On this day we had no plan but to drive. It’s quite a long drive between Höfn and Egilsstaðir, so we gave ourselves plenty of time to take in the incredible scenery. This drive takes us through the mountain route past the start of the East Fjords. The coastal route at the beginning of the journey would be quite unsettling in bad weather, but on this day the weather was mostly clear, only a little bit of rain, and we enjoyed steep, pagoda-like mountains on our left and ocean on our right. This mountain route also took us through Fáskrúðsfjörður tunnel, a 6-kilometre long journey, which was incredible for the fact that we got to drive through a mountain!
Our destination for the night was Egilsstaðir, which is known as the ‘capital of East Iceland’. While not being the most picturesque town, Egilsstaðir is a hub for those passing through. It is also home to Lagarfjlót lake, where it is said a great wrym (Iceland’s Loch Ness monster) lives, and can be spotted occasionally.
We check into our hotel and head out for a late lunch at Salt Cafe and Bistro. We spend a quiet night in the hotel for dinner and drinks.
Egilsstaðir to Lake Mývatn
Every evening and every morning (and many times throughout the day) we check the road conditions on road.is (this website will be your best friend when road tripping around Iceland). The road conditions are looking to be the worst they’ve been for the trip so far: snowy, icy, slippery. Yet when we check-out of our hotel, the receptionist beams at us and says, ‘Good road conditions today’. We have a giggle at this and conclude that to Icelanders, ‘good’ is our ‘bad’ and if they were to call it ‘bad’, it must be terrible.
The drive is stunning (as they all are), but we do encounter difficult conditions early on and for the first half of the day. As we the elevation rises, visibility and road conditions fall. The stark whiteness of the surrounding snow-covered hills and mountains makes us don our sunglasses as we pass snow ploughs and navigate icy patches.
It’s not all bad though, the road gets better as we make our way to Dettifoss. And the scenery is breathtaking. On the way to Dettifoss we have to drive on the wrong side of the road for many parts as there is too much ice and snow on the other side. The worst part is that I have to go to the bathroom. Throughout the trip so far I have failed to learn to go when I see a town, as there may not be another town or petrol station with a toilet, for quite a while. We get to the Dettifoss car park, I’m very uncomfortable, and see the toilets are snowed in! Luckily, portaloos are provided, and I’m thankful for the foresight of whoever manages this area. Fellow travellers, please heed my warning here and don’t leave it too late to find a bathroom, as they are often few and far between!
Dettifoss is Europe’s most powerful waterfall. You may remember seeing it in the movie Prometheus. The walk to the viewing platform was cold but fun. Pete and I threw snowballs at each other – something I have never done before, so relished in the experience. Dettifoss is indeed impressive, and it would have been great to be able to view it from the opposite side, next to the fall, as others have done in Summer.
A little further on from the road to Dettifoss we visited Námaskarð, a weird and wonderful area of bubbling hot springs, steaming sulfuric mounds of rock and sticky clay. Crater-like holes and mounds dot the area, which feels like you’re on another planet.
I’ve mentioned in previous posts the need to wear proper boots or shoes you don’t mind getting dirty when visiting Iceland, and this is the prime example. My boots were never clean again after walking though the sticky clay.
We tried to visit Krafla caldera, which is essentially across the road from Námaskarð, but the road to Krafla was too icy and snow-covered. We got just past the power plant and watched other tourists attempt to drive the remaining distance, but none had success, so we had to give it a miss.
Lake Mývatn and surrounds
We treated ourselves to a dip in the Mývatn Nature Baths. This is the ‘Blue Lagoon of the North’ and the perfect place to relax after a day of driving. We follow the rules and shower before doing a quick but very cold dash from the change rooms to the baths. The 40° C water is a welcome relief from the 2° C air. I also kept splashing my face with the warm water, as my nose and ears were cold. The baths feature a large bath of around 20° C , a large bath of around 40° C, and a small bath of around 45° C . The gravelly bottom of the bath is nice on your feet and the mineral-rich water makes your skin feel amazing – no need for expensive treatments. The Mývatn Nature Baths are a lot quieter and less busy than Blue Lagoon, so a really nice option if you want to check out some public thermal baths, but don’t want to feel crowded.
After we work up the courage to leave the baths, we make our way to Sel – Hótel Mývatn. As we arrive we discover the carparks outside the hotel are being used to house cars used in filming the upcoming Fast and Furious 8 movie (this was in 2016). On the frozen Lake Mývatn just outside the hotel, they are filming car chase scenes complete with explosions and helicopters. It’s a shame to disrupt the tranquility of the area, which in this part, Skútustaðir, is marked with pseudocraters. We explore the area in the twilight and continue to be amazed at the otherworldly beauty of Iceland.
This is an area that I would have loved to have stayed and explored more, as there were a lot of sites we missed out on due to not having enough time and having a fixed schedule. What I’d love to do on a return trip to Iceland is drive around in a campervan or be more flexible with our schedule so we have time to properly explore each area.