Patricks New Zealand Weblog

Quick trip to the national museum, then off up and away.

It was raining hard on our last morning in Iceland. I was all for being lazy (ok, reading my book, which I was quite engrossed in at the time), but, Maaike suggested making the most of it and going to the national museum (correct call)

There was a decent collection – some of it dealing with law & crime & punishment, and some with the role of Christianity in Iceland. Lots of beautiful carvings. They have no idea how the clock worked unfortunately.

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This little figure is of God. Or Thor. Or Thorgod.. they’re not quite sure… certainly shows the transition period though.

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Some quite funny things, like in this portrait… note how exceedingly similar all the figures look..

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I did enjoy the “stuff through the ages” part at the end. It probably did have a better name.. but that’s what it felt like to me.

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Finally, it was time to leave for The Netherlands. Iceland was amazing, I’d go back in a heartbeat for more hiking. There is so much to see and do there.

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Gullfoss, Geysir and Pingvellir National Park

First stop, some buildings built into the rock. I forget why exactly, but yes, here they are:

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It was right by a (canny) family who had built an exhibit on the Eyjafjallajokull eruption. I really liked this slice of time through the soil section.

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It was interesting reading about the various ways Icelanders have utilised their natural resources. Through hot water, to creating small hydro schemes (the family had their own) etc. Resourceful people. Also a pretty waterfall at Sejalandsfoss

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Then it was on to Gullfoss, this huge waterfall and a monument really to environmentalism, as the waterfall was due to be dammed in the 1920s, but was effectively stopped by civic movement (and lack of cash from investors…) and Sigridour Tomasson – the daughter of the landowner (who never wanted the dam in the first place). Anyway, stunning spot.

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Then it was on to the town of Geysir! Yes, the town (well, village really) is where the name “geyser” comes from. Geysir itself no longer goes off, except after strong earthquakes. Some … idiots.. tried to trigger it some time ago, by throwing rocks into it. This effectively blocked some important section, and now it no longer goes off.

There is another one (Strokkur) goes off every 5-10 minutes though, so you get your pictures :)

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I also really liked the safety sign… especially the last point… And of course, the obligatory tourist ignoring all the signs to get their special shot.

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Then it was on to Pingvellir National Park, where the national assembly used to be… and also where the North American and Eurasian plates separate. This is where a lot of their laws were “read” (at the law rock – where the flagpole is (they reckon)). Basically, back in the day the Icelanders decided they needed some form of law, so one guy went off to Norway to study law, and his foster brother walked around until he found the best place to situate the assembly. It was right by a big lake full of fish, lots of firewood, and a stunning setting. Perfect. Every important decision affecting Iceland was hammered out on this plain.

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Really nice campspot too (well, the one we stayed at, away from the main place). It was _extremely_ windy and rainy that night… we were definitely happy we had our trusty macpac tent!

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Fimmvörðuháls – the best day walk money can’t buy

This walk certainly goes down as my favourite day hike ever. It was a longish walk (23km), starting at the campsite by the Skogafoss waterfall. It’s simply waterfall after waterfall after waterfall (22 of them) all the way up to the eruption site (more on that later – first, some pictures)

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Then the landscape changes dramatically to being stark and barren (and damn cold, I definitely didn’t wear enough warm clothes on this hike). You’re sandwiched between the Eyjafjallajökull and Mýrdalsjökull glaciers. Yes, that’s the Eyjafjallajökull which nuked air traffic over Europe back in 2010. We did see some bikers here crossing over the ice. They’d been driven up (there a 4wd track part of the way up, which you mostly get to ignore when walking), and then did what turned out to be really a very short ride. I doubt it was really worth the effort to be honest.

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When Eyjafjallajökull first erupted, it did so at two smaller fissure craters, called Móði and Magni. There’s quite a nice diagram here of where the various vents are. Anyway, it was a welcome stop, as even now, 4 years later, the earth is still _hot_ (and steaming). A great way to warm up cold hands!!

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Then the scenery changes dramatically again as you drop down into Godaland (Gods land – and you can see why, (S)He has a taste for the dramatic!). Absolutely beautiful. We actually hadn’t planned on making it down the other side, as we hadn’t realised that there were twice-a-day connecting busses from the other side. Fortunately we met a German couple on the hike, and they told us about it… very handy, as it would have been a shame to miss it.

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You can see track work (volunteers) being done above too. Great place to come and help out for a while.

Got back via one of those beasty Mercedes busses at about 10pm. So a long day (the busses take their time..) but what an absolutely excellent day walk.

