Tag Archives: Iceland

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Trekking Iceland – Volcanic Trails – Hvanngil to Álftavatn

Another relatively short day today at under 10km.  I guess this is to make up for the last 2 days which have been quite long. 

Heading out from Hvanngil, we followed the Kaldaklofskvísl river past hills decorated with a seemingly endless variety of bright green patterns.

Start of trek from Hvanngil to Álftavatn Hut - Volcanic Trails - Central Highlands, Iceland

Pleasant hiking before the weather set in

Of course, it wouldn’t be a day on Volcanic Trails without a river crossing (I firmly believe Icelandic Mountain Guides could rename this to be “River Crossing Trail”),

River crossing on Day 5 of Volcanic Trails - Central Highlands, Iceland

Yes, another one!

but by the time we’d reached the lookout over lake Álftavatn (“Swan Lake”), the rain had well and truly set in.  We had a very quick lunch before setting off on a quick-march around the shoreline to reach the warmth and dryness of the hut at Álftavatn. 

Álftavatn Hut - Volcanic Trails - Central Highlands, Iceland

This image was actually taken much later in the day when the rain finally eased up

On the schedule, there was time during the afternoon “to explore the area around the lake” but, given the crap weather, we all opted to just hang out inside drinking copious amounts of tea (most of the huts have an enormous pot of water constantly on the boil) and eating waaaay too many bikkies and cake.

For a change of scenery, we also headed across to the only “Bar and Restaurant” in the highlands.  It was absolutely packed with trekkers escaping the weather, something that perhaps shouldn’t have been surprising given that Álftavatn is also one of the key stops on the most popular hiking route in Iceland – the Laugavegur Trail. 

Bar/Restaurant near Álftavatn Hut - Volcanic Trails - Central Highlands, Iceland

What did surprise me was how everyone was drinking 1200ISK (USD$10) beers!  I guess when you are the only bar for several hours drive (and several days walk) in every direction, and you have a captive audience, you can charge whatever you like and people will pay it.  The restaurant also made the bold claim that it served “the best food in town” and, although I didn’t try the food there, I’m sure Kjartan could have given it a run for its money with the meals he prepared for us each night.  Tonight’s offering – lamb chops and chocolate dessert. 

Here’s hoping the weather is better tomorrow!!

Trekking Information

Distance = 9.2km

Time taken = 3hrs 30 mins

Map

Basic Map of the hike from Hvanngil to Álftavatn in the Central Highlands of Iceland - from Strava

Altitude Profile

Altitude profile of the hike from Hvanngil to Álftavatn in the Central Highlands of Iceland - from Strava

Read more about hiking In the Shadow of Vatnajökull

If this post has piqued your curiosity, read about the rest of the 7-day trek with Icelandic Mountain Guides

Alternatively, check out my other posts about hiking and trekking in Iceland and around the world.

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Trekking Iceland – Volcanic Trails – Strútur to Hvanngil

Our day started in the usual fashion – a breakfast of muesli, porridge, crackers, cheese, processed meats and various spreads, followed by the making of our packed lunches out of more-or-less the same ingredients.  Then, once Kjartan had showed us our route for the day on the map,

Daily summary of trail we will hike - Volcanic Trails - Central Highlands, Iceland

Kartjan showing us where we would be hiking today and pointing out the key features of our route

off we set up the relatively steep hill behind Strútur hut.

Climbing the ridge above the Strútur Hut - Volcanic Trails - Central Highlands, Iceland

You can see Strútur Hut below us in the river valley

 The first part of today’s hike saw us traversing the black volcanic sand plain of Mýrdalssandur

Crossing the black volcanic sands of Mýrdalssandur - Volcanic Trails - Central Highlands, Iceland

Crossing the black volcanic sands of Mýrdalssandur

with a stone cairn marking one of the old travel routes from the 9th century (did you know it is illegal to add rocks to cairns in Iceland?)

Stone wayfinding cairn from the 9th century- Volcanic Trails - Central Highlands, Iceland

This cairn has been here a long time! We are hiking in the footsteps of 9th century travellers

and the Mýrdalssandur glacier bordering our southern side. 

Mýrdalssandur glacier above the black volcanic plain- Volcanic Trails - Central Highlands, Iceland

Unfortunately, it was almost impossible to get a good picture of the glacier. Aaarrrgggghhh the contrast! Some things you just have to be there to see for yourself

We took our lunch at the base of a small pass

Lunch on the black volcanic sand with the Mýrdalssandur glacier in the background - Volcanic Trails - Central Highlands, Iceland

Our lunch spot on the black volcanic sands of Mýrdalssandur with the glacier in the background. Desolate place! But very beautiful!

and I hiked up the hill behind to see what the next valley looked like from on high. Wow! What a view! And completely different to the valley we’d just been hiking through.  Absolutely worth the effort of the climb!

View into the next valley from the hill above our lunch on the black volcanic sands of Mýrdalssandur - Volcanic Trails - Central Highlands, Iceland

View into the next valley from the hill above our lunch on the black volcanic sands of Mýrdalssandur. Definitely worth the climb!

In both the trek schedule provided by Icelandic Mountain Guides and in Kjartan’s briefing that morning, we’d been warned that we would need our river shoes handy for the next section of the hike.  We started hiking across the river valley in our normal boots

Hiking towards a wide series of river channels - Volcanic Trails - Central Highlands, Iceland

Hiking towards our major river crossing for the day

but at some point, even the most stubborn of us (hello Leigh! 😉 ) had to admit defeat and change into our river shoes.

Trekking companions wading through river channels - Volcanic Trails - Central Highlands, Iceland

None of the river channels were deep, but there were a lot of them one after the other

Those who had sandals would take them off to walk on the soft, cushiony moss between the river channels

Trekking companions walking barefoot between the river channels - Volcanic Trails - Central Highlands, Iceland

The moss was so soft and spongy underfoot and most of my trekking companions hiked barefoot between the river channels

as we slowly worked our way through the marsh for the next half hour.

Arctic cottongrass in the river valley - Volcanic Trails - Central Highlands, Iceland

The presence of Arctic Cottongrass is a dead giveaway for extremely wet ground

We then climbed one final small pass

Climbing the final pass of Day 4 - Volcanic Trails - Central Highlands, Iceland

Climbing from the river valley up the final pass of the day’s hike

to end our day at yet another very comfortable hut at the mouth of the Hvanngil valley.

Hvanngil Hut - Volcanic Trails - Central Highlands, Iceland

Approaching (top-left) Hvanngil Hut (top-right), and how lovely most Icelandic trekking huts are inside

Trekking Information

Distance = 14.3km

Time taken = 6 hours

Map

Basic Map of the hike from Strútur to Hvanngil in the Central Highlands of Iceland - from Strava

Altitude Profile

Altitude Profile of the hike from Strútur to Hvanngil in the Central Highlands of Iceland - from Strava

Read more about hiking In the Shadow of Vatnajökull

If this post has piqued your curiosity, read about the rest of the 7-day trek with Icelandic Mountain Guides

Alternatively, check out my other posts about hiking and trekking in Iceland and around the world.

