Tuesday, 12 July 2016

Sprengisandur: Route F26 or Sprengisandsleið - Iceland

Route F26 or Sprengisandsleið is a highland gravel road in Iceland, running through the Sprengisandur area between the glaciers Hofsjökull and Vatnajökull.With its 200 km, it is the longest of the Icelandic highland roads. Its southern end is at the lake Þórisvatn, to the northeast of the volcano Hekla, and its northern end is the lower part of the valley of the river Skjálfandafljót, to the southwest of lake Mývatn.

Featuring the most desolate terrain found in Iceland, Sprengisandur is the bleak highland desert east between Hofsjökull – the rounded icecap marking Iceland’s geographical centre – and Vatnajökull’s northwestern front.

In earlier times, when people were more superstitious than they are nowadays and believed in ghosts, giants, elves and outlaws, the few who dared use this route rode as fast as possible through and sometimes exhausted their horses. The word for to exhaust in Icelandic is "sprengja", hence the name of the area.

Although providing something of a corridor in Viking times between Iceland’s northeastern settlements and the summer parliament at Þingvellir, crossing Sprengisandur was always a tough journey, the desert flooded in spring with melting snow and ice, yet too dry in summer to provide any grazing for horses. Indeed, most travellers preferred to take much longer coastal roads, and Sprengisandur was eventually abandoned as a route during the thirteenth century.

Traversed today by the F26, which begins northeast of Hekla and runs some 244km to the Ringroad at Goðafoss, the Sprengisandur route remains a challenging one, whose unbridged rivers and stark scenery provide an insight into medieval Iceland’s harsh living conditions. Sprengisandur’s southern gateway is marked by Hekla, north of which is the desolate, icy plateau between Hofsjökull and Vatnajökull.

The enduring image here is of nothingness: the glaciers and mountains that fringe the horizon seem a long way off, and the space in between is filled with mile after mile of grey sand, stones and rocks that have lain untouched for thousands of years.


Exploring the Area

Hrauneyjar Highland Center, a year-round highland oasis at the southern terminus of the Sprengisandur Route, has two hotels and restaurants, an information desk, and the last gas station for the next 240km (149 miles). A trail map of the surrounding area is available at reception.

As a base, Hrauneyjar is best for travelers with their own 4WD transport. The Highland Center organizes tours only for groups, and the best local destinations -- such as Veiðivötn lakes, or the lovely Dynkur, a waterfall on the Þjórsá river -- are inaccessible to regular cars.

Veidivötn. Trout fishermen are particularly drawn to this idyllic and peaceful cluster of fifty volcanic crater lakes, located close to Landmannalaugar but accessed through Hrauneyjar on Route F228.

Fishing permits (2,000kr/day/$32/£16) and sleeping-bag accommodation (2,500kr/$40/£20 per person) in four bunk-style cottages are handled by Landmannahellir (tel. 893-8407; www.landmannahellir.is).

Nýidalur. An overnight stay at this remote desert outpost, combined with a day hike east to Vonarskarð pass, makes for a memorable episode along the Sprengisandur Route. Nýidalur is right on Route F26, about 100km (62 miles) from Hrauneyjar and 20km (12 miles) from the northwest corner of Vatnajökull.

Vonarskarð forms a dramatic saddle between Vatnajökull and the small glacier Tungnafellsjökull, and the hiking route skirts some restless geothermal fields. Sudden releases of glacial meltwater can make stream crossings difficult, so speak to the warden before setting out. Those just passing through Nýidalur can still take the short easy hike east to a nearby hill with panoramic views.

By Car

With its rough surfaces and hazardous river fords, Route F26 is only for rugged 4WD vehicles with good clearance. The road's opening date varies, but usually falls at the end of June. The Public Roads Administration (tel. 354-1777; www.vegag.is; May-Oct 8am-4pm; Nov-Apr 8am-5pm) continually monitors road conditions.

It is the longest stretch between the South and the North and is only passable by 4wd vehicles during summer. The obstacles enroute are rivers, which have to be forded and the water can be up to 1 meter or more (specially it's the 1 river crossing 5 km before you reach Nýidalur). For a person that is not an experienced off-road driver, anything smaller than Land Rover/Toyota Land Cruiser is not recommended at all.

They swell when it is warm, the glacial meltwater increases and when it also rains they become dangerous. The scenic beauty makes this route unforgettable.

Warning: Gas is not available on Route F26, and the gas stations at Hrauneyjar and Goðafoss are 240km (149 miles) apart (Unprepared drivers are often seen begging for fuel at Nýidalur).


