So the message said we can go down to the vehicles, this was about an hour from docking, I guess it gave folk time to return all the bags from our two and a bit days on board and boy did some folk bring some bags on board! We waited for the rush to slow then nipped down with our bag and waited for the off.
Big thanks I guess to the reception staff who made right the mistakes to the best of their abilities with the facilities they had at hand. I don’t think their systems were able to deal with glitches very well and relied heavily on folk ashore in Denmark and Faroe to do the changes and amendments then emailing to the ship for the front line staff to give out as printouts. Their telephone bill to the central office must be quite big! So thank you to Bjork in particular who just happened to be the girl on the desk nearly every time when both Hugh and I turned up!
Getting off was different, we watched line after line of vehicles reversing all the way to the bows of the ferry to the down ramp then driving all the way to the stern and the off ramp, for us it was a bit different, we reversed out of my hole then driving to the stern to do a circle and descend down the ramp to join the rest at the terminal booths. Because we were 3 hrs late many of the checks were wavered and we just answered two questions, How long were we staying? Did we have any fishing rods? A sticker was slapped on our windscreen (which to this day I have still not read), a look at the passports I think and we were out of the dock area. The stuff Id read on their official web page and the things Id heard about didn’t happen, no checks on food items no photo taken of vehicle in case one decided to go off piste which is a huge No-no in Iceland and results in a mega huge fine apparently, I guess because we were 3 hrs late things were pushed along much quicker?
We pulled over at a nearby garage and waited for the rest to come, a silver-grey Defender 90 pulled up it was The South Coast Boys! Chris and Ian had shipped their truck over by sea from Immingham to Reykjavik and had just driven the 400k to join us, finally the group was complete! We had to drive out-of-town and up the side of that huge mountain following many of the vehicles from the ferry, it had the capability to transport 800 vehicles, a lot were 4×4 adventure types like us,. WE had the usual large contingent of piggin motor-homes, these guys surely MUST just be sticking to the main roads? We have come across one or two on track before so you never know! Many too were Icelandic folk returning home along with vans and trucks carrying goods all in ordinary day-to-day vehicles. We drove up higher and higher passing groups on the way up as they chose to stop and regroup in daft places. At the top we saw our first ice on a lake. It was July the sun was out as was the clear blue sky, it was quite warm and we were driving past ice flow in our shirt sleeves. Get in!
Ice & Fire is how Iceland’s tourist board promotes itself..so that the ice bit then…
The town at the bottom of the mountain was our first stop to top up the tank and get the grocery stuff, we had brought lots of tinned food from Europe now we wanted to top up with veg and cold meats etc, oh and some beers! Its only light beer on sale in supermarkets, stronger beer and alcohol generally is only available in “special” shops. I never actually saw one such place, the guys only found such a shop after asking around , its wasn’t on the high st either! Beer was banned until March 1st 1989. Many celebrate March 1st as an important milestone, well you would wouldn’t you? Oh yes and erotic dancers were banned on Iceland in 2010. It’s no wonder we saw many miserable looking Icelanders, In fact I was so mystified at their blank looks and refusal to even nod that I did ask several Icelandic folk working in tourism as to why and they admitted it was a problem and that it had been picked up on by the authorities? I would have thought that having just beaten us at football at the European Championships would have then grinning from ear to ear at our embarrassment? I will say that those working in tourism where more than OK people. Anyway more on that later.
Because we were 3 hrs late docking our plans had changed somewhat so leaving Carrick and Jo to inspect a different camp-site unused as yet by Atlas Overland, we all carried on towards our first beauty spot, a waterfall called Hengifoss. It was spectacular not because it falls 128 metre but because it’s about a lung bursting mile up the hill-side to get to the base of it! Julie as the more sensible of the pair of us chose to stay, I went forth with camera with Ian who has the mannerisms and looks of comic Eddie Izzard, I told him so as soon as we began to chat. Both Eddie and Ian are a couple of great and amusing guys I might add!
Ian..or is it Eddie?
We foolishly struck up a conversation on the trek up the mountain, I managed to wheeze out “Lets talk on the down hill bit shall we mate?” Id had a word with Pete about the steep climb and he assured me he was looking after my well being…and that it would do me good, I remember donning my goat legs back in March and trotting after Pete up some valley in search of another spectacular sight, Geordie humour y’ canna beat it!
