Iceland’s Ring Road, Part 2

From the north we headed southeast to see Iceland’s magnificent Eastern Fjords. We had viewed what seemed like hundreds of waterfalls already along the Ring Road, but as we neared the fjords the falls grew even more impressive. With a geologically young landscape and tons of rain, snow, and ice, Iceland happens to be the ideal setting for waterfalls.

The Eastern Fjords cover a 120 km stretch of the Ring Road. The road twists and turns as it follows the rugged coastline and travels through remote farms and fishing villages. The sheer cliffs give way to black rock beaches dotted with milky white agates.  Being rock hunters, we were ecstatic to find agates strewn along the beach.  They were even in the road beds!

We camped along this rock beach and went agate hunting.

Vegetation at our campsite along the beach.  We even found our first Icelandic mushrooms (middle photo).

Sheep on the beach in the Eastern Fjords. We saw more sheep than people!

In the small fishing village of Stöðvarfjörður, we discovered a kindred spirit in Petra María Sveinsdóttir. For 80 years, Petra walked out her front door and up into the mountains above her home to go rock and mineral hunting. This area is famous for minerals, such as the zeolites, jasper, onyx, opal, and agate. Over the years as her collection grew, she turned her house into a rock and mineral museum. We were so bummed it was closed when we were there but we got to peek at some of the incredible specimens outside.

Petra’s stone collection

Layers upon layers of basalt line the steep glacially eroded cliffs of the Eastern Fjords. We were fortunate to have a sunny day as we drove the winding coastline. Reindeer only live in Eastern Iceland and we were lucky to spot one along our drive.

A reindeer!

One of the small fishing villages

Iceland’s Eastern Fjords

From the east, we turned and headed southwest along the Ring Road. Skógafoss waterfall is one of the largest waterfalls in Iceland with a width of 25 metres (82 feet) and a drop of 60 m (200 ft). The spray from this waterfall often produces rainbows on sunny days.

Rainbow at Skógafoss

Southern Iceland

Our destination for the night was Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon. The lagoon is famous for its icebergs that calve off the nearby Breiðamerkurjökull glacier and then drift to sea. From the lagoon we walked to the beach and watched as the icebergs were swept out into the ocean.  The beach itself is littered with hundreds of icebergs that were washed back onshore by the large waves. See the video below!

Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon at sunset

Icebergs on the beach

Up close and personal with icebergs

As we set up camp near Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon, we were super excited since it was our first clear night in Iceland and we wanted to see the Northern Lights. Unfortunately, we checked the Aurora Borealis forecast and it predicted a 1 out of 9 on auroral activity scale, which meant we probably weren’t going to see them.

Bummed, we prepared for bed in the camper van. At around 10 pm, we checked one last time before turning in and the Aurora was streaming across the sky! We spent the next 2 hours enjoying the show until we could no longer feel our hands and toes and had to head inside.

Heading back towards Reykjavík we veered off the Ring Road to visit the Golden Circle, a 300 km loop that extends from Reykjavík into central Iceland and back. Along the Golden Circle we visited Kerið Volcanic Crater and Geysir, home of the first ever geyser described in a printed source. The name Geysir  is derived from the Icelandic verb geysa meaning “to gush.” Geysir has been dormant since 1916 but other geysers in the area continue to erupt regularly. The Strokkur geyser erupts every 8-10 minutes, shooting up water 15 – 20 meters into the air as seen in the video below.

An Icelandic turf house. Turf houses provide excellent insulation against the harsh Icelandic climate.

Kerið Volcanic Crater along Iceland’s Golden Circle

Strokkur geysir erupting (top photos)

Our favorite stop on the Golden Circle was at Þingvellir National Park. The Mid-Atlantic Ridge slices through Iceland and is exposed at Þingvellir. Here the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates are pulling apart at a rate of quarter-inch per year, creating spectacular scenery.

Standing in the rift zone Þingvellir National Park

Fungi at Þingvellir National Park

From the Golden Circle we headed to Reykjavík, the capital and largest city in Iceland. The city was officially founded in 1786, however it is believed that Ingólfur Arnarson and his wife founded the city in 874 as they became the first permanent Nordic settlers of Iceland.

Today, Reykjavík is home to colorful buildings, unique public art, and the famous Hallgrímskirkja church. Standing at 73 meters tall, Hallgrímskirkja is the largest church in Iceland. Constructed between 1945-1986, the church was designed to resemble columnar basalt, a tribute to the numerous basaltic lava flows that dominate the country’s landscape.

Reykjavík,Iceland

A friendly cat in downtown Reykjavík

On our way to the airport, we stopped at the famous Blue Lagoon Iceland. While we did not have time to enjoy the geothermal spa, we did walk around the lava fields and hot springs surrounding the area.

 

The Blue Lagoon

From Iceland we flew back to the US where we would spend three weeks before heading to South America. On our flight back to the US we were treated to a six hour sunset due to the time change. It was a beautiful end to an incredible adventure in Iceland!

Sunset over Greenland

 

 

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