The weather was better today as we visited several interesting spots in North Iceland.
We started with a couple of lovely waterfalls, one of which was one of our favorites from our entire trip. Then we made three stops around Lake Mývatn before visiting a couple of thermal areas including a crater with a lake. To end the day, we took a whale-watching tour in Húsavík.
We drove south from our camping spot at Heiðarbær with hopes of getting to the popular Goðafoss waterfall before it got crowded with tour buses. We could see the falls in the distance .... and tour buses, although the parking lots didn't look too bad.
Goðafoss waterfall is right on the Ring Road, so access is very easy for everyone. It's also part of what is called the "Diamond Circle" tour in North Iceland.
There is a large gift shop, diner, and restrooms as well as a new guesthouse. It's the type of commercialization that is popping up at all of Iceland's natural attractions that can be accessed by tour buses.
Parking is available on both sides of the river, and there is a foot bridge connecting the paths well below the falls.
We parked on the east side where the facilities mentioned above are located, and walked up the path along the river. Soon the main falls came into view.
There is a fairly new observation deck on the top of the cliffs, and a path before you get there that leads down to the river's edge. You can also see the walkway on the other side.
Here's a view from up top.
And here's the view from down below.
Walking down the path toward the foot bridge, the view back upriver is pretty special in its own right.
After our time at the powerful and pretty Goðafoss, we continued south to the more remote Aldeyjarfoss waterfall. We crossed the river and took Road 842 on the west side of the river, but we could have taken Road 844 on the east side and then crossed a bridge over to 842 later. We ended up returning on the 842/844 combination.
Either way, it's about 40k (25 miles) on pot-holed gravel roads and you have to drive a short way at the end on the F26 4WD Road to get to the parking area.
Along the way, we passed several waterfalls and farms.
Eventually, we made it to the parking area.
The distance from the Ring Road, the fact that it's a little rough to get there, and the fact that you have to drive on an "F" Road for a little bit helps keep this "hidden gem" much less exploited. Still, we were surprised to see a tour bus there, and I wouldn't be surprised if the access roads are paved in the next few years.
We started the short hike down the trail and liked what we were seeing well before we got to the waterfall.
This site is about so much more than the main waterfall. It's absolutely gorgeous, and it turned out to be one of our favorite places in all of Iceland.
By the time we got to the waterfall viewpoint, the tour bus people had left and there were maybe three couples there. It was spectacular.
I continued walking around the cliff edges for different angles while Linda stayed back (in the upper far left below).
While I was gone, Linda was admiring the basalt columns and the natural artwork in the rocks which she insisted I photograph.
We spent quite a bit of time at Aldeyjarfoss, and then it was time to move on as we had a full day planned.
As I mentioned before, going back to the Ring Road, we took Road 842 and then crossed the bridge over to Road 844.
Now, road conditions can change quickly in Iceland, but at that time, Road 844 was far better than Road 842, and it took us much less time as we sped along the beautiful Skjálfandafljót river.
Back on Ring Road, we drove toward the south end of Lake Mývatn where we detoured to the Skútustaðagígar pseudocraters.
Pseudocraters or "false craters" are also known as "rootless cones". They are not true volcanic craters because no lava erupted from them and there is no lava "root" or conduit to them. They were created by steam explosions when hot lava flowed over the cool lake.
This wasn't on my original agenda, but I'm glad we stopped and walked the short trail.
Driving around the southeastern edge of the lake, we saw the many small islands and the lava stacks evidencing the volcanic nature of this area. We stopped at an overlook for a few minutes.
That was just a taste of what we would see at our next stop - Dimmuborgir.
Dimmuborgir or "Black Fortress" or "Dark Castles" is a large lava field filled with lava stacks, pillars, arches, and caves. It's a popular stop on the "Diamond Circle" and there were lots of people including tour bus passengers. But, it's worth a stop.
Here are some views over the lava fields and trails from the back of the visitors center.
There are lots of hiking trails, many of which intersect making several combinations possible. Most of those on the tour buses don't have a lot of time, so they tend to stick to the shorter, easier trails. If you get a little farther away from the visitors center, you can find plenty of room to roam.
We have been through our share of lava fields, but this one was quite impressive.
After a nice little walk, I saw a narrow side trail and, of course, said "This looks interesting". So we took it.
Though we didn't know it at the time, this was the "Crooked Trail" which runs through the middle of Dimmuborgir and is 2k long. Reading the description later, this trail "requires some climbing through the lava formations, steep slopes, and through holes in the rocks". Yep, it had all of that.
We noticed we were getting farther away from the visitors center and parking lot, but we were enjoying this interesting trail with no people, and we were pretty much committed to seeing where it went.
More arches and caves.
The one downside to this trail was the bugs. The little midges were quite annoying, but not unexpected as Mývatn is named after them - literally it means "midge lake".
This was one of the smaller holes we had to climb though.
Not long after that, we ran into this sheep on the trail. Since there was no place to go around, it was a bit of a stand-off for a couple minutes, but he eventually relented and turned around.
Eventually, our trail intersected with another trail, and we made our way back to the parking lot. Again, we spent much more time at Dimmuborgir than I had planned, but it was worth stumbling onto the "Crooked Trail". It made our stop there much more memorable.
Leaving Dimmuborgir, we passed by the Hverfjall volcano crater.