Proof that my legs have got shorter…
Daz and Rosie having a break, Rosie mentioned her knee was hurting a bit, she used to wear a brace, with that Ian nearly threw up (southerner) and I felt humbled enough to shut the fook up with my bleating LOL!
Part of the treck up/down Hengifoss..wait is that a sherpa chappie in front?
The pain and panting was more than worth it when we got to the top the views were fantastic, made better by the lovely clear weather. At the top everyone had camera out taking photos of this special place, I was a bit surprised at the varied accents, not just Europeans but world-wide, wow maybe this really is a special place, at the moment it was like a supa sized Yorkshire Dales with some Norway chucked in with its magnificent green scenery and some snowy remains on the tops of the bare rock higher above. Pete grinned knowingly “You’re in for a huge surprise later on boy!”
We exchange our sturdy boots back at the trucks for trainers and took on water. With our breaths back we turned around to camp for the night at the recently inspected camp-site just a few miles back down the road, it was a basic site along the edge of a lake with two toilets and outdoor washing area under a wooden lean-to. I think it had a washing machine too.. Somebody found the washing machine!
What a marvellous start to Iceland this was today, I have to admit I was a bit unsure quite what to expect in spite of seeing the nature docs on the Discovery channels. The camp-site was on nice gently sloping green grass and shielded from the breeze by shrubs. In the morning we would head to the southern coast through along some gravel tracks. So in clear and sunny daylight we turned in for the “night”
It was seven when we woke up but it could have been the middle of the day? Breakfast was on the bacon sizzling and Julie had her cuppa in bed, It was a slightly overcast day as the camp began to stir, Pete walked past with his towel and stuff, away to the lean-to for his morning wash, others began to rise and move about, zips zipped,legs came out and felt blindly for the ladders on the roof tents, Chris and Liz climbed down from their 110 house as did Daz and daughter from their 90 version. the two lads were out on all fours from their little silver one man tents Chris looked to be in charge of their breakfast, pretty soon we were packing our gear away, cooker, table, utensils Julie had the bags packed and was just folding up the beds and chairs slipping then back into their bags, bags well-worn now and in need of replacing, their job done. Hopefully will have a buyer for our stuff after the trip, this would be our last tent / camp adventure as we would be picking up our 110 camper conversion a few weeks after our return otherwise I would be buying new bags myself for the chairs beds and tent itself. The morning meeting was on someone’s bonnet, the map laid out as Pete spoke of todays journey, we copied the route on our maps and circled places and events so’s I could write about it afterwards…now!
Julie let go the hand brake and we rolled forward turning right and right again onto the tarmac following Pete down the road. We followed the tarmac for a few miles before turning and the road turned to gravel and dirt, the cloud was closing in and the “mizzle” turned to drizzle. I wanted to take some photos with the Canon and wide lens but it wasn’t looking good down here the low cloud was descending and the drizzle got heavier. Julie indicated and pulled over I called over the radio what we were doing and would only be a minute or so, everyone passed us except for Carrick who waited behind.
I saw the lighter grey framed nicely above a couple of distant mountains, pulling over and grabbing the camera quickly before the image disappeared is fun as one raced to capture what was soon to be gone! Often Id be driving and Id be telling Julie to get the camera quickly and point at what I wanted.
On this trip we had the Canon with a 70/200 lens a 10/22 wide-angle lens and a 28/75, we also had my little compact Canon sure shot PLUS both our galaxy camera phones, so whilst “pootling” along the rocky gritty bumpy tracks at 20 mph I would often bark out orders at Julie what to take a photo of and with what camera. Id be loud because I could see the shot was seconds away and was excited, it wasn’t possible to always pull off the road so was urging Julie loudly “quick get that shot with the big camera!” Sometimes it would be too late it was gone, sometimes she’d take a test shot and tell me the settings, Id glance across at the image and tell her to change the settings and do it again only don’t point so much at the sky frame it more towards the ground, often we’d be bouncing about too much though so Id pause on a ridge on a corner or slow right down across the boulders. Between us we managed to get some nice photos. Most of the scenic ones are hers and will remind myself to say so. The above one isn’t. I drive most of the time because I love it and the position isn’t overly comfy for Julie on long runs in the 90 and leaves her pretty scrunched up. This will also change when we get back, trouble is I love the driving as much as I like taking photos.