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Trekking Iceland – Volcanic Trails – Álftavötn to Strútur

In contrast to yesterday, today’s hike was a long one – 20km worth!  Yet we didn’t seem to be in any hurry to get going as we ate breakfast on the bench outside the Álftavötn Hut in the glorious sunshine under bright blue skies.

Outdoor breakfast in the sunshine at Álftavötn Hut - Volcanic Trails - Central Highlands, Iceland

Outdoor breakfast in the sunshine at Álftavötn Hut

There were several more river crossings to negotiate

River crossing on Day 3 of Volcanic Trails - Central Highlands, Iceland

Not so deep, but still wide and cold!

swathes of bright green to cross, with skittish Icelandic sheep keeping a wary eye on us

Icelandic sheep and green hills - Volcanic Trails - Central Highlands, Iceland

Icelandic sheep country

and waterfalls to admire.  Iceland is, after all, the land of waterfalls!

waterfalls - Central Highlands, Iceland

Land of waterfalls

Iceland is also the land of crazy changeable weather (particularly this Summer – the worst in 104 years according to all the Icelanders I met), and 1.5 hours later, the rain started.

Hiking along a river with the weather turning - Volcanic Trails - Central Highlands, Iceland

So much for the bright blue skies and sunshine

An hour after that, the sun came out again – just as Kjartan called a halt for lunch on a plain of volcanic sand with almost fluorescent green moss.  I love how the moss cradles the water droplets in its embrace!  Kjartan, of course, claimed that he’d specifically timed lunch to coincide with the sun coming out.  Yeah, right!

Vibrant green moss that is so typical of the Central Highlands of Iceland

The vibrant green moss so typical of the Central Highlands of Iceland.

After lunch, we continued our hike through stunning scenery, skirting around the edge of a massive delta

Descending towards a huge delta - Volcanic Trails - Central Highlands, Iceland

My trekking companions descending towards the massive river delta that looked a little like an old crater

and crossing the relatively deep (mid-thigh on me) and fast flowing river Hólmsá to arrive at our reward for the day.  The Strútslaug thermal hot pool!

Strútslaug thermal hot pool - Volcanic Trails - Central Highlands, Iceland

View from the Strútslaug thermal hot pool

This natural pool is only small and has a silty bottom (the idea is to try to not move around too much to stir it all up), but it is the perfect temperature for soaking and relaxing in the most stunning environment.

Contemplating the view from the Strútslaug thermal hot pool - Volcanic Trails - Central Highlands, Iceland

Contemplating the view from the Strútslaug thermal hot pool

With the cold river only a few steps away, naturally someone in the group suggested a “polar plunge”, something that several of my fellow trekkers decided to brave.

Cold river plunge next to the Strútslaug thermal hot pool - Volcanic Trails - Central Highlands, Iceland

Some of my trekking companions taking on the cold river plunge next to the Strútslaug thermal hot pool

I wasn’t going to, but then Mike threw down the challenge of betting a Kiwi would do it if there were one in the group, so I really couldn’t let Australia down.

It. Was. Freezing!

I had asked Martin to record my plunge into the icy waters for evidence, but I’d forgotten that I’d left my camera on an odd setting.  Yes, you guessed it.  After braving and bearing it once, I had to go back in and do it all over again!

My cold river plunge next to the Strútslaug thermal hot pool - Volcanic Trails - Central Highlands, Iceland

Yes, I got shamed into doing it too!

Refreshed and relaxed, we left the hot pool behind as we still had quite a distance to cover before we made it to the next hut at Strútur.  The drizzle mostly held off

Crepuscular rays as we avoid the worst of the rain - Volcanic Trails - Central Highlands, Iceland

as our route took us through more gorgeous scenery

Views along the hike from the Strútslaug thermal hot pool to Strútur in the Central Highlands of Iceland

with a view of the Mýrdalsjökull glacier

Mýrdalsjökull glacier sitting atop more greenery - Volcanic Trails - Central Highlands, Iceland

Can you see the Mýrdalsjökull glacier in the image? It sits above the vibrant green moss that is so typical of the Central Highlands of Iceland

before finally arriving at Strútur late in the day.  Our dinner of baked Icelandic lamb was very welcome after such a long hike!

Sunset from Strútur in the Central Highlands of Iceland

Sunset from Strútur Hut

Trekking Information

Distance = 20km

Time taken = 9hr 48 mins

Map

Basic Map of the hike from Álftavötn to Strútur in the Central Highlands of Iceland - from Strava

Altitude Profile

Altitude profile of the hike from Álftavötn to Strútur in the Central Highlands of Iceland - from Strava

Read more about hiking the Volcanic Trails

If this post has piqued your curiosity, read about the rest of the 7-day trek with Icelandic Mountain Guides

Alternatively, check out my other posts about hiking and trekking in Iceland and around the world.

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Trekking Iceland – Volcanic Trails – Hólaskjól to Álftavötn

At less than 10km in distance, my first day of hiking in the central highlands of Iceland was a short one.  While I was raring to go, this was a welcome “rest” for the others who had already been hiking for 3 days in very wet conditions.  The mood at the breakfast table was resigned as we watched the drizzle fall steadily outside, but this turned to palpable relief by the time the luggage transfer arrived and we set out on the hike at 10am.  Thank goodness for late starts!

Loading the luggage and our food into the support vehicle at Hólaskjól Hut - Volcanic Trails - Central Highlands, Iceland

Loading the luggage and our food into the support vehicle at Hólaskjól Hut. I love supported treks where you only have to carry a day pack!

“Wow!” 

That’s all I can say about the first kilometre or so of the trek where we hiked through the bright green moss along a narrow trail. 

Surrounded by "trolls" - Volcanic Trails - Central Highlands, Iceland

Hiking through a valley of “trolls” – amazing volcanic rock formations

We were surrounded by interestingly shaped volcanic outcrops – still and silent “Trolls” who had been turned to stone by the touch of the Sun’s rays according to Icelandic folklore.  These guys had clearly been here for a while judging by the green cloaks they were now wearing, and it is surprisingly easy to find their faces when you really start looking!

"Trolls" - Volcanic Trails - Central Highlands, Iceland

Can you imagine this as a Troll that has been turned to stone? The Icelanders could!

Our hike took us past several waterfalls including the impressive Silfurfoss (“foss” means “waterfall” in Icelandic)

Silfurfoss waterfall - Volcanic Trails - Central Highlands, Iceland

Just a 10 minute walk from the Hólaskjól Hut is the impressive Silfurfoss waterfall

and along a carpet of green

Hiking in a never-ending field of green - Volcanic Trails - Central Highlands, Iceland

as we followed the Syðri Ófæra river.

Hiking the trail along the Syðri Ófæra river - Volcanic Trails - Central Highlands, Iceland

Hiking the trail along the Syðri Ófæra river

This same river turned out to be our major obstacle for the day, and we all watched with growing anxiety as Kjartan explored the crossing point to find the best route.  It didn’t bode well for myself nor my fellow short companions that the water came up to his mid-thigh, and in the end, I decided to remove my long hiking pants and just cross in my underwear. 

