Day 1: September 16th (Mon) Departure from Honolulu
We checked-in at Hawaiian Airlines. Just about everybody actually arrived early! We all got checked in and on the plane safely – off to Seattle, our first stop, just five and a half hours away.
Day 2: September 17th (Tue) Seattle to Reykjavik
After a good night’s rest and a buffet breakfast at our hotel, a group of us went to Pike Place Market in downtown Seattle by the nearby Link Light Rail (a couple of folks met friends in Seattle or just slept in). Our flight this year was an evening departure, so we had plenty of time to explore one of the oldest public farmers’ markets in the United States.
You can see that it was a little rainy (as it often is in Seattle!), but the sun came out later in the day.
Pike Place Market is home to the gum wall, Seattle’s famous flying fish market (where they throw the fish through the air to the customers) and the world’s first Starbucks. Fortunately, it’s also home to these Texas sized donuts!
The downtown Link Light Rail station is also near other downtown attractions, like the Seattle Space Needle and a branch of the famous Taiwanese soup dumpling restaurant Din Tai Fung, where a few of us stopped for lunch.
Back to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, for our seven and a half hour flight to Iceland. Since we fly overnight, people are often able to see the Northern Lights from the plane! If they aren’t sleeping…
Our Icelandair flight was named Vatnajökull, which covers 8% of Iceland.
Even our headrests were themed after the glacier!
We flew directly over Greenland. Iceland is actually green and Greenland is covered with ice. Greenland outside the window was just white ice and snow as far as the eye could see.
Landing at Keflavik Airport we got a bit of a preview of Iceland’s famous Blue Lagoon (there’s more coming about that later on!).
Day 3: September 18th (Wed) Arrival in Reykjavik
Our first stop was for breakfast at the nearby Viking World Museum, which contains an exact reproduction of an historic Viking ship – this is the actual ship that sailed to New York from Reykjavik in the year 2000 to celebrate the 1,000th anniversary of the discovery of America by Leif Erikson (and not Christopher Columbus, as Icelanders are quick to point out!).
Even our delicious breakfast, which featured some Icelandic staples like herring and rye bread, and skyr (Icelandic yogurt), was served from a boat!
After breakfast we were able to enjoy exploring the museum’s exhibits. We were able to get on the boat and explore inside.
It really got us in a Viking mood!
Our first stop once we got into Reykjavik was Aurora Reykjavik: the Northern Lights Center to learn a little about the Northern Lights – the staff even adjusted our cameras with the best settings for the lights.
In case they run out of lights in Iceland they keep some more in storage. 🙂
People visit this center from all over the world – we tried to put a few more pins into Hawaii…
Next was the National Museum of Iceland to bone up on some of this country’s unique history and culture before venturing out on our 2,000 mile circle of Iceland.
On the left is our local guide, Fanný Jónmundsdóttir, who has led us through the wilds of Iceland many times.
After our long trip we turned in early and rested up for our next day in Iceland.
Day 4: September 19th (Thu) The Golden Circle
After a buffet breakfast at our Reykjavik hotel we got ready for our tour of the Golden Circle – some of the most popular areas near Reykjavik.
Our first stop on the Golden Circle was Þingvellir National Park – a popular filming location for the HBO series Game of Thrones. It was a little damp (the weather got better later on in the trip!) but we got to enjoy the spectacular scenery here, the site of the world’s first parliament in 930 AD. See the cliff on the left? That’s the edge of the North American continental plate. Off to the right in the distance we were also able to see the edge of the Eurasian continental plate. In Þingvellir you stand in between the two continents, which are pulling apart about an inch a year!
Next stop on the Circle was the Laugarvatn Fontana Geothermal Baths – but we weren’t there to bathe, we stopped to experience a unique Icelandic tradition – a geothermal bakery, baking traditional Icelandic rye bread by burying it in the ground for 24 hours and using the natural geothermal heat of the local hot springs.
