Day 11 – Ice to see you – to see you, ice

Friday 9th July 2021. Warning! Lots of pictures!

Today was the day we made the move from the eastern region to the Deep South. This journey goes round the south side of Vatnajökull glacier, Europe’s largest glacier at around 8,000 square kilometres (some say more, some less). Unsurprisingly, it, and its offshoots, formed the mainstay of today’s sights.

We started the day, however, with an experiment. As any fule kno, Iceland is a long way north – just south of the arctic circle – and so at the time of our visit the summer days are long enough that the midnight sun comes into play. Blackout blinds are an important part of hotel room decor to ensure that the rooms can be dark enough to sleep in, for example. We thought it might be interesting to demonstrate how light it was at midnight, so took a photo from our hotel window (actually, 2330, but cut us some slack, here, OK?).

That’s a little gloomy, but not actually very dark. I then took a photo at 7am using exactly the same settings, expecting it to not be that much brighter, underlining the lightness at midnight.

So our impression, that it’s not that much darker at midnight than at 7am, was wrong, then. What it demonstrates is that while it is certainly not truly dark, the human eye and brain have very strong compensation capabilities.

Our first major event of the day was to be a trip on a Zodiac RIB across a glacial lake, Jökulsárlón, to have a close encounter with Breiðamerkurjökull, a sort of “finger” off the main Vatnajökull glacier. But before that, Dagur took us a little off piste to have a look at a different finger, called Heinabergslón, which gave us a couple of decent images and a good build-up to the main act, as it were.

Then it was time for our boat ride. There are a couple of operators offering RIB rides across the lake, running from a rather ramshackle car park. You can actually get quite a good view of the glacier and some icebergs from the shore there.

Our operator was Ice Lagoon Tours who did a good job of getting us kitted out with insulated waterproof overalls (I’ll spare you the picture, mainly because I haven’t got one) and bussing us out to a pair of RIBs. I was somewhat nervous of getting my Big Camera damaged by spray, so took a Rainshield bag with me; it turned out to be not necessary and I’m glad I did take the Nikon, rather than the smaller, tougher, waterproofer but less capable Olympus Tough that I also had available.

The journey across the lake is actually some 7km, and is undertaken at some speed (a big spray risk on a rough day which thankfully we didn’t have).

On the way over, I noticed a button on the boat which seemed to be very significant for an Icelandic operation

but rather prosaically is simply part of Suzuki’s engine speed management systems.

Once we arrived near the glacier, our skipper, Erik, slowed down so we could stand up and take some photos. Of course, I took lots, and here are some of them.

The dark lines across the glacier indicate the time of an eruption when ash and rubble was laid down; so you can drill down into a glacier to go back in time for research purposes.

There were some icebergs floating near the glacier and some of them showed the fantastic blue colour that is so attractive.

There were a couple of seals lazing around on the floating ice. Jane’s ever-eagle eyes spotted the first one, and Erik took us close enough to each of them to get some photos.

and then it was time to head back to the start, across a bracingly bumpy but thankfully pretty dry stretch.

After this excitement, lunch was needed, and this is where the ramshackle nature of the car park became most obvious. For one of Iceland’s most popular tourist attractions, one might expect a well-organised retail operation; but one would be disappointed. There are a couple of food outlets, some loos and the boat operators and that’s it; and the food options are somewhat limited. The caravan selling fish and chips (called “Nailed It” for some unfathomable reason) had no queue, so we ordered some, and very good they were, too.

Just along the road is something called the “Diamond Beach”, so-called because you can find lumps of ice on the black sand; the ice lake flows out via a river that reaches the sea at this beach, hence the presence of ice. This is better seen in winter, as for us, the ice was pretty sparse.

failing even to impress a skua who was watching the tourists at play.

More glacier action featured at our next stop just down the road at another finger off the main glacier, called Fjallsárlón, where I got another bunch of decent photos; the one below gives you some idea of scale through the tiny figures you can see in the foreground.

After all that ice, it was time for a break and this came in the form of a visit to Hofskirkja, the last turf church ever constructed in Iceland, originally constructed in 1884, though it was thoroughly restored in the 1950s. Unlike some of the country’s other turf churches, this one is still a practicing parish.

There was a very agitated bird, a Redshank, which was loudly complaining about our presence and therefore presumably had a nest somewhere near.

so we left the poor thing in peace (eventually) and moved on to our next glacial encounter, at a place called Freynes, yet another finger reaching down from the main Vatnajökull glacier. This involved a bit of a hike and a scramble over some gravelly rocks, but this yielded some good photos.

After this we had a slightly surreal interaction with a bridge that was part of the old Iceland Ring Road and which is now no longer in use; Dagur wanted to drive up on to it and so we helped him find the track so he could put his Land Rover to good use. Bizarre, but he was happy to have done it, so there we go.

We then got back into proper Tourist Mode for the final sights of the day as we headed out of the eastern region and into the Deep South. At one place, near the hill where the King and Queen of the Elves live, yes they really do,

is a good example of what happens to the lava of an eruption over time. The only thing that can grow on lava is moss. So you can see the edge of a lava flow by where moss grows and where it doesn’t.

The moss above is actually yellow moss, but because it’s been dry it has lost its colour until the next rains. The grass is growing in soil and you can clearly see where the grass can’t grow and is replaced by moss. This is from an eruption some 250 years ago, so the process of moss growth is very slow.

Lastly, because we’re in Iceland after all, we visited a couple of waterfalls, the first labelled by Google Maps (rather unconvincingly, in my view) as “Foss midway li la lo”

and the second Foss a Sidu.

After this we went to our hotel, the Magma Hotel in Kirkjubæjarklaustur. This is a very attractive place, with a main building housing reception and restaurant

and rooms in the shape of turf-roofed cabins.

We had a very nice dinner, and then decided to go for a brief stroll to explore, because the setting is so pleasant.

You’ll notice the horse in the picture above, and there were some in an adjoining field.

of which two came over to say hello – lovely creatures and very engaging they were, too.

Thus ended the day. I would apologise for the large number of photos, but then it’s been that kind of a day, and I hope you have liked some of them. Tomorrow is likely to be the same – not many miles covered but a busy agenda, so do please come back then and see what we’ve been up to, won’t you?

1 thought on “Day 11 – Ice to see you – to see you, ice

  1. Pingback: So, Iceland, eh? Final thoughts | Steve Walker

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