Archive for August, 2010

30 Aug

Day 10 : Skogarfoss to the golden circle, via Eyjafjalljokull

In Blog,Uncategorized by Charlie Lawrence / August 30, 2010 / 0 Comments

After some early (and cold!!) shots of the waterfall here, we drove around to Seljandsfoss – a beautiful water fall that we are able to walk behind. We realise the best shots would have been last night into the setting sun, but it was not to be. A few hundred metres up the road, we find a waterfall hidden behind a small canyon, then continue up the road to Thorsmork. This is a beautiful area, and the end point of a 30 km hike from Skogar, or the start point for a 4 day hike to Landmannalaugar. We drive along the river flood plain, all covered in ash from this years eruption. The glacier itself is also almost entirely black with ash, but still steaming in places. It is pretty cool to see this famous volcano up close – but interesting to realise that this volcano is so insignificant compared to its neighbours that it is only named for the glacier on top of it – all glaciers are ‘jokull’, and all the big glaciers have at least one volcano underneath – Vatnajokull has 5 active ones. Katla is under Myrdaljokull and is one of the big ones due to go at anytime – it usually follows Eyjafjalljokull by a matter of months, and Hekla nearby is also due to go off around now.

The road to Thorsmork disappeared under the river near the hut and start point of walks, and after consulting the guide book we decided that what was on offer was not worth this deeper and scarier looking river crossing – we did around a dozen anyway, and the last few had been deeper than we liked. The wide flood plain was covered in deep ash, and there were extensive road works in places, obviously repairing damage sustained this year. All the bridges around here are very simple affairs – I guess the Icelandic philosophy is to build the bridge strong enough for the traffic, knowing it will need to be rebuilt after flood or volcano damage, rather than trying to withstand these enormous natural forces.

After making our way back to the Ring Rd, we keep heading west, towards Reykjavic. We stop for some fuel (all $2 per litre – more than at home, but really, petrol in Europe was $2 per litre 15 years ago, so I figure we are doing ok. Then again, it adds $700 to our costs), and Charlie samples a hotdog – a dog wrapped in bacon, with crispy fried onion, raw onion, mustard and tomato sauce. He wanted to get three! Interestingly, our purchase of a yogurt, a drink and the hotdog is only $6.50 – we are starting to think we have had the wool pulled over our eyes – Australia is actually getting really expensive.

Mind you, had we been here 2 years ago, the exchange rate was much worse – $1 is 100 kronur – very easy conversion, but then, $1 was only 50 kronur – petrol would have been $4 per litre. Ouch!! At Selfoss, we turn inland, but get distracted by yet another modern church. This one is the traditional shape, clad in blue tin, with enormous rectangular windows capturing the view and the sunlight. When we stop the car to have a look around, we can hear a woman singing inside – very operatic style. Another magical moment. Continuing on towards Gullfoss, one of the most famous waterfalls in Iceland.

We have perfect weather – sun, big clouds, a rainbow arching through the mist over the falls, and all captured in megapixels. A beautiful setting, with a raging, roiling river disappearing through a narrow canyon below. Next stop is Geysir – the original geysir for which all others are named. Sadly, she doesn’t blow anymore. In the 1950’s, some tourists threw rocks into it, blocking the water flow. It has spouted water a few times since, but only for a time after local earthquakes (we were told yesterday that there are 30 – 100 earthquakes measured in Iceland everyday, but most are smaller than we can feel. Mind you, we both thought we felt one last night). Fortunately, it’s little sister, Strokkur, erupts every 5 – 8 minutes. We watch the steaming water eddy and bubble, before a big blue bulge appears and it erupts, many stories high (I can’t really tell, but it looked to be more than 4 stories). A couple of spouts that we saw were followed quickly by another smaller spout – perhaps house high. A very spectacular little geothermal field.

We then make our way to Thingvellir – one of the most important historical and natural sites in the country. This was the site of the original parliament, in a natural amphitheatre. It is also an area where there are many fissures and cracks, again the result of the these two northern tectonic plates pulling apart. The campsite here is surprisingly barren – no power, but free hot showers and a free washing machine. We are huddled in the laundry room because it is the only place with a powerpoint! And it is warm. With no power, our heating in the van won’t blow for long, so we’ll save that for bed time. We have done 2500km in our car so far, some of the wheels look a bit haggard after some of the terrible roads we have traversed, and our fridge smells evil, but we have had a great time. Tomorrow – a walk around here, and we’ll make our way back towards Reykjavic, the blue lagoon, ready to return the car on sunday.

Strokur Geysir about to blow!

In the shadow of the Eyjafjallajokull, the plain is littered with boulders from past erutptions.

The floodplain under Eyjafjallajokull. Notice the ash still in the foreground.

Steam rising from Eyjafjallajokull. The black areas is actually the Glacier covered in ash.

