadn’t spotted them earlier! The end result was steaming cups of soup and the best fish and chips ever, according to hubby…I guess anything served hot and piping that day would have been the best meal ever!
Just out of the parking lot and across the road was the Diamond Beach. We would have missed it if he hadn’t spotted a packed parking lot! Once we parked we realized where we were. At this point, the little one refused to again get out and wet. So it was again me and DH, the designated photographers who geared up yet again, the rain jacket and the gloves and stuff to brace the weather and click some shots! Every moment was worth it, I’ll tell you!
If all had gone according to plan and if the weather gods had stopped messing around, we would have done another magnificent hike here with the complicated name of Múlagljúfur Canyon hike, one of those less well-known but spectacular ones with tens of falls seen across a canyon. What can we say, we missed it. But that’s the truth about travel, you make a whole lot of plans and then enjoy whatever, materializes. Also, this evening we had to visit Vestrahorn, the better-known mountains also on the south coast, but we couldn’t. If you have done your homework and seen the pictures, you would know that the charm lies in visiting on a sunny day when one catches the spectacular reflections in the water. No such sun around today and a whole lot of precious fog blanketing everything, so we tucked in our wet tails and headed straight back to Hofn and to Dima Studio apartments, to try to dry out our wet boots!
The boys took a well-deserved afternoon nap and I caught up with the bulk of photographs. At around 5:30 in the evening, I peeked out and was ecstatic to see a patch of pristine blue sky through the grey clouds! It’s called a silver lining for a reason! Donning our damp attire and the wintry accouterments, we stepped out. Walked in the general direction of the ocean and were pleasantly surprised to see like-minded travelers, all finally stepping out of their rabbit holes to enjoy the fleeting, though glorious sun!
The town of Hofn or it’s probably a village still, is an erstwhile Fishing town, the claim to fame being a landing site for an allied plane during World War II. Sauntered along the promenade before ambling towards the town center where we spotted a fine(r) dining restaurant, I think the only one in town, called Otto, and what a find it was! Easily amongst the top meals in Iceland. We presumed we wouldn’t get a table, it being peak dinner time and a whole lot of people waiting outside, but they just offered us drinks at the bar and we were happy to wait.
Needless to say, we all slept well and content, a sign of better days to come!