Sunday, August 25, 2013

Iceland - Laufskálavarða, Dyrhólaey, Vik beach

August 14, 2013

First stop: 0 miles
First hike 0.8 (route 218, turn left at the split)
Second hike 1.3 (route 218, turn right at the split)
Third hike 2.0 miles

Year to date miles: 234.5

Our first stop was Laufskálavarða, which is on Route 1 near Kirkjubæjarklaustur (right at the intersection for the road to our guesthouse). Tradition is that travelers should make a cairn to add to their good fortune. This isn't a hike, but a nice place to stop. I love cairns - and this is just cairns on steroids!

Cairns everywhere!

Our next stop was Dyrhólaey in Vik. This was the place to see puffins!

Driving directions:
We turned onto Route 218 from Route 1. We started out to the left. It is a narrow gravel road. Buses go down this road too. Basically whenever anyone came down the road driving towards me, I pulled as far as I could to the side of the road and stopped. There is no guardrail and no shoulder. There is a 3 foot drop off the side of  the road. The road splits at one point. Straight ahead, the sign says 30km/hour. To the right, the sign says 20km/hour.

Restrooms: None, and too may tourists to go outside! However, I managed to go outside - right in the open - because it was foggy day, and we hiked a little further than most tourists. Best bet is at the store next to the N1 gas station in Vik.

Parking: We started with the 30 km/hour road. This is where all of the tour buses go too. Parking was tight, but we found a spot. We headed to the left of the parking lot first, where you can see puffins on the cliff, just 6 feet away. We had so much fun watching them. They are fat, and fly differently than other birds. There is a sign with a map of a hiking trail, so we wanted to do the hike. We turned right from the parking lot, got a short ways, and then there was a sign saying the trail was closed due to breeding season (which I thought already passed). So we turned around.

We drove back to where the road split, and took the 20km/hour road. This road was even less fun. The road has sharp turns, is gravel, is narrow, and of course no guard rails. The drop offs got higher. And the road was muddy. With potholes & big rocks to avoid. We prayed that no cars would
pass us at certain spots, because there wouldn't be room to move over (unless you fall off the cliff). Nerves were getting a bit frazzled. It wouldn't be too bad if you didn't pass any cars going the other way. There were a couple of spots that were designed for cars to pull over to let someone go by, but it was not enough. We made it too the end of the road! There was a parking area there. Tour buses don't take this road it appears. Here, you could get even closer to the puffins - sometimes 3 feet away. It was also the other end of the trail that had been closed. Except on this side, the trail wasn't closed. We hiked for a while, and took many puffin pictures. We managed to get back down the gravel road, and back onto the ring road in one piece.

We had rented a cabin at Pakgil, which looks like a beautiful area, and has trails right from the cabin. There is also camping here. However, there is a 17km drive on a gravel road there. We found a brochure on it and looked at it before we headed out. The brochure said most cars can do the drive. Oh dear. So, this road was bad. I drove slow. Some people came behind me in 4x4's and I let them pass when I could find room to pull over to the side. The road was narrow. Had potholes. Mud. Big rocks that you have to avoid so that you don't scrape the bottom of your car. And hills. With no guard rails, and tall drop offs. We drove a long ways. Slowly. Hoped the car didn't slide on the gravel & mud and go off a cliff. We ended up behind an Audi, that I had let pass us. Hills were getting steeper,
and we were getting more and more worried about the car bottoming out. Eventually the car in front of us came to a hill and they decided they couldn't make it - they got halfway up, and then backed down. I think there car was going to bottom out on the top of the hill. It was just too steep. I decided I had better turn around at that point. Glen helped me turn around very carefully - luckily we
stopped in a spot where we could turn around (Glen making sure I didn't back into a rock or go over a cliff). The car in front of us managed to turn around too, and they followed us out. So, we never made it to the cabin we had reserved. We drove very slowly back to the ring road. I will be very happy if I never drive on a gravel road again! I recommend if you want to go there, that you have a 4 wheel drive at least, and some decent clearance under your car.

We had to look for a place to stay, so we started stopping at any place which was not on a gravel road. The second place had one room left. We didn't care what the price was at this point. It is a more fancy hotel than what we've been staying at, but we were very happy that we found it, and wouldn't be sleeping in the car tonight. Hotel Vik.

It was still early in the day, so we dropped off our luggage, and drove to the church in Vik. It sits high above the ring road, on a short but very easily drivable gravel road of course. Vik is so small, you don't need directions. Just look for the church. There is a very nice view from the church out to the ocean. We stopped, and cooked some soup with our backpacking stove, because there was a short
break in the rain.

After our dinner, we parked at the N1 station in Vik. We headed to the ocean and turned right to walk along the beach. The rain started up again, feeling almost like hail. We walked until we reached the edge of the beach where the cliffs start, and then walked back to our car. You can walk in the other direction, but we had enough of the cold rain, so we went back to our hotel.

The hotel doesn't serve dinner (except to large groups arranged ahead of time), so we went across the street to Strondin, which is the only restaurant in town which serves dinner I think. There is also a diner type place at the N1 gas station. The restaurant had the usual stuff - charr, whale, sheep, hamburgers. We opted for cheeseless pizza (they weren't sure it would be possible to make a cheeseless pizza without burning the vegetables, but we requested they try - we eat pizza like this all the time in NY!). I asked for onions. I got about a tablespoon of onions on my 10" pizza. Kind of funny. But, the pizza was good, and it was nice to have a meal in a restaurant (plus it was
raining, making the stove not so good).

It was very easy to recognize puffins in flight!

Ships can sail through this.

Church back in the center of Vik

Heading to the beach for a walk

Black sand beaches

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