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PUFFINS!!!!!!!! (and towards Fimmvorduhals)

This blurry shot is of a small hillock. On the top of the hillock you can see a tuft of grass. Well, if it was a better shot you could. It’s there because birds stay there to survey their surrounds from a higher spot, and leave their guano. Funny.

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The main event though was at Dyrholaey and Reynisfjara. It was a hellishly windy day. Very very windy. And there was this huge sea stack which I thought would make an excellent Facebook profile shot (it’s terrible when you find yourself, even occasionally, thinking in Facebook profile shots.. I should probably quit immediately). Anyway, Maaike wasn’t that excited about going out onto it (did I mention the wind).. but she did venture out a bit – and then she spotted the PUFFINS!! (we had hoped to see them here, but still.. they should have left already)

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Puffins are awesome. I also really like the Dutch word for them “papegaaiduiker”, which translates as “parrot diver”

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Then it was off to Fimmvorduhals, we had a quick hike up the waterfall (5 mins from the campsite), and got ready to do a day walk the next day.. turned out to be one of the best hikes I’ve ever done anywhere.. absolutely amazing.. pictures to come in the next post ;)

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Oh, finally, we went to another glacier (they’re everywhere!). Retreating fast, and leaving these interesting mounds of dirt behind (conical).. The dirt insulates the ice underneath, so it melts more slowly, leaving these conical formations. Also, I ate a lot of prince biscuits… really brought me back to the many many wonderful family summers I spent camping in France. Nyom Nyom Nyom.

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Skaftafell & Laki (and thereabouts)

Next it was on down to Skaftafell, a national park which came highly recommended. On the way there we passed Dverghamrar, a slightly strange place with some columnar jointed volcanics

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There are actually two distinct sections in this picture, with the lava having been cooled from beneath and above respectively (and the above cooling was more rapid, probably by a river flowing over it). Honestly, you need to come here with a geologist in tow.

So, after that it was Skaftafell. In fairness, we caught it on a miserable weather day and I found out that my waterproof jacket… wasn’t… any more. So, cold, wet, miserable and with little views, I can happily say that it was the complete lowlight of Iceland for me.

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The one tiny redeeming feature was the tree life! (we hardly saw any trees to note while being in Iceland, probably the starkest difference from NZ).


The next day we visited Laki
Worth reading the article.. but some quotes

The system erupted over an eight-month period between 1783 and 1784 from the Laki fissure and the adjoining Grímsvötn volcano, pouring out an estimated 14 km3 (3.4 cu mi) of basalt lava and clouds of poisonous hydrofluoric acid and sulfur dioxide compounds that killed over 50% of Iceland’s livestock population, leading to a famine that killed approximately 25% of the island’s human population.

The Laki eruption and its aftermath caused a drop in global temperatures, as sulfur dioxide was spewed into the Northern Hemisphere. This caused crop failures in Europe and may have caused droughts in India. The eruption has been estimated to have killed over six million people globally, making the eruption the deadliest in historical times.

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The consequences for Iceland, known as the “Móðuharðindin” (Mist Hardships), were catastrophic. An estimated 20–25% of the population died in the famine and fluoride poisoning after the fissure eruptions ceased. Around 80% of sheep, 50% of cattle and 50% of horses died because of dental and skeletal fluorosis from the 8 million tons of hydrogen fluoride that were released.

Bad stuff in other words. Stunning scenery though. You really get an idea of the scale of the thing, as you’re driving for miles and miles through barren lava flow scenery. Ok, green, as moss has returned, but still – totally totally devastated.

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Yeah, fantastic place. We live on a violent planet at times.

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These weird rings are formed by a fungus. Nor fairies. Well, no one has spotted them anyway.

Stayed the night in… a town… and they have this monument pointing towards Britain. There’s a sister monument pointing back this way. Celebrating the links through the seafarers life.

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Down the coast to Jokulsarlon

Well, it just got more and more stunning the further south we went along this rugged coastline. We stopped for a quick walk … somewhere… ;) (Need a working camera with GPS really, hey ho).

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Here’s a before & after picture of what the road used to look like. Highway 1 is almost entirely sealed now, but not quite.

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Then it was on down the coast. The first time you see the icecap flowing down towards you it is… breathtaking really. No other way to describe it. Like everywhere the icecap & glaciers are retreating at a massive rate.

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We did a short walk to one of the smaller glaciers. A nice walk in that it was fairly quiet. We discovered that Maaike and I have different desires when it comes to touring. I prefer zapping around all the major highlights, Maaike enjoys staying in one place for a while and exploring, and certainly getting off the beaten track. We mostly managed to cover both bases.. ;)

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Then it was on to Jokulsarlon, for me a definite (if busy) highlight of the trip. Here, the icecap carves straight into the ocean. Well, it did, now there’s a short tidal river which sees an incredible amount of wildlife use..

