In August of 1998 we travelled to Iceland. Members of our group
were Silke and me, two selected bikes, a tent and a lot
of thirst for adventure. The way to Iceland was more
or less easy if one neglects the trip to Düsseldorf
airport by train. Shortly before midnight one arrives
in Kevlavik (the only international airport of Iceland).
The late time is no problem at all because a bus from
the local campsite is usually waiting for new backpackers
to bring the crazy tentpeople to their place. A first
small difficulty of the trip is to put up the tent in the dark
night. The campsite of Kevlavik is very much recommended,
the bikes can be reassembled there and it is possible to
leave some things there for the duration of the whole
trip (for example the boxes in which the bikes were
taken into the planes).
Our route went along the southern coast of the peninsula
to the east. On the first day we already had to notice
what an exhausting trip this will be. The end of the
stage was a gravel road, potholes and steep ascents
everywhere, a flat tire, and on sunset it suddenly got
very cold. In short words: We did not reach the goal
of this day and therefore had to put up our tent in the
mid of the nature reserve, which is not allowed.
Accidently there was a campsite that was obviously
not being used this year (except for us this night).
weather in Iceland is the real challenge of a trip
to Iceland as we had to notice during the following
weeks. Visiting the interior of the island, the
highlands, is only possible in Juli or August.
Some passes are not opened until begin of July,
before that time they are not passable because of
the rain and thaw. There was rain on one third of our
days in Iceland, drying of clothes tends to be a
problem, especially when you are staying in the wild
or on small campsites without spin-drier or even
dry rooms. But whoever can live with that and does not
despair at Beaufort 8 (depending on where you are in
a stormy rain in the south or in a sand storm in the desert),
he found THE one and only country.
went on in eastern direction, first to
Þorlákshöfn. This is not the
most beautiful town in Iceland, but there is a small
campsite at the swimming pool, on which the wind blows
directly from the nearby ocean. If you trust your
tent then this is a very cosy place. We went on to
Selfoss, Hella and Laugaland to the campsite of
Galtalækjarskógur. If it's not the time
of the gigantic rock concert on the first weekend of
August then it's the right place to put up your tent
in direct view of the Hekla, a very impressive vulcano.
If you follow the shores of the river at the rim of the
campsite you get to a place where some sedimentary rocks
of interesting forms were formed by the wind and the weather.
From now on
the road leads into Icelands highlands. That means untouched
nature wherever you look: Only bad gravel roads, no bridges
over the rivers, deserts and the lonely road.
Not easy to do this by car (and especially not to be done
with a normal car) and unbelievably exhausting and
wondeful by bike. The landscape is getting more and more
beautiful and after real hard work we reached
a fairytale place on earth. Landmannalaugar means "the
warm springs of the country men", here is a pool in wich
a cold and a warm river unite. You can choose your bath
temperature by the distance to the mouth of the warm
or the cold river. The surroundings are colorful
mountains of Ryolith stone, it's a fantastic landscape.
If you are there you have to follow the old stream of
the lava, a hard trail up to the hill where you can
see the wet and warm sulfurous steam that comes out of the
earth. The rocks are completely yellow and wear millions of
small sulfur crystals on their surface.
In your hair the water the water from the air condenses
so you have thousands of very little drops on your
head. From this place you have an overwhelming look
and you can see the way of the lava stream that ran
down the hill into the valley.
Landmannalaugar we went eastwards on the F22, a road
that changes direction to the south after some
kilometres. On this part of the road you have to cross
some rivers (each time you feet are really dry again
there is the next river) and to climb some steep
ascents. But your work is paid by the spectacular
views from the peaks. I guess you will miss something
if you are just going by car. At the end of the day
we reached the Eldgjá, the longest volcanic
fissure on earth (40 kilometres in length). The fissure
opened in the 18th century and still gives an impression
of the mighty forces that build our earth. The most
impressive view is from inside the fissure so that you can
look along the huge crack in the earth that is extending
endlessly to both sides. Well known is the
Ófærufoss, a small waterfall that pours
into the fissure. A few years ago there was a natural
bridge over the fall that you will see on many photos
but nowadays it vanished.