I was exactly the same on the motorbike and had a pouch around my waist with the camera Julie would set it up hand it to me Id take the shot Id pass it back and set off again all in a few seconds because many of the alpine roads don’t allow for a “stop and get off moment” She also had the little camera on a long neck noose and was able to hang off the bike a little around the corners and hold it really low getting some great movement shots!
Before the weather turned really crap this was the last photo of the morning unfortunately. The others are a few miles further on and we are playing catch up.
It sounds pretty straight forward doesn’t it this driving around Iceland lark? Well I suppose it is if you stuck to the tarmac which runs around the edge of Iceland and is called No1 (naturally) as the island…indeed country is quite large, being the second largest island in the world, look at the map and compare it to GB for example, you will see that it’s quite a big place. However driving in the interior one leaves the safety of tarmac to travel on gritty lumpy and mostly gravel and some plain old “Flintstones” grade one vehicle width tracks, drive further into the interior of Iceland and you find yourself on the fooking Moon! I shit you not it is THAT hard and the rocks are THAT big you drive two miles twisting and turning round them so much that you only manage about a mile in reality and all this at about 20mph. The route Pete chooses are mostly marked up as F roads which mean only do-able in 4×4 vehicles, Depending on the weather..the time of year.. the rains and the melt waters on the glaciers determine which track are open and which are still closed. Liaising with local rangers and camp site staff and using the speciality road web sites often map out your adventure irrespective of plans made months ago at home. So this morning was thick cloud and sat just above the truck roof the the drizzle made it hard for Julie to see far ahead and demanded all of her concentration, the wheels were throwing mud up the side of the truck and covering the windows so cracking them open a few inches was necessary, there were no signs no chevrons to guide you it was all up to your own eyes and pray no idiot was coming the other way!
Eventually we linked up to the tarmac road again as 3 or 4 cars buggered about at the junction as though they were lost, when we got closer I saw they were oriental types in hire cars but with no logo or anything to so as much. So in Iceland you don’t have any idea if its locals or tourists until you see the whites of their eyes. Nearly every car refused to acknowledge the wave or nod as we pulled over a bit on the narrower roads only to be even more annoyed that the on coming twats didn’t move over an inch neither did they acknowledge we had! We soon got the handle on this and gave way hardly at all pretty soon after the first few days. I absolutely fucking HATE ignorant twats on the roads don’t you? Mad Max I could soon turn into at times!
On narrow tarmac and on the lookout for ignorant oncoming twats!
It was a bit bleak I have to say we called at a cafe that looked half built and took the staff by surprise and happily just in front of a bus load of tourists we tucked into soup and tea. Back on the road as soon as possible to head down the coast road towards the next stop, somewhere out there in the rainy rain and grey outlook so we didn’t really see much of the glacier that towered above the mountains to our right.
Iceland is a popular place to make films because of its fantastic scenery the book says, but don’t ask me because I couldn’t see fook all today! Pete’s indicator signalled a right turn into a wind/ rain-swept car park, I say car park, it was a large 100 metre circle of dirt and uneven hard-core with loads of huge puddles. This was Jokulsarlon a large glacial Lagoon but it could have been the rough North Sea for all I could see! Peering through the horizontal rain though I could see a large Iceberg? We got our waterproof jackets on and stepped into the rain.
Whooo Hooo! It was blowing a right whoolie! and the rain stabbed us with sharp miniature prods We ran across the car park to the water’s edge to get a look at the iceberg, have to say it was an amazing colour, a bit like vodka Ice! It was a steely sharp turquoise and white thing probably a couple of hundred feet across, with little bits jutting up as though on their own but Im thinking it was all one piece? To be honest it was hard to say from here. We were both soaked through in minutes but it was worth getting out to see with our own eyes and not just through the truck window.
Hurry up and take the damn shot!
We ran back to the truck and sat there with the truck heater blowing over our lower parts. It was funny to watch the tourist coaches disgorge their passengers they were in various states of unreadiness! The little Orientals were the funniest to watch. One tiny woman got out with her umbrella which instantly turned inside out, she carried on though making her way to the hugely overcrowded facilities and its overworked loo’s and hand dryer! Minutes later the little lady came scurrying back still with her inside out umbrella over her head covering absolutely nothing. Priceless to watch bless her! We drove over the bridge took some photos came back to see our group returning to their trucks and drove over the bridge again to take a few more photos.
