After our drive through the East Fjords, Gareth and I began our journey into Northern Iceland. From Egilsstadir, the Ring Road brought us inland. We were no longer driving in and out of fjords, but rather going up and over mountains.
Our first attempt to veer from the Ring Road didn’t go well. We wanted to see Studlagil, a canyon known for its basalt columns. There was a thick layer of ice on the road. It wouldn’t have been too bad, but it was quite hilly with some steep terrain along the road. I was nervous about it, so we turned back to the Ring Road.
Myvatn Lake and Nature Baths
We continued our drive to the Myvatn area. Our first stop was Grjotagja caves. Ygritte and Jon Snow spent the night in these caves in Game of Thrones. For a time, the caves were closed because of tourists behaving badly and ruining it for everyone, but they are now open once more.
We ventured into the dark caves. It was a nice temperature because of the hot water. It’s not possible to soak in them because it’s just a little too hot to be safe. I dunked my hand in, and it was bearable but not something I would want to jump into.
Gareth wanted to drive the road around Myvatn, the volcanic lake. There were a few spots to get out and hike. We stopped at one trailhead, and the terrain was pretty icy so I wore my YakTrax. It was a windy, unpleasant day. I lost a YakTrak on our walk, and Gareth ran back to find it.
Finally, we got back in the car and drove to the hot spring where we were to spend the afternoon.
We arrived at Myvatn Nature Baths right as it was getting dark. It was a bit on the pricey side, but I had read that it was worth it. They gave us electronic wrist bands for the lockers and asked if we wanted to load up drinks on them for the swim-up bar. That was a yes for us.
After changing and showering off in the locker rooms, I met Gareth out at the geothermal pool. Although it was dark, I could see the water was a thick, aqua blue. It was a windy evening, and after getting my glass of wine from the swim-up bar, we found a secluded alcove that blocked the wind. We soaked for an hour then went to test out one of the hot pots, with much hotter water.
I tried out the sauna, but couldn’t last long because the thick air made it hard to breathe. Saunas have good health benefits if you can build up a tolerance for them. I hadn’t built that up yet, so I went back out to the cold night when my lips were tingling and I felt like I might pass out.
After hours of soaking, we drove to our campsite for the night. It was a simple parking lot with a bathroom building off the side of the highway. We cooked eggs and bacon for dinner and settled in bed.
The Diamond Circle
The following day we were set to explore the Diamond Circle. It’s said to be the Golden Circle of Northern Iceland. We had to backtrack a bit and then turn off onto an icy road. Like many of the roads off the Ring Road, they are not as well maintained. The ice was several inches thick, and we drove slow. Thankfully, there were no scary drop-offs and our surroundings were relatively flat.
Finally, we made it to Dettifoss, the second most powerful waterfall in Europe. There was one other car in the parking lot down this desolate road. We got out and hiked through several feet deep of snow to make it to the viewpoint. The ground was vibrating a bit as we walked closer to the water and even from far away we were getting sprayed by the mist from the falls.
We continued our drive along the icy road to make it to the coast once more. I was looking forward to our next stop.
The town of Husavik is a coastal town that is known for its whale-watching in the summers. I was looking forward to seeing it because it’s featured in the Netflix movie Eurovision with Rachael McAdams and Will Ferrell. They did film parts of the movie in the town of Husavik.
First, we went to the docks to see the water. It had the prettiest reflection of the town against the sea. Next, we wanted to see the Whale Museum. From the outside, the building was huge. Upon entering, I learned why. There were skeletal remains of whales of various sizes. One whale had been found on an island north of Iceland. The museum hired a boat to haul the whale to Husavik, towing it in the water all the way.
Even though the bones were cleaned and some of them decades old, the museum still had a strong fish smell.
Afterward, we ended our time in Husavik by stopping at the new bar Jaja Ding Dong, dedicated to the Eurovision Song Contest. The bar had memorabilia from different Eurovision artists over the years. There was also a section dedicated to the movie Eurovision, and they had several dresses that Rachael McAdams had worn in the movie.
Gareth was feeling lively, so he decided he would be up for driving us to Akureyri. It is the big town in Northern Iceland, and we had planned to spend a couple of nights there.