farm Búland provides the only possibility to put
up a tent because the area is part of a nature
reservate. So camping here is very expensive (and
having a shower is unbelievably expensive!). From here
we started our most exhausting day (though we did not know
in the morning). While camping in the valley we already
were prepared to cycle through a nasty drizzling
rain but when we left the valley a heavy wind got hold
on us. It was very difficult to control the bikes (especially
with all the luggage), the wind got hold on the bike
panniers and pushed the rain hard in our faces. What we
were told some days later a wind of 8 Beaufort made
our live very hard. We did not want to go back to
the farm so we fought the fight of our live. After 8 hours
we were fully exhausted and we had only made 30 kilometres.
We had to put up our tent at the roadside ditch and
fall asleep immediately. On this day the rear carrier
of my bike broke (because the bike fell down at a
sudden blow of the wind) and we had to fix it with some
clamps that we had taken with us following the advice
of our bycling guide. Other fellows were not very lucky on
this day either. A couple that we had met before was
trying to cross the Sprengisandur, the desert of the
higland this day. They had to turn back to Landmannalaugar
and took the bus for some days...
The days ahead were much more friendly. Heading east along
the south coast of Iceland we had to pass the
Skeiðarásandur, a desert of black sand that
the glacier deposited here. In the summer there can
be dangerous sandstorms, off the road there are quicksands.
So you have to observe the weather because in the
sand it is nearly impossible to put up a tent.
On this dry and sometimes even sunny day we crossed the
desert in a single rush and arrived at another
highlight of our journey: the Skaftafell national park.
Here in the wind shadow of the gigantic glacier plateau
of Vatnajökull is the paradise of the whole island: Here
you can even see trees which are rare in the rest of Iceland).
We went on a very nice hike to the lagoon of the western
glacier in the park. On this trail there were only a few
tourists (at least at this days, maybe because of the bad
weather) and we could enjoy the lonely lagoon.
of our journey followed on the next day: the glacier lagoon
Jökulsárlón. On the way there you first
come across another lagoon (Breiðárlón),
wich is not as fantastic as Jökulsárlón
but wich also is not as crowded. Many icebergs that broke of
from the glacier rim are swimming on the lagoon
Jökulsárlón until they melt and are
washed into the ocean. Unfortunately every few minutes
there are boats loaded with tourists on the lagoon
so the still water of the lagoon is disturbed.
The boat trips are very expensive, very short and
does not bring you much closer to the icebergs than
a walk along the lagoon. But it is getting wonderful
at the lagoon around 17 o'clock when the last busses
of tourists departed. Now the few individual travellers
that put up their tents on the small grass area at
the souvenir shop can enjoy the sunset on the lagoon.
The icebergs reflect the colour of the sky wich turns
into a firework of yellow, orange and red.
The next day we followed the south coast along the
Vatnajökull to Höfn, a small town in the
southeast of Iceland. On a sunny day we passed many of
the tongues of the glaciers from wich always came a very cold
wind. So each time we reached a glacier we had to
wear our wind breakers, when we passed the glacier,
it was immediately warm again, so we had to take them
of. This day we had to cycle more than hundred kilometres
but because of the flat country here and the wonderful
weather it was easy. In Höfn we took the bus because
we wanted to see as much as possible on this one-month-trip.
took us to the lake Mývatn, wich means midget lake.
The lake is famous for its many birds that stay here
for the summer. And the reason for the birds to come
and stay is the huge amount of insects buzzing thorugh
the air. They are a real plague, even if they obviously
do not have a sting. Keep you mouth shut if you are
riding your bike... Near the lake there is a very
active volcanic area. Here you can see fissures,
craters, boiling pots and solfatares (sulfur springs).
We celebrated Silkes 30th birthday on the rim of the
Krafla. There she had to clean two doorhandles
(an old German tradition for women that are not already
married on their 30th birthday) that I took with me all
the journey. Next to the Krafla there is a quite new
field of lava dating from 1984. The lava here is still
completely black, even mosses or litchens are missing
here, hot steam rises into the air.