The lagoon carries some of the meltwater from the vast ice cap of the Skaftafell National Park that was usually visible above the mountains just across the way as a huge wall…but not today. In fact this lagoon was dammed off from the sea and left to freeze over for the 2002 Bond epic DIE ANOTHER DAY in which Mr Bond fought with that Korean chappie with the diamonds in his face and that ace car battle on the ice before the ice hotel remember? I thought they might have promoted the place with a restaurant maybe? Another larger cafe better bogs and a shop or two? But no there was just the one cafe with the overworked toilets. They have missed the boat a bit here me thinks. Sat here looking at the iceberg we could see a couple of seals as they hunted around the edge of the iceberg. Time was getting on and we had to get on.
Around the headland to the west and a bit inland suddenly the weather turned favourable. Things were looking up! The next campsite whilst lovely and flat and green was a bit exposed so we pushed on a bit further but not before calling into another sight to see.
The glacier was just HUGE, we walked up to it and around the corner of rocks to see it disappear upwards and further inland. An AMAZING spectacle to stand and take in which I have to say was difficult and had to just stand around looking, then looking again it was like nothing on earth Id seen before, yes Id seen The Franz Joseph Glacier up the Grossglockner in Austria and the one near Mont Blanc, but this mother was so huge and raw! Sometimes photos don’t do justice. Id liked to have got onto the glacier and took a shot right up the middle but the thing just curved around a mountain. The surrounding deposits would have not looked out-of-place at your local pit stack back home, that dirty dull grey shale and powdery black sand, kept reminding me of my childhood days mucking around on Sharlstons slag heaps. The glacier was filthy grey around the edges and the lake took on a muddy brown colour, it was all so very strange!
Unable to walk much further as the rocky path petered out we took a photo
Pulling onto the next camp site in the evening and in better conditions, we were now about 40 miles away from the howling winds and rain of earlier. Tonight would be a nice hot shower for 500 Iclanadic Krona (about a £5) tea, a few drinks then turn in for the night after a long old day in mostly rubbish weather.
With the rains behind us we begin to see the beautiful landscape
The morning was fresh and clear already Daz was up and about, soon Pete would be strolling by en-route to the shower block. Coffee for Julie whilst I did my bacon, most mornings on the tour would be practically identical, its funny how quickly folk get into a routine, always the same folk up around the same time. The South Coast boys took refuge in a hotel, can’t blame them I suppose as they only had basic pup tents. The London family also took the hotel option, dunno why really. However at 09.00hrs all had returned to the camp site and joined us campers for the morning meeting around the map.
It was a run further south-west today to Dyrholaey and some excellent views at theirs scenic headland.We had crossed a dozen single file bridges yesterday as the melt water from the ice cap ran to the sea, the land was still quite green and fertile because of this, in fact it was almost too green, quite lurid and lush which I found a bit confusing considering this was supposed to be icy Iceland? We drove on Iceland’s circular road the No1 it was a decent road consisting of two lanes (no motorways or dual carriage ways in Iceland)
A typical cafe at the fuel stations around Iceland
Above is a photo of the view for a good few miles. The melt water ran off the ice cap and took the easy route to the sea. The main road No 1, had many bridges spanning the meandering streams/ rivers, some bridges longer than 100 metres. To our left just a mile or less away to our right was mostly areas of black sand/ash/boulders with melt-water. No point building anything here! The headland was just ahead, we turned off the road to find a spot in the car park, like before it was just a large circular bit of land only this time it had been tarmacked.
Rugged black headland at Dyrholaey
Zipping up jackets and grabbing camera bag we strolled off to the nearest edge There doesn’t appear to be much inn the way of Health & Safety restrictions at any of the places we have visited so far neither was there any toilets and hardly a single cafe or mobile food outlet. Either they didn’t seem interested in visitors or just haven’t caught on yet I don’t know. Anyway back to the scenery, the cliff face was black and dark grey and topped with grasses, all the ground was black and dark grey too and was taking a bit of getting used to.
Some of the Atlas crew “on the rocks” so to speak!
Behind me and the black coastline looking towards mountains and the ice cap
Natural art! the orange rope was here and there occasionally to stop people wondering onto preserved site and nesting areas.
