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Hekla to Skaftafell via a couple of waterfalls and a museum

What a day!!!!!! It started and ended with the Northern Lights....

all seasons in one day 7 °C
View Northern Lights Explorer - Iceland 2013 on Grete Howard's travel map.

I woke with a start from a loud knock at the door at around 2am, with a shout of “Nortern Lights!” Jumping out of bed and switching the lights on in one swift motion, David, who'd not heard the knock wondered what on earth was wrong.

The lights were pale, but they were there. We stayed out for a couple of hours, and at least we've seen them. The photos will need to be enhanced in Photoshop, but that's the beauty of shooting in RAW.


Seljalandsfoss Waterfall
A thin powerful stream of the river Seljalandsá drops 40 metres over the cliffs of the former coastline into a deep pool below. What makes this waterfall unique amongst the 10,000 or so waterfalls reputedly found in Iceland, is the ability to actually walk behind the cascade via a footpath at the base of the cliff. I had read abSeljalandsfoss.jpgout the path and how slippery it was before leaving the UK, and how there were no handrails, and was really concerned about undertaking this activity. It was wet, muddy and slippery, but fortunately not icy, and oh so worth it!

Seljalandsfoss was a waypoint during the first leg of The Amazing Race 6, with a clue box actually being positioned behind the waterfall.

All the way along the road we saw waterfalls coming out of the mountains, some thin, some wide, some tall, some short, some in stages... Iceland is not known as the land of 10,000 waterfalls for nothing.

Eyjafjallajökull Information Centre
Eyjafjallajökull (E15 to his friends as there are 16 letters in the name which most people can't pronounce) may not be a name you are familiar with – however, I think most of my friends are acquainted with the consequences of the eruption of this volcano in April 2010 and how it brought the modern world to its knees. Several people I know were affected by the ash cloud that disrupted flights over Europe – friends Sarah and Steve were stranded in New York, Mel in Syria and Lyn and Chris had to cancel their dream holiday to Mexico.

The Visitor Centre opened on April 14th, 2011 exactly one year after the start of the Eyjafjallajökull eruption. Because the centre is at the foot of the volcano, you get to feel first-hand what it is like to have a huge volcano looming over your shoulders. A short film portrays the spectacular natural event, and the hectic times and incredible challenges met by the farm of Thorvaldseyri which was among those hardest hit by the aftermath of the eruption. It was a very well edited film, with some stunning shots of the eruptions and the aftermath, and was actually quite moving at times, following the one family all the way through the ordeal.


Eyjafjallajökull is a volcano completely covered by an ice cap an area of about 100 km², feeding many outlet glaciers. Eruptions happened in year 920, 1612 and again from 1821 to 1823 when it caused a jökulhlaup (glacial lake outburst flood ). After a 200 year slumber, in 2010 the volcano erupted twice - on 20 March which forced a brief evacuation of around 500 local people; and in April through May. The 14 April eruption was twenty times more powerful than the one in March (more powerful than all the nuclear weapons in the US and Russia combined!) and caused substantial disruption to air traffic across Europe and beyond, with the cancellation of thousands of flights resulting in the largest air-traffic shut-down since World War II. The closures caused millions of passengers to be stranded across the world as flights to and from Europe were cancelled.

Check out some amazing photographs from the eruption here: http://www.fredkamphues.com/eyjafjallajokull2010/eyjafjallajokull2010.html

The eruption occurred beneath the glacial ice and the cold water from the melting ice chilled the lava quickly, causing it to fragment into very small particles of glass (silica) and ash, which were then carried into the eruption plume. Due to the extremely fine nature of the ash and the large amounts of steam created by the glacial meltwater, the ash plume rapidly became hazardous to aircraft and was injected directly into the jet stream, then carried over Europe into some of the busiest airspace in the world.

IATA stated that the total loss for the airline industry was around £1.1 billion, in addition airports lost another £80 million. Over 107,000 flights were cancelled during the 8 day period, accounting for 48% of total air traffic and roughly 10 million passengers.

The name Eyjafjallajökull means "glacier" (or more properly here "ice cap") of the Eyjafjöll. The name Eyjafjöll is made up of the words eyja , meaning eyot or island, and the word fjöll, meaning fells or mountains, and together literally means: "the mountains of the islands". The name probably refers to the nearby archipelago of Vestmannaeyjar. The glacier itself is one of Iceland's smallest at 100 km², but the mountain (1,666m) can be seen from several kilometres away on a clear day.


Skógasafn Folk museum
Skógasafn Folk museum is an outstanding collection of Icelandic artefacts along with a well-preserved turf farm showing how people lived hundreds of years ago. The museum has been the responsibility of one man, Þórður Tómasson (now in his 90s, but he will still play old musical instruments and sing for tourists, including the organ in the church) who started the collection of the artefacts and houses of the open-air museum about sixty years ago, and has not stopped yet – now there are around thirteen houses in the museum grounds.