29 Aug

Day 9 – Skaftafell, Glacier hike, Jokulsarlon boat ride and a drive to Skogar

In Blog,Uncategorized by Charlie Lawrence / August 29, 2010 / 0 Comments

After showering (these times 5 minute showers are feeling long now – no need to rush so much!), packing up and moving the car, we joined Glacier Guides for a drive to one of the local glacier tongues for a 7 km hike on the ice. With crampons strapped to our feet, harnesses around our hips (just in case) and orange helmets on our heads (also, just in case), we walked up the glacier, learning about black ice (a volcanic ash layer from past eruptions, it protects the ice so it will melt slower here), the flow of the glacier (it is melting at 10 cm or so per day from the surface, and moves downhill about a metre per day), crevasses (which form where the slope is steeper and the flow is faster, and then close up again where the slope is less steep). Stunning to see.

We were supplied with a ham cheese salad sandwich and an orange fruitbox on the ice, then made our way across the ice before heading back down after a 4 hour tour. (It was funny to just get handed them – no choice, no enquiry as to allergies or preferences. Just some lunch, supplied, as per the brochure.) A short drive to Jokulsarlon for an amphibious boat ride amongst the icebergs. This time, we drove further along the road and over a bridge across Iceland’s shortest river (it is maybe 50m long, from the lagoon to the sea), that had small icebergs in it, and some washed on the black sandy beach.

On the way back to the national park, we pulled over at another glacier, also with a lagoon in front. This one was used for tours earlier in the summer, using Zodiac boats to get across to the ice. Unfortunately, where ever they parked the boats, invariably the icebergs would drift to ice it in, so they had abandoned these tours until next year, when they will have 2 boats that can be moored on 2 different parts of the shore.

After a full day’s turing and exploring it was back to the carpark to pick up the camper and head west to the small town of Skogar where we would camp. On the way we passed through Vik to photograph the famous church high upon a hill in the middle of town. In the last eruption is this area the church was the only building to survive as the floodwater and lava rumbled down the hill. Next stop was Dyrholaey, a small headland along the beach with a large natural arch that rose from the sea flow. Some nice photos of the arch and accompanying lighthouse completed this leg.

We arrived at Skogar after sunset to setup up camp in the shadow of the waterfall, Skogarfoss, nestled at the base of Eyjafjalljokull. Dinner was a simple affair of cup-o-soup and noodles as we listened to the hundreds of sheep in the paddock nearby bleating late into the night. Another long day of hiking, driving and sightseeing. It is now dawning on us that the adventure is very quickly winding up and we will be to home soil in no time.

Moving icebergs with the Zodiac.

Icecave, formed by the flowing meltwater.

Chipping out ‘steps’ from the glacier.

Samplng the purest water in Iceland. At .5º it was ‘fresh’

Sexxy crampons.

The view from our camper.

29 Aug

Day 8 : Kirkjubaejarklaustur to Skaftafell National Park and Jokursarlon

In Blog,Uncategorized by Charlie Lawrence / August 29, 2010 / 0 Comments

Probably the easiest day so far on this journey around Iceland. After a late night of clothes washing, photo editing and blog writing we started the morning at a leisurely pace.

The first stop was the Museum at Kirkjubaejarklaustur. A modest place with the obligatory pull up banners and sign boards explaining more volcanic activity in the region. The main attraction we wanted to see was a movie that documented the 1784 eruption that killed 1/5 of Icelands population. 12 cubic kilometres of lava spilled from 2 giant fissures (up to 27km long) over a period of 7 months, destroying the land at first then poisoning the air and ground. 1000’s starved and much of the livestock for eastern Iceland was lost. The clouds of poisonous gas that blocked the sun across Europe was said to have caused more than a million deaths related to starvation in lost crops. If it happened today, flights in the northern hemisphere would be cancelled for up to 18 months and untold lives lost. On average this Volcano wakes every 200 – 500 years, so it could happen in our lifetime.

After seeing this dramatized horror story of local geology it was onto to see the Vatnajokull and Jokulsarlon. It was the first warm sunny day since we arrived and we wanted to make the most of these spectacular locations. The drive to Jokulsarlon took us past the the mountain range that was home to the Vatna Glacier, and Icelands highest peak at 2000m. Permanently blanked in ice and snow, it is also the home of several volcanos. In 1996 a large eruption under the glacier caused melt water to accumulate in a large mountainous lake. The ice finally lifted after 30 days of melting and the water cascaded down the side of the range. It flowed at a rate of 50,000 sqm per second for 48 hrs destroying roads and bridges as the water carried down 3 story building sized blocks of ice and water. The movie we viewed at the visitor centre was just stunning.

At the eastern side of the Glacier is Jokulsarlon. A glacial lagoon that at the bottom of a glacier (as many of the glacial tongues around here have), causing car sized icebergs to clave off in a postcard perfect setting. One of my ‘must see’ destinations it did not disappoint. Eerily silent except for the sound of dripping water as the large bergs melted in the sun. Simply wonderful, that the pictures below can only begin to portray.