After as much rye bread as we could eat, smothered in good Icelandic butter, we were fortified for our next stop – Gullfoss, the “Golden Falls”, one of the most popular waterfalls in Iceland, saved from industrialization in part through the actions of Iceland’s first environmentalist, Sigríður Tómasdóttir, in the early 1900’s.
We also stopped at the nearby Geysir area, after which all geysers are named. The most active geyser, Strokkur, erupts there about every five minutes.
After Strokkur the perfect way to end the day was with a relaxing dip in the Blue Lagoon – the geothermal spa in the midst of a lava field on the Reykjanes Peninsula. There are two bars in the lagoon itself – a drinks bar with alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks, and a mud bar were you can experience facial packs rich in the minerals and silica of the Blue Lagoon. We all came out at least ten years younger!
Day 5: September 20th (Fri) The South Coast
Everybody slept well after relaxing in the Blue Lagoon! Rejuvenated, the next day we left Reykjavik to circle Iceland on the ring road, starting with the Icelandic south coast.
First we made a stop at the Lava Centre in Hvolsvöllur. Built just a few years ago, we were able to learn all about the geology and volcanoes in Iceland with their modern interactive exhibits.
Then on to another of the most popular waterfalls in Iceland, Seljalandsfoss, which is formed by runoff from Eyjafjallajökull, the volcanic glacier that erupted in 2010, closing down air travel all over Europe. Some of us took a walk behind this waterfall (you get wet, though!).
Nearby Seljalandsfoss is another popular waterfall, Skógafoss – we didn’t find the chest of gold reputed to be hidden in the falls, but the river below the falls is filled with Arctic char and salmon.
Next was the most famous beach on the south coast of Iceland, Reynisfjara black sand beach, with it’s beautiful black sand and basalt columns.
On the way to our hotel for the evening we made a short stop at the Eldhraun Lava Field – the largest lava field in the world, this moss covered lava field is where the Apollo 11 astronauts came to train for their moon walks.
Our hotel tonight was in the middle of the lava fields – nothing for miles around – here was the view from the hotel window.
A perfect place to view the Northern Lights, away from the light pollution of other buildings! Unfortunately, it was too cloudy this night – but the lights would be coming later on in the trip…
We did manage to have a very pleasant dinner, though.
Day 6: September 21st (Sat) Jökulsárlón – Glacier Lagoon
Today we headed out for our cruise on the glacial lagoon on the edge of Vatnajökull National Park. As the weight of the glaciers forces them to flow out over the mountains they melt and form the waterfalls and lagoons of Iceland.
Here you can see two of the glacial outflows in the background that we passed on the way to the Jökulsárlón.
Jökulsárlón is now the deepest lake in Iceland, more than 800 feet deep. It was a filming location for A View to a Kill, Die Another Day (in which they actually froze the entire lagoon solid), Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, and Batman Begins, and the reality TV series Amazing Race. But…it is predicted that the lagoon will be gone in a few years as it gets larger and eventually joins with the ocean, so make sure that you get to Iceland before it disappears!
We were in luck this year, the lagoon was filled with seals (you can just see their heads here).
Our cruise will be familiar to Hawaii folks – the same kind of duck boat that you see in Honolulu! That’s the roughest part of the cruise, riding the duck boat over the gravel to the lagoon. The lagoon itself, which is enclosed, is almost always calm and glass like.
The crew pulled a chunk of glacier out of the water and we were able to get a taste of the 1,000 year old glacial ice!
After a cruise on the lagoon we always make a stop to check out Diamond Beach, where the outflow from the lagoon washes up on the beach and sparkles like diamonds.
On the way to our hotel in Egilsstaðir, in the east of Iceland, we passed by one of the easternmost mountains in Iceland, Eystrahorn, it’s top hidden in the mist. Last year this lagoon was filled with hundreds of swans, but this year there were just a few.