The warmth of the lava fields here is one of the
energie sources of Iceland, sometimes there are
guided tours through the power station here.
After a few trips hiking and cycling thorugh this
unreal region we took the bus to Akureyri, the capital
of the north of Iceland. Here we stayed once in a hotel
(I could not take the camping any longer) and visited
the botanical garden (!!!) before our journey proceeded.
Again we took the bus, this time it should bring us
to the western coast of Iceland.
We left the bus at Dalsmynni where the road to the
Snæfellsnes peninsula leave the ring road.
Snæfellsnes is often said to be "Iceland in a
nutshell" because many of the typical Icelandic
sights (as lava fields, glaciers, fjords and craters)
can be found here in such a small area.
Near the western end of the peninsula is the
glacier Snæfellsjökull, a relatively
small glacier on top of a vulcano.
Jules Verne chose this vulcano as the entrance to
his Journey to the center of the earth
from wich his heroes go straight down into the
earth. There is nothing mystical about Snæfellsnes,
but it is a beautiful landscape. On our way along the northern
shore to Stykkishólmur we found some blueberries
(very large ones from wich we tasted until we were
filled up) and in the town we could watch a wonderful sunset.
At the branch of the road that leads to Stykkishólmur
we collected some very nice shells but we did not solve the
mystery how they got there kilometres away from the
is a nice town with a picturesque harbour, a beautiful
view on the many islands in the surrounding fjord
Breiðafjörður and a very strange modern church.
It has a good campsite and a hostel wich provides a note
board full of tips for outdoor activities. We booked a trip
through the fjord with one of the inhabitants on which we took
the opportunity to explore one of the islands and had
a closer look on the birdlife of the sea. It was
end of August so we could see only a few puffins.
Most of them were already on their way back to the south.
But there were many cormorants and even some seals
were posing for our photos. And the landscape of these
hundreds of islands is really scenic. The islands are
made of basalt that oftenly takes the form of
sexangular pillars. These columns can best be seen on the shore
of the islands. They can be seen in some places on Iceland,
in Ireland they form the Giant's Causeway at
the northern coast, even on Hawaii you can find some basal
sexangles. Our guide showed us how to take advantage of
the many fish in the fjord: He just put a raw fish hook
into the water and catched a fish after just one minute.
Stykkishólmur we went on a day trip across the fjord.
The ferry stops at the island Flatey and proceeds to the
northern shore to Brjánslækur. This town is
good starting point to explore the western fjords of
Iceland (the most remote area of the island). But we were
heading for another target: Suturbrandsgil.
This is the name of a small canyon that is special
in one regard: It is one of the few places where there
is sedimentary rock and it is the only place where
petrified plants were found. The findings of Suturbrandsgil
enabled scientists to get a picture of the flora of
the past millions years. This place is a nature conservation
area and taking away of fossiles is strictly forbidden.
We searched for some pieces of petrified leaves and followed
the good example of previous visitors: We placed the stones
visible on some rocks, took some pictures of them and
left them there for future visitors.
lies on private ground so that you have to ask the
owner of the farm that it belongs to for a permission.
We went to the farm and managed to find the grandpa of
the family who did not speak any english word. After we
showed him the name "Suturbrandsgil" in our travel guide
he answered with a very deep, comfortable voice "Uppa"
(what obviously means "up there") while he pointed into
the direction of the canyon. We interpreted this friendly
gesture as permission to go there and started our hike.
The trail leads along a small creek thorugh rocky
meadows, always climbing upwards. On our way we found
some remarkably beautiful, large litchens that amazed me
(Silke having a masters degree in microbiology knew these
already from some expeditions to Siberia and could asnwer all
my questions for hours).
Atfer little more
than half an hour we reached the canyon which is very
beautiful and quite lonesome (we were alone there the whole
day) and it was one of the few sunny days of our trip.
After some first explorations Silke obviously enjoyed the
silence of this place (see photo). Meanwhile I took some
more photos of this place. What a wonderful place, what
a wonderful day. The pictures tell a story about that.