We then travelled back to the Skaftafell National Park to set up camp for the afternoon. For the first time in our trip we had time for some rest and an afternoon nanna nap. Waking at 5.30pm we decided to hike the surround hills and check out the local waterfalls. It was a 5.3km hike with beautiful vistas of the flood plains and lava fields below. After some ‘jesus fish’ (postcard) photos of the hero waterfalls and surrounding streams we made out way down to the plain. It was on the descent that we came across ‘Sell’. A 100 year old farm compete with the traditional grass covered roofs that we saw in so many postcards. Under the care of the National Museum it is perfectly restored and gives us a glimpse of how the traditional icelandic villages were like. The roof is made from beams of timber, usually driftwood, covered in slate like rock, then dirt and finally grass covering the entire structure. The buildings are semi buried into the hillside to add more protection from the elements and provide more warmth. A picture perfect setting that wasn’t outlined with the attention it deserved in our guidebook.

A little further downhill, we found a small path into a small forest. There was a lovely pool in a dell, where they would keep the lambs overnight so the ewes could be milked each morning. The forest, such as it was, was pretty – a huge poplar, spruce trees towering above, and birch trees – both silver birch and a smaller, twisted type of birch. There don’t seem to be any extensive forests here, but there are pockets, and tall trees do exist – we are seeing more farms here in the south of the country with rows of trees as wind breaks for their farms.

Curry and Rice for dinner, washed down with Icelandic Vodka and 2 episodes on True Blood ended our day, ready to sleep in our van with a view of the enormous glacier and 5 of its flows.

28 Aug

Day 7 – Middle of nowhere, on the way to Kirkjubaejarklaustur (I spelled it without looking – I’m getting good at this Icelandic ;)

In Blog,Uncategorized by Charlie Lawrence / August 28, 2010 / 0 Comments

By 5.00am it was light enough to head off – both of us still feeling very tense and nervous. Nyldalur would have a warden / ranger but would have no fuel. It was 50km away, and petrol from Hrauneyjar was still another 100km after that. We were not going to make it. We tried to be optimistic – when we ran out, someone would come by, and we should be within 30 – 50km of the town by then. We would get help. We decamped quickly, and were on the road at 5.20am. The cloud had lifted, so we were now able to see much further, and the light was brighter. There was very little rain – only patchy, so the stress of the changing wiper speed was removed. 2 hours of lava field, multiple river crossings – including one where Charlie had to test the depth of the glacial melt water to determine if we could cross safely. Off came the shoes, socks, and 2 outer layers of pants. Up rolled the thermal pants, and out he went – I do have photographic evidence. He quickly decided it was ok to pass, and spent a few minutes trying to warm up in the car before we put the car back into low to chug through the torrent. Finally, we rounded a bend and saw Nyldalur! Only 2 more river crossings. We got in there, jubilant and ready to beg for fuel – although they don’t sell it, they must have some, and getting it from the ranger station is surely better than needing to be rescued 40 km down the road. We went into the information hut – there is accommodation here, and germans were preparing their breakfast. No one had seen the ranger – he must be still sleeping. So we had some breakfast ourselves (creamed rice and apricot halves), wandered around, and waited. And waited. And waited. By 9 o’clock, I was getting pretty toe-y. After knocking on the door of the wardens hut on and off for 2 hrs, sitting in the cold, eventually a man asked if he could help us. Hallelujah! He poured a 20L can of diesel into our tank, we handed over our $40 (same price as in the towns here and cheaper than it was in Hrauneyjar) and we were on our way. More lava. More rivers. But this time, no wipers, and a bit of a view, and secure in the knowledge we would get to the next town. This last 100km took only 2.5 hrs – much easier going over all, and when we filled up in Hrauneyjar, we had only 10.5 L to spare – if the warden had given us only 10L as we had asked for, we would have limped in on fumes.

Into the cafe – the fuel cost $105 to fill up, and then we splashed out on lunch. $53 for 2 burgers, 2 cokes and one beer. Oh well, it is what it is. And of course, this cafe / servo had free wifi. Why not? So Charlie was able to upload a couple of these blog postings while I planned the rest of our afternoon.

Next stop – Landmannalaugar. This is a favourite destination for local and foreign travelers – ‘painted’ hills of yellow and red rhyolite, steaming vents, lava fields, lakes. As we got closer to the Landmannalaugar region the landscape started to change dramatically from the barren monochromatic land we had seen 2 days previous. Large hills rose from the desert floor. At first they were made of black sand covered in a spiders web of lichen. As we got nearer the colours changed from black to to rust red and ochre sand. All the geological colours you could imagine with a blanketing of bright green lichen as far as the eye could see. Our photos couldn’t capture the enormity or beauty of the region so we just soaked it in. We stopped at Ljotipollur – a red crater filled with blue water – rich in trout (!). The black and red (from iron ore deposits) steep crater had stripes of green lichen, streaking down the slope. Were scambled down the to waters edge – following what started off looking like a track, but was really a water course with some other boot prints. We kept pulling off the road to take ore pictures to try to capture the colours, but even with the sun poking through the clouds, it couldn’t keep up with the beauty. One hill we stopped on was very soft soil and lichen – I noticed some cracks and peered closer – the entire soft hillside was full (or hollow?) of fissures, and most of the ground we stood on was only inches thick! There were holes I could not see the bottom of, and other fissures that were twice my height in depth. We stepped very very carefully!