Taking photo’s of signs and local info is often helpful!
Black sand blue sky ans SOME green grass!
The nesting site for Arctic Terns
I walked to the nest site a hundred metres away, a little sign showed it was a Arctic Tern nesting site, the terns don’t build nests in trees ( Hardly a single tree in Iceland) they use scrapes and hollows in the ground and to keep predators at bay the adult terns dive bomb and peck them, Ive seen it on TV! The wild life presenter had trickles of blood coming down his face ( he did linger at the nest site to show how aggressive they could be.) I waited for just one bird to come for me and walked away. Looking closer I could see the chick sat low in the grass then I began to spot the other chicks.
On the edge of the world!
We took our time looking and exploring before meeting up again at the trucks and moved off in the direction of our next camp site. A few miles up the road Pete spotted another huge waterfall we followed the signs for a look as time was on our side, we saw plenty of waterfalls spilling over the tops of the mountains from the ice cap and now and again some were worthy of a few minutes more. This was Skogafoss and quite spectacular it was to look at! You cold walk up the goat track to the very top as before, but I thought No not today thank you! Instead I walked to the base instead and experienced the roar and the air pressure as the falling water exploded into the river I didn’t get right in because of the camera, some did though and were walking back soaked to the skin!
Team shot with most of the trucks at Skogafoss
So that was another sight seen and lunch eaten, we pulled back onto the main road leaving the manic scenes at the car park, some folk just don’t know how to park do they? Before long we picked up our first F road and head inland. F roads are designated as 4×4 roads only because of river crossings, some of the more serious crossings have Ranger telephone numbers and advise which line to take across the water, all very helpful stuff.
The road we took was gravel for the first few miles and quite easy to drive but as soon as we passed the little air strip it got rougher and bumpier and progress was down to 20 mph. The way forward was easy to see as the surface had been scraped by the resident CAT machine, the track was often sunken a foot or so It turned quite a lot too as we encountered our first of many small river crossings, the width was just a couple of metres and only ankle deep but hey, it was a start!
You can just see the track on the left and the CAT’s caterpillar track marks, the track loosely followed the meandering river at its low ebb has turned into several wide streams a this point.
Pretty clean for a change due to river crossing
We passed half a dozen vehicles on this track, it ran for a few miles before the valley began to close up, the track eventually stopping even for 4×4 traffic. Three camp sites and several lodges sat along here. It was the start of popular walking routes leading higher up and to the ice cap. Busy it was too! We passed a few buses,not ordinary ones but narrower and with larger wheels that let then make the river crossing with relative ease. We tried to follow one across a wider river but the crossing was quite rocky, and got quite deep, we watched Pete attempt it but he judged it a “no go” today, we gave that camp site a miss and stayed on the right making our way to the next camp further up. We were novices at river crossings, maybe the other were too, its not every week one crosses a river over volcanic rocks. By the end of the trip we all got more experienced became more confident it was a lot of fun too. The locals were sure too and happy to say “Don’t do that crossing, you will die!” I think we picked the last camp available to us, it was at the base of the cliff had lots of grass and vegetation and plenty of spots to put the tent we found a spot and piled in!
O the next patch was a mum and her two kids they were here for the weekend had those little foil BBQ kits and a simple 4 man tent, from what I’ve seen so far outdoor activity like camping and walking is a very popular activity. All through the evening walkers came down from the mountains and made camp, it was filling up quickly! A biking group were here too, their big truck and bike trailer was here at their base camp setting up and preparing dinner as the bikes began to return for the night… it was around 22.00 hrs but could easily have been 10.00hrs it was so flipping light!
Bicycle tour truck
The ranger came for a chat to us, he invited us to the big fire and a singalong later on but we were pretty tired after the day of driving and just wanted to chill for a bit cook dinner and let the sleep come on, eager to be fit for another days driving. Walking up and down the site was interesting, especially looking at the vehicles and their big fook off tyres, Some local Defenders and plenty of modern Jap 4×4’s tucked into the shrubbery, we deffo had the smallest tyres in the world compared to these guys! I heard the singing much later on, It sounded like a lot of people and the blue smoke from the fire marked the spot, somewhere beyond the trees, probably on the rocks by the river. It was something traditional I’m sure as they banged out verse 15 of “Ging Gang Ghoolie” I drifted off to sleep in the daylight that was midnight??