Given the strong current, Kjartan had us stow our trekking poles and link arms with at least two other people to make the crossing.  At the deepest point, the water came to just below my hips, and I was grateful for the support of Jewells and Gunnar as we all made it to the other side safely.  Apparently Kjartan hadn’t seen the river this deep for several years!

Fording the quite deep Syðri Ófæra river - Volcanic Trails - Central Highlands, Iceland

Where we had to cross the Syðri Ófæra river, it was quite deep and had a strong current. I stripped down to underwear and we crossed in groups of 3 with our arms linked for extra support/stability

We dried off and got dressed again on the other side, and then sat down to eat our gourmet lunch creations (well, mine was 😀 ) as we took in the views back towards the gorge.

View from our lunch spot on the Syðri Ófæra river - Volcanic Trails - Central Highlands, Iceland

View from our lunch spot on the Syðri Ófæra river

The last couple of kilometres saw us ford another river (not as deep or strong as the first), hike over never-ending green hills, and encounter more trolls (these ones sporting tufts of hair) before reaching Álftavötn, a very traditional Icelandic hut that is half buried in the earth and really beautiful inside.

Exterior and interiors of the traditional Álftavötn Hut - Volcanic Trails - Central Highlands, Iceland

Álftavötn Hut is very traditional and built half-buried in the earth for insulation. It’s interior is really beautiful and rustic.

Our first job upon arrival was to collect our gear and what supplies we needed for dinner, breakfast and lunch tomorrow from a small shed located about 500m away.  Many hands (and a wheelbarrow) made this a relatively quick task,

Storage shed near Álftavötn Hut - Volcanic Trails - Central Highlands, Iceland

Collecting our gear and food supplies from the storage shed near Álftavötn Hut. The access road doesn’t actually reach the hut itself so we employed the use of a wheelbarrow to cut down the number of trips required

which left plenty of time to head off and explore the surrounding area.

Views from around Álftavötn Hut - Volcanic Trails - Central Highlands, Iceland

Álftavötn Hut is in the most incredible location, surrounded by spectacular scenery

When I returned, the BBQ out the back was already fired up for our salmon dinner with rice and salad, and caramel pudding with pears for dessert.  I love the food that is provided on treks with Icelandic Mountain Guides.  Delicious!

Salmon BBQ outside of Álftavötn Hut - Volcanic Trails - Central Highlands, Iceland

Wonderful Salmon BBQ for dinner at Álftavötn Hut

Trekking Information

Distance = ~6km (sorry, forgot to start my watch at the beginning – doh!)

Time taken = ~3.5hrs

Map

Basic Map of the hike from Hólaskjól to Álftavötn in the Central Highlands of Iceland - from Strava

Altitude Profile

Basic altitude profile of the hike from Hólaskjól to Álftavötn in the Central Highlands of Iceland - from Strava

Read more about hiking the Volcanic Trails

If this post has piqued your curiosity, read about the rest of the 7-day trek with Icelandic Mountain Guides

Alternatively, check out my other posts about hiking and trekking in Iceland and around the world.

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Trekking Iceland – Volcanic Trails – Hólaskjól via Eldgjá

The Complete Volcanic Trails Trek by Icelandic Mountain Guides is a 9 day journey through the volcanic highlands of Iceland.  Unfortunately, I was not able to do the first few days of this trip, but rather would join the group at the end of their 3rd day of hiking at Hólaskjól.

I met the Icelandic Mountain Guides representatives at the BSI bus station in Reykjavik for our 8:00am public bus transfer to Landmannalaugar (hiking central for Iceland!), and then sat back and slept for most of the ~4 hour journey (there is a 45 minute stop about half-way).

Bus to Landmannalaugar - Iceland

We arrived at Landmannalaugar to heavy grey skies and cold rain, which meant that the communal tent at the campsite was absolutely packed with people.  Hmmm… how to fit 17 more people in here (I was travelling with a group of 16 others who were hiking the Laugavegur Trail with Icelandic Mountain Guides)??

Dining tent at Landmannalaugar campsite - Iceland

How are we going to fit another 17 people in here?

I’m still not quite sure how, but we did manage it, and set about making lunch for ourselves.  I then looked on with pity as, an hour later, everyone else headed out into the rain (they didn’t look too enthusiastic) and I tried to stay warm for another 2.5 hours in the very drafty tent.

Views from Landmannalaugar campsite

The scenery around Landmannalaugar is spectacular, even under very heavy, grey skies!

My instructions were to get myself on the 10A public bus to Skaftafell at 4pm. It quickly became clear why the vehicle looked to be a cross between a bus and a truck as we made our way along a single-lane volcanic dirt road with steep hills and tight corners. There was one bridge, which barely accommodated the width of our transport, but the remaining river crossings (and there were quite a few) were all fords – one of them, quite deep!

The truck-bus to Skaftafell - Landmannalauger

The truck-bus to Skaftafell. It was soon revealed why such a vehicle was required for the journey

The scenery, with its black volcanic rock and bright green moss, was spectacular and matched what I thought Iceland would look like based on all the photos I’d seen.   It turns out that I hadn’t “missed something” during my treks in Hornstrandir and East Iceland.  It’s just that this type of scenery is characteristic of Iceland’s highlands, not the rest of the island.  The reason there are so many photographs featuring these landscapes is because this is where the majority of visitors come to trek!

Unfortunately, our views were hampered somewhat by the worsening rain and low cloud

Rain obscuring the view out the window of the public bus to Skaftafell - Iceland highlands

and about 30km and 1.5 hours later (!) we arrived at Eldgjá – a 75km long eruptive fissure that formed around AD934 as part of the largest eruption on Earth during the last millennium. 

The bus stopped here for an hour (not quite sure why – perhaps the driver needed to recover after the road he’d just driven?) and we had just enough time for a short hike in the world’s largest volcanic canyon.

Hiking to Ófærufoss waterfall at Eldgjá - Central highlands, Iceland

Fortunately, the rain had largely stopped by this time and our destination – the Ófærufoss waterfall – was definitely worth the effort.

Ófærufoss waterfall at Eldgjá - Central highlands, Iceland

Ófærufoss waterfall at Eldgjá

Back on the bus, it was only about another 15 minutes before I was dropped off at the large hut at Hólaskjól.  There I met our guide, Kjartan, and the rest of the group, who all welcomed me enthusiastically, plied me with too many snacks, shared a wonderful meal of Icelandic Lamb soup, and broke out the cards afterwards 😊

Some of the hiking group playing cards at Hólaskjól - Central Highlands, Iceland

Some of the hiking group playing cards at Hólaskjól Hut

I’m looking forward to sharing the experience with these guys!

Read more about hiking the Volcanic Trails

If this post has piqued your curiosity, read about the rest of the 7-day trek with Icelandic Mountain Guides

Alternatively, check out my other posts about hiking and trekking in Iceland and around the world.

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Hiking Iceland – In the Shadow of Vatnajökull – Day 4

On the last day of the In the Shadow of Vatnajökull trek with Icelandic Mountain Guides, we awoke to a cloudy morning with low fog hanging over the tops of the mountains. Quite a contrast to the brilliant finish to yesterday!

