After the terrible weather yesterday we really hoped things would pick up today, however, the weather forecast was not overly optimistic and low clouds and rain were the order of the day. This meant the day started off sluggishly with little to leap out of bed for! However, when we finally got moving we were in for a little surprise.
Sure, the cloud base was low and depressing, but the forecast rain was a little… colder… and whiter than the forecast. Our pretty little woodland chalet just got a whole level prettier as the snow started falling! This picked out mood up no end as we headed over to breakfast.
This was another welcome surprise and the Vogfos Farm Restaurant Buffet was one of the best we had eaten so far. Most items were farm-made and the quality was way above the basic continental breakfasts we have had so far. Some of the items were a bit hard to take at breakfast due to being a little rich, such as the lamb pate and farm-made cheeses, but a small taste was just enough.
There was Fresh Buttermilk from the cows, farm-made jams and marmalade, Lava bread, and other farm-baked goods, and for some reason, the coffee was the best we had had in Iceland. And the highlight of the breakfast was the wonderful company we had in the restaurant!
Buoyed by the excellent breakfast and the unexpected flurries we headed back to wrap up warm and head out for an adventure. We have taken to filling our insulated Chilli Water Bottles with various fruit teas that we pick up from the tea-making facilities in each hotel and this really helps cut through the cold weather days and today was going to be just that. So we layered up and headed out. First Stop the most powerful waterfall in Europe.
Getting to Dettifoss meant a small backtrack on yesterday’s journey and while the snow was falling the cloud base was higher so more of the surrounding scenery was visible, and the area had a wonderfully dramatic feel with the dusting of the white stuff. As we climbed higher the snow got heavier and the cloud thicker. By the time we reached the Dettifoss Road (862) turn-off conditions were quite severe.
The drive down the 862 towards the West Dettifoss Parking Lot was starting to get a little hairy as the snow was sticking quite readily on the road. We took it Slow and Steady as we carefully plowed our way along until the final turn-off for the parking lot. The short stretch of road was heavily covered and the snow was falling hard. Traffic had been incredibly light and we had not seen another car since the turn off Route 1. This made us feel quite alone and possibly out of our depth.
Arrival at the parking lot brought a little comfort as there were several other vehicles there and we were not alone in the middle of nowhere in a blizzard! The Snow was easing off slightly and we geared up ready for the short hike out to the waterfall. The Hike is not difficult but the deep snowdrifts (from the snow a few days earlier) made some parts tricky.
At the waterfall, the flow was very high and the Fjöllum river raged over the falls in a dramatic fashion. In fact, the falls were a little too dramatic and this cause large clouds of spray to obscure the falls and make viewing and photography difficult.
While the falls were very dramatic they are not our favorite so far, the water is very muddy and the run is pretty basic, and access is quite difficult. At least on the west side, most of the views are distant and the one path that gets you close was drenched in spray. While the snow added a dramatic twist the light was very poor and the whole scene was a little flat.
It’s amazing how fast in Iceland something so utter breathtaking becomes a little average!
The snow had by now largely cleared although the skies offered plenty more to come, so we hiked back to the car and decided to get out of dodge. There was still Selfoss and Hafragilsfoss to view but with the closing weather and terrible light we bowed out. The road out was actually a lot clearer than on the way in and we were off to our next stop without issue.
Hverir has bee been on my Bucketlist for as long as I can remember. It is not the most dramatic part of the Island nor the most scenic, but there is something enthralling about boiling hot prehistoric mud bubbling up from the depths of the earth. The Large huffing Fumeroles are also an impressive sight to see.
The whole area is strewn with bizarre and otherworldly colors, yellows, reds, and greens, as steam pours out of the vents all around. It’s a fascinatingly bizarre place to visit. Again one thing seemingly absent from the guidebooks is the smell! This is probably the stinkiest place we visited in the whole country. The sulphuric rotten egg smell pours from the fumaroles and at times is really overpowering. It can’t be too healthy either and we both developed tickling coughs for a few days afterward, not good in these Covid times!
After exploring the bubbling Mud-Pots and billowing vents for a while we headed back to the car, our feet caked in some clawing volcanic mud that decimated the car interior and hung around on our feet for days.
Next on the list was Krafla, the Volcanic peak that is powering most of this area. The snow was now falling very hard and as we drove in through the Krafla powerplant the whole scene was very dramatic. After the powerplant, the road rises up steeply and here the conditions really took a turn. Heavey snow was lying on the road and getting to the top of the hill was looking like touch and go.
At this point, we would like to address the issue of hiring a 4×4 in Iceland and the prevailing “wisdom” that circles around some message boards. Upon researching the Iceland trip we heard multiple times how 4×4’s are not really recommended in Iceland for tourists as they cause more issues than they solve. Getting tourists in too deep and giving a false sense of security. After all, a 4×4 can only help to get up a hill and will not assist on the descent.
Our opinion on this is it is pure and utter drivel. In fact, it’s not our opinion but a simple fact. Sure during the summer, a 4×4 is completely unnecessary unless you are driving the F-roads but still advised. You see despite what the forums have you believe, a 4×4 is far more than just a car with a 4-wheel drive system. The whole stance and layout of the vehicle make it more suited to the types of terrain Iceland offers. In summer, simply the raised position makes a world of difference, but in winter the added weight and wide stance all give better handling in all conditions, and better, larger, and wider tires will normally be fitted providing better grip.