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One of the odd things you notice while walking around are all the dead fish. Initially I thought it was some impurity or something (which didn’t really make sense, but hey ho). Turns out the mackerel(thanks mum, I guessed trout) swim in from the sea and basically get hypothermia and die. This is, I suspect, why the seals etc. love the place so much. It’s easy pickings. We found a couple of “fishermen” literally going into the water and kicking the fish out. I ended up getting my shoes and socks off to go in and get one (you want to take the still moving ones, rather than the dead ones on the shore!). I was rescued by a fisherman who just came along and got the one I was going for, and then gave us another! Then suggested a way to cook it (gut it, chop it up, boil it). Delicious.

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Another thing we saw at Jokulsarlon was slightly hidden in plain sight. I’m not sure how you know whether something is a “genuine” Banksy or not, but it certainly looked like one to me.

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Update 10-11-2014, my brother Matt pointed me to http://grapevine.is/culture/art/2014/09/29/banksy-in-iceland/, it’s not a Banksy – but done by a Norwegian (Pobel)

Then it was on up the coast via another glacial lagoon at Fjallsarlon. Not as busy, but definitely quite beautiful in its own right.

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All in all a definite highlight.

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Hverir, Krafla and surrounds

While we were in Myvatn we heard that the Bardarbunga volcano was threatening to go off. This meant that the ring road was in danger of being closed completely. So, we speeded up our plans slightly, but still had most of a day to explore the weird world around Hverir and Krafla.

Basically there’s a big magma chamber under this area, and it gives rise to lots of activity.

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The pool above (hot) is no longer allowed to be used for bathing.. unfortunately, though I believe it was used in the Game of Thrones TV series for where Jon Snow and Ygritte had a nice eve together.

Anyway, lots of boiling mud and sulphurous pools. Very end-of-the worldish. Not unlike Wai-o-Tapu outside of Rotorua (well worth visiting if you’re in NZ)

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There’s a power station at Krafla now. Well, a second one.. the first melted when the fissure erupted again ;)

Krafla Power Station

We did do a quick walk around Lierhnjukur, which is a crater and still very steaming area. Pretty much everywhere you go the ground is hot and steaming. Not a good place to build say, a summer getaway house… but an interesting place to visit!

Finally it was time to high tail it out of the area before Bardarbunga went off (it did go off… pictures here (well worth a click) : http://mashable.com/2014/09/11/iceland-bardabunga-volcano-eruption-photos/. The threat was that the volcano would flood a huge area, and the particular place (Dettifoss) that we had planned on visiting and hiking in the area.

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So off we drove towards the East. Staying in Seydisfjordur for the night.

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On towards Myvatn, via Godafoss

Then it was on towards Myvatn (where quite a lot of the volcanic activity is). Well, where isn’t I suppose in this country, but still, Myvatn is a destination!

We went through quite a few tunnels on the way. Some of these are long. Like.. really long. At least 6-10km some of them.

We stopped for a coffee in Akureyri, where I received the best coffee art of my life. I was most impressed.

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We did have a quick obligatory stop at Godafoss (Waterfall of the Gods). At the Alping (National Assembly) in the year 1000, the logsogumadur (law speaker) Thorgeir was forced to make a decision on Icelands religion. After 24 hours meditation he declared the country a Christian nation. On his way home he passed these falls and threw in the pagan carvings of the Norse Gods, this is what gave the waterfall its name.

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Next stop on the way to Myvatn, well, in the area but before you got there, was a trip to the Pseudocraters (also known as Rootless cone’s apparently). These don’t look like so much from the bottom, just odd depressions.

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Rootless cones are formed by steam explosions as flowing hot lava crosses over a wet surface, such as a swamp, a lake, or a pond. The explosive gases break through the lava surface in a manner similar to a phreatic eruption, and the tephra builds up crater-like forms which can appear very similar to real volcanic craters.

We went for a quick walk up Vindbelgjarfjall (529m) which looks out over the area. There were some great views to be had, and well worth the hour and a bit to get up there.

From here we looked across to the imposing Hverfell. Huge eruption ~ 2700 years ago. It’s 463m high and 1km in diameter.

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Next it was on to Dimmuborgir (Dark Castles). It’s a weird place where lava was dammed by old lava, cooled, and made weird formations when the dam eventually burst. It was interesting, but, it’d be fair to say that I think you might have got more out of the place if you were a geologist. If you were running short on time, I’d leave this one to last.

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That night we stayed at one of the busier campsites of the trip. And we took a dip in the thermal pools.

