In my last post, W1610 – Norwegian Finale, I described how we sailed past our last Norwegian territory of the cruise, Jan Mayen Island, on our way to a new country, Iceland.
On Friday we sailed into our first port in Iceland – Akureyri – which is Iceland’s second largest town and is located in the north of the island. It is an important port as it’s position at the head of the Eyjafjörður fjord means that it remains ice free. Surrounded by high mountains which shelter it, the port has one of the warmest climates in Iceland despite only being around 100km south of the Arctic Circle. Although there had been settlements in the area since the 9th century, the town did not receive it’s municipal charter from the King of Denmark – who ruled Iceland at the time – until 1786. Three allied air bases were in Akureyri during the second world war, providing protection to the convoys crossing the Atlantic Ocean. Recently the port has increased in importance as a centre for the Icelandic fishing industry.
Located on the boundary between the North Atlantic and the Eurasian tectonic plates, Iceland is a land of fire – with numerous volcanoes and other geothermal features. That was immediately evident as we sailed up the fjord toward Akureyri, as steam was clearly visible rising from a stream as it tumbled into the fjord. A fellow passenger informed me that during works to bore a tunnel through one of the mountains beside the fjord they struck hot water heated by the geothermal activity, which had delayed their construction work. This stream was the run off from the water in the partially constructed tunnel.
As we approached the port I could see the striking Akureyrarkirkja – the Church of Akureyri. This Lutheran church has a 3200 pipe organ, and a window which was once located in Coventry Cathedral in England.
During my last visit to Iceland on a cruise some 8 years ago I only visited the capital, Reykjavik, for one day – making this my first visit to Akureyri. I therefore chose to do a longer 7 hour tour, which included several highlights in the area. However this long tour meant I would not have time to view the town itself and the church, as we would only return from the tour shortly before we were due to set sail.
We had a long drive – around an hour and a half – to reach our first stopping place, Námaskard, where there is a striking geothermal field