Tonight we stay in East Iceland, in Hallormsstaðaskógur, the country’s only natural forest. Here’s a view from the hotel window, with a bit of the forest and the lake, Lagarfljót, which apparently is inhabited by a lake monster (but we’ve never actually seen the monster!).
Tonight’s buffet dinner featured a few of the more exotic foods, such as dried horse meat, and of course lamb, Iceland’s delicious staple food.
Even better, tonight we got some beautiful view of the Northern Lights appearing over the forests of Hallormsstaðaskógur.
Day 7: September 22nd (Sun) Lake Mývatn – North Iceland
The forest of Hallormsstaðaskógur greeted us in the morning before we headed out over the highlands to North Iceland. From today the weather turned warm, almost 60 degrees Fahrenheit – a heat wave in Iceland!
Last year the road over the highlands was covered with snow and the Rjukandafoss Waterfall was almost completely frozen, but this year we were able to see it flowing freely.
On our way through the highlands we stopped at Möðrudalur farm, which is not only the only farm in the highlands, but is also the highest farm in Iceland. One of our tour members spotted a reindeer on the way – that was gone too quickly for a photo, but luckily we did manage to catch a glimpse of one of the wild Arctic foxes that live nearby the farm.
The small church here was built entirely by one of the farmers, Jón A. Stefánsson, in memory of his wife Þórunn Vilhjálmsdóttir, who died in 1944, and is now a local landmark.
Two years ago there was also a friendly goat who made his way onto the bus before we chased him out, but he was nowhere to be seen this time.
Descending from the highlands, we passed through the Námafjall Geothermal Area. With boiling mud pits and sulfur steam vents it’s sometimes called “eldhús djöfulsins” in Icelandic, or Hell’s (Devil’s) Kitchen.
Then we took a break for lunch at the Mývatn Nature Bath – the North Iceland version of the more famous Blue Lagoon. It’s smaller than the Blue Lagoon, but with a nice view of the mountains and fewer tourists (they still sell alcohol, though!).
Anybody for a local Icelandic ale?
After our relaxing stop we were ready to move on. On our first trip to Iceland the bus driver told us that we could not leave Mývatn without seeing Dimmuborgir – the “Black Fortress” lava formations, and we’ve been going back ever since! It’s reputed to be home to the 13 Yule Lads – the mischievous children of the two cannibal trolls, Grýla and Leppalúði.
Leaving Dimmuborgir for the lake nearby, we were able to see some spectacular views of Lake Mývatn during our walk among the pseudocraters at Skútustadagígar. We were also able to get up close with some of Iceland’s iconic sheep.
Then back to the hotel for a relaxing dinner.
Day 8: September 23rd (Mon) Diamond Circle – North Iceland
The Diamond Circle includes some of North Iceland’s most spectacular locations (Dimmuborgir is on the Circle too, but we went there yesterday).
First stop on our schedule was Dettifoss, said to be the most powerful waterfall in Europe, and featured in the Ridley Scott movie Prometheus and the Tom Cruise movie Oblivion.
A short walk upstream brings us to a second waterfall, Selfoss, which is also quite beautiful.
Making our way along the Circle, we took a shortcut from Dettifoss to Ásbyrgi – we got stuck in the sand on this road a few years ago, but the construction is now (mostly) completed. Fortunately this meant that we were able to stop and see Hljóðaklettar, famous for its random collection of basalt column formations that create eerie echoes.
On the way back the group had a special treat of some Icelandic delicacies.
We got to try some Hákarl (fermented Greenland shark) and Svið (lamb’s head – but thankfully already off the head and in the package). Oddly, the Svið was marked “KETO” and is now being marketed in Icleand for the popular high fat and protein ketogenic diet.
We found a whole lamb’s head in the freezer of one of the supermarkets along the way, if you’re curious.
We washed all of this down with Brennivin, Iceland’s signature schnapps, also known as “the wine that burns”.
