Day 2, July 7:
We have another full itinerary ahead. Being naturally inclined to exploring the less-traveled routes, we choose the northern way instead.
While tempted by the allure of the Westfjords, we bypass it for timing purposes. Our destination is Akureyri via the newly advertised highway of the north.
I pull off my sleep mask at 6:30 am, my body finally succumbing to six hours of sleep. The sunlight never left us but regains strength from the early morning hours.
I fill my stomach to capacity at breakfast in preparation for our five-hour drive, topping my plate with toast, assortments of cheese, vegetables, a croissant and a fried egg with a side bowl of skyr. At 8 am, we depart slowly down the gravel road we came from.
A herd of sheep watches us from the roadside, like passersby staring at the hotshot in a new Ferrari. They pose but choose not to smile for the camera.
We turn left onto the paved highway aiming east along Snæfellsnes. But our pesky GPS recalculates. Turns out the road goes north to Stykkishólmur. After pulling over twice and re-routing, we realize that route 54, the road we were looking for, is the same gravel road as before.
Instead, my mom continues for another 15-minute drive to gas up in Stykkishólmur, double back, then cross inland. We’ll pass Borgarnes again to venture north. Although our little Nissan could handle gravel, we feel uneasy about ETA and chugging through on half a tank of gas.
Our quick stopover in Stykkishólmur was worth the detour. Vibrant colours scatter the landscape through houses and storefronts, with a harbour in front. The street leading to the harbour keeps weaving along a wall of rocks to an island protruding 200 feet from the shore with a lighthouse resting on top. The place reminds me of small-town Newfoundland.
The community is one of the first settled in Iceland, a hub for scallops and halibut and a place rich in mythology. The famous Erbyggja Saga recounts the life of Snorri Þógrímsson, a Viking priest and his eventual conversion to Christianity.
My mom fills the gas tank, and within an hour, we’re passing route 56 inland. Getting to the other side is quick. But in classic Icelandic fashion, the brief crossing was nothing short of spectacles.
After passing Borgarnes, Blönduós is our next stop. The terrain resembles a blending between the Wild West and an extraterrestrial habitat. Consequently, our first impulse stop of the day is three craters, roughly 50-100 feet tall.
We decide to squeeze in a 20-minute hike up Gràbrók, the middle one. According to the info board, it boasts a ripe old age of at least 3400, its origins being a fissure eruption (in lay terms – a volcanic eruption sans explosion). The area now remains protected from development.
We follow the footpath and catch our breaths amidst a multitude of stairs. Keeping upright becomes a challenge against vigorous gusts of winds, strengthening by every metre we climb in elevation. We’re lucky to have the sun still projecting warm air on our faces. My overly-sensitive ears thank me for wearing a hat.
We pause for pictures, holding our cameras steady and watching either side for tourists. I try my hand at some floral aesthetic with my DSLR.
Adhering to our time limit, we push onwards to Blönduós, hoping to catch more time for some local attractions. But sadly, our travel guide dismisses it as lacking in magnetism, except for the Textile Museum (to entice some curious lovers of material history like myself). The town’s biggest pull at the moment is supposedly the final gas station for a long drive ahead.
We fight through restroom and hot dog lineups (for an unmemorable hot dog), gas up and re-route our map. After a long debate, we give the Textile Museum a miss in anticipation for Hofsós, our next stop. I had my swimming trunks in the bag, hoping to take a dip in their new, cliffside pool.
The clouds take over the further north we travel, and the sun is gone. The temperature has dropped by almost 8 degrees. Light rain sprinkles the windshield.
Fitting for a road trip, we enter mildly perilous conditions during some brief inland mountain driving. At reduced speed, we pursue a narrow road, zigzagging through green hills and valleys. It traces through the earth like a grey pencil – we could see it for kilometres from high up above. The vehicles ahead look like bugs crawling on the pavement.
Windshield visibility decreases, due to the car’s poor quality of wipers. We couldn’t tell the difference between raindrops and the remnants of unlucky flies.
At about 4 pm Hofsós is our next stop. It’s a quiet place with only the sounds of rushing water.
As evident, summer isn’t quite their forté. I’m layered in a thermal shirt, a windbreaker and a raincoat, unable to shake off a chill. My head is covered by a hat and a hood, with no strand of hair poking out. Blowing rain and icy wind isn’t our idea for a pool day.
After Hofsós, our most daunting drive awaits us along Skagafjörður bay to the very top, stopping in Siglufjörður. Thankfully, the rain stops, allowing us to see snow-capped peaks, towering cliffs and shrouding mist over the Norwegian Sea. We’re only 40 km away from the Arctic Circle.
The road is paved but occasionally gives way to gravel with little warning. To add to our anxieties, landslide warning signs are posted around each bend, with rocks and boulders leering above us on the mountainside.
With the absence of guard rails, the drive is both dazzling and dizzying. I’m grateful that our chosen route designates us to the road’s inner side.
Siglufjörður nestles tightly within a narrow fjord as the northernmost municipality on Iceland’s mainland. I feel like I’m in a ski town burrowed within the Alps or the Rockies, cloaked by low-lying clouds.
To our dismay, the place is filled with things to do, but no free time. There is a Folk Music Centre, where you can hear the chiming of old tunes and nursery rhymes. Its annual Folk Music Festival runs at precisely this time of year. And fittingly for a settlement with a bustling harbour, there is a herring museum (cue the Monty Python jokes).
As we park the car, my mom gets out, determined to find a particular place. She stops in front of a concrete, two-storey apartment building and snaps pictures from across the street. Locals may be confused about why such a plain structure could serve any interest to us. They don’t know that her mission before coming here, was to locate the police station from the Netflix show Trapped, which is set here. Unfortunately, she isn’t convinced that she got the right building.
We start chasing time on our final leg of the journey. Leaving Siglufjörður, we zip right through the inside of a mountain through a series of tunnels. The road gets too narrow for both lanes – lucky for us, oncoming traffic has to yield.
Outside Siglufjörður, we see a bird with a long, thin beak perched on a sign. My dad guessed an avocet when I sent him a picture. Either that or a bird species blessed with a sharp, high-pitched squeak.
Our tour around the Arctic Coast Way comes to a conclusion as the car turns south along the inlet of Eyjafjörður.
By 6:30 p.m., we find our destination – a guesthouse about 10 kilometres north of Akureyri. Similar to the previous night, the place is a lone chalet surrounded by wilderness.
It’s also essentially a playground. A schoolhouse sits right on its property, decked with murals of mythological beings and other imaginative creatures. Artwork and trinkets for sale are on display in the foyer and throughout the hallways. There is a hot tub, a tree swing and a telescope for birdwatchers. And the farm nearby houses at least 60 horses.
We check-in and make our dinner reservations. Continuing our fishy theme, my mom orders catfish, while I indulge in some ravioli. However, the purée vegetable soup appetizer is the highlight of the meal. While not as enjoyable as the trout overall, the most important thing to cap off the evening is a beer for each of us.
We stroll about to stretch our legs and safely approach the photogenic equines. Once again, the pesky black flies chase us back inside.
I take a hot shower to shake off a persistent chill. Wrapped in a big housecoat and a book in tow, I wind down for the evening.
The time is 11 pm, and it looks like we’ll be needing our sleep masks once again.