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Road trip to the Jökulsárlón iceberg lagoon

Published Sun 07 November 2010 02:16 (+1300)
Tagged
  • travel (188 posts and 1102 photos)
  • iceland (4 posts and 56 photos)

After Reykjavik and our roundtrip around the inland area near it, my friend and I picked up a hire car and headed east, tracking counter-clockwise along the island's ring-road towards Vik and the Jökulsárlón icebergs.

Kerið crater

Kerið crater
Kerið crater
In Kerið crater
In Kerið crater

First stop was a random place I spotted from Google Earth, a crater believed to be left after the magma chamber of the volcano there collapsed. The earth and rocks are a rich red and green vegetation is slowly covering the slopes. You can just walk around the rim and then track down the side – I love the way that in Iceland all the interesting stuff is just sitting around free to walk up to, in national parks!

You can see the size of the crater if you look up to the top of the second photo – there's a couple of people walking along the crater rim.

That ð is a ‘th’ noise, so it's said like “Kerith”.

Seljalandsfoss

Walking behind Seljalandsfoss
Walking behind Seljalandsfoss

As you drive around on the flat you see a number of waterfalls coming over the edge of the more inland cliffs which you circle around. At the Seljalands waterfall you can walk not only up to the waterfall but around and behind it too, in the cavity under the overhanging rock. It sounds like a small freight train is rumbling overhead and you get wet!

The road from Vik

The road after Vik í Myrdal
The road after Vik í Myrdal
Ashen landscape north of Vik
Ashen landscape north of Vik

After staying the night in Vik í Myrdal we continued our way around the ring-road. Vik is on the coast – the ring-road touches the edge here for the first time since Reykjavik – but the road again points inland, cutting across the low-lying part around the south-eastern coast.

Parts were the deep green of vegetation, parts were the dull yellow-green of the first mossy foliage that takes root on relatively new lava, but large parts of the area were completely desolate, ash-grey fields as far as the eye could see.

How much of that was due to the recent Eyjafjallajökull eruption and how much was always like that I couldn't tell. They did say that the nearby Vik was about the only township affected by the eruption, receiving quite a drift of ash. And there were workers efficiently rebuilding the parts of the ring-road in the area washed out by rivers that flooded after the glacier melt from the eruption – but then that sort of thing is pretty common in Iceland anyway as the seasonal flows vary so much.

Vatnajökull

Outlet of the massive Vatnajökull
Outlet of the massive Vatnajökull

It wasn't long before we had our first sight of the glacier cascades. Seen on a map Iceland has a number of separate glaciers, ranging from the relatively small Eyjafjallajökull under which the recent eruption took place, through to the giant Vatnajökull we were headed towards, which alone covers 8% of the whole of Iceland.

But when you are driving around rather than in a plane you will see a number of apparent glaciers come down the cliffs, carving themselves valleys; many of these will be icefalls or outlets of the same glacier. In our case I think they were all fingers of Vatnajökull.

Incidentally that has two volcanos under it – in the same chain as the one that erupted recently, and it's thought they could well go off at some time too, which could make a big mess.

Jökulsárlón

Our target for the day was Jökulsárlón, the glacier lagoon at the end of Breiðamerkurjökull, which is one tongue of this enormous Vatnajökull glacier.

Icebergs calve off the end of the glacier and float down the lagoon towards the sea. As always, only around 10% of the iceberg is visible abovewater; the lagoon is therefore much deeper than it might appear, in fact it's the second-deepest lake in Iceland (over 200m at the deepest point).

The lake is growing as the glacier retreats (relatively rapidly in current years). It's partly salty, as when the tide is high it's enough to reverse the flow at the end of the lagoon.

In addition to small spots such as Top Gear's 4wd vs. jet-powered Kayak race, it's been used for a number of films, most notably the Aston Martin vs. Jaguar car chase scene in Die Another Die:

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For that one they froze the surface of the lake – to make that happen the outlet to the sea was blocked off so that the salt water would stop flowing in; the freshwater from the glacier could then dilute the salt to the point where the water froze in the cold. Interesting bit of small-scale geoengineering.

Jökulsárlón - as the fog starts to lift
Jökulsárlón - as the fog starts to lift
Sheparding icebergs around the lagoon
Sheparding icebergs around the lagoon
Iceberg and ice falls from Jökulsárlón
Iceberg and ice falls from Jökulsárlón
Beautiful ice on Jökulsárlón
Beautiful ice on Jökulsárlón
Dirty iceberg in Jökulsárlón
Dirty iceberg in Jökulsárlón
Iceberg in Jökulsárlón
Iceberg in Jökulsárlón
Piloting our LARC-5 in the lagoon
Piloting our LARC-5 in the lagoon
Another LARC-5 amphibious craft
Another LARC-5 amphibious craft

Sadly most of us don't have an Aston Martin Vanquish and a Jaguar XKR (nor more sadly Halle Berry and Rosamund Pike), but we can at least go for a boat trip on the lake. They have a dude in a zodiac zip around and “sheppard” the mostly-submerged bergs out of the way so there's a channel that the amphibious tourist boats (Vietnam-era American-made LARC-5s) can use.

It was actually really disappointing when we first got there as the whole area was blanketed in thick, low fog, giving very little view to the glaciers on the lagoon. Luckily we stuck around because an hour or so later the day finally warmed up enough to boil the vapour off and suddenly we had an amazing view of the icebergs strewn across the lagoon.

Most are white, some are a serene light blue, some have a gray coating on one side (they tip over sometimes) – not due to the eruption, they just get dirty like that as the ground gets ground up by the glacier – and came in all shapes and sizes, pointy, rounded, long, sharp-edged and eroded.

As the fog cleared further we could see in the background the breadth of the glacier outlet feeding the lake – the whole thing really is huge.

The tours are pretty cool – you don't get close enough to reach out to the icebergs, but you do go for a good circuit around seeing a variety of them, get a talk from the person about the glacier and lagoon, and Iceland ice more generally, and the dude in the zodiac pops over and delivers some iceberg for you to try (nice pure water taste).

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Reflection on Jökulsárlón
Reflection on Jökulsárlón
Jökulsárlón panorama
Jökulsárlón panorama

I'm really glad we took the time to travel out from Reykjavik around to Jökulsárlón, even though we didn't have a week to do the rest of the loop around Iceland – going and boating on a lake full of icebergs was something unique and definitely a highlight of the trip.

Even if you aren't keen on the boat trip I fully recommend visiting – once the haze ascended the views from the shore were beautiful!

We headed back towards Vik where I had time for a bit of an unplanned adventure.