On the same day we took the ferry back to
Stykkishólmur were we could watch another gorgeous
sunset. This day alone was worth the whole trip to Iceland.
The next day
we cycled on, surrounding the western point of the
peninsula. The road circles around Snæfellsjökull
with its icy peak. On this part of the way one finds many
small vulcanoes (in the form of cones) and some very
strange shaped mountains. One of these is the
Kirkjufell (church rock), which really give the impression
of a tall gothic cathedral with its buttresses. At the
westernmost point direclty next to the lighthouse there
are some more strange rocks called Lóndrangar,
two needles at the coast. Heavy rain accompanied us
now so we left out some roads leading to beautiful
bays. The strong wind got even stronger, my speedometer
had some dropout because of the rain (and showed at
some moment a speed of 247km per hour) and hour mood
went dull. Exhausted we arrived in Buðir, a very
elegant hotel with a tiny campsite where we put up our
tent with highspeed and felt asleep even faster.
The next day compensated for the bad weather wehad before
and the street changed soon from a bad track to a
smooth road. After the first 50km Silke had some trouble
with her wrists so we exchanged bikes. On the handle bar
of my racing bike she could try some other positions
to relieve her wrists. That worked really good and it was
some serious work for me to keep up with her speed.
After more than hundred kilometres we stopped at Borganes.
Borganes is a picturesque city at a fjord but
the weather was bad so we left early at the next day.
We had to take the bus because the tunnel under the fjord
is closed for cyclists and we did not want to surround
the fjord (at least 100 kilometres) in the rain.
So we went directly to Reykjavík though the
weather was not any better here. In the Reykjavík area
live about two thirds of the inhabitants of Iceland, so it's
about 200.000 people and a little bit crowded. Because
no at least half-way prudential Icelander would even think
of going somewhere by bike, it seems unusual for them
to show respect for cyclists in the traffic. We were
drowned more than once by some motorists that drove
through large puddles with unrelieved speed.
After only one day we were fed up with this (though
Reykjavík is a nice town for shopping) and visited
the geysires and the waterfall Gulfoss. This time we took
the public bus. Gulfoss is huge, it falls over two
steeps in a 70 meter deep canyon and wherever you look you
see white steam of whater. The canyon was cutted by the
Gulfoss itself into the basal rock over thousands of years.
On the edge of the canyon one can see the typical sixangular
basal pillars again. A kind of natural terrace is the
place to watch this spectacle standing on the heigth
level of the water and see the water falling into the
Only a short bustrip
away is the most famous sight of Iceland: the Geysir
from wich all the other geysers have their name.
The Geysir itself is not too spectacular any more
but some meters aside there is another one, the
Strokkur (wich translates to butter barrel),
that squirts its fountain every 10 minutes up to 25m into
the air. It is very interesting to have a close look
at this eruption. First a large deep blue bulb of water
rises from the little puddle of the Strokkur. Then in the
middle of the bulb the fountain of the geyser breaks
through. The bulb of water is much more bizar and
spectacular than the well-known white fountain of the
geysers as you might imagine looking at the pictures.
Some pools with hot boiling water invite you to a further
exploration of this area so that you can avoid the
crowd of tourists.
After another rainy day in Reykjavík we started
to our last destination, the airport. An easy stage lead
us a last time through the lava fields of Iceland, but this
time along a busy road. At our arrival at Keflavík
airport we had to prepare our bikes for the transport.
This time we even had to wrap our bikes in a large
plastic sac and had some trouble with the check-in
because of our many pieces of luggage and the bikes.
But even this problem could be solved so that we left this
land again in the middle of the night. This wonderful
land in wich we stayed for 32 days, traveling everywhere,
riding more than 1700 kilometres on hour bikes.
I lost 7kg of my weight in this month and after so
many unforgettable experiences we were nevertheless
happy to come back into the civilized world.
I have never ever felt so happy when I first entered
my own bed and I had never enjoyed wearing a
clean, ironed shirt so much. ;-)