Djúpivogur and Jökulsárlón
For someone from the equator, who saw snow for the first time two decades after being born, glaciers are another level of special. The purity of glaciers, the calming blue that seeps through them, the joy of seeing seals in their natural environment…being in Jökulsárlón is nothing short of meditative.
First half of day was spent driving from the east to the south and the second half of the day was spent admiring glaciers and glacial lakes.
Shortly before reaching Djúpivogur we noticed the Búlandstindur. It is another well-photographed mountain albeit of pyramid shape unlike the more popular and conical Kirkjufell mountain in Snæfellsnes peninsula. Búlandstindur is 1069 metres high.
Djúpivogur is a quaint little village. Its name means “deep cove” which might explain why it gained prominence as a shipping port ever since merchants from Hamburg started trading here in the late 1500s. Today, it has a small harbour and overlooking it is a lovely cafe in Djúpivogur’s oldest building, Langabúð. Langabúð was built by the German merchants who had settled here and was the economic and social centre of the village. Nowadays, it is certainly the touristic centre of town since it is the starting point for ferries to Papey island (popular for puffin tours). Drive by the Djúpivogur church to see it’s super cute bell tower as you exit the town and continue further south.
The ride from Djúpivogur to Höfn was picturesque with mountains on one side and sea on the other. We found a gorgeous picnic spot along the coast for lunch and then stopped by for a coffee in Höfn. Höfn is a major service station for tourists. It is also popular for seafood, in particular lobsters.
Jökulsárlón and Vatnajökull national park
As we drove further south, our excitement and curiosity built up. Finally, we reached the much awaited sight of Jökulsárlón, a glacial lagoon. Till this point, I had wondered how does a glacier look like and how do you “see” a glacier. Do you glimpse at it from far ? Are their walking paths perhaps? Can you even walk on glacier without spiked shoes?
Here is my i.e. an amateur’s understanding of the geography behind it. Vatnajökull is a glacier located on a mountainous area. The massive sheet of ice can be a kilometer deep in certain areas and sits on top of several volcanoes. Picture an overflowing, old, beaten bucket of water. The water is the glacier and the bucket is the mountain range. In a way, the mountains contain the glacier but in some areas such as gaps between the mountains, the glacier “leaks out” forming “outlet glaciers” or “glacier tongues”. One such tongue is the Breiðamerkurjökull glacier. Jökulsárlón is the lake formed by melting and retreating of this “tongue”. As the glacier tongue melts, the lake increases in size. So you can stand at the edges of the lake and see the glacial tongue in the background. Large chunks of ice that have broken off from the glacier float in the lake and drift slowly towards the ocean.
To add to the geographic complexity, the mountains under the Vatnajökull are volcanic. In fact some of the largest and most active volcanoes of Iceland such as Bárðarbunga, Grímsvötn and Öræfajökull are located under the Vatnajökull glacier sheet. This is why the ice chunks floating in the glacier lakes have layers of black volcanic ash from past eruptions. This volcanic activity under ice causes a constant tug-of-war between fire and ice.
The Vatnajökull national park covers not just Vatnajökull glacier but also areas surrounding the glacier in the highlands. It was established in June 2008. It covers 14% of Iceland and it might grow further as more areas are added to it. The southern side of Vatnajökull is its most accessible side.
You can get closer to the Breiðamerkurjökull glacial tongue with boat tours since it is a good 6 km from the lake front. But we had spent every “tour penny” in the Askja tour and didn’t think the boat tour was worth it for us. Another way to see the glacier is from glacial walks which start from Skaftafell national park.
Walk towards the black beach, south of the Jökulsárlón, to see the ice chunks join the ocean. It was a serene sight to watch the ice chunks float towards the sea and the nimble ocean waves pick them up. The black sand and washed off blue-white chunks of ice juxtaposed beautifully against each other. We had a hard time parting from this place. So we cheated a little and went from one glacier to another.
Our last stop of the day was the Fjallsárlón, a smaller glacial lagoon from another glacial “tongue”. It was less crowded than the Jökulsárlón but just as spectacular perhaps because the lagoon was smaller and you were a little closer to the actual glacier tongue. For those interested, there is a 15 km trail between Jökulsárlón and Fjallsárlón known as the Breiðármörk trail.