At the Landmannalaugar hut, we walked across a lava field – this one had mainly obsidian rocks – shiny black glass like rocks formed when the lava cools very very quickly. With the soft green moss and lichen growing over it, it was a very pretty (and crowded) walk. Over the lava field, we came out into a flat valley, with these painted hills around it – steaming vents dotted these hills, but without the noise and ferocity of Hverir a few days ago. One green mossy hill was completely steaming – we walked up it along the path, feeling the rocks that were perhaps room temperature rather than hot or cold. It would look amazing in winter in the snow – this hill would be green all year round thanks to the central heating 🙂 We spent 5 hours wandering around this region, then headed towards the coast. More stunning vistas, many more river crossings, eventually reaching – wait for it – sealed road!!!!! We headed for the small town of Kirkjubaejarklaustur – again, all farms have their own waterfall from the cliff behind – all postcard perfect. A massive rainbow appeared to touch the road in front of us as we turned off and made camp for the night after another 14 hour day of traveling. $3.50 for a shower, $30 for the nights campsite (hand washing the clothes, then trying to dry them overnight) and we’ll be all ready for tomorrow!

Testing the depth of the glacier melt water. So cold – so painful.

28 Aug

Day 6 : Ice Caves, Glaciers, Volcanoes and The Road to Hell and Beyond and then some.

In Blog,Uncategorized by Charlie Lawrence / August 28, 2010 / 0 Comments

The biggest day of driving on this holiday awaited us. We were about to cross the interior From Lake Myvatn down to Nyldalur and through to Landmannalaugar. At over 500km of driving it was going to be quite a day. In Australian terms this isn’t much to write home abut. But as we knew the road was rated as ‘white mountain roads’ we were in for a long haul. Our last ‘white’ road was to the Lava Caves at Surtshellir on our first driving day. The 10km road was unforgiving in our camper and when it turned into 25km it almost turned into tears. Add to this, Myvatn was our last chance for fuel for over 450km – Agust our friendly car hire man told us that the Triton should do 400km+ easily. We were playing with fire but wanted to push on.

Our first destination was the Ice Caves at Kverkfjoll. It was a southern detour down to a northern outcrop of the enormous Vatnajokull Glacier of about 125km out of our way but loosely factored in. The road was tough, very tough. Rocky, winding across lava fields, deep black sand and driving, unrelenting rain. According to our guide book the rain was ‘mist driven horizontal by the driving wind’. Either way, it became quite the ordeal with our squeaky out of date windscreen wipers and a road that took us in all directions. The wind and rain came consistently, but our position kept changing, so as well as trying to negotiate a path through the rock, keep a lookout for the road markers so we knew where the ‘road’ was meant to be, shift gears between 1, 2, and 3 and keep adjusting the wipers from each grade of intermittent to consistent – it was stressful. After taking a wrong turn and adding 25 extra km to our journey we made our way to the Ice Caves. It was a box I wanted to tick on our trip. From the photos I’d researched it looked absolutely stunning. The caves are formed by heated water running from under the glacier. The running water turns into a raging river as it exits the glacier. I’d expected caves you could actually explore – but Im guessing we were 4 months too late. It was still a sight to see though. The Vatnakojull Glacier is the world’s largest icecap outside of the poles, covers 10% of Iceland and contains 3000 billion tonnes of ice a-top the mountainous moon like landscape. A hike down to the base of the glacier saw some good pics and then it was back to the car.

Out next stop was Askja Volcano 100km due northwest. Again the driving was tough averaging between 45 – 60kph. We were still in good spirits though and were looking forward to seeing this landmark. Askja caldera is 50 sq km – in 1875, 2 cu km of tephra (volcanic sand and rock) were ejected from the Askja volcano, bits of it landing in continental Europe. Ash from the eruption poisoned much of the cattle here and sparked a wave of emigration to America. After the initial eruption, a magma chamber collapsed creating an 11 sqkm hole 300m below the rim of the original explosion crater. This filled with water, and is now icelands deepest lake at 217m! Askja has erupted as recently in 1961, and is due to go again about now. Along with a few other big ones – it is amazing to realise most of this landscape is so young, and will change again many times in our lifetimes – this years eruption at Eyjafjallajokull was very minor by Icelandic standards and we will see many bigger ones this decade.

As we arrived at Askja it became apparent that it had snowed in only the last day or two. Light now blanketed the black sand and jagged mountain range that formed the volcano. It was stunning – looking like zebra stripes across the land. I was probably excited more for the reason of never experiencing real snow before. We arrived at the car park at 4.00pm, 4 hours past the time we had budgeted for the journey. Un-fazed we dressed in our layers of gloves (including black industrial dish gloves all round!), balaclava, jackets and multiple underlayers and headed onto the frozen wasteland to see the blue lake at the base of the caldera – 4.6km hike across the range. The going was flat, easy and fun. We threw snow balls, trudged in 15inch deep snow (when we found it that deep!) and pondered about the forces that created this landscape. Coming back was hard. As we had entered with a tail wind we then had to deal with it on our faces on our return. The rain was constant and our wet weather gear drenched. The washing up gloves held true so that was a bonus.

