The second day of our trip began in the small fishing village of Vik. One of the largest towns in the south of Iceland, this port city boasts almost 400 residents. Other than a smattering of small restaurants and hotels, this city contains a lovely church and some nearby natural landmarks--most of which are best viewed in winter time, (think, ice cave).
As we left Vik and headed northwestern we entered an area known as Skeiðarársandur. This area is an outwash plain, or an expanse of sand and debris washed down from rivers and nearby glaciers (Grímsvötn and Öræfajökull). Which made the highway we were traveling along (the 1) the longest bridge in Iceland! Approximately half way across the massive bridge we pulled over in the hopes of exploring a nearby gorge, with the easiest name in the world to remember...
Fjaðrárgljúfur, is one of the most beautiful places I've ever been. Eerily reminiscent of the Lord of the Rings series, this place just feels magical. For the duration of our hike, I kept my fingers crossed for an Orlando Bloom-esque elfin experience, but unfortunately he did not decide to grace us with his presence. On the plus side, Fjaðrárgljúfur is one of those places so beautiful only nature could have created it. The longer I stared, the more devastatingly gorgeous it became. With a winding river, and tall stark cliffs on either side, I could look at this view for hours.
After finishing the hike at Fjaðrárgljúfur, we jumped back in the car and headed towards our adventure of the day, a hike up the glacier Öræfajökull. Yes, I said HIKE. Up a glacier.
Along the way we passed the worlds largest lava field called Eldhraun. In the 1700s, the volcano Vatnajökull erupted for over a year and was so devastating the event received a dedicated name, Skaftareldar. It is considered one of the most poisonous eruptions of all time, leading to the death of more than half of the population of Iceland, along with a severe drought, famine, and new bout of disease. Suffice to say, it wasn't great for Iceland or the bordering nations of the world which could feel the impact of the gaseous cloud for years afterwards. On the positive side though, it added a few additional miles to the width of Iceland as well as created a newly formed ecosystem that over the next few hundred years would turn into fertile land. If you do visit, make sure to stay off the rocks as the moss is very fragile and can be ruined if stepped on.
After learning that Eldhraun was used to help the astronauts prepare for the Apollo 11 moon landing, I couldn't help messing around with my photo in Photoshop! I give you, Mars:
Leaving Eldhraun, my adrenaline mounted as we stopped at a gear shop to rent the necessary equipment to hike Öræfajökull. This included a very fashionable pair of crampons (shoe spikes) and a pick axe. As if I wasn't nervous before, the added reality of spikes precariously strapped to my feet and pickaxe to use "just in case" sufficiently maxed out my anxiety. I severely doubted that a tiny pickaxe is going to do me much good if I fell into one of the bottomless holes in the massive Öræfajökull. I like to think of this as good anxiety though, it means I value my life and was about to do something that would be stamped in my memory forever. I looked at my mom and she at me, both of us nervous, but both knowing this was an experience of a lifetime. We began our ascent.
Turns out, the guides know their shit when it comes to hiking a glacier. It wasn't nearly as frightening as I imaged, and while the idea that the whole glacier could shift at any time releasing hundreds of tons of ice still loomed in my mind, for the most part the experience was quite peaceful. We scraped and hiked our way up a the glacier stopping and listening to the guide explain some of the more unique elements of Öræfajökull. My mom nearly had a panic attack when our guide, a 21-year-old, lowered himself into a hole of fathomless depths to pour us all a glasses of pure glacier water. If you are traveling to Iceland I HIGHLY recommend a visit to Öræfajökull, and if you're brave enough, a climb up it. It's an experience I won't be likely to forget!
After our climb we piled back into the car and headed towards our last stop before bed. The famous Diamond Beach and Iceberg Lagoon. Two of the most heavily photographed parts of the island, these places were gorgeous, but definitely not at their peak in summertime. The Diamond beach while stunning with its dark sand and occasional bit of ice shimmering in the sunlight, is far less spectacular when that piece of ice is the only one around... The Iceberg Lagoon was fun to witness, we watched the icebergs churn in the eddies of water rushing in the from the greater ocean bumping into each other with eery cracks and booms. We were even fortunate enough to see some seals playing in the currents!
As the day moved into the evening we headed towards Hofn, our resting place for the night. We decided to try a restaurant called Pakkhús, which had great reviews. I got a kick out the English translations on their menu, my favorite being "Duck and Piggy"and to this day, I still have no idea what that is... But we tried a little bit of everything, and our favorites were the lamb, and the Langoustine in creme (similar to lobster). I'm a huge fan of gin & tonic, so I was a happy camper with the quality of the Icelandic gin! My favorite being Isafold, give it a try if you're feeling up to it!
Who's ready for day 3?