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Iceland 2008 - The puffin heat wave tour

Part 2 - Isafjörður to Sporðalda.

02.08.08 - Patreksfjörður to Isafjörður

As we had to wait for our bus at 4.45pm we decided on a rest day and spent the day chilling out, charging the radio batteries and trying to charge Frank's phone to no avail. I apologised to the two Icelandic lad's for shouting at them and they apologised to us for being drunk and so noisy. They were local lads from Isafjörður and had come over to Patreksfjördur to see a friend of theirs. They were well hung over and looked terrible. We leisurely packed the tent away around lunch time and headed off to the N1 garage at around 4.00pm.

The bus turned up on time and it was a twin wheel Ford Transit, we loaded the bikes on to a towing hitch mounted bike rack which did look a little dodgy. We had a couple of others travelers with us on the bus and it didn't take long to go over the pass which we had struggled over earlier in the week and we were soon back at the cafe at Brjánslæker waiting for the ferry to come in. While we waited the German lassie who had traveled with us asked the driver if he could point her in the direction of her accommodation. He explained that it was a shame she hadn’t told him earlier as we had passed it on the way. He was obviously a bit of a softy as he decided that as the ferry had not arrived yet he would take her back to it and drove off with all our gear and bikes! He was soon back and the ferry had just got in. He drove down to meet it to see if there were any passengers that were going to Isafjörður. There were none so the driver decided that he would put the bikes inside the minibus as he didn’t think the rack would cope with the rugged trip over the top. I must admit we were kind of glad! The road over the top was quite interesting with some lovely views down the Geirþjófsfjörður and the various fjords off Arnarfjörður. We stopped at Dynjandisvogur to look at the Fjallfoss waterfall. After our traverse around Arnarfjörður it was over the tops again to Þingeyri where we stopped for 10 minutes. From there it was a skirt around Dyrafjörður an on to the new Vestfjarðagöng tunnel, it was quite interesting as the first part was single lane with passing places and unlit until you came to a junction in the middle, from there it was a well lit dual lane road. Although we didn't cycle it from what we saw the first part wouldn't have been much fun on a bike!

By the time we got Isafjörður it was nearly 8.00pm and our driver dropped us at the campsite in the town. He said there were two campsites in Isafjörður, this one and the other was one out of town which we had apparently passed on the way in. As it was late we decided that this one would do. It was slightly strange as it was just the grass grounds behind the hotel which opened onto the road behind. It was a bit busy with a lot of tents but we managed to find a flat section with good grass.

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map link03.08.08 - Isafjörður to Bolungarvík

We were off fairly early in the morning and headed into the main part of town, there isn’t a great deal to Isafjörður, basically one main street a small square. We stopped at the N1 garage to pick up some snacks for lunch and ended up having a long chat with the guy who ran the N1 petrol station. He was a keen cyclist and was interested in the bikes and cycle touring. As we set off up the road towards Bolungarvík we past a guy cycling up the wrong side of the road, he didn't seem that bothered and the local traffic didn’t seem to worry either, perhaps it is quite normal in them parts! As we cycled along this stretch of road we saw several drying huts with wire netting around them. We stopped at a cemetery which had a very jolly statue memorial to some sailors. Next to this was one of drying huts with what looked like meat hanging up, we thought it was mutton but the skin looked wrong and it was very fatty.  As we turned into the bay at Bolungarvík we stopped at Ósvör to have a look at a reconstructed fishing village. It was an interesting reconstruction with a very knowledgeable guardian who I asked about the drying meat. He told us that it was in fact Shark meat that was in the drying cages. They bury the meat underground for several weeks then air dry it the racks for several more weeks after that. Apparently it has a very ammonia taste to it but it is supposed to be good for the stomach.
When we arrived in Bolungarvík we soon found the campsite which was right next to the main road in the grounds attached to the sports centre. As our ticket that got us into the Ósvör fishing village in the morning included free entry into the Bolungarvík museum of natural history we decided as it was only just up the road from the campsite we might as well give it a visit. It was mainly stuffed birds and rocks but quite interesting. As it didn’t take us that long to go round it we decided we still had time to cycle over to Skálavík. After a fairly steep climb up a gravel road we got to the col at the head of Híðardalur ready to descend to Skálavík Frank saw the road to our right which was sign posted 'view point' 1.5km. She reckoned that it would give us a better view of the Austurstrandir peninsular than going to Skálavík.
I did point out to Frank that it was a fairly steep climb, but as she said it was no different from going down to Skálavík and then climbing back up to here. Well it was indeed quite a climb up some seriously steep hairpin bends and then a long drawn out stretch to the top, but we both managed to do it without stopping! It was indeed a great view over to the Austurstrandir peninsular as it was fairly clear. The flowers on the top of the cliffs were lovely and the Kittiwakes kept buzzing over us showing there supremacy in the air. As we headed down we met coming up an enormous 4X4 with huge wide balloon tyres, jacked up suspension, jerry cans, shovel, tank tacks, winches the works. The driver looked slightly miffed at meeting two cyclists who had obviously climbed up the steep road and he was probably even more miffed when he realised one of them was a women! You could tell his macho ego was dented as he booted the engine as he passed us showering us with gravel in the process.