Múlaskáli Hut under grey skies - East Iceland

We made our final lunches out on the deck

Making lunch on an Icelandic Mountain Guides Trek

Part of the morning routine on an Icelandic Mountain Guides trek – making your own lunch

before heading across the river (thankfully with a footbridge!) and up the ropes at the start of our last day of trekking.

Crossing the bridge and climbing the rope on the last day of Shadow of Vatnajökull - East Iceland

Although the colours were muted by the clouds, the mountains were impressive,

Hiking trail on Day 4 of of In the Shadow of Vatnajökull trek - East Iceland

and the steep climb made for some fantastic views back over the river.

River view from ridge on Day 4 of Shadow of Vatnajökull trek - East Iceland

Can you see Múlaskáli Hut?

Once we’d climbed out of the river valley, our trail took us on an undulating route across green flats and down into rocky gullies with small streams at the bottom.

Scenery from last day of Shadow of Vatnajökull trek - East Iceland

As we took a break at one of these gully crossings, Þorbjörg decided she’d teach us a simple Icelandic song.  I didn’t do too badly remembering the lyrics actually, but it helps that the word for Sun in Icelandic sounds the same as does in Spanish 🙂

 

The lyrics, translated into English are:

Sun outside

Sun inside

Sun in the heart, Sun in the mind

Nothing but Sun

Love it!  And how interesting the focus on the Sun 🙂  Perhaps because they see relatively little of it here in Iceland?  This was the first time anyone had sang on this hike, and it occurred to me that I’d been missing the singing that had been so much a part of my other hikes with Icelandic Mountain Guides.

The trail continued through numerous gullies and took us boulder-hopping along a stream 

Hiking along a stream on Day 4 of Shadow of Vatnajökull trek - East Iceland

before descending into the biggest gully of them all!  I waited on one side of the gully for the others to have a 20 minute rest at the bottom, so I could get this shot of them walking up the steep slope on the other side.

Hiking up scree slopes on Day 4 of Shadow of Vatnajökull trek - East Iceland

And it was actually very steep!  Especially when I was so far behind and “sprint-hiking” to catch up with them again 🙂

A little further along, we came to an amazing lookout over the delta of the river that would lead us to the ocean

Lookout over the delta leading to the ocean on Day 4 of Egilssel Hut - Day 2 of In the Shadow of Vatnajökull trek - East Iceland

and for the remainder of the hike we basically followed the river along the moss-lined trail.

Hiking along the river delta on day 4 of Shadow of Vatnajökull trek - East Iceland

Þorbjörg had told us at the start of the day that we would have one final river crossing right at the end of the hike.  But what she didn’t tell us was that this one had a suspension bridge over it 🙂 .

Final river crossing - with a bridge - Day 4 of In the Shadow of Vatnajökull trek - East Iceland

Ironically, less than 1km from the end of the trek, 4 of us (me, Eric, Melinda and Martin) managed to lose the group in the small Icelandic forest on the other side of the bridge.   

Icelandic forest on Day 4 of In the Shadow of Vatnajökull trek - East Iceland

Yes – there are forests in Iceland

We were not far behind the others, but by the time we’d finished taking photos and crossed the bridge they were nowhere to be seen.  Unfortunately, there was also a fork in the path. The obvious way forward was to keep following the yellow poles, which also went in the direction that Þorbjörg had indicated we were going.   So this we did.  But as we kept walking and failing to see the group (we even tried yelling and blowing the emergency whistle and still nothing), our confidence eroded to the point where we ended up turning back and waiting at the bridge.

Not a minute after arriving back at the bridge, Þorbjörg comes running along that same trail to find us.  Doh!  It turns out we were only about 100m shy of the group when we turned around!

Yes – it is possible to get lost in an Icelandic forest 🙁

Reunited with the group, it was only another 200m of hiking to reach the edge of the stony river delta where our “super-jeeps” were waiting to transfer us to Höfn.

Hiking towards the super-jeeps in the river delta - Shadow of Vatnajökull - East Iceland

The end of the journey

It was very slow going until we reached the main road (they basically drive up the river bed for several kilometres), and then it was all over far too quickly as we dropped people off at the hostel and said our goodbyes. 

Group photo taken at Tröllakrókar on Day 3 of In the Shadow of Vatnajökull trek - East Iceland

Summary

In the Shadow of Vatnajökull is a beautiful, remote hike in East Iceland.  It is not particularly difficult, but you must be prepared for walking across stony ground without trails, wading across cold rivers, basic food and accommodation, weather of all kinds, and some short but moderately steep uphills and downhills.  All the while carrying a ~10kg backpack.

I particularly loved the variety of the landscapes that we hiked through in only 4 days, and hope that the other hikes I’m doing in Iceland have a similar diversity. 

Million thanks to Þorbjörg and my trekking companions for a wonderful trip!

Trekking Information

Distance = 14.25km

Time taken = 7 hours

Map

Basic Map of Day 4 of In the Shadow of Vatnajokull - from Strava

Altitude Profile

Read more about hiking In the Shadow of Vatnajökull

If this post has piqued your curiosity, read about the rest of the 4-day trek “In the Shadow of Vatnajökull” with Icelandic Mountain Guides

Alternatively, check out my other posts about hiking and trekking in Iceland and around the world.

 

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Hiking Iceland – In the Shadow of Vatnajökull – Day 3

Sunrise at Egilssel Hut.  Yes, once again I was up at about 2:30am to see this.  Totally worth it! 🙂

Sunrise at Egilssel Hut - Day 3 of In the Shadow of Vatnajökull trek - East Iceland

Sunrise at Egilssel Hut

After another relaxed 8am breakfast, we retraced our steps from the day before around the lake and started to ascend towards a higher plateau. 

Climbing towards the ridge on day 3 of the Shadow of Vatnajökull trek - East Iceland

There were fantastic views back down over the lake and hut, despite the weather being more than a little grey!

Panoramic view over lake in front of Egilssel Hut - Day 2 of In the Shadow of Vatnajökull trek - East Iceland

[move mouse over image to see full panorama]

The climb was not too steep for the most part, and delivered us to the edge of the cliffs lining the deep river valley that we had seen yesterday.

Tröllakrókar Cliffs on Day 3 of Shadow of Vatnajökull trek - East Iceland

Do I need to say that the views were incredible?

Panoramic view valley below Tröllakrókar - Day 3 of In the Shadow of Vatnajökull trek - East Iceland

[move mouse over image to see full panorama]

I loved the patterns in the landscape!

Abstract landscape - East Iceland

But even better was the surprise hidden within the Volcanic Tuff from which the cliffs were made.  Trolls! 

I’ll let Þorbjörg tell the story 🙂

This was Tröllakrókar – cliffs of the Trolls. And the pillars of stone and shapely rocks we were admiring were the petrified remains of party-goers according to Icelandic Folklore.  How cool is that?!  You can really see it too if you let your imagination run wild 🙂

I could have spent hours here giving each Troll my attention and looking for different angles to photograph.  But unfortunately, this is exactly the moment when my new Fujifilm XT-2 camera decided to break 🙁  The on/off switch on the top of the camera came off as I was pulling it out of the camera bag … which (as you can imagine) distracted me from the incredible place I was in and sent me into a bit of a fluster.  