This part of the Interior offers a great variety of possibilities for short or long hikes. In most cases it depends on the individual traveller to decide which hillock or mountain is the best vantage point, or how far to go into the wilderness.

Long hikes require good planning, preparations, and physical fitness. The psychology has to be considered as well.

Sometimes the vast, barren landscapes, and the solitude overwhelme hikers, who are travelling alone and do not meet a soul for days on end.

By Bus

Reykjavík Excursions (tel. 562-1011; www.re.is) connects Landmannalaugar and lake Mývatn via the Sprengisandur Route from July 1 to August 24.

Departures from Mývatn are Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at 8:30am, and departures from Landmannalaugar are Sunday, Tuesday, and Thursday, also at 8:30am.

The full one-way trip lasts 10 hours and costs 8,000kr ($128/£64), with stops at Hrauneyjar, Nýidalur, and Skútustaðir, plus sightseeing breaks at the Aldeyjarfoss and Goðafoss waterfalls.

Passengers taking the bus from Mývatn to Landmannalaugar must wait until the following day for connections to Reykjavík and elsewhere.

Where to sleep

Hotel Highland (Rte. 26, Hrauneyjar, In the area). Tel. +354 487-7750.

Walking into this high-end hotel and restaurant is a surreal transition from the wild and remote landscape outside. The Highland was a farm accommodation as recently as 2005, and some rooms are still transitioning design-wise, but you won't suffer for sheets with an insufficient thread count.

- Hrauneyjar Highland Center (Rte. 26, Hrauneyjar, In the area). Tel. +354 487-7782.

This hotel is adjoined to Hrauneyjar's gas station and information desk, and the Reykjavík Excursions bus through Sprengisandur stops here. The rooms are spartan but comfortable, and, if you've just come through the desert interior, the whole place is Shangri-La. Confusingly, 17 of the rooms -- which share a guest kitchen -- and the four apartments are located next to Hotel Highland but classified with the Highland Center.

Visitor Information

No specific tourist information office is assigned to the Sprengisandur Route, but regional offices in Hveragerði, Varmahlíð, Akureyri, and Mývatn can provide help.

The Hrauneyjar Highland Center (tel. 487-7782; www.hrauneyjar.is) is a useful resource, and the warden at Nýidalur (tel. 854-1194; July-Aug) -- while not responsible for helping non-guests -- is usually happy to answer questions.

Johanna & Sindri, Iceland24

Friday, 8 July 2016

10 things to do on the East Fjords in Iceland

The East Fjords are very special. Two of our favourite “must-see” things are looking at puffins close-up and seeing reindeer; the east is the only place in Iceland where you can see herds of wild reindeer. We have a diverse variety of beautiful landscapes, and some of Iceland’s most beautiful walks, hikes and treks.

East Fjords in Iceland

Here you can connect with glaciers, the northern lights and the highlands; you can even take a bath in warm spring water and look at the ice close by. The area is full of culture and creativity with many museums, cultural events and lots of friendly people. East Iceland is a pleasure to visit, believe it!

1. Hiking in Borgarfjorður

If you’re looking for a hiking paradise then Borgarfjorður is the answer. There are many interesting tracks, up mountains and by the see. The natural pearl Big “Urd” is like walking into a different world, where the water is crystal clear and the rocks seem to sink into the earth. The locals are willing to tell tales of elves and “hidden people” that live in rocks around town.

East Fjords in Iceland

2. Swimming in Vopnafjorður 

If you’re going to Vopnafjorður there is nothing more fun than to take a midnight swim in Selárlaug, which is an excellent swimming pool set in magnificent landscape where you can enjoy nature and the area in peace from everything.

East Fjords in Iceland

3. Papey – the island of puffins 

Take a trip to Papey, just outside the small village Djúpivogur. There you can see puffins close-up and visit the smallest wooden church in Iceland. The view from the ferry on the way to Papey is extremely beautiful.

East Fjords in Iceland

4. Look for the Worm of Lagarfljót 

It is always fun to drive around the Lagarfljót lake, which is long and narrow, and stop at all the great places along the way. The Icelandic forest, is like an adventure on it own, where it is easy to forget oneself in looking for what lies hidden behind the trees. A drive up to the dam, the biggest one in Europe, takes about an hour and a half, with a stop on the way back at the natural hot spring at Laugafell to relax in the healing water.

East Fjords in Iceland

Hengifoss waterfall 

Hengifoss is the star waterfall attraction of the Eastfjords area around Lagarfljót and the town of Egilsstaðir. This waterfall is the second tallest waterfall at 120m and the red strata patterns on the cliff giving rise to the falls it is also very interesting as it is something you don't typically see in other waterfalls.