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map link04.08.08 - Bolungarvík to Isafjörður

We decided that if we were to give ourselves enough time to get a good tour into the interior around Landmannalaugar we had better head back to Isafjörður and catch a bus to Brú the next day. Along the way we spotted several new flowers that we hadn't seen before. It also gave Frank the opportunity to photograph the Icelandic poppies that she had seen the day before going up a hill just before. As we got to the head of the fjord we noticed a very large cruise ship moored in the entrance to the fjord. On getting out the binoculars we discovered that it was in fact the QE2! When we got to Isafjörður we stopped by a baker’s shop in the main street to get something for lunch. Two guys asked saw our ‘GB’ plates and started chatting to us they were off the QE2, apparently it was it’s final cruise before going off to Dubai to be floating hotel. It didn’t take that long to get to the other campsite and we spent a relaxing afternoon reading, generally chilling, and watching how many people it takes and how long it takes to manoeuvre and park a caravan!

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05.08.08 - Isafjörður to Staðarskáli

As we set off we notice a couple of tents on the site which were definite contenders for ‘The best pitched tent competition’. We got to Isafordur at 9.15am which gave us time go to the supermarket to buy some dehydrated food for our trip into Landmannalaugar and some rolls and something to eat for our lunch from the bakery. We then headed off to the information place to catch the bus to Brú that left at 10.30am. When the bus came it was the same bus that had brought us over to Isafjörður and it was also the same driver. He recognised us and told us that the bikes would have to go inside as he had finally broken his bike rack. There were two other German tourers with bikes going to Holmavik so it was quite a tight squeeze to get them in. I ended up having to climb over several seats to find an empty seat as we had to put most of the luggage on the others. As we headed off to Holmavik you could see why cycling along the western fjord roads can be a killer as you go miles in and out of the fjords seemingly coming back close to point where you started from and if there is any sort of a wind it would make it much harder. On the shore of Isafjardarjup near Ogurholmar we stopped to have a look at the Seals, which were basking on the shore. Just before we headed over Steingrimsfjardarheidi we stopped to look at a small shed that had been built over a hot spring. The local owners had created a small hot spring bath and the driver said that when he driving lorries in the winter he would stop use it to warm up. We arrived in Holmavik with about 3hrs to kill so after riding down to the main part of town to get some money out of an ATM we went swimming in the pool opposite the N1 station where we dropped off. We weren’t surprised to see the German couple in the pool who were also killing time waiting for the bus to Bru.