After ascertaining that I couldn’t do anything to fix this problem while on the trek, I switched to my trusty Fujifilm XT-1 camera (which I’ve been using for the past 2 years) and carried on.   But I lost a lot of precious time at the Trolls, adding to my feeling that we didn’t stay here for nearly long enough.  It would have been great to have taken this part of the trek slower … even if I hadn’t had camera issues.

We took our lunch overlooking the river valley, glacier and last of the trolls

Tröllakrókar and its trolls on Day 3 of Shadow of Vatnajökull trek - East Iceland

and then headed down towards the river and the start of the colourful rhyolite mountains.

Descending towards the river on day 3 of Shadow of Vatnajökull trek - East Iceland

Here we came across the first “trees” in several days, which had managed to grow to the height an adult person

Small Icelandic trees on Day 3 of Shadow of Vatnajökull trek - East Iceland

and chains to help us “abseil” into a gully and back out the other side.

Abseiling - Day 3 of In the Shadow of Vatnajökull trek - East Iceland

By this time we were following a marked trail (actually, this started at our lunch spot on the southern end of Tröllakrókar), as we skirted the shale coming off the mountains along the edge of the river.

Hiking scenery - Day 4 - Shadow of Vatnajökull trek - East Iceland

We arrived at Múlaskáli Hut quite early (really wishing for more time at the Trolls!) and in bright sunshine.  This was the biggest and most luxurious hut of them all – it even had flush toilets (the others had extremely clean dry toilets) and hot showers if you wanted to pay 500ISK (~USD$4).

Interior of Múlaskáli Hut - East Iceland

Interior views of Múlaskáli Hut

Just before we reached the hut, Sabine had noticed wild mushrooms growing along the trail and asked whether they were edible.  Þorbjörg said that she thought so, and both Sabine and I thought they looked very similar to edible mushrooms we’d picked in Germany and Slovakia respectively.  So before Sabine and I settled in, we headed off mushroom picking 🙂   

As was the case at Filip’s family’s hut in Slovakia, I loved picking wild mushrooms!  You really have to slow down and take your time, as they are not the easiest things to spot under the trees.  But it is this slowing down that makes it such an enjoyable experience, and before you know it, you’ve been wandering around for over an hour – hopefully with a good haul to bring home and cook.

Mushrooms - East Iceland

I added my collection to Sabine’s and sat out on the deck in the hot Sun chatting as Sabine and Wolfgang cleaned and prepared the mushrooms.  We ended up with just enough for everyone in the group to have a taste … though were surprised that the majority of the group were highly suspicious about their edibility.

cleaning mushrooms outside Múlaskáli Hut - East Iceland

It never ceases to amaze me how little mushroom remains after you finish cleaning it!

Dinner was tomato soup, followed by sauteed mushrooms (in the end, almost everyone had a taste) which were delicious and not poisonous nor hallucinogenic, followed by pasta with a creamy pesto sauce and dried lamb sticks that were similar in texture to twiggies.  Dessert was McVities Hobnobs digestives, tea, coffee, and hot chocolate, but unfortunately we couldn’t monopolise the dining table as there were our 3 Icelandic ladies from the previous hut and another group of hikers who also needed to use the kitchen.

Cooking wild mushrooms and eating dinner at Múlaskáli Hut - East Iceland

Sabine cooking wild mushrooms, and the group eating dinner at Múlaskáli Hut

No sunset again tonight as the Sun disappeared behind the mountains quite early. Instead it was upstairs for a relatively early night 🙂

Trekking Information

Distance = 10.22 km

Time taken = 5 hours 38 minutes

Map

Basic Map of Day of In the Shadow of Vatnajokull - from Strava

Altitude Profile

Altitude profile of Day 3 of Shadow of Vatnajokull from Strava

Read more about hiking In the Shadow of Vatnajökull

If this post has piqued your curiosity, read about the rest of the 4-day trek “In the Shadow of Vatnajökull” with Icelandic Mountain Guides

Alternatively, check out my other posts about hiking and trekking in Iceland and around the world.

 

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Hiking Iceland – In the Shadow of Vatnajökull – Day 2

It is always a good idea to get up for sunrise … even when it occurs at 3am!  

Sunrise at Geldingafell Hut - Shadow of Vatnajökull trek - East Iceland

Sunrise at Geldingafell Hut

It is also a good idea to go back to bed afterwards, and when we finally crawled out for our 8am breakfast, we were greeted with bright blue skies and loads of sunshine.

Geldingafell Hut and its surroundings - East Iceland

Geldingafell Hut with its pyramid-shaped outhouse, and the snow-capped Mt Snæfell on the left.

We helped ourselves to a spread of muesli, crackers, jam, peanut butter, nutella, tea and coffee to fuel our day, and then made our lunches with the same ingredients plus Icelandic Flatbrauð (rye flat bread), other long-lasting breads, cheese (Brie, Gouda), capsicum cream cheese, and a variety of processed meats – including hangikjöt, Icelandic smoked lamb.  Plus a couple of chocolate bars for energy 😉

Making breakfast on an Icelandic Mountain Guides trek

After cleaning the hut, returning unused supplies to the “store”, closing the wooden shutters over the windows to protect against wild weather, and locking the door behind us, we headed off across country for Day 2 of our trek in the shadow of Vatnajökull.

Leaving Geldingafell Hut on Day 2 of Shadow of Vatnajökull trek - East Iceland

Leaving Geldingafell Hut for Day 2 of our hike

The awesome weather meant that we could take the route closest to the glacier, so this would be a long day of hiking.  There were no tracks at all, and we spent the whole day walking across ankle-turning shaley rock, or ankle-turning pumicey rock.  Ankle-turning either way, and I highly recommend you wear really good waterproof hiking boots with ankle support for this trek!

Different types of rocks on the In the Shadow of Vatnajökull trek - East Iceland

Shale (top) and pumice (bottom)

For the first hour or so we had a perfect view of Mt Snæfell, if we looked behind us.  It often pays to turn around while you are hiking 🙂

View of Mt Snæfell on Day 2 of Shadow of Vatnajökull trek - East Iceland

Apparently our driver yesterday mentioned to Þorbjörg that he’d never seen the mountain this cloud-free for so many days during a Summer.  Apparently, while Reykjavik has been struggling under the cloudiest Summer in 100 years, the weather in the East of Iceland has been the opposite!

We hiked beside a series of lakes and through pockets of snow, before spying the next glacier tongue coming down from the Icefield.

Lakes and snow on Day 2 of Shadow of Vatnajökull trek - East Iceland

Our lunch-stop was on a high perch looking down onto the face of the glacier (does it look like the head of a fish to you too?) and the deep valley that its meltwater was carving out of the East Iceland landscape.

Glacier views on Day 2 of In the Shadow of Vatnajökull trek - East Iceland

Given the sunshine and lack of wind, we had a very relaxed lunch while admiring the view, before setting off again in the direction of the mountains we could see in the distance.