We drove in and found our campsite outside of town. I dropped our campsite fee in the payment box. Two women were camping out there as well, enjoying their last night in Iceland before driving back to Rekyjavik. We talked about how we had not seen the Northern Lights yet, which they were hoping to see before leaving.
The nights had been cloudy. I’d been checking my Northern Lights forecast app, and there had been low chances of seeing them up until this point. I’d been told you must get up in the middle of the night and drive around to try to see them and to get away from the clouds. So far, with a low chance of a sighting, we had not gotten up in the middle of the night to chase the lights.
The following morning, we drove into town to go to a bakery to get some pastries for breakfast. With high restaurant prices, we’d mostly been cooking for ourselves. But breakfast pastries weren’t a bad price, so we indulged in them often.
Gareth wanted to get some skiing in, so we drove up to the Akureyri ski slopes. They looked patchy and icy, and the rental shop was closed anyway. He decided it wasn’t worth it.
Instead, we drove out of town in search of Hauganes Hot Pot. The full moon was out during our drive, even in the daylight. We made it to the hot pots, and there were a couple of changing rooms and several soaking pools to choose from. One of the pools was built to look like a Viking ship, which I found particularly charming. We were eventually joined by two older Icelandic women. Several times they left the hot pots to go jump into the ocean to cool off. Gareth gave it a try as well, but I wasn’t really into breaking my relaxation to dive into freezing water.
We returned to Akureyri and began our pursuit of doing laundry. Laundromats in Iceland are pretty difficult to come by. It’s largely a middle-class country, so most families have their own washing machines. We found a restaurant and hostel called Akureyri Backpackers and set up there for a couple of hours. I did my laundry, and we had a couple of beers while planning the next leg of our trip.
We had to decide whether we wanted to go into the West Fjords or not. Usually, it’s snowed in and many roads are impassable in the winter. The winter had been mild so far, and we would be able to drive in if we chose. We figured we may never come to Iceland again, so we might as well give it a try while we’re here. I made a loose plan for our journey into that part of the country.
After our laundry was done, we returned to the van to do a bit of organization. We had big evening plans. There was a new Spider-Man movie out that Gareth just had to see on opening night. I was a little wary going into the crowded theater. We hadn’t been around this many people at once during our entire trip. I’m not really into superhero movies, but I was surprised by how much I enjoyed the Spider-Man movie. I was surprised too by how many Icelanders came out to see it. I didn’t know superheroes were so popular here.
Leaving Northern Iceland
The next morning, we decided to check out the local swimming pool, as per usual. I also needed a shower, so it was a good way to kill two birds with one stone. This pool was the biggest so far, with multiple hot tubs and two gigantic slides. A water fitness class was just getting out. Many retirement-aged locals hung around the pools in groups. I couldn’t understand what they were saying, but I got the impression it was town gossip based on their hushed voices and glances at passersby.
After watching children play for a bit, we decided to try the slides for ourselves. We climbed the steep steps to get to the top. They had red and green lights at the top to let people know when it was OK to go down. I chose the longer of the two. I slid down the dark tunnel, twisting a turning until I shot out the bottom. It was a delightful time, and we ran up the steps several more times to do more laps.
We wanted to check out a few thrift shops we’d heard were good. Gareth was always on a quest for his next Icelandic sweater, and by going to the thrift stores he could find some that were a fraction of the cost of new ones. He did find a green sweater that fit him nicely, as well as a knitted hat. We also went to the local Ice Wear store to find sweaters for our roommates at home, who were taking care of our dog and cat in our absence.
In the early afternoon, we journey out of town as it was getting dark to go to a new campsite. We couldn’t find the closest campsite on the list. We drove further down the road to the next one. It was off the highway across from a gas station. One other van was parked at the campground. We cooked dinner, ate some chocolate, and looked at the map for our next day’s drive.
In the morning, I went to the bathroom building, but the one open toilet was occupied. It was freezing, so I went back to the van to wait. When the person finally came out, another member of their group went in. A whole family was occupying the neighboring van. We went about getting ready for departure, the family occupying the entire bathroom all the while. After 45 minutes of it not being open, we drove to the gas station for a coffee and to use the restrooms there. I was very annoyed because I thought most people would be considerate enough to share the space.
Nevertheless, we were starting our drive into the West Fjords, where I’m sure our inconsiderate neighbors would not be following.