We decided to approach our destination along the south coast. We also decided to skip most of the traditional tourist attractions and be original and alternative (meaning endless hours of driving, with visits only to gas stations to get more coffee, candy and/or cigarettes), a choice that served our goal to get away from Reykjavík and towards Seyðisfjörður as fast as possible, but that I wouldn’t recommend if exploring the country for the first time. There are places such as the waterfalls of Skogafoss and Seljalandsfoss, the coastal town of Vík and the glacier lagoon Jökulsárlon, just to name a few easy stops worth seeing on the way. If you have more time, the possibilities to spend time in astonishing environments along the south coast are endless.
If you pass the sites, there are still the amazing landscapes to be enjoyed along the way. From the farming areas of south west the scenery turns to mountainous Viking film settings (see When the Raven Flies and play the game of trying to guess where it was filmed with your travelling mates). After the green and steep mountains, the Ring Road passes the empty sand and lava fields of Sandur between the glacier Vatnajökull and the Atlantic Ocean. The largest glacier in Europe shines white in the sun, and the number of single-lane bridges seems to grow exponentially as we draw further away from Reykjavík.
Our first impression of the east fjörds was rather grey, as the five-minutes-ago sunny day changed into the famous “everlasting east fjörds fog.” We didn’t see much of the town of Höfn (Harbour) because of the fog, but my native travelling companion assured me that there wasn’t much to see anyway. The eastern part of the country is geographically the oldest in the country. The deep U-shaped fjörds alternate with mountains of basalt, striped by the glacial ice that originally formed the landscape. The all-the-time-narrowing road follows the outskirts of the mountains. Eastern Iceland is the home of the largest, manmade forest areas of the country, Hallormsstaður, making the landscape somehow atypical of the country.
When the sun started setting, we decided to continue living on the edge by taking a short cut, gravel road number 87 across the mountains to skip driving around yet another fjörd. After the miniature highland tour we arrived in Egilsstaðir, a service centre for the eastern Iceland. There’s not much to see in the town, but south of it you’ll find the Icelandic version of Loch Ness, Lake Lögurinn, rumoured to house a monster.
The road from Egilsstaðir to Seyðisfjörður rises up to mountains so steeply, that our little red devil hardly makes the uphill. The view down from the mountains to the village of Seyðisfjörður, situated by the cove of the fjörd in the shelter of the mountains Mt. Srandartindur and Mt. Bjólfur, is amazingly beautiful. River Fjarðará runs down the mountain in waterfalls, and the road curls down the slope next to it.
Seyðisfjörður was originally established in the middle of the 19th century by Norwegian merchants, which explains the distinctive look of the old wooden buildings, including a blue church, for example, a host to a concert series during the summer months. It was originally a fishing and trading centre, and there are still remains of old fishing buildings, sinks and estates along the shores of the fjörd. Nowadays Seyðisfjörður also serves as the port to mainland Europe as the Smyril Line car ferry Norræna traffics to Norway, Shetland, Faroe Islands and Denmark weekly.
When we finally arrive to our destination, after about nine hours on road, the LungA festivities are already on full speed. The nightlife scene of the village is centred on an axel between Café Lára and Hótel Aldan. There is also a good camping site, a youth hostel and a few hotels in Seyðisfjörður.
We started the following day with a drive along the 17-kilometre-long fjörd in search of old abandoned farms. We also tried to guess the location of the oil tanker Grillo that sank during an attack in World War II, and that still remains at the bottom of the fjörd. Other possible activities include hiking, with several trails leaving on both sides of the fjörd, kayaking, and there’s even a nine-hole golf course in the almost surreal surroundings of the little, remote fjörd village. When it comes to shopping, the Indian Draumhus is a surprising find. Two Icelandic women decided to open the store to Seyðisfjörður last September, sold the whole stock empty, went back to India to stock up and reopened a few months ago. Other than that there’s a grocery store, bookstore and a gas station to serve the needs of the traveller.
We also visited the next fjörd village, Reyðarfjörður, another allied base during World War II, now better known as the location of a new aluminium smelter to use the electricity from the Kárahnjúkar Dam from the year 2007 onwards. Reyðarfjörður is a good example of the way the settlements on the east coast were typically built on the south-facing side of the fjörd. This was done in order to catch the maximum amount of sunlight, which is practically non-existent for a period of time during the winter months. A drive around in what a few years back used to be just another fishing village is now more like a drive around a huge building site with modern buildings raising all around.
After the final celebrations of the LungA festival it was our time to head back to Reykjavík, this time along the northern part of the Ring Road. The forests and fjörds of the east changed soon to a cold desert, an area before Mývatn with no vegetation, no nothing. We cheered up the emptiness with Björk’s bright voice followed by the rest of the Sugarcubes back in the 1980s. On our way back we abandoned some of our previous rebellious spirit and even stopped shortly in few places of interest. To avoid being too conventional and rational, we risked our lives by jumping on the stones in the middle of the beautiful waterfall Goðafoss by the River Skjálfandaflot. The name Goðafoss, Waterfall of the Gods, originates from 1000AD, when the law speaker of the parliament Þorgeir came back from the Alþingi meeting after the decision to adopt the new religion. He decided to show a good example to the rest of the community and thought that the waterfall was a perfect place to dump the old images of pagan gods.
We also stopped by the beautiful lake side of Mývatn, as well as in Akureyri, the second largest city of the country. The valleys and mountains south from Akureyri are not mentioned often enough. They are strikingly beautiful. My companion, in turn, preferred the strange sceneries on the lava fields that followed shortly after.
Back in Reykjavík, we said goodbyes to our little universe in the Jimny, to empty Coke bottles and iPod battery, after spending two long days and approximately 1400 kilometres in the car during one weekend. Even if driving away as far as you can go on this little island in one weekend doesn’t sound like it, the trip turned out to offer a good break the routine. And even if there’s a lot to see on the way there and back, we were satisfied with our decision to change places between the traditionally skipped and traditionally visited, and concentrate our short period of time outside the car to the east fjörds. As an area seldom picked as the final destination by travellers, and often quickly passed on the way to the more well-known tourist attractions of Mývatn in the north, or Jökulsárlon and Skaftafell in the south, the remote location and lack of tourists might be exactly what makes the east so charming somehow.
Suzuki Jimny provided by Hertz Car Rental.
Phone: 505-0600. www.hertz.is.