Scenery on day 2 of Shadow of Vatnajökull trek - East Iceland

We were able to cross most of the streams/rivers by stone hopping (I’m so glad I’ve started using trekking poles)

Rock hopping across another stream on Day 2 of Shadow of Vatnajökull trek - East Iceland

but eventually came to one that defeated us.  Þorbjörg wasn’t sure how deep it was and whether we would be able to cross or whether we would have to walk around.  So she told us to hold off on changing our shoes while she “tested the waters” as it were.  I love guided treks 🙂

Testing the depth of the water on Day 2 of Shadow of Vatnajökull trek - East Iceland

Þorbjörg finding a route across the river

In the end, she decided we would cross the river, as it only came up to lower-thigh on her (at least mid-thigh for myself, Melinda and Maria).  She suggested that we take off our hiking pants and wade across in our undies, putting our waterproof pants on if we really felt the cold badly.

Wading across the river in underwear on Day 2 of Shadow of Vatnajökull trek - East Iceland

Eric and Maria making their way across the river

My second river crossing in my underwear since arriving in Iceland!

Obstacle overcome, we put our pants back on, dried our feet, re-shoed, and  continued our journey over the rocky terrain in the direction of our next hut.  BTW it turns out Martin and Wolf walked a little further around and crossed the river on a snow bridge.  But I reckon you haven’t really hiked in Iceland until you can say you’ve stripped to your underwear to ford a river 🙂

I was completely mesmerised by the colours and patterns in the cliff face on the opposite side of the valley, once again wishing I was hiking with a geologist.  And although Þorbjörg was great at explaining the basics of how the geology of the region formed, I’m absolutely fascinated by rocks and really want to dive more into the details.

Patterned geology of East Iceland on Day 2 of In the Shadow of Vatnajökull trek

Eventually, Egilssel Hut appeared in the distance as a white spec overlooking a lake. 

Approaching Egilssel Hut on Day 2 of In the Shadow of Vatnajökull trek - East Iceland

Can you see Egilssel Hut?

We passed some woolly locals and, unfortunately, the Icelandic flies also found us!  Not quite as bad as the flies I encountered in Greenland, but still annoying – especially after not having had to endure them for a long time.

Icelandic Sheep along our path

Icelandic sheep roam free in East Iceland

Egilssel Hut is much larger than Geldingafell, and it turned out we were to share it with 3 Icelandic ladies this night. 

Inside Egilssel Hut - Day 2 of In the Shadow of Vatnajökull trek - East Iceland

Inside Egilssel Hut

While our Icelandic companions finished preparing their evening meal and some of our group went for a quick and cold wash in the lake, I wandered around taking photos of an amazing basaltic outcrop with columnar jointing (I remember that much from 1st year Geology).  I love these structures! The last one I went to see was at Los Tercios near Suchitoto in El Salvador.

Columnar Jointing along the river at Egilssel Hut - Day 2 of In the Shadow of Vatnajökull trek - East Iceland

Dinner was a thick, delicious cauliflower soup followed by couscous and canned ham.  This latter brought back all sorts of memories from when I was a little girl and my family would buy ham in this way since it was cheap and would last in the cupboard. I don’t know how cheap it is in Iceland (is anything cheap in Iceland?) but the fact it will last in the food cache at the hut is the important thing for Icelandic Mountain Guides.  

Eating dinner at Egilssel Hut - Day 2 of In the Shadow of Vatnajökull trek - East Iceland

We finished our meal with a dessert of chocolate biscuits and then sat around chatting and drinking tea, coffee and hot chocolate until bed. 

I did wait up again for sunset … but unfortunately it was disappointing this night 🙁   Ah well, maybe tomorrow!

Trekking Information

Distance = 17.13km

Time taken = 8 hours 25 minutes

Map

Basic Map of Day 2 of In the Shadow of Vatnajokull - from Strava

Altitude Profile

Altitude profile of Day 2 of Shadow of Vatnajokull from Strava

Read more about hiking In the Shadow of Vatnajökull

If this post has piqued your curiosity, read about the rest of the 4-day trek “In the Shadow of Vatnajökull” with Icelandic Mountain Guides

Alternatively, check out my other posts about hiking and trekking in Iceland and around the world.

 

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Hiking Iceland – In the Shadow of Vatnajökull – Day 1

My trip to East Iceland started out a little too early in the morning and I’m thankful for 2 things:

  1. the fact that it never gets dark here in the summer makes it easier to drag oneself out of bed at 5:30am
  2. I’m staying very close to Reykjavik domestic airport and didn’t have to get up even earlier

Daniel, the Icelandic Mountain Guides representative, met myself, Eric and Melinda (from the US) at the airport to ensure we had everything and there were no issues, and I promptly fell back to sleep for the 50 minute Air Iceland Connect flight to Egilsstaðir as soon as I was clipped into seat 1C.  I’ve never sat in the first row in a plane before!

We arrived on time and were met off the plane by Þorbjörg Þorvaldsdóttir.   I’m terrible with names in the first place, and Icelandic place and people names are really challenging me!  But thankfully she explained “just think of Thor and then the famous Icelandic singer, Björk, and put them together”.   Ah!  That made it very easy 🙂   And I learned that the Icelandic letter “Þ” is pronounced essentially like “th” in English!

The airport was actually the meeting place for the whole group, and we soon met Wolfgang and Sabine (a couple from Germany), Martin and Wolf (father and son from Germany), and Maria (from France).  Introductions done, we did a pitstop at the local Nettó supermarket for fresh supplies for the next 4 days, made our lunch on the picnic table near the carpark, dropped off some luggage that would be transferred to the end of the hike for us, and then were on our way to the start point of our trek.

We had all signed up for the 4-day lightweight-backpacking trek: “In the Shadow of Vatnajökull” in East Iceland.  The name aptly describes the trek, which travels down the remote eastern edge of  Europe’s largest glacier – Vatnajökull.  The “lightweight backpacking” part meant that although we would be staying in huts where sleeping bags and mats were provided and where Icelandic Mountain Guides had food caches, we would need to carry our clothing, sleeping bag liner, anything else we deemed essential, and a portion of the fresh food for the 4 day trek.   

It was a pretty grey old day with low clouds, so there were not many views as we traveled firstly along the edge of a fjord and then up to a higher plateau in the direction of Mt Snæfell (“The Snow Mountain”), the highest mountain in Iceland outside of a glacier region. 

Driving to the trailhead - Shadow of Vatnajokull - East Iceland

Driving to the trailhead in our minivan. No. That is not Mt Snæfell. It is still in the distance, its peak covered in snow. Note the the lack of fences – Icelandic sheep roam free in the East.

After about an hour, our driver pulled off to the side of the road and stopped.  Once we’d all piled out with our gear, he promptly took off back the way we’d come, leaving us standing in what seemed to be the middle of nowhere.  Þorbjörg quickly assured us that it was all good, and pulled out the map to show us the plan for today and the next 3 days.

Getting dropped at the trailhead of - Shadow of Vatnajokull - East Iceland

We then set off across rocky, unmarked land (there was no trail to follow) as we hiked along the edge of one of Iceland’s many water storage dams.  