It was at this point that that our goal became more real. We had to make 235km across the barren landscape with under a half tank of fuel, wind, 2ºC outside temperature and the ever present rain.

As we left Askja the terrain turned from bad and into a nightmare. We had already driven for 8hrs and only seen 3 cars, so a sense of real danger started to become apparent. On reflection, in local terms, this would be the equivalent of doing the Gunbarrel highway with a Lonely Planet guide and a ‘she’ll be right’ from the Hertz Rental lady. We had no idea of how tough it was going to be. Tory asked about the road from a local, I asked about the river crossings and no-one was fazed or concerned – this was a good road, a trusted track and it seems, a cake walk for anyone with a 4wd. How wrong. How wrong.

The first 20km consisted of massive floodplains that stretched into the horizon. The road turned into a river that we followed, like a salmon heading upstream. The next section was 10km of foot deep black sand. It was rugged and pulled at the steering wheel whilst the ‘mist’ bore down on us. Each section of terrain change I had to re-adjust my calculations for our destination. ‘40kph, 190km to go – 4.5hrs’, 25kph, 165km to go – 6.6hrs’ and so on. As we exited the sand we entered the Lava Field. At 2200 sqkm it was vast and all you could see for hours upon hours. At some points we were going 20 in an hour and less. Wherever I could, I put the clutch in and rolled down hills, kept an eye on the taco and adjusted gears to suit. The fuel gauge was my god and I worshipped it’s existence in between gear changes and wiper speeds.

3hrs in, in my shoulders started to ache from the violent battering. The wheel flew this way and that, as the tires hit jutting stones and brittle lava from either a few generations or an eon ago. The landscape was pure monochrome – black, grey and the white sky, obscuring our view beyond 40m or so and my desire to capture it digitally was taken over with a feeling of survival and a need for safety. Outside the temperature with wind gusts and rain was in the minuses. The light was fading at the same speed as our fuel gauge. A camp named Nyldalur was 90km away and after 2 hrs driving we were still only 35km closer. We decided to pull off the ‘road’ and camp the night. We popped the camper roof dressed in balaclavas, woollen hoods and our ever present gloves, and climbed inside. Dinner was a cup of soup and minimal conversation. We lay our heads down after 13hrs driving and only 390km of travel, taking off only the wet weather gear to try to sleep on the windy, barren ridge.

Our campsite for the night.

Rugged up ready for the snow covered volcano. Fricknn cold – incase you wondered.

Driving the road from hell.

28 Aug

Day 5 : Dettifoss to Myvatn

In Blog,Uncategorized by Charlie Lawrence / August 28, 2010 / 0 Comments

What what a day! Apprently, it turns out, that Iceland is . . . . icy! It is now Day 3 of the rainshower that started on the second day we arrived. With brief spells of no rain, and some parts of no side-ways wind – we are certainly feeling the cold of the Almost Arctic Circle.

Leaving the sheltered grounds of the Jokulsargljufur National Park we are on the move towards Dettifoss, Europe’s largest waterfall by volume and her sister Sellfos. Our route was to be a 36km 4wd adventure away from the coast and heading inland. The constant rain had turned some parts of the muddy track into a chain of ponds that erupted as we hit them in our large camper. It was 4wding Iceland style.

Before leaving the campground a road side marker informed us that it was 4ºC outside, combine that with rain and wind and it was probably more like -10ºC.

Clothing update: Today Tory was wearing 3 layers of pants combined with 5 layers of tops, Goretex jacket, beanie and rain hood. I was sporting very fashionable thermal pants, hiking cargo pants covered with the same wet wet weather pants Tory was running. Combined with thermal top, goretex shirt and rain jacket we were set for the worst. Or so we thought.

Leaving early gave us the advantage of having the entire track to ourselves. There is vey little traffic in many parts of Iceland and some time you dont see another car for hours. Arrving at Dettifoss we got the camera gear sorted, put rain jaket on camera and camera bag and ventued in the cold rain towwards the mighty waterfall. Within minutes my possum fur gloves (from a previous triup to NZ) and Tory’s cashmere lined leather gloves (from a previous trip to Venice) were soaked through. So much so that the black dye was running from her pair onto her jacket and staining her fingers a dark grey. The cold on our hands was nothing I’ve experienced before, painful and biting, losing feeling in our fingers, knuckles seizing, skin red*.

We arrived at the waterfall and the noise was deafening, the water seemed to explode from the end of the falls, ejected from the river out over the abyss from the curtain of water, flying forward, before tumbling into the canyon and churning away towards a further 3 waterfalls. It was hard to tell where the rain ended and the spray of the waterfall started. We took some pics and heading back to the car via Sellfoss a smaller waterall but equally imrpssive. Back in the car we sat with the heater on for a few minutes trying to dry ourselves and our gear out. Further 4wding was needed to get back to the main road via a new strech of road base on the way to Myvatn.

