By Inntravellers, James & Fiona Clarke, travelling in June/July
Day 1: What a wonderful place! We arrive at our hotel in Reykjavik in glorious weather with plenty of time for a stroll round the city before finding somewhere for dinner.
Day 2: Today, we ‘do’ all the sights – harbour, town hall, city hall (a wonderful 'cube'), the basalt church (beautifully simple) and the modern Viking ship sculpture. While F & K go to the Blue Lagoon for a spa treatment, P & I drive to the coast and find a natural geothermal area with hot bubbling mud. Reykjavik is open all night for Midsummer Night as it never gets dark – there’s only two hours between sunset and sunrise.
Day 3: We take the longer route north to take in more of the spectacular scenery. The wildflowers are beautiful: wild lupins everywhere, saxifrage, campion, buttercup, kingcup, butterwort, Icelandic poppy, Alpen rose, potentilla, sedums, thrift and more!
There are birds everywhere, too – we see snow bunting, ring and golden plovers, Arctic terns, eider, fulmars, godwits, curlew, oystercatchers, dunlin, and sandpipers! And waterfalls everywhere! Fantastic! We arrive at Grundarfjördur on the Snæfelles peninsular and find our hotel. We have views over the fjord – F excited about seeing orca. It’s a fishing town dominated by a church clad in corrugated iron, but with plenty of light streaming through coloured glass inside creating a feeling of welcome.
Day 4: Another sunny morning and the forecast good so its day for short walks and lots of photography! We see plenty of birds and good waterfalls, then go part way round Kirkjufell, a small mountain, and have our picnic lunch. F & K go beach-combing and find plenty of shells while P & I keep walking, tough in places. We see masses of sandpipers, snipe, eider, black-tailed godwits and fulmars, to name but a few. The flowers also remain excellent.
Day 5: We set off to Stykkishólmur, along roadsides full of nesting birds, though our attention is quickly drawn to the estuary by the sight of leaping dolphins! Another lasting memory. At Stykkishólmur, we walk up a hill to enjoy views over the harbour and sea. It’s very warm. We visit the ‘Library of Water’ far more interesting than it sounds, before a lunch of fish soup, mussels and prawns, thoroughly enjoyed by all. On the way back, we take a walk to see an old church and a waterfall. We’ve spent three nights in Grundarfjördur – but seen no orca yet!
Day 6: We leave for our next destination in Hellnar, spotting a red-throated diver in a pond by the road. Then we see red-necked phalarope – very tame – with four chicks. Further on we drive into what must be an Arctic tern colony! We stop for lunch at a golden sandy beach (most are black), and saw two great northern divers quite close to shore, plus cormorants and eiders. We climb an old volcano crater – apparently there’s an Arctic fox den near here, but we do not see it. At our hotel in Hellnar, we enjoy a very fine meal.
Day 7: In the morning, we visit the National Park Centre – it’s all in English – then we move on to the cave where “A Journey to the Centre of the Earth” was set. We descend into the cave, lit by torches, and P finds all his Geology ‘A’ level flooding back. We re-emerge into beautiful sunshine and head off along the coast for lunch. We see rock formations, sea stacks and lighthouses, with a backdrop of rough seas and white foam on black pebble beaches. Simply breathtaking.
Day 8: We set along the cliffs and see razorbills, guillemots, kittiwakes and fulmars nesting, plus eiders and their chicks on the sea. The basalt columns and black sand contrast with the white foaming sea – it’s blowing a gale! After lunch, K & F go swimming in a naturally heated pool, while P & I go to photograph red-necked phalarope, wheatears, redshanks golden plover, black-tailed godwit and plenty of Arctic skuas today. We find one of the oldest churches in Iceland, dating back to 1703. It’s very small but would make a great final resting place. Over another excellent supper we discuss tomorrow – heading south via Thingvellir, Geysir and Gullfoss.
Day 9: Thingvellir is where the American and Eurasian tectonic plates collide. Our Geology student explains that they do not actually touch – the 4-kilometre gap is filled with deposits forming a pretty valley of small silver birch trees and blueberry heath. Next stop is the original Geysir! Sadly, it hardly ever erupts these days, but its neighbour, Strokkar, makes up for it, spurting boiling water into the air, every five minutes. What a spectacle! Then inland, to the spectacular Gullfoss (‘Golden Falls’), the likes of which I have never seen before. After negotiating the Reykjavik rush hour, we head along the coast through farms with Icelandic ponies everywhere, to reach the Hotel Anna, in the shadow of Eyjafjallajökull, source of the infamous 2010 ash cloud.
Day 10: Our first walk is to the Seljalandsfoss, a 40-metre waterfall you can walk behind, though we get quite wet. Next, to the 62-metre Skogafoss which reminds us of Hardraw Force in Yorkshire. After lunch, we visit an really interesting folk museum before returning to our hotel for an excellent meal, which includes horse and Arctic char, plus Icelandic cheeses: two are very good, the other is ‘interesting’ – coated in paprika!
Day 11: We set off for our final hotel, first stopping to see a farm half buried by the ash of Eyjafjallajökull in 2010. We continue on to Dyrholaos to see puffins and guillemots on the basalt arches and stacks, and a harlequin duck. After lunch on the beach at Vik we see a ptarmigan, before the final leg over a glacial desert – nothing but barren land with glacial outflows, and sparse grasses. The road has been rerouted several times as bridges get washed away. It’s extraordinarily bleak and flat and we are pleased to reach green hills again. We arrive at the Hotel Geirland in sunshine, after another fantastic day.
Day 12: It’s a beautiful sunny start so we head east to Jökulsarlon. Here, ice breaks off the glacier before flowing down to the sea to be washed up on the shore. The ice comes in all shapes, sizes and colours, glistening like diamonds on the black sand. Words can hardly describe it. We see skuas mobbing Arctic terns, snow bunting with chicks, pied wagtails – and spot the only seal of our trip. On the way back we notice a snipe on an old turf-roofed church! We all agree it was another very good day.
Day 13: A beautiful sunny morning greets us, so we head to Svartifoss and climb the hill for views over the plain, glaciers and mountains. In the birch scrub we see redwings while eating our picnic. We visit some leaning basalt outcrops, associated with stories of elves, trolls and gold, before heading back, via another old church, where we see snipe and whimbrel next to the road – plus golden plover in nearby fields.
Day 14: It’s our last day, a beautiful sunny morning, so we set off on foot for Stjornarfoss, about 2 km from hotel. We thought of having a swim but it was a bit chilly out of the sun, so we walked on to a basalt pavement called ‘the church floor’, then up to the 'Singing cave' and Systrafoss, from where we got excellent views of the area After photographing more terns, golden plover, whimbrels, snipe and curlew, we return to pack.
This has been an excellent holiday with very good weather, fantastic sights, birds and flowers – and great company.
All photos by James & Fiona Clarke