Danny Yee >> Bushwalking & Travel >> South Iceland

Höfn and back

Getting into Höfn (pronounced somewhere between "hep" and "hup", with a glottal stop), we stopped in the tourist information centre to try to arrange accommodation. Ringing around proved a bit frustrating, and in the end we just drove around, ending up in Guesthouse Hvammur right on the harbour-front. That was 6900 króna for the night, but we were both tired and feeling a little bit under the weather, so a warm comfortable room with our own sink was impossible to turn down.

We unpacked clothing to dry and I started charging camera batteries, then we went out to eat, walking around and picking the nicer of two restaurants. We had an excellent dinner: deep-fried haddock and pan-fried trout, followed up with hot chocolates (3800 króna all up, making it an expensive day).

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Höfn harbour
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houses on Fiskhóll ("fish hill")

After dinner we bought some milk, skyr, and ice creams from the supermarket, then went for a walk around the headland, where there's a strange Seamen and Fishermen's Monument. The peninsula Höfn sits on is in a huge lagoon, protected by giant sandbanks, and is surrounded by an array of small islands. At its end is a small wetland - wandering around that we saw diving kittiwakes, fulmars, and various ducks. We also startled a snipe from the bushes, who flew away leaving her two chicks.

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Seamen's Monument
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Höfn wetlands
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the following morning

After that we went to the glacier exhibition, which was miraculously still open. This is more focused on exploration than science, which didn't appeal to Camilla so much - and I also thought the exhibition at Skaftafell was better (it's also free).

Höfn isn't considered much of a tourist attraction, other than as a transport nexus on the Ring Road and a base for tours of Vatnajökulll. I rather liked it, however, and would happily have spent a whole day there if we'd had the time. It's attractively situated and with nearly 2,000 people it has restaurants, a swimming pool, supermarkets, and so forth. And there's a Maritime Museum and a Folk Museum, neither of which we saw.

Showering before bed, we discovered we were both sunburnt - Camilla on the back of the neck, I on the back of the legs!

Sunday 31st August

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Camilla rescuing a fulmar
In the morning we wandered around the harbour a little, taking photos. The Maritime Museum didn't open till 1, but we stopped (for too long) in the Information Centre for Net access. Then we were on our way, retracing our steps towards Reykjavik.

Along the road we encountered juvenile fulmars, trying to reach the sea from cliffs inland. Some were stuck behind fences on the wrong side of the road, while others were sitting right in the middle of it. So Camilla would get out, grab the birds, and put them over the fence on the seaward side of the road. But the birds didn't like being picked up - she had to chase one several hundred metres down the highway - and fulmars use projectile vomit as a defensive mechanism... After being vomited on a couple of times, her ardour for fulmar-rescuing started to wane.

Camilla writes: "In case you're wondering, fulmar vomit is bright orange, it's projectile, slimey, smells like rotten fish, and it takes two washes to remove the smell from your clothing and several days before your hands and arms stop smelling."

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Jökulsárlón
We stopped at 1pm at Jökulsárlón for lunch, spending three quarters of an hour sitting by the lagoon admiring the icebergs. It was 18 degrees and sunny - there was even heat haze on the road! - and the lagoon had a different aspect to the previous day.

We arrived at Skaftafell half an hour too late for the glacier walk, which was a bit disappointing - I'd done that on Franz Joseph glacier in New Zealand, but Camilla had never been on top of a glacier. Camilla showered, trying to remove the smell of fulmar vomit, and then we had a quick look at the old turf houses at Sel. (These are not that exciting, at least if you've seen the old houses at Skógar.)

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old Skeiðará bridge monument
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on the Skeiðará bridge

Sel also offered a good view of the Skeiðará bridge, which stretches for nearly a kilometre over the floodplain of the river. Our next stop was the monument made of pieces of the old bridge, 200 metres of which was washed away in 1996 by the flood (jökulhlaup) following an eruption of the volcano under the Vatnajökull ice cap.

We stopped at 'Klausturs to wash the car and eat a hot dog and chocolate, then it was back across the Mýrdalssandur, with just one photo stop this time. It was rather warm - 21 degrees - but as we approached Vik (one of the wettest towns in Iceland) it rapidly became cooler and more overcast.

We'd planned to camp again, but it was too windy and damp, so we ended up at Hotel Dyrhólaey, to the west of Vik. This was pretty flash, but as an end-of-season special 70,000 got us our nicest room of the trip, with en suite and breakfast. There were no cooking facilities, however, and it was too windy to try to use a stove outside, so we drove back into Vik and had dinner in the restaurant attached to the service station.

Next: Dyrhólaey, Kerið, Reykholt
Previous: Jökulsárlón (Jokulsarlon)

[Alternative spellings: Hofn, Fiskholl, Skeidara, Vatnajokull, Myrdalssandur, Dyrholaey]

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