The area surrounding Lake Myvatn included several boxes we wanted to tick on this journey. Sites included a geothemal area comlpete with mud pools and sulpher rich steam leaking from every concevable spot on the rust coloured terrain. We got to drive past our first geothermal power station and up to Krafla Volcano which had only got covered in snow 3 days previously! It was my first real experience of snow up close. If only it wasn’t -15º! We wandered around Hvevir – a spectacular otherworldly landscape of steaming fumeroles (big ones sound like planes taking off, blowing constantly), bubbling mud pools (the sulphuric acid in the water dissolves the rocks and sand making mud), and sulphur crusted mud pathways. We also managed to hike up the face of 2 more volcanos with one them taking us high above Lake Myvatn below on a 5km round trip. It was a shame about the wet overcast weather as we couldn’t fully appreciate the view, obscured by cloud from our vantage point 529m above the surrounding land. The third volcano was the most spectacular – a perfect black cone rising from the plain with a perfect crater 1040m across. When we got there, the wind dropped but the low low cloud remained, creating another movie set environment of black caldera and shifting mists. We saw more lava fields, lava columns and lava pretty much on the ground everywhere. The entire region was decimated in 1727 when Krafla erupted over 2 years engulfing most of the region. Pseudocraters that dot the area were formed when lava hit wetlands causing explosions of steam and lava formations at Dimmuborgir (Dimmi and a burger’)were formed when a lake of lava formed a solid crust, then steam vents before collapsing. And to finish off our massive day we ended it the best way possible at the Myvatn Thermal Pools. Taking 10 minutes to strip off the layers, shower and don our bathers we joined other fellow travelers in the steaming mineral rich pools. Between 38ºC and 40Cº with eddies of 50ºC across the surface (ow ow ow!), the water soothed our sore joints. Rich in sulpher and other minerals from deep below the surface the water was a rich aqua blue. Te heat caused steam to rise from the water, combined with the cold rain falling on our heads and the occasional view through the mist of the surrounding mountains it was something else. At $25 a person it was worth every cent.

Our campsite in the local town of Reykhalid (‘Breakaleg’), Bjarg, is on the watersend – a lovely grassy location, and very well equiped. Shower and toilet blocks are unisex, the power supply is strong enough to charge the computer / camera / phone (unlike our last 2 powered campsites), rows of sinks outdoors have hot and cold running water for washing dishes or clothes, although the ‘drying shed’ is literally an open sided shed – no drying going on here in under 3 days!!

* Clothing Side note: After experiencing the biting cold earlier in the day we made our way to the main store in town. It was a supermarket / dvd store / hamburger joint. Our mission was to find some kind of arctic glove so that we could keep on going after soaking our own by 8 am at the waterfalls. Tory’s glove of choice was a combo deal. It comprises of 2 layers: a pair of knitted wool gloves and an outer layer of black industrial dishwashing gloves. She was determined not to get wet and cold like that again!!! My gloves of choice were a pair of Cold Storage gloves – thick rubber palms with a knitted exterior. The kind you would use on world’s deadliest catch or in a freezer unpacking frozen salmon. Both options seemed to work fine. Part 2 to the ensemble included a trip to a Souvenir Shop on route to get some better headwear. Tory picked up a nice fur lined hat with ear warmers and I settled for a full length balaclava. We should be warm now as we head up into the barren interior – we are told Askja crater (tomorrows destination) is covered in snow!

24 Aug

Day 4 : Hvitserkur to Asbyrgi

In Blog,Uncategorized by Charlie Lawrence / August 24, 2010 / 0 Comments

Waking at 4.30am, albeit opening our eyes at that time of day after a windy and very cold night, we decided on some early morning photography. Our camp site was chosen based on early Flickr research. This particular place featured a volcanic ‘plug’ that has eroded into the form of an elephant called Hvitserkur. Local legend doesn’t call it an elephant though – it was a troll who was caught by the dawn light and turned to stone. Several shots later along the black sand beach we decided to pack up camp and head on our way. We had some miles to cover today and many things to see, time was of the essence.

Our first major stop was at Godafoss. Legend has it that in 1103AD the Chieftan of the time was to decide the future official religion of Iceland. Christianity was chosen so, he collected all the statues of Pagan gods and tossed them into the falls to signal an end to their old beliefs and embrace their Savior, hence the name Godafoss, ‘Waterfall of the Gods’.

Our journey then took us further north into the high country. At 9.00am a roadside marker read 4ºC. Snow was visible in the mountain tops as we drove past and we even caught a glimpse of an Icelandic Fox (or maybe a mink!) as we drove past. Startled, it examined us we drove on past before retreating up the hill. The high country was spectacular. A massive valley formed by the movement of glaciers eons ago makes the Barossa Valley look very, ‘un-valley like’. much of the landscape in Iceland is very young 0 some parts are only decades old, but this area is very old – 2 million years or so.