East Fjords in Iceland

Directions: From Egilsstaðir ("EH-yils-sta-thir"), drive south on the Ring Road (Route 1) for 11km. Then, turn right onto Route 931 and follow it for about 21km as it follows the southeastern shores of Lagarfljót before eventually crossing a bridge and reaching a three-way junction. Turn left at the junction onto Route 933 and drive for 1.6km. The turnoff for the signed car park is on the right.

East Fjords in Iceland

Getting to Hengifoss requires a return walk of about one hour. From the car park, a long stairwell leads up the hillside - Hengifoss is soon visible in the distance. It's a steep climb in places but flattens out as you enter the canyon. The walk is 2.5 km each way; halfway up is a smaller waterfall, Lítlanesfoss, surrounded by spectacular vertical basalt columns in a honeycomb formation.

East Fjords in Iceland

5. Be an artist in Seydisfjorður 

During summer, Seydisfjordur is thriving with art, with visiting artists from all over the world and growing community of artists’ residents. The Skaftafell Cultural Centre contains works by some of famous modern artists such as the Swiss-German artist Dieter Roth (1930-1998).

East Fjords in Iceland

If you’re passing by in July the art-festival Lunga is worth the visit. The colorful Norwegian-style wooden houses make this village unique in Iceland. Walking trails around town, out along the coast, and by the Fjardará River are really pleasurable and relaxing.

East Fjords in Iceland

Interesting places close to Seydisfjordur:

There is a weekly ferry run by Smyril line (www.smyrilline.com) from the Faroe Islands (duration: 1-2 days) and to Hirtshals, Denmark (3-4 days). The ferry departs once per week on Tuesday 8pm during the low season (April-June and August-October), and on Thursday 10am during high season (June-August).

East Fjords in Iceland

A return journey to Denmark for instance will set you back €280-590 with a car or €120-250 per passenger, depending on the season, excluding a supplement fare for a cabin or bed. Remember to book in advance, as prices vary a lot.

6. Visit a really small village 

Mjóifjorður (litterally its name is Narrow Fjord) is 18 km long, situated between Nordfjordur and Seydisfjordur, is known for its pleasant weather and tranquillity. The road leading to the fjord is relatively good, but usually closed during winter. Another road experience is the exhilarating road on the north side which runs along the fjord side to Dalatangi, where you’ll find a lighthouse with a most magnificent view out towards the open ocean.

East Fjords in Iceland

There are many attractions in Mjóifjoorddur, considered by many to be the most impressive fjord in Iceland. Today, some 40 people live in Mjóifjoorddur, mostly in the tiny village, Brekkuþorp. A stay at the guesthouse is a haven of tranquility and the local shellfish with a good glass of white wine at Brekkan restaurant is truly the icing on the Mjóifjoorddur cake.

7. The musical town 

The road to Neskaupstaddur has great views before leading through an old single lane tunnel and winding its way downwards. Until 50 years ago the town was only accessible be sea, a fact which had a stimulating effect on the lively local culture.

Nordfjordur is known for a florid music scene, of which the main attraction is the local blues, rock and jazz club Brján. During the summer the music town boasts of “a concert a day”- ask the locals for the program of the day. Or rent an Icelandic horse for a spectacular ride or a kayak for some impressive natural scenes.

East Fjords in Iceland

8. Be like the French in Faskrúdsfjorður 

From the latter part of the 19th century until 1935, the town was the main hub for French fishermen in the east of Iceland. The town is famous for its French heritage and has a strong connection to its French counterpart, Gravelines. It is worthwhile to visit the French Museum and learn more about these historical connections. The village road signs are also in French.

East Fjords in Iceland

9. The rolling stones in Stodvarfjorður 

The area is renowned for its natural beauty. Nature lovers will enjoy contemplating the beautiful waterfalls of the river, Stodvará, which joins the ocean at the bottom of the fjord. Many rare and peculiar types of stones and minerals can be found in the surrounding mountains, some of which have contributed to the lifelong collection of Petra Sveinsdottir. Petra’s stone collection in Stodvarfjorður is a feast for the eye.

East Fjords in Iceland

10. The black beach of Breiddalsvík 

The charming village lies on the coast with great seascapes and black sand beaches. The spectacular valley of Breiddalur is the longest and widest of the valleys in eastern Iceland, surrounded by majestic, alpine mountains rising on both sides to over 1100 meters.

There are good views of Breiddalur from Breiddalsheidi, an ancient eroded volcano on the main highway, with the impressive Breiddalsá river, famous for salmon-fishing, winding its way across the valley basin to the sea. Stop and search for colourful stones.

East Fjords in Iceland

Source: Sara Dis