24 Mar 2014

Iceland 2014 - Day 2b: The Mammoth Drive from Egilsstaðir to Höfn

Having got to sleep at 3am after my northern light experience I decided to give the sunrise a miss, although it would have been nice with the morning glow upon the sunny trees... Ho hum, I had a 260km drive ahead of me on snowy roads, so I didn't want to take any chances with tiredness. As it was, I woke up at 8am but didn't get on the road until 10.15, having enjoyed my Icelandic breakfast of Skyr yoghurt and granola. I decided against returning to Litlanesfoss - it would take up too much time, would still be too snowy, and I couldn't really face an uphill climb again as I already had a sore back from lugging the tripod and camera gear up the previous day.

I had a brief look at the interesting church - they are more about the architecture and sculpture than being functional, my host told me - many of them suffering from leaks, etc. I headed off from Egilsstaðir, stopping for petrol before I embarked on my long journey around the east fjords (having learned from experience on my last trips that one should always fill up whenever possible). This is when disaster struck - I couldn't open the petrol cap! It brought back memories of a similar experience a year earlier in Vík when I came to fill up but also couldn't figure out how to open the cap (I'd ended up asking a man in the gas station's café to help me, and he came out in the driving hail only to tell me to stick the key into it; rather embarrassing). This time it wasn't just me being stupid; the thing was firmly stuck. There was a lever under the driver's seat, but it just wouldn't release the cap.  I thought that perhaps it was because the car was cold, so I drove on, hoping that the problem would magically rectify itself by the time I reached Fjarðabyggð at the entrance to the first of the many fjords I'd reach - Reyðarfjörður. I could have turned back and returned to the Hertz desk at the airport a couple of km away (and maybe then I could've got a car which took my iPod rather than being subjected to Katy Perry and Adele over-and-over on the disappointing Icelandic radio), but I decided to head on since I was already fairly late. I thought I'd have enough petrol to get me to Höfn anyway - just.

My mood now soured considerably, I drove uphill out of the town and was soon greeted with stunning snowy scenery. Wind blew the snow across the road like the previous day, and a huge halo surrounded the sun as it struggled to shine from behind hazy cloud.

I arrived at the town of Fjarðabyggð (your guess at how you pronounce that is as good as mine) and headed straight to find a petrol station, but sadly the problem persisted; still stuck, in spite of a nice warm car. There was no-one around to help. I consoled myself with the beautiful view and continued on my journey, but felt utterly pissed off. I tried to tell myself to relax and enjoy the views, but it was difficult worrying about my upcoming fate (potentially running out of petrol, etc..).

I drove through a 6km tunnel; it was nice after the endlessly snowy and icy roads to drive on clear tarmac. The tunnel was wide and easy driving, not scary like the one I'd driven in a few years ago near Borganes which was full of heavy trucks and left me feeling very nervous! I came out onto another picturesque fjord - Fáskrúðsfjörður, where I stopped for a few more photos, surrounded by sunny, snowy peaks.

Eventually I reached the end of that long fjord and hit the first ocean coastline; the scenery as I turned around to the south-west was stunning, with jagged ridges ahead of me covered in snow. I kept pulling over to the side to snap away at the latest array of Icelandic grandeur; as usual the journey was a little slower than it could have been.

As I headed into another, shallower fjord, I met my first horses of the day and pulled over to say hello. One of them was lying on its side; I hoped it was just sleeping. It was, and it moved a little just as another went over to greet it. It was clearly unwell, though, its coat all greasy and messed up and it kept rolling on its back. The other horse came over to meet me, hoping that my lens was edible. Another soon joined me. I stroked their soft noses, feeling their warm breath and wished I'd had some carrots or sugar-lumps. Instead I just tried to take some photographs of them before they tried to munch on the lens.

Eventually I dragged myself away from these beautiful creatures, hoping that the sick one would be okay - perhaps the farmer would be along soon... Another bend in the road brought more spectacular views, with steep black cliffs above me with ledges dusted in snow.

I turned in to a very long fjord, Berufjörður, knowing that the little town of Djúpivogur was at the far end of it on the other side and that this would be my last stop and last chance for petrol before the final 100km to Höfn. The range of petrol showing was extremely worrying - it seemed to move down about 20km for every 15km I drove, which meant I might not make it to Höfn after all, in spite of showing a possible 50-70km of petrol to spare. At the far end of the fjord was the only stretch of gravel road, with a few potholes, but my Vitara handled it well. On the far side was a wide vista of snowy mountains reflected in the fjord below. There was also some strange mounds covered in ice, which looked a bit like eggs hatching. I headed down onto a beach to have a closer look - the mounds were made up of seaweed. Other interesting ice formations clung to the seaweed and sand.

As I'd been researching the trip, I'd seen a triangular mountain and a ruined boat towards the end of the fjord, just before the town. I looked out for it and finally the boat was visible, so I turned off the road. Clouds had become thicker and the light was flat, but I headed to the beach towards the boat anyway and had a little play with some long exposures on the water and with the Zeiss lens of the boat.

Next stop was the town of Djúpivogur and straight to the N1 petrol station. Again the damn thing wouldn't open. I saw a couple of people nearby and shouted over to see if they could help me. I tugged on the lever and a helpful young Icelandic man finally managed to pull the thing open! I could fill up! I was extremely relieved, thanked him, filled up and was finally able to relax, although it was getting late and I was going to miss the alotted check-in time at my guest-house if I didn't get a move on. Around the next headland my weather luck ran out and I drove into the promised rain.

I was keen to get to Höfn quickly now, hoping that I might get a glimpse of sunset after I checked in. I drove along the next fjord without stopping and eventually reached the headland at Hvalnes, where I'd hoped to see the late afternoon sun fall on the rocks above me (so much for my planning; the weather always wins!). Just at the headland I spotted some reindeer at the side of the road, so stopped to see if they'd stay still for some photos. No such luck, they just scarpered as soon as they saw me.

As I turned at the top of the headland I'd planned to take a left turn where there's a long beach, reaching towards Vesturhorn, which also had good views of the mountain above me. In spite of the worsening weather I was lucky that an etheral fog hung around the peaks. I wandered up to the beach too, which had sweeping views towards Vesturhorn along a black sandy beach.

I continued on, passing a huge collection of swans, swirling around in the inlet, making an absolute racket as they did so.

Finally it was through a small tunnel, before which I saw some beautiful reflections of the mountains facing me.

I raced on to make check-in at the Hafnarnes guesthouse, just outside Höfn, before 6pm, then drove straight back to catch any last light at Stokksnes, underneath the magnificent Vesturhorn. The rain and snow held off, so I was able to catch a few shots before the weather finally turned and the light disappeared.

Dragging myself away I drove back into town, just as it began to snow heavily. I pulled into the first place I could find to eat once I got to Höfn (pronounced "hup!"). It turned out it was the place I'd seen recommended, Kaffi Hornið, the one place in town to eat lobster. I had a delicious burger instead and downed a litre of water, before heading back to the guesthouse, where I chatted to some young Asian guys (one from Taiwan, one Japanese and one South Korean). I spent some time sorting out a few photos and finally went to bed at 11, after a long, stressful, exhausting day. But hey, the scenery was pretty nice along the way!

Click here for Day 2a blog
Click here for Day 3 blog 

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