We arrived at Bru at 7.30pm and we headed off to where there was a campsite marked near to a service station. When we arrived at the service station there was no sign of a campsite, so we asked inside. The lassie said there used to be a campsite just below the service station but it wasn’t used any more, she thought that there was still water there but no toilets. As there was a restaurant and the smell of food was making us feel hungry we decided to have something while decided what to do. As Frank’s mobile was not working we noticed a pay phone and decide to phone home. I’m glad I did as when I asked mum how things were she said that my father had been rushed to hospital the night before struggling to breath! What a facer! While I was having this conversation with mum a guy was asking Frank about a campsite nearby I had to wave them away as I could hardly hear mum. Mum sounded really quite shook up about it although she did say that Dad was doing OK in hospital and was hoping to be out tomorrow. I told her we would head back to Reykjavik tomorrow and give her a ring from there to see how dad was. When I got off the phone, Frank introduced me to the guy who was asking about where the campsite was. He was called Leo and from Belgium, he was wondering whether to stop or continue on to Laugarbakkki another 28km away. As he had already done a good mileage that day and it was late and he seemed quite tired I suggested that he perhaps he should stop and asked him if he would like to join us at the campsite below the service station. He seemed quite relieved that someone had made a decision for him! We filled up the water carrier with water at the service station and headed off to find the campsite. It was down a gravel track below the service station and we soon found where it had been as there was still an old wooden structure with some old sinks and a toilet in it. It was a good thing we had filled up with water as there wasn’t any. We found a reasonably flat bit of grass and started to put the tents up. Frank and I had ours up in minutes and I put water on for a brew. You could tell Leo was really tired as he was still struggling with his tent. I gave him a hand and we soon had it up and he got his gear in. By that time the water had boiled and we invited him in to our tent vestibule to join us for a cup of tea. Well several cups later of which he was most grateful and a long chat we finally all retired for a well earned night’s kip.

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06.08.08 - Staðarskáli to Hella

As we were a fair distance from the road we didn't get any road noise and apart from some early morning fishermen going down the track it was a peaceful night. We woke just before 8.00 and I could hear Leo moving about so offered him a cuppa, which he eagerly accepted. Due to the news that we had heard last night about my father we changed our plans and decided to catch a bus to Reykjavik so that if things hadn't improved with Father we could catch a flight home. Our bus wasn't until 1.00 so we had plenty of time to pack up, Leo's bus was due to leave at 10.00 so he was away first and we wished him well for the rest of his trip. It only took us about 15mins to cycle down to Bru to wait for the bus.

The bus was on time and we had an uneventful journey back to Reykjavik. On our arrival at the bus station I found a pay phone and phoned mum to find out how Dad was. He in fact was back from hospital, they had run various tests but couldn’t find the cause of the breathing difficulty. We were all set to get a flight home but Dad insisted that he was OK and that we should continue with our holiday. We decided that there was just enough time to try and find a shop in Reykjavik that might sell us a charger for Frank’s mobile phone before there was a bus to Hella at 5.00pm. I had noticed a big shopping complex from the bus as we had come to Reykjavik. It didn’t take us long to track back and find it. We asked around and found a mobile phone shop, which luckily had a travel charger that would fit Frank’s phone. We arrived back at the bus station in good time for the bus to Hella. When we arrived in Hella we knew exactly where the campsite was as we had been there last year. It was just across the road from the petrol station and it didn’t take us long to pitch up and get settled in.

07.08.08 - Hella

Just to be sure that Dad was OK we decided to stay in Hella for a day. It wasn’t a bad move as it rained most of the day and it gave us a chance to charge the camera and phone batteries and have a swim in Hella’s new heated outdoor swimming pool. When we rang Mum, Dad indeed seemed to sound better which rather relieved us.

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map link08.08.08 - Hella to Hólaskugur

After the rain from yesterday we wondered what the day would bring, as there were still a few dark clouds about, one cloud had what looked like a small twister in it. As we headed up the 264 the weather seemed to be improving all the time and as we turned on to the 268 it was getting brighter. We noticed a sign saying that there was road works for 7km and boy was that a pain as they were re-surfacing the gravel road and for most of it they hadn’t rolled it as they were just dumping the gravel mix on the surface. We were glad when we managed to get ahead of the gangers, as the old surface was certainly much easier to cycle on!