Hikers walking past wildflowers in front of a water storage dam - - Shadow of Vatnajokull - East Iceland

One of the most impressive features we came across in this rather flat terrain was a rocky outcrop that allowed us a slightly elevated view of the landscape.  We managed to find a spot that was more-or-less protected from the wind to have lunch, and Þorbjörg surprised us with a snack of Kleiner – yummy Icelandic donuts.

Lunch spot and Kleinur - Shadow of Vatnajokull - East Iceland

I’m not a huge fan of doughnuts, but these were delicious! Even cold!

Despite our relatively sheltered position, it was quite cold.  So after I hurriedly ate my sandwich, I kept myself moving by taking photos of the surroundings

View from lunch spot - Shadow of Vatnajokull - East Iceland

The view from our slightly elevated lunch spot

and all the nearby wildflowers.  There were quite a few!

Wildflowers - East Iceland

We were slowly making our way towards one of the glacier tongues of Vatnajökull, at the base of which sat our home for the evening – Geldingafell Hut.

Hikers walking towards Geldingafell Hut - Shadow of Vatnajokull - East Iceland

Can you spot the little yellow hut?

But before we arrived, we started to come across swathes of bright green moss growing in the wetter areas of the lava field.  Its vividness amidst the almost monochrome volcanic rock was startling and I loved how it held the water droplets so carefully in its embrace.

Bright green moss holding drops of water - - Shadow of Vatnajokull - East Iceland

Unfortunately, not all was well with parts of this green carpet, and Þorbjörg also pointed out some “witches circles” caused by a fungus that attacks the moss in a circular pattern.

Our guide explaining how "witches circles" are formed

Those who have been following my hiking adventures in Patagonia, Iceland and Greenland know how much I “love” cold river crossings.  Day 1 placed two of these in our path.  But now I have my neoprene socks – I have no fear!  🙂

Crossing a river - Shadow of Vatnajokull - East Iceland

Thank goodness for neoprene socks!

There were a few small snow drifts to navigate (nothing compared to what we had on the Icefjords and Remote Villages trek in East Greenland) on the final uphill to the hut, and Þorbjörg welcomed us to our home for the night by tasking us with opening all the shutters that protect the windows from wild weather.

Approaching, and arriving at Geldingafell Hut - Shadow of Vatnajokull - East Iceland

Approaching (top) and arriving at (bottom) the Geldingafell Hut. You can see the glacier tongue above the hut in the top image.

Geldingafell Hut is very small and cosy inside – especially for 9 people.  There is nowhere really to sit except for on the bunks, which is why we were all very happy that the skies finally cleared and the Sun started shining brightly just after we arrived!

View of hut and river valley from behind - Shadow of Vatnajokull - East Iceland

The Geldingafell Hut has an amazing view over a beautiful river valley. The pyramid-shaped building at bottom left is the outhouse

I decided to go for a short hike up the hill behind the hut before dinner to get a clearer view of the glacier and epic views back down over the hut and the valley below it.

View behind the Geldingafell Hut - Shadow of Vatnajokull - East Iceland

The hills behind the Geldingafell Hut. I hiked up to where that little plateau juts out at the top left

And arrived back just in time for our al fresco dining for the evening – minestrone soup and spaghetti bolognaise 🙂  We all enjoyed sitting outside in the warm sunshine, but eventually had to retreat inside as the Sun approached the horizon and the temperature dropped.

Hiking companions sitting on the ground outside the Geldingafell Hut - Shadow of Vatnajokull - East Iceland

For dessert, Þorbjörg “went shopping” for us in the Icelandic Mountain Guides “store” out the back of the hut.  Because of the remoteness of this hut, the company estimates how many trekkers they will have during the summer and caches enough dry/tinned food during the winter (when they can access the hut by snowmobile) to cover their estimate.  The logistics for some of their treks are really impressive!

Icelandic Mountain Guides store at Geldingafell Hut - Shadow of Vatnajokull - East Iceland

The “store”. A food cache set up by Icelandic Mountain Guides during the winter when they can access the hut by snow mobile

Sitting on our beds, we downed chocolate cake, Jägermeister (thanks to Wolfgang and Sabine – no Wolfgang – half a glass does not constitute “the smallest amount possible just for a taste”), and hot chocolate before most people turned in for the night.  I stayed up a little longer to catch a beautiful sunset at around 11:30pm, and then followed suit.

Sunset at hut - Shadow of Vatnajokull - East Iceland

Worth waiting up for!

Trekking Information

Distance = 11.39km

Time taken = 5 hours 07 minutes

Map

Basic Map of Day 1 of In the Shadow of Vatnajokull - from Strava

Altitude Profile

Altitude profile of Day 1 of Shadow of Vatnajokull from Strava

Read more about hiking In the Shadow of Vatnajökull

If this post has piqued your curiosity, read about the rest of the 4-day trek “In the Shadow of Vatnajökull” with Icelandic Mountain Guides

Alternatively, check out my other posts about hiking and trekking in Iceland and around the world.

 

Like what you have read? Please follow and like me:
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Reykjavik Food Lovers Tour – Icelandic Traditional Food

After 2 years of this blog, my friends joke that if I’m not posting about hikes or treks I’ve done, I’m posting about food.  So they won’t be surprised that one of the very first things I did when planning my trip to Iceland was look up foodie tours 🙂  Specifically, I was looking for an opportunity to try some of the more unusual Icelandic foods, which is how I chose the Reykjavik Food Lovers Tour – Icelandic Traditional Food by Your Friend in Reykjavik.

We were met at Ingolfstorg Square by our guide, Fanney, and walked less than a block to our first foodie stop.  No, I’m not going to tell you where – you need to actually do the tour to find out 😉  Suffice to say that the restaurant is one of the older houses in Iceland and was originally used for falconry!

Heading out to the first stop on the foodie tour

Heading out to our first stop on the foodie tour with Your Friend in Reykjavik

Foodie tour stop 1: Puffin

Here we tried one of the things I was most excited about – hot smoked Icelandic puffin.  Yes, those cute little birds with the bright orange beaks. 

Hot smoked Icelandic puffin - traditional food

Hot smoked Icelandic puffin

I was surprised at the very “smooth” texture of the meat, and both the presentation of the dish and the interior of the restaurant were amazing!  This was one of my favourite dishes on the tour, eaten under very different conditions to almost every other foodie tour I’ve done where I’m usually just standing around in the middle of a market or out on the street 🙂

Eating hot smoked Icelandic Puffin in restaurant in Reykjavik

Tasting hot smoked Icelandic Puffin in Reykjavik

While we were eating, Fanney explained that although puffins spend most of their lives at sea, during the spring and summer months an estimated 10 million of them come to Iceland to nest.  She also explained how the hunting of puffins is regulated in Iceland and just how difficult it is to actually catch them!  Watch Gordan Ramsay try 🙂

Foodie Tour stop 2: Icelandic Lamb Soup

Our next stop was again only a block or so away at one of the oldest restaurants in Reykjavik (founded in 1932).  Here we tucked into a too-large-for-a-foodie-tour bowl of Icelandic lamb soup with its melt-in-the-mouth lamb, tender carrots, celery, potatoes, onions and loads of rich lamb flavour.  Although I’m a seasoned foodie tour goer and I knew I should be pacing myself – I couldn’t help but finish the whole bowl … and the bread.