Myvatn Thermal Pools

Picture above taken from http://www.thepolarroute.com/2013/03/the-icelandic-swimming-experience/. It was gorgeous at night.. but definitely pricey. If you want a cheaper thermal bath.. try out any of the swimming pools. They’re all heated thermally and have baths. Not that we went in them ;) But heard that’s the case.

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A great place to spend the night, really nice camping beside the lake.

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More Snaefellsjokull, rotting shark and further Northwards

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It really is an impressive lump o rock. We went for another coastal walk, hoping to see some puffins, as it was still the season. No luck, but we did see some big stones which the local fishermen used to lift as a form of competition. I was just able to lift the lightest one. I felt entirely manly.

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We also saw a couple of wrecks along the coast, this one left as a memorial (Eding – English Trawler, wrecked in 1948).

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We saw a hut here too, it was quite bare inside and was a clubs I think, i.e. not quite the backcountry hut network that NZ has. Still, quite serviceable and nice inside.

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Then it was on Northwards, in the direction of Akureyri, passing a few interesting places along the way. One of which was a small museum and a rotted shark factory Hákarl. It was reasonably tasty.. actually.

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We had a pint of beer one of the evenings, or was it two. I can’t remember. I do remember it was weak though. I guess the very high tax on alcohol means that they don’t get stronger beers? I’m not sure, but it was underwhelming. Probably one of the few underwhelming things about Iceland we experienced. That said, if you came to NZ I’d probably recommend something off rather than on tap… so maybe it’s to be expected :)

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Nice evening though, the campsite was in the middle of town, but that was OK. And like a lot of places, the toilets had a radiator in them! It really must get seriously cold in the winter.. I mean you aren’t very shy of the Arctic circle up there.

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Iceland: First couple of days – mostly Snaefellsjokull National Park

I was so excited to go to Iceland.. and wasn’t in the remotest bit disappointed. One thing I guess I was surprised by was how expensive it was. I thought it was going to be cheap after their banking collapse.. but no.

Here you can see a picture of our sadcar.

our trusty car

Not actually that sad at all really (that’s just the name of the company). It had over 300K on the clock. Rust, dents, scratches and chips pretty much everywhere… but it did us fine. It also cost 744 Euro to hire it for 13 days ~ 60 euro a day. That’s not cheap in my book, but it was pretty much the cheapest thing we could find. Still, it did us proud and it did mean we didn’t really need to worry about scratching it up on the roads..

First off, we got slightly lost on the way through town which turned out to be a great thing as we found a large supermarket. This was key to success as basically no one lives outside of Reykjavik so buying bulk foods is a good idea to do in town. Maaike had also had the very sensible idea of buying what we could in the UK and bringing it over. Another very good idea. We should have bought nuts! (very expensive in Iceland for some reason).

Anyway, shopping done we stayed in the campsite in Reykjavik (we actually camped every night in Iceland), which was also a good idea. People leave all sorts of stuff there which you can just take. So we picked up some drying up cloths, foam squares to sit on, a couple of small chairs (which we never used), cleaning utensils etc. We also bought Methylated spirits for the Trangia stove I use.

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Very very expensive stuff as it’s alcohol.. which is taxed really strongly in Iceland. I think that bottle ended up costing us the best part of 30 Euro. I never saw it in supermarkets so it was very handy to buy it in Reykjavik before heading out into the unknown.

Anyway, the first couple of days was spent in the Snaefellsjokull National Park mostly going “ooh” and “aah” and seeing the completely weird geology as the lava?! I guess, hits the water. You really do wish you’d studied geology when you’re in Iceland.

Here are some pictures (some of which are Maaike’s)

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Finally, two other things worth commenting on.

Firstly – the signage is excellent. Every major new area you enter there’s a big sign listing points of interest, and a map. Dead handy

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Secondly, and I’m afraid I don’t have too much on this… is the Icelandic Sagas. For example, this gorge was inhabited by (I need to get the guidebook for the name). And there’s obviously a whole story about it. To the Icelanders, the sagas are far more worthy of note than the scenery. I’m afraid I was far more concentrated on the scenery!

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One thing which… concerned us, was how often we said (especially in the first few days) “well, this is beautiful, but so is New Zealand. We definitely are spoiled living in NZ, and it is honestly hard to find a place more scenic in such a small area. Certainly moving on from Snaefellsjokull National Park we did find ever more scenic places.. but yes, it was a thought. i.e. how spoiled we are in NZ – and how … inured you become to some otherwise very beautiful places. If I’m making this sound like we weren’t stunned… we were.. and definitely more of that to come – but it was something that we noted.

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