The next major milestone of the trip was heading to a remote beach outside of Husavik. Again an image sourced on Flickr paid great dividends. According to the info we had, a rocky outcrop of ancient geological activity was to be found on the outskirts of town. Driving out of Husavik we saw several formations off the cliffs alongside the road and entering into private farmland. We introduced ourselves to a local farmer who was busy mending his fence. Some polite conversation about where we were from gained us access through his 3 gates and onto the rocky peninsula to get the shot we needed. A great result and yet another box ticked on this phitiography addyssey.

We crossed the Kelduhverfi – a wide flat area where the eruptions and earthquakes of 1975/6 and 1984 caused the land to drop several metres, creating a lake between the cracks, fissures and ridges. This is where the mid atlantic ridge meets the Arctic Ocean and demonstrates very clearly that Iceland is being pulled apart by these two major tectonic plates (North American and European plates). It was mindboggling to think that this lake was created naturally in our lifetimes – and that one day a farmer would have his rural land, then next it is submerged, or n now lakefront!

Our final destination was to the Jokulsargljufur National Park. With our camp fees paid and map in hand we drove off along the ‘white’ grade road (4wd track) towards our first stop. The road was muddy, corrugated and wet from rains probably only 10 minutes before our arrival. Arriving at the Vesturdalur carpark in the park grounds we chose a red level grade hike of 5km. What was revealed over the next 2 hrs of hiking was simply spectacular! I rate it amongst the top 3 best natural wonders I’ve experienced. Breathtaking wasn’t enough to describe the vista we experienced as we hiked above the valley floor into the volcanic dunes. Twisted basalt columns of lava waved and weaved before us as we made our way along the path. The pinnacle was the summit of a mtn dune of volcanic gravel, the colour of rust. Looking south from the dune revealed a Tolkein inspired view of twisted, curling lava sculpture, mountain river and lichen covered planes. Simply wonderful. Of course this is iceland, and like the iceland horses we had to (more than a couple of times) position our backs towards the sleeting rain. I think 4 showers (showers being a simple verb to use) hit us on our decent. Each time we stopped, we let our expensive wet weather gear take the beating and continue on our way. More than a couple of times the height of our trek and the weight of my pack caused some vertigo on our way down.

After the hike it was a 10km return trip along the rain beaten track back to our camp site. A hot shower – coin operated and limited to 5 minutes – on a digital counter – was needed first after wild camping last night, a load of washing in a machine that we were told did not clean well, but were charged handsomely for nonetheless and dinner of vegetarian Tikka Masala got the evening underway. I moved into the common room of the campgrounds, to sit on the floor near a powerpoint between the 2 shower rooms, washing machine, drying cupboards, clothes washing sinks and as I type this blog and drink my beer I’m watching 15+ Russian teens, their associated boy friends and guides scurry about cooking their canned meats and low rent soup. A massive day full of every experience – the best day so far and it promises to get better.

24 Aug

Day 3 : Eldborg to Hvitserkur

In Blog,Uncategorized by Charlie Lawrence / August 24, 2010 / 0 Comments

With the light disappearing at 11.45pm the night before – it was an early rise at the Horse Farm at Elborg around 5.00am. Already the light was pouring through our camper window, with the sun still seeking it’s way from beyond the surrounding range. We were up and showered and ready to go by 6.45am on the way to Snaefelles Peninsula. Our challenge was to get as far north as we could to take advantage of the larger camper we had before changing over to the smaller Triton version later in the day.

Heading along the southern edge of the peninsula we found several churches along the way. These gorgeous outposts of Christianity in the remote countryside of Iceland. Our first major expedition saw us summiting the large mountain that was home to the Snaefelljokull Glacier. The going was steep and precarious as the relentless winds buffeted our 3 tonne Dodge as we climbed further up. Icelandic sheep with their hooves wedged in between the tuffets of moss and lava were al trying to stay on terra firma. At the furthermost point of safety and sanity we stopped to turn the car around and mark our achievements with a couple of photos. As soon as the latch of the car door clicked the doors swung open with ferocity as the wind clawed at our layers of clothing and whipped our faces red. It was exhilarating, funny and somewhat scary. I wont try to even describe Tory’s efforts in going to the toilet!

The wind was now the punchline to every observation w made on our 500km drive. It was repressive and unstoppable with only the direction changing as we rounded the Peninsula. Sites along the way included a black pebble beach complete with rusted flotsam from a capsized english fishing boat in 1947, 1000s of acres of Lava Fields frozen in time, Icelandic Horses, Waterfalls, more Sheep and glacier scarred mountain ranges that punctured through the barren landscape.

Next was an exploration to the interior on a ‘white’ grade track. The narrow course wound it’s way from the Fjordlands into the countryside to eventually connect back up with Highway 1. Initially looking like a 10km shortcut it turned into a 25km journey on what seemed like a fugged moss covered version of driving through Arkaroola.

We met up with August, our camper man, in Hvammstangi (Ham sandwich), where we waited an hour or so in a cafe / bar and were able to charge the computer a little, and utilise their wifi. An orientation to our new wheels – a Triton L200 ute with a pop top camper on the tray – and we headed north around the Tjornes peninsula, not spotting the elusive puffin nesting grounds, towards Osar, and Hvitserkur rock. We opted to set up camp in the local carpark, to enable a dawn shot of the rock.

