Sulphur, steam and seals

Whale Fjord.

Our day starts with a sulphur shower. Hot water in Iceland is geothermal and smells of sulphur, not unpleasantly but distinctly, just enough to be exotic really.


Callum at waterfall.

On the way to pick up our hire car we share transport with a Belgian family. They are going around the island counter-clockwise, we clockwise.

It only takes us a few minutes, once we have the car, to get out of Reykjavik; it’s a public holiday today and there are no other cars on the road. So we’re soon skirting the shores of Hvalfjordur (Whale Fjord); a long, thin and very beautiful inlet dotted with little Islands. We stop beside a waterfall and explore, finding the first of many interesting geological formations. We agree that we really need to find out a lot more about geology.

Crystal clear water.

A bit further on we find a lovely outlook above an abandoned WW2 naval base where the North Atlantic convoys used to gather before braving the seas to the East.


Water from the lava pipes.

Near the head of Hvalfjordur we pass a whaling station. Not an abandoned one – a real, active whaling station. A bit further and we stop for lunch at a service station / cafe / museum. The museum is a little room with graphic videos of whales being cut up. The boys refuse to look and I don’t really blame them.


Boiling from the ground.

After lunch we start to head more inland and over a high pass. There are basically three types of road in Iceland. There’s Highway 1 which circles the edge of the country. It’s a two-lane road with no shoulder. Then there are dirt roads – exactly the same size, but just not sealed. Finally there’s a class of road you’re only allowed on in a four-wheel-drive; so we haven’t seen that one. The good thing is that there’s just no traffic to speak of so driving is comfortable.


Imagine a rocky gorge with water pouring out halfway up the sides. About 800 AD a huge lava flow spread across this part of the land covering it with deep black, rippled rocks on the surface and lava-tubes underneath. Those lava-tubes now pipe water into the gorge at Hraunfossar, creating a spectacular show.


Lava flows and glacier.

Deildartunguhver is the most powerful natural hot spring in the world, producing 200 litres of boiling water every second. Sulphurous steam wafts over the scene as boiling water literally, well, boils from the ground. The water is captured and piped the best part of 200 km to provide hot water for a major town.


There are some interesting obstacles as you drive in Iceland. At random spots steam drifts across the road. At far less random spots the major highway has sheep wandering about on it. And at one spot we see a sign warning of ducks crossing.


Iceland pony.

In the distance as we drive we see a few obviously volcanic mountains and two glaciers. As we go over the pass we were at the same height as some remaining snow, filling the sheltered depressions in the hills.

Eventually we came to Grabrok, a crater which erupted last a couple of thousand years ago. We walk up to the rim of the crater but had run out of adjectives by this point. As Callum said, “If I get my breath-taken any more I’m going to turn blue”.


Seals at Osar.

The last section of driving for the day was long. The product of the long weekend ending was evident in the trains of huge four-wheel-drives making their way back south towards Reykjavik. Luckily they were going the other way, less luckily they often took up more than their fair share of road.

Anyway we eventually reach Osar and our hostel for the night. It’s still entirely light enough for a walk down to the black-sand beach where, across a thin strand of water, lies a huge colony of seals. They’re not very active, basking in the last rays of the sun. Apart from one dark one, off to the side, that seems to be doing an improvised breakdance on the sand.

4 thoughts on “Sulphur, steam and seals

  1. While I love reading all of your travel updates, this one in particular is interesting to me. I’d contemplated going to Iceland for our honeymoon 14 years ago. I decided it would be too expensive and we went to Canada instead, but I’m still really drawn to it. Your post today reminds me why. =)

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