Even if a 4×4 was in 2wd mode it would still climb, stop, and descend far better than a 2wd car. However, this is only part of the story, the next part shows how out of touch with reality this wisdom is. The more difficult the conditions the more a 4wd system comes into its own. You see the “wisdom” that a 4wd will not descend better comes from the belief that you will need to at some point on the decent slowdown, and that the brakes are not in any way related to the 4wd system. True enough, but see our thoughts on stance, to see it’s misguided, however, it’s not just misguided it’s patently WRONG.
When descending (or slowing down) in slippy conditions the brake pedal MUST be avoided at all costs. 100% of the breaking comes from engine braking which is transferred to the road via the 4wd system, depending on the type of 4wd system in question, this gives 2-4 times more traction and engine breaking with all else equal. The heavy transmission also makes the braking more effective too as small lightweight engines in cars can let the speed get up even in first gear on steep a descent.
The upshot of this is after getting to the Krafla Crater lake and admiring the wild scene and stunning blue lake, we decided that with conditions worsening we would head back down. We really wanted to head over to Leirhnjukur but this would have been foolish at this juncture. This retreat meant we had to descend down a very steep narrow road that was heavily covered in fresh snow and underlying ice. How quickly our mantra would be tested.
First Gear, 4wd lock on, and for good measure, descent assist on (not often available in 2wd cars) and over the top. Nice and steady, not a touch of the brakes and straight down over the snow and ice without so much as slip.
We don’t mean to be smug but it is such poor advice and could see people struggling in poor conditions when they really shouldn’t need to. Driving up Krafla was probably ill-advised today, but I have extensive 4×4 experience in much more severe conditions and worse roads. This challenge presented no serious issues at all and was well within mine, and the vehicle’s, capability. However a 2wd car would have seriously struggled to get down, and the road could have been covered by a quick-moving storm while the driver was still at the top.
When Travelling to Iceland when winter conditions are a possibility it really can help to have a 4×4 to get you out of trouble. Sure there is something to be said for the false sense of security, but knowing the vehicle’s limits and your and driving within them is a better solution than limiting yourself to a less capable machine. Better to have it and not need it than need it and not have it.
not to mention the added space and better view. We only hired a duster, it drives like a car 99% of the time and was only a fraction more than a regular car, it’s a no-brainer really.
That was pretty much everything ticked off the list for today and it was still only just after lunch. So we thought seeing as we had been on the go for 8 full days we would pull the plug and take the afternoon off. And what better way than a natural geothermal spa bath…in the snow!
We really like the Nature baths and actually think they are better than the Blue Lagoon. For one it’s far quieter, only a little smaller, and has a far more natural feel and a stunning view out over Lake Myvatn.
The Entry fee was 5700 ISK ($44 us, £32 ) at the time of writing, which is far cheaper than the 8 990 ISK entry at the Blue Lagoon. The Reception building is far more basic and the changing rooms are pretty rustic.
The Icelandics insist on naked showering before entry and this means there is a lot of flesh on show. We cannot really decern the reason for this but…when in Rome. Drinks, need to be loaded onto a wrist band, which are then collected from the swim-up bar. The range is pretty basic but there is beer and wine and really that’s all most people need.
The water was absolutely divine. The soft milky mineral water comes straight from the ground, piped over from the Geothermal plant, the temperature is around 36-40 °C (97-10°F) in the top pond and considerably cooler in the lower, larger pond. But really this is pretty meaningless. What people want to know is what that feels like.
It’s basically the perfect bath temperature or the perfect hot tub. It means that despite it snowing really heavily, and small accumulations of snow forming on our HEADS, we were perfectly warm and happy, in fact, the warmer spots, where the water flows in are too hot, and you cannot stay too long, we even found spots that cause pain due to the intense heat! It was simply wonderful, just lounging around doing nothing for a few hours just taking in the minerals and the amazing view, not a care in the world for the driving snow.
After 8 days of intense travel, this was just the ticket, the travel would resume tomorrow and it was great to know the last day was planned to be a Blue Lagoon day. That way we knew we could recover from the next leg of the journey before flying home.
The Blue Lagoon is considered a must-do in Iceland and we really agree, but we would stick the Myvatn Bath in that category too, this was one of our highlights so far.
After a good few hours in the baths, we were relaxed and rejuvenated but there is only so long we could lounge around. And we had planned that we would let hunger get us out of the pool and we were getting pretty hungry now so head off to look for food. The Cafe at the baths was mainly lunch items and not what we were looking for.
We had spotted a nice Pizza place near our Farm Resort so headed there, only to find it closed for the season! There really was very little around in terms of restaurants and eateries so we just returned to the Vogafos farm Restaurant. The Burgers were made with beef from the farm and were quite incredible so we went back to our room happy and full. It’s not cheap but it is one of the better dining options we found.
Once more the skies were filled with heavy clouds and there would be NO aurora viewing tonight.
Live Blog – Trip Report