You can hike to the rim, but we didn't undertake that this time. We continued on around to the northeast corner of Lake Mývatn where we picked up the Ring Road and followed it east.
We passed the Mývatn Nature Baths with its very full parking lot.
Most people that have considered a trip to Iceland have heard of The Blue Lagoon in the southwestern part of the country - it's one of the top tourist attractions in the country. Well, the Mývatn Nature Baths are North Iceland's answer to The Blue Lagoon.
They are both "premium" geothermal spas that are extremely popular. But that popularity, the pricing, and the fact that the water in both of these spas is not natural but is from the neighboring power plants are reasons we didn't partake in this activity many tourists consider a "must do".
Not far past the "nature baths" is clear evidence of the geothermal activity in the area.
This is the Namafjall Hverir geothermal area, another popular stop right on the Ring Road that is part of the "Diamond Circle".
Okay, so it's pretty cool, but I have to say that if you have experienced Yellowstone National Park in the U.S., you are probably not going to be very impressed by these Icelandic thermal areas.
However, a lot of people were pretty excited about the boiling pools, the mud pots, and the steam vents.
When one young fellow put his hand over a steam vent and his lady friend asked "Is it hot?", we decided it was time to leave. On our second night here in Iceland, we saw a young lady in our campground who had slipped into a hot spring and scalded her foot, pretty much ruining her vacation.
From there, it was another fairly short drive to the Krafla caldera. The turn is almost across the road from the Namafjall Hverir geothermal area. You pass by the Krafla power plant, actually going under a raised pipeline, and up the hill. We proceeded right to go to the Viti Crater. "Viti" means "hell", and there are a few craters in Iceland named Viti - this just happens to be one of the two most visited.
It was a short walk uphill from the parking lot to the edge of the water-filled crater.
That was enough for Linda, but I decided to walk the trail around the crater, especially since the lighting was really good. I headed up counter-clockwise. It doesn't look like much until you notice the tiny people on the edge of the crater as you make the circle.
I had to go up pretty high to frame the entire lake.
Very nice. Here's a shot of the landscape and the road coming up.
There is a dip at the back of the crater with some thermal springs, and then you climb back up high. And that's about the time it started raining. I took one quick shot of this fellow for perspective and then hustled on around.
Check another scenic stop off the list.
We headed back down the hill, and I snapped a shot of the power plant through the windshield as the rain continued.
Okay, on to Húsavík where we were going to see if we could snag a spot on an evening whale-watching tour without a reservation.
North Sailing and Gentle Giants are the two primary companies and they have offices right next to each other on the harbor. Then there are two or three other competitors.
By the time we arrived, there was one sailing left for the day at each company. North Sailing offered a 10% discount on sailings after 4:00 p.m. However, they didn't have anyone booked on their 6:00 p.m. sailing so they were considering cancelling it. Fortunately for us, six others signed up at the last minute.
On a boat that could hold 146 passengers, there would be only eight of us. Perfect.
It's a pretty little harbor and town.
We boarded the boat Gardar. Linda and I wore layers, but then they outfitted us with warm coveralls.
There is no place to go inside on the boat, so you have to be prepared for any type of weather. Lucky for us, it was a good night.
North Sailing has an electric boat which they bill as "silent whale watching", but I read it's not as fast so it can't react and get to whales quickly.
We motored out and watched all around for whales. But we pretty much headed in the direction of the other whale watching boats in the bay.
Suddenly a Humpback breached right beside one of the Gentle Giants boats. I wasn't prepared for that and didn't even see it, but the whale then gave a long series of tail slaps, and I got a few photos of that.
By the time we got there, the whale had dived. And that was the extent of our whale watching for the next two hours. Wait for it to surface, motor with the other boats in that direction, take a couple of photos, and then keep doing it over and over.
We never were able to get very close, but I got a couple of nice tail shots.
Okay, so one of the reasons to whale watch in Iceland is that you can get close to the whales, and if it's your lucky day, you can get some fantastic photos and lasting memories. However, we also knew we weren't in peak whale-watching season.
So, of course, you have to go with the expectation that you won't see anything, and if you do, it was a success. Still, I didn't particularly care for the method of four boats harassing one whale for so long.
A month earlier, we had much better whale watching experiences in Canada and, although they have much stricter limits on how close you can get, we felt better about the way it was done there.
In the end, the rate for our first paid excursion in Iceland was reasonable and we did see a whale. So, I guess we can't complain.
On the way back, they gave us hot chocolate and a dry cinnamon roll. When I asked for another cup of hot chocolate, they had already put it away. You could tell it was the last sailing of the day.
Was it worth it? Yeah, I guess so, but I wouldn't give it an enthusiastic thumbs up. However, if the whale had breached right next to our boat, I'm sure I'd be singing a different tune. So, take that for what it's worth.
Back at the dock, we walked back to our van and then found the Húsavík Camping Site (not on our Camping Card). We were used to arriving earlier than most and not having any trouble finding a spot, but we were late tonight and had to squeeze in where we could.
Whew. That was a long day. But it was another great one. After the rainy weather of the last two days, we had good luck today and covered a lot of ground. We visited several of the stops on the "Diamond Circle", and had a great experience at the fantastic Aldeyjarfoss.
Time to get some rest and get back at it tomorrow.
Day 9 Driving - 277k (172 miles)