Icelandic Lamb Soup - Reykjavik foodie tour - Your Friend in Reykjavik

Icelandic Lamb Soup

To make this soup there are special cuts of lamb that should be used as well as a very particular herb mix, but as far as veggies go – well anything that doesn’t go bad too quickly is fair game.

Two tastings in and so many more to go…  Oh oh – already starting to feel full!  Fortunately our next couple of stops involved much smaller samples!

Foodie Tour stop 3: Icelandic Hot Dogs

Icelandic hotdogs are basically an unofficial national dish.  Made predominantly out of lamb (theoretically) you should ask for “one with the lot” to enjoy the full experience of fried and raw onion, ketchup, remoulade, and sweet brown mustard (pylsusinnep) along with the dog and steamed bun.

Icelandic hot dog on Traditional food tour with Your Friend in Reykjavik

Icelandic hot dog from Reykjavik’s best (and oldest) hotdog stand. Yes – they even have hot dog holders on the tables!

The hotdog stand we visited on the foodie tour has been around since 1937 and shot to fame in 2004 when Bill Clinton ate there.  I’m nowhere near famous, and I don’t usually eat hotdogs, but I have to admit this these ones make for a very tasty snack!

Foodie Tour stop 4: Dried Fish

You don’t have to be in Iceland long to realise that dried fish (Harðfiskur) is also a staple in the Icelandic diet and a favourite snack for locals.  I had eaten a lot of Icelandic dried fish on the Unplugged Wilderness Trek in East Greenland last year and love pairing it with remoulade (mayonnaise is one of the very few things I really don’t like the taste of, but for some reason, I love remoulade!).  Every Icelander I’ve suggested this to, including Fanney, has looked at me in bewilderment and admitted they’d never thought to try that.  They usually just eat it plain or team it up with butter!  Seriously guys – try it.  It is amazing!

Eating dried fish (haddock) at Reykjavik harbour on the Food lovers tour by Your Friend in Reykjavik

Trying dried haddock at Reykjavik harbour

After enjoying the brisk evening air down by the harbour, it was time to head back inside for two more of the new tastes I’d been looking forward to.  As an added bonus, one of the wonderful things about the restaurants chosen for this tour is that each of them seems to have an historical story or anecdote that makes them special.  Fanney related yet another of these stories to us as we headed towards our next dining experience – but you’ll have to do the tour in order to find out why this guy is special and occupies a very important position in the restaurant we entered next 🙂

Previous owner

Foodie Tour stop 5: Fermented Shark, Lobster Soup and Minke Whale

If you mention traditional Icelandic food, those who know something about it will come back with “don’t they eat fermented shark?”  Why, yes they do!  Or rather, they did (current Icelanders are far more likely to opt for a hot dog) and this is what we were going to try next.

Given that Hákarl is an “acquired taste” we were presented with small cubes to sample.  I’d actually tried some previously with the Icelandic family with who I was staying, but this time around the ammonia was much stronger (to me it had elements of a REALLY strong brie).  I don’t find the taste horrible, in fact I was surprised at how mild it was, but I also wouldn’t rush to order it I have to admit.

Cubes of fermented shark on the Traditional Icelandic Foods tour with Your Friend in Reykjavik

Cubes of fermented shark

We actually had 3 plates in this restaurant (!) and next up was lobster (langostine) soup – one of the most popular dishes on the menu.  This was really creamy with a slight thai-red-curry flavour and very tasty.  

Lobster soup as part of the Traditional Icelandic Food Tour by Your Friend in Reykjavik

However, by far my favourite dish of the whole tour was the third dish we tried – Minke whale with honey mustard dressing.  I’d tried whale previously in Greenland and liked it – but this was beyond awesome!  Tender, juicy, and with a perfect balance of spices.  Oh. My. Goodness.  

Minke Whale steak on the Traditional Food lovers tour by Your Friend in Reykjavik

Minke Whale with honey mustard dressing

I know some people won’t even entertain the thought of eating whale based on what we hear about whale hunting in the media (actually I’d be surprised if such people were still reading given I opened with eating puffin…), but Minke whales have never been endangered and there is a yearly quota (of less than 0.03% of the stocks around Iceland) that is strictly adhered to.  In other words, it is sustainably hunted (as it is in Greenland) and is more “green” than importing beef or chicken from other countries.

Foodie Tour stop 6: Special Fish and Chips

As you can imagine, by this time we were all quite stuffed with food (though I could have squeezed in a couple more serves of whale).  But we weren’t done yet as we waddled a few more blocks into a restaurant famous for its fish bites served with 9 different sauces.  Somehow I was going to have to make room…

Fish and chips with 9 different sauces

3 different types of fish. Awesome chips. 9 different flavours of sauce. What combination to choose?!

The fish on offer depends on what has been caught fresh that day – in our case: Ling, Cod and Tusk – and is cooked in a special batter that is very light and more like a Japanese tempura.  The sauces are all based on Skyr (a high protein yoghurt-like dairy product that is very traditional to Iceland) and the sauces we were presented with were: mango, honey mustard, coriander, tzatiki, chilli, lemon & dill, basil, tartare, and truffle & tarragon.  Unfortunately I couldn’t keep straight which one was which (they weren’t labelled) but my tastebuds surprised me by indicating that mango was my favourite (I wouldn’t have thought to pair it with fish and chips) followed by honey mustard, then coriander.  It turns out almost everybody’s favourite is the mango 🙂

Foodie Tour stop 7: Skyr Dessert

Beyond stuffed, we still had one last dish to sample on this incredible foodie tour.  Fortunately it was dessert, and everybody knows there is a whole separate stomach for dessert … right?

We actually ended up back at the very first restaurant we started at for our Skyr dessert and an Icelandic beer.

Skyr Dessert to top off the incredible Food Lovers Tour by Your Friend in Reykjavik

Skyr, cream cheese, biscotti, pistachio and berry jam “Skyr Dessert”. Heaven on a plate!

Tasting similar to a cheesecake, this was another of my favourites for the tour.  And having eaten mine quicker than the others, I was looking longingly over for scraps … none of which were forthcoming.  It was too good!  And a perfect way to finish off our trip through modern and more traditional Icelandic fare.

Fanney left us each with a chocolate bar that incorporated Icelandic liquorice (oh how I love Icelandic liquorice!) and I eventually managed to bid my fellow foodies adieu and stagger back home with my over-extended but very happy stomach.

Recommendation

I absolutely recommend the Reykjavik Food Lovers Tour with Your Friend in Reykjavik.  The food is amazing (and very plentiful!), the stories about the establishments are really interesting, and Fanney had loads of information about Icelandic food preparation and food culture in general.

There is not a lot of walking involved – everything is contained within a few blocks of the centre of Reykjavik.  If anything – a little more walking between courses would have been beneficial 🙂

Top Tip:  perhaps don’t eat breakfast or lunch beforehand!

CostISK 14,990  (USD$125)

Time: about 3 hours

 

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