I swear our German guide, Hans-Martin, is one of Iceland's (not-so) hidden elves.


There are some highlighted pieces in the museum, such as the first Bible printed in Icelandic, textiles for the wealthy, a small fishing boat, a terrifyingly large and effective mouse trap, and articles of daily life such as clothing and farm tools.
The pride of the museum is the church which was consecrated in 1998. Although recently built, the church depicts the most common Icelandic ecclesiastical architecture of the past and all its possessions inside once belonged to older churches, which have now gone.

It was a fabulous little museum, but being 'little', the place soon filled up with 40 tourists, and at one stage we couldn't even see the guide, let alone the artefacts he was describing. Another disadvantage of such a big group is that there will always be someone who walks in to your photos, especially when you have people like the Chinese-Canadian couple who insist on taking photos of each other in front of every single item.


Skógafoss Waterfall

Located at the foot of the impressive Eyafjöll mountain range, Skógafoss is one of the biggest waterfalls in the country with a width of 25 metres and a drop of 60 m. Like many of the waterfalls in Iceland, this one has a almost perpetual rainbow as a result of the amount of mist produced, and its tall, geometric cascade makes it one of the more beautiful and most photographed.


According to legend, the first Viking settler in the area, Þrasi Þórólfsson, buried a treasure in a cave behind the waterfall. The legend continues that locals found the chest years later, but were only able to grasp the ring on the side of the chest before it disappeared again. The ring was given to the local church and is now in the museum.

By this stage a heavy drizzle was coming down, and every time you got your camera out, the lens immediately got covered with droplets. There were some cool fulmars flying about the waterfall, and I really wanted to zoom in on them, but changing lenses was totally out of the question.


The dramatic black lava beach at Reynisfjord was voted as one of the ten most beautiful beaches on Earth by the American journal Islands Magazine in 1991. I didn't find the beach itself particularly noteworthy, but the setting is spectacular, with Dyrhólacy headland at one end with its naturally eroded hole in the rock (where a local reporter once flew a Cessna through), and black basalt columns at the other with the remnants of Reyningsdrangar cliffs jutting out just beyond. The waves here can be up to eight metres high with dangerous undercurrents. Although there isn't a permanent colony here, we did see a couple of seals frolicking in the water. This stretch of black basalt sand is one of the wettest places in Iceland with its cliffs being the home to many sea birds, most notably puffins which burrow into the shallow soils during the nesting season. The weather was bracing to say the least – what a difference to earlier this morning.


Vík í Mýrdal
We seem to be making a stop once an hour, often for a 20 minute coffee stop, something that I find totally unnecessary, but I suppose with 40 people using the facilities you need that sort of time. Our penultimate stop for today was the village of Vík (or Vík í Mýrdal in full) which is the southernmost village in Iceland. An interesting snippet of fact is that Vík is the site of the fictional Hanso Foundation's Vik Institute, a mental health facility in the TV series Lost.

Someone had asked earlier today if we could make a stop to photograph the lava fields around, but unfortunately by the time we did stop it was way to dark to take photos.

A very interesting little fact I found when researching, is that there is no landmass between here and Antarctica! Wow! Local folklore tells of trolls dragging fishermen's boats out to sea - only to be caught by the rising dawn. The sea around this area is rather wild and stormy, and the Atlantic rollers can attack with full force.

I can see stars...

On the way to the hotel, Rocky-Rock was telling us about the activities for this evening, which included a film showing about the Northern Lights (as he said there was very little chance of seeing the lights this evening because of the cloud cover), when someone spotted a star over our hotel. Rocky-Rock looked out of the bus window and said tentatively: “what's that out in front of the bus...?”

Everyone out to a fantastic display of dancing lights – they were very strong, a 9-10 on the scale of 10. There were pale curtains of green which seemed to float of a breeze of light behind the beautiful snow-covered mountains. And breezy it was. It was absolutely freezing, but none of us cared. Rocky-Rock phoned the hotel to get them to delay our dinner and we all enjoyed the luminous sheets of colour undulating in the frigid air of the Arctic night. It really is one of nature's most spectacular displays of artistry, and there was an awful lot of oooing and awwwwing going on.


Posted by Grete Howard 15:24 Archived in Iceland

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FANTASTIC! I'm so happy for you both.

by Homer Gardin

Glad you have finally seen them. We have 2.5" of snow!

by Lyn

Wow, looks amazing. i want to do that one day. by the way, not sure when you're returning but it's snowing heavily in the UK!!

by Marion

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