It was a pleasant cycle with the Ytri-Rangá River to our left and with the distinctive outline of Búfell in the distance. Just a bit further on from Bolhot I noticed what I thought was a small dog running alongside the road in the brush beside me. It then broke cover and ran across the road in front of us and I then realised from its bushy tail that it was in fact an Arctic fox. Unfortunately by the time I got a camera out it was a fair distance away but you could see that it was indeed an arctic fox, what a first! It’s interesting to see the use of the land in this region as one area seemed to be split into plots being sold off for what I would assume were summer houses, however I’m not sure I would buy one as the terrain wasn’t exactly stunning as it was all volcanic ash and cinder from past Hekla eruptions. A little further on we came across a chap planting trees, I had a chat with him he was a contractor working for the local farmer and was planting what looked like Aspen saplings.

On reaching the Selsundslækur River there was a nice grassy sward by the side of the road so we took that opportunity to have a lunch stop. From then the road twisted and turned through the Norðurhraun and various other lava fields from Hekla’s previous eruptions. We crossed the Ytri-Rangá River at a rather nice set of rapids and joined the 26, the washboard surface wasn’t great in parts but it was a fairly gentle gradient. As we had stopped on the 26 near Tröllkonuhlaup to take a few photos of Búrfell, a German couple came up behind us and stopped for a chat. They were on their way into Landmannalaugar and were going to take the F228. We chattered about the weather and how good it had been. The lass looked at our bikes and said, “ You seem to have a lot of stuff what are you carrying” “oh the usual camping gear” “we are camping to but we don’t have so much stuff” so I gave her a quick run down of what we had in our panniers. When I got to one of Frank’s panniers and mentioning the fleece jackets she said, “ oh we haven’t brought anything like that. My sister came here for 3 weeks at the end of June and had beautifully hot weather, she said we wouldn't need cold weather gear”. From what we could gather she didn’t have much more than what she was cycling in, we just hoped for her sake that the weather didn’t get any colder.

If it hadn’t been for the fact the we wanted to visit Stöng we would have followed them along the F225 but unfortunately the þjorska river was in between us and the campsite at Hûlaskugur so we had to go right along the 26 to where it met the 32 and then go back on ourselves. The washboard surface on the road going across Askógar was particularly bad and it was a bit of a drag especially when you can see yourself going away from where you are ultimately heading. We were glad to get to the asphalt surface of the 32 to turn west and we were soon passing the Sultartangi Hydroelectric Station with its massive 7km tailrace canal, which had been cut through the lava field. It was late by the time we got to the campsite and we were the only tent there. The owner and his friend carried a picnic table over to our tent, which was very kind of them, unfortunately it was a little cold to take advantage of it!

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map link09.08.08 - Hólaskugur to Poristunga

The campsite owner had mentioned to us that the falls at Háifoss were very beautiful and they were worth a look. As it was in the opposite direction to where we were heading and uphill we asked him if we could leave our panniers with him for a couple of hours. That wasn’t a problem so we depot them on his veranda and set off. It was quite a rocky gravel road with some steep sections where we had to get off and push as we kept just loosing traction in the loose gravel and rocks. As we left the campsite we had seen a lot of horses going up the hill earlier and when we got part way up the road we came across them. They were the horses from the campsite and the owner had brought them up to graze on the good lush grass. They had made a very simple coral using a tape strung between four horses with mounts. I had a chat with one of the guys, apparently they used the horses for pony trekking and this was a rest day for them so they brought them up to graze and due to the easily moveable corral they could move them to different areas of grass.

