Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Southern Iceland Part 1

Thurs, 15 Feb 2018

Jokulsarlon glacier lagoon and Diamond beach

Today's gruelling journey covered a total of 660 km distance and 8 hours in duration from Reykjavik to Jokulsarlon glacier lagoon, then back to Hella; to make up for lost time yesterday due to heavy snow and strong winds. That's the unpredictability of Iceland's weather, especially in winter. We even had to forego our glacier hike at Skaftafell, otherwise we would have to skip Jokulsarlon.

After a late night out yesterday, searching for the northern lights but to no avail, we got up a bit late, had breakfast and only set out to drive at 9.30am with the first glimmer of sun on the horizon. On hindsight, we should have started the drive earlier, as we ended up reaching Hella in the dark at 8.30pm. It is not advisable to drive at night in Iceland in winter especially, as there is no road lights.

We planned for a straight drive to Jokulsarlon, only stopping at Vik to re-fuel. But it was impossible to do so when the landscape around you are so majestic and out of this world, it seemed like we were in a different planet! Like Dr Mann's ice planet in the movie Interstellar. (The part was shot in Iceland, after all).

Ice planet

one of many cliffs along the journey

Our first unplanned stop was Skogafoss waterfall, not far from Hella. The water falls from a cliff with a 60m drop. Interestingly, the cliff used to be located by the sea, but it has now receded to 5km away. Fact taken from here. Comparing pictures of Skogafoss in winter and summer, I think it looks more majestic in winter! And I'm sure, our geologist friends would have a field day at this place, geo- imagining!

Skogafoss waterfall

Skoga river

We drove a further 30km before reaching the next town - Vik to fill up the tank. Petrol price is really expensive here at about RM8.3/litre, 4 times more than back home! There is no problem to make payment, as credit cards are accepted.

We didn't stop anymore after this, as we were behind schedule to reach Jokulsarlon which was still some 200km away. On a highway in summer conditions, a 200km distance could be reached in just about 2 hours. But not in Iceland. The speed limit is only 90km/hr here, plus the road is icy and slippery, you do not want to drive too fast, and if you are caught speeding, the fine is hefty! We also had to slow down when reaching a bridge, as only one vehicle can pass through at a time. We passed by Solheimajokull glacier, Reynisfjara black beach and Skaftafell glacier on the way, hopeful to stop by on the way back instead.

We finally reached Jokulsarlon at around 3pm. We took pictures at Diamond beach first, where pieces of broken iceberg from the Jokulsarlon glacier lagoon next door flows to the Atlantic ocean. The pieces of iceberg looked like diamonds, hence the name. Some of the iceberg looked blue, the colour depends on the amount of air trapped in the ice.

blue iceberg

diamond iceberg on black sand beach

A few meters away from the diamond beach is the Jokulsarlon glacier lagoon. The Breiðamerkurjökull glacier began to retreat in the 1920s, and developed into a lake, with icebergs melting and drifting into the Atlantic ocean. The size of the lake is currently about 18km2 with a depth of 248m. Seals ply the lake for food, but we saw only a lone seal. And it disappeared into the lake before we could snap a picture. Facts excerpted from here.

Jokulsarlon glacier lagoon

Jokulsarlon glacier lagoon

vast area of Jokulsarlon
It was then time to turn back as we didn't want to be on the road in the dark. We had to skip Skaftafell glacier, which was very unfortunate.  We were supposed to hike here also earlier in the morning today, but it was not meant to be. We hope we could come back and do the hike.

On the way back, we did stop by the road for a viewpoint of  Hvannadalshnjúkur, a peak of the Öræfajökull volcano which is also the highest peak in Iceland, and the Virkisjokull and Falljokull glacier, which are all part of the vast Vatnajokull National Park.

Virkisjokull glacier in the distance


We then drove back straight to our hotel in Hella, aptly named Hotel Hella, another 230km away, and reached there a bit past darkness hour at 8.30pm. Sunset was at 6pm, and there was still some light for about an hour until it become totally dark at 7pm. So we drove for about 1.5 hours in the dark. Luckily there were always other vehicles in front or trailing behind us. It did snow while we were driving in the dark, but the road was still passable until we reached our hotel. Hotel Hella is slightly cheaper than in Reykjavik, costing EUR 60 per night, with breakfast.

Hotel Hella
simple room at Hella

What a long journey today. Originally, we were supposed to drive from Reykjavik to Jokulsarlon, then stay the night at the nearby Skalafell guest house. But due to the bad weather and impassable road, we were one day late, and have already booked at Hotel Hella for today. Tomorrow we plan to turn back to Reynisfjara and Solheimajokull glacier, then cover the Golden Circle before going back to Reykjavik. Another tightly packed itinerary for tomorrow.



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