After a stop for lunch (the shark and lamb’s head were just the appetizers!) we made our way to Ásbyrgi Canyon, which was said to be formed from the imprint from Odin’s eight legged horse Sleipnir.
On our trip back from Ásbyrgi (completing the Diamond Circle) we passed within view of Grimsey Island, which lies exactly at 66 degrees North – the Arctic Circle. Lucky that the weather was clear enough to get a good view this year!
We also made a short stop in Húsavík, known as the Whale Capital of Iceland, and famous as a center for whale watching expeditions.
We got back to our hotel in time for a nice dinner that included local goose tartare – we were warned to watch out for shotgun pellets when we ate, but we didn’t find any that night.
And that night? Another great night with the Northern Lights dancing over Lake Mývatn.
Day 9: September 24th (Tue) Akureyri to West Iceland
Leaving our hotel at Lake Mývatn we made our way to Goðafoss, the “Waterfall of the Gods” – named so because Þorgeir threw the idols of the Norse gods into the falls when Iceland converted to Christianity around 999 A.D. We able to see a rainbow over the falls!
Then we were off for lunch and shopping in Akureyri, the “Capitol of the North”, Iceland’s second largest city (but still less than 20,000 people). The church in Akureyri is a symbol of the city and contains a stained glass window recounting the story of Þorgeir and Goðafoss.
A lot of folks took the opportunity to sample another one of Iceland’s delicacies, Iceland’s famous hotdogs. An Icelandic staple made with lamb, pork and beef, they were made famous worldwide when American President Bill Clinton stopped for one in a 2004 visit.
Akureyri is a very friendly city – even the traffic lights are welcoming!
After a long drive to West Iceland we were glad to get to our hotel near the Snæfellsnes Peninsula for a rest.
Day 10: September 25th (Wed) Snæfellsnes Peninsula
After breakfast we headed out for our last full day in Iceland – a trip around the Snæfellsnes Peninsula. The Snæfellsjökull Volcano was featured in Jules Verne’s book A Journey to the Center of the Earth, but we never found the secret passage…
Our first stop was at Kirkjufell – the famous “church rock” that is one of the most photographed mountains in Iceland. Here’s a try at it in black and white for a different feel.
Onward to Djúpalónssandur – Black Lava Pearl Beach, which was once the center for one of the most productive fishing villages on the peninsula.
After Djúpalónssandur we drove to the nearby fishing village of Arnarstapi for lunch and then a stroll along the coastline, starting at the statue of Bárður Snæfellsás – the half man/half troll protector of the Snæfellsnes Peninsula.
This bench along the coastline was donated for travelers by the kind people in the brown house directly behind it.
Before heading back to our hotel for the evening we made one last stop at Búðakirkja – the famous Black Church that is now a popular wedding destination.
Then back to our hotel and our final dinner in Iceland.
We also had a small birthday celebration for one of our tour members!
Day 11: September 26th (Thu) Departure Day
Our last day in Iceland! We headed out to Reykjavik through the Hvalfjörður Tunnel which stretches more than three miles under the sea.
Our first stop on the way was Hallgrímskirkja. Reykjavik’s landmark church is fronted by a statue of Leif Erikson, the discoverer of North America, and home to a pipe organ with 5,275 pipes – the only earthquake proof organ in the world.
After a last stop by Reykjavik’s largest mall for last minute shopping and lamburgers we made our way to Keflavik Airport to head for home.
We got the lava moss bus to the plane!
This time our flight was named Snaefell, after the tallest mountain in Iceland, the heart of the Snæfellsnes Peninsula that we visited the day before, a good sign!
After taking another night to rest in Seattle we finally made our way back to Hawaii, safe after a long trip.
If you enjoyed the story of this year’s tour, our 2020 tour to Iceland is scheduled for September 14th – September 25th 2020 – I hope that you can join us then!
By Chris Li
Please contact us anytime for information about future tours around the world!
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