I asked him how far the falls were and he said we were about half way and where it leveled off we would see them, he also said that they had a group out at the moment who would be coming down the road and asked us politely to stop cycling if we met them as we might frighten the horses. I told him to not worry as we normally stopped to let horses pass if we are cycling. Sure enough we met the riders just as the hill started to level out. We wondered where the falls were, as we couldn’t see anything, I decided that we should have turned off at the small junction where we had met the riders. We retraced our pedals and turned down the side turning and we came to an obvious car parking area. There was what looked like a big valley over to our right with obvious foot tracks. As we got closer we could hear the falls and wow what an impressive sight! There was a very impressive deep gorge with several large waterfalls in it. It was indeed very beautiful and worth the climb up the road. As we came back down the peak of Hekja kept tempting us to try and catch a shot of it without its cloudy cap. We picked up the panniers and headed off towards Stöng. The track wound its way through a large lava flow and part way along we pulled over to let a 4X4 past. Near to our pull in there was a parked 4X4 and some people were just about to get in it. We recognised them as the people we had waved to earlier going up to the Háifoss falls. They said they had just been to see a cave and a lovely waterfall. They had a lass with them who was a local and she said that only the locals knew about it and then offered to quickly point us in the correct direction. We thanked her and headed off in the direction she pointed us to, it wasn’t very far and was indeed a very beautiful fall and valley.

A little further on we saw a pull in where there were several cars parked, we concluded that there probably was another fall there so we stopped to have a look. As we walked down some steps it led you into a beautiful little valley with a river and several small streams running through it with numerous waterfalls. With the large Angelica all over the place it looked like a secret garden. It was a lovely place to stop and have some lunch and a brew.

Our aim for the day was to have a look at the excavated farmhouse at Stöng, so we headed off to find it a little further down the road. It was getting a little late and we suddenly realised that having spent a little bit too long at the secret garden we had better hurry up if we were to get see the reconstructed farmhouse at þjólðveldisbær. The excavated farmhouse at Stöng was over a footbridge across the river, so we left the bikes this side of the river and headed over to the excavation. They had built a roof over the excavation and you could see where all the rooms were but not a lot else. As it was still 6km to the reconstruction village at þjólðveldisbær and it was then 3.30pm we really had to leg it down the road as it closed at 5.00pm.

We arrived at þjólðveldisbær at 4.30pm and the guy let us in at a reduced rate as we arrived so close to closing time. It was an excellent reconstruction built exactly according to the details they excavated at stöng and from details they had gleaned from other excavations in Iceland. We just had enough time to see it all and afterwards sat in the car park for a well-earned brew. While we were brewing up we got chatting to a German guy in a camper van. He worked in a bi-cycle shop near Bremmen in Germany and we had a long chat about our bikes and touring. It always amazes me how we managed to have quite an involved chat considering my broken German and his smattering of English. I suppose when you both have a passion and deep knowledge of a subject it kind of makes it easier!

We headed off in what we thought was a short ride to a campsite a couple of km’s west from pjóldveldisbaer. It turned out not to be there and as the area was covered in Lava and with nothing in the way of a water supply we had to carry on another 7km's to a campsite at Poristunga.

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map link10.08.08 - Poristunga to Sporðalda

Unfortunately we spent the morning back tracking our way up the 32, back the way we had come last night. Fortunately it was a nice morning and we got a good view of the unusual cliff formations on Skridufell. It didn’t take that long to get back to þjólðveldisbær. Unfortunately there was a good climb up round the side of Skeljafell to the Bjarnalon lake where there was a good viewing point for a breather before setting off towards Hólaskogur where we had camped the previous night. We stopped at the entrance to the Sultartangi Hydroelectric Station to have a look at the tailrace canal and decided that we might as well have some lunch. After lunch we headed off across the Askógar lava field to find the campsite at Hrauneyjafossstod, it was only 16 km away but we didn’t think we would have enough time to get Landmannalaugar that day as it would have meant another 40km on gravel roads. When we got to Hrauneyjafossstoð there was a service station and restaurant but no sign of a campsite. I asked at the reception for the hotel and they said the maps were wrong and there never had been a campsite there. Oh well it didn’t matter as we would have to find a wild camp further on. As they had a restaurant we decide to take advantage of it and have a meal to preserve our dehydrated meal supply. About 6km on the other side of a Spordalda we managed to find quit a nice wild camp site well away from the road next to wee stream.

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