Journal of a 23-day Icelandic road trip

Thursday August 13

A unique experience: waking up in the solitary expanses of this desert at the edge of the world.

A French chap approached us, curious about our car, but looking somewhat crestfallen. He’d come to Iceland with his wife. They’d rented a 4x4 fitted out as a camper van, and had also suffered the atrocious weather. He complained about everything, chiefly his car that was too old, consumed too much gas, and was not powerful enough. Clearly nothing was going right for him, so we tried to lift his spirits.

It was 8.45 am by the time we hit the track. At the intersection, we didn’t take the F910, but the F88 toward the north of the country, where the weather, so we'd been told, was more clement.


We came across a few fords, but nothing like the size of the ones on the F206. Nothing to worry us!

Here’s what we figured would be our last ford of the trip. How sad! So, we decided to photograph it differently: from the roof of the car. OK, it was small, and not very impressive, but it was good to have a different point of view!

Next came this lunar landscape. Or maybe Martian?

The Hummer was a delight on this kind of terrain, eating up the track much better than the tarmac surfaced road (I was driving at 80 km/h – 50 mph).

We reached Route 1 at 10.45 am, after a three-hour drive.

Then we took the F862 for around 20 km (12 miles). It was very bumpy, like corrugated metal, making it quite unpleasant to drive on. But here we are in Dettifoss car park. The time was 11.20 am.


A Rangers car was parked there.

You can hear and feel Dettifoss before you get there. It’s really very impressive. Apparently, it’s the largest waterfall in Europe, with a volume discharge of around 200 m³/s (260 yard³/s), and a drop of 44 meters (145 feet).

Shooting with a fast shutter speed reveals its sharp teeth.

Dettifoss is one of the many waterfalls on the Jökulsá á Fjöllum river, which rises from the Vatnajökull glacier. It’s one of the longest rivers in Iceland (206 km / 128 miles).
The river then flows into the Jökulsárgljúfur gorge. This gorge, site of the former Jökulsárgljúfur National Park (recently subsumed into the larger Vatnajökull National Park) was formed by a rare event in the history of the Earth: the eruption of a volcano directly underneath the river, which ripped apart the surrounding mountains. The river’s course then shifted according to this chaotic new landscape.

With a long exposure, the waterfall becomes a thick ribbon plunging into the canyon.

If you walk upstream of Dettifoss, you come to a miraculously beautiful waterfall: Selfoss.

Further on up the gorge, we found Hafragilfoss. You can view it from a cliff.

The very powerful river churns up a huge amount of sediment and debris. In certain places, the jagged landscape provides sheltered areas, where the sediment precipitates to the bottom, leaving behind turquoise water.

It was now 2.30 pm, so we got back on the F862, following the river toward Hljóðaklettar. We’d planned to go on a hike that promised astounding volcanic rock formations and a blood-red mountain.

We got there an hour later and started our hike.

We met Hera and Embla, two charming Icelandic girls who offered us blueberries!

Hera and Embla ran, jumped and climbed everywhere. Yet they didn’t really have suitable shoes for the rocky ground. No matter, they’re Icelandic!

Further on, we found this “church”, a lava flow lifted upward by the pressure. It was very impressive.

Then we climbed up alongside this wall of volcanic rock. The red mountain shouldn’t be far, according to our little red guidebook.

Here we are! This is Rauðhólar (Red Hill).

This red color comes from the presence of iron oxide.

We turned back, and Emilie picked a few blueberries along the way.

We passed these imposing petrified “fireballs”. You can get an idea of their size from the people in the bottom right of the picture.

We got to Asbirgi campground around 8 pm, filled up with gas, and popped into the Visitor Center. Asbirgi is a strategic campground for exploring the area, so there were loads of people. We set up camp under a tree, but were invaded by a cloud of little flies drawn by the dampness of the leaves, and so we finally had to move onto the grass.

We then booked the washing machine for 9 pm, to get some much needed laundry done. But unluckily for us, that’s exactly when the machine broke down! Our hopes were definitively dashed when the caretaker came to see us around 10 pm: the machine would not be up and running again that night! We picnicked between two rain showers, completed our “technical chores”, had a good shower, and went to bed.

We’d picked up some leaflets from the Visitor Center about whale-watching trips. The boats left Húsavík (famous for whales), 70 km (45 miles) away. It was a three-hour boat trip, and we’d set our hearts on the 9 am boat. So we set the alarm for 6 am. Goodnight!

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