19 Aug

Day 2 Land in Reykjavic

In Blog,Uncategorized by Charlie Lawrence / August 19, 2010 / 0 Comments

Turns out, Icelandair is a budget airline who charge you for dodgy meals, just like JetStar and Virgin. Would have been handy information to know when we were in Paris, walking past boulangeries, fruit shops, cheese shops and so on. $35 for two wraps, some dry sushi and a water seemed a little steep. CDG airport remains a travellers purgatory – we arrive via train, jump the line at the Icelandair counter as our bags were checked through from Adelaide – all we needed were boarding passes. The guy at the desk did not love us – he gave us seats separated by the aisle! We head towards our gate, foolishishly thinking that we will find somewhere to look at duty free for mum, have a beer for Charlie, and a quiet spot to sit. Nope. Heading to the gate, you need to take off half your clothes to go through security, you the line up at a very small kiosk, but they did serve beer and water and chips. The flight to Reykjavic took off only 40 mins late, and the pain of sitting in aeroplane chairs and having no where to really support your head or straighten your knees started to hit. Land in the north Atlantic never looked so good as at the end of the 3 hr flight! We had landed after a little over 38 hrs of travel (airport to airport). No customs to pass through at the airport voted Europes Best in 2009 (that could be why, given they are not even an EU country – note to other travellers- we were told we could bring in 1L spirits and 12 cans of beer each – no one checked at all, so you could probably stretch that a bit – it is a third of the cost in the supermarkets, but pretty reasonable compared to at home).

Charlie couldn’t stand the thought of a bus with more people and many stops, so we hired a taxi for the 40 km drive to Reykjavic. We were quoted $95 – it ended up $121 – most expensive cab ride we have ever taken, but he was a nice guy who gave us some good tips. We arrived at our hotel, again – just said our names and we handed a key – no sign in required. We are on the 5th floor on the fashionable strip in town – lots of boutiques and jewellers and tourist info places and cafes and restaurants. We showered and went for a walk, and decided that in fact, Australia has become an expensive place to live. I know our dollar is doing very well (thank goodness), but one of the fanciest restaurants in town has main courses for $50 – same as us. Most of the tourist places here had mains for $30 – same as every pub in town seems to these days. We decided on an italian restaurant with a set menu – lovely lovely meal, after 2 days of aeroplane food. The glass of wine went to my head very quickly, such that dessert and the bill could hardly come quickly enough – we were tucked up in bed by 8:25, and asleep by 8:26, I think. A very long and somewhat surreal day of 50 hrs.

Tory posing with tired eyes at our La Primavera.

A very large stretched Icelandic Truck. What GFC!
19 Aug

Day 2: Land in Paris

In Blog,Uncategorized by Charlie Lawrence / August 19, 2010 / 0 Comments

12hrs and 43mins later we arrive at CDG (Charles De Gaulle). After enjoying the relative comforts of the Exit row on the Singapore leg, we had to endure row 78 Upper Deck of the new A380 on the Paris leg. Cramming our tired chassis into the middle row of a jam packed flight at 11.50pm we made our peace with the flight gods and we were on our way.

5 Movies, 9 meals, 6 TV shows and some inflight magazine reading later (at least it felt that long) we arrived at CDG 40 minutes ahead of schedule at 5.48am Paris time. Clearing customs and negotiating our way through Dr Octogon’s wet dream of a airport that is CDG, we made our way to the train that would take us to gay-Paris.

At 7.50am, Paris wakes slowly. Street sweepers are out, tables and chairs are being arranged on the sidewalk, deliveries being made, girls in high heals and make-up peddaling along the Rue de Rivioli to work.

We walk along the river toward the Musee d’Orsay checking out some sights along the way. Today’s mission is find a French Bakery, practice some of the local dialect and hunt down Tory’s favourite ice cream store. We may even stop at the Notre Dame and enjoy a cold beer in the gardens. Quite a full morning!

After sampling some French baked delicacies we keep on walking towards d’Orsay hoping to beat the crowds and get inside for a quick look at the world’s largest collection of French Impressionism. Of course we turn the bend and 769 japanese and italian tourist had the same idea. We shelve that idea until our return in weeks.

After 1 hour of walking with my 13kg camera pack my thirst levels hit critical, so we duck into a café for an icy cold Heineken and hot chocolate for Tory.

Tory is a great sympathetic fellow traveller with a passion for all things sweet – there is an unwritten code that if I can source a cold beer when needed, then an ice-cream or chocolate purveyor mustn’t be far off, or preferably in same building. We have our vices, and ours are almost balanced.

Further towards the Notre Dame we find the holy grail of gelati. Well, kind of. There was no chocolate so we had to settle for Orange Sanguine (Blood Orange) and a scoop of Poire (tasted just like mushed up frozen tinned pears!). Also luckily enough they sell icy cold Heineken. Our purchases complete we went to enjoy in the gardens behind the grand old church and watch the other tourists taking badly composed snaps of their un-interested teenagers. After some cursory shots of our own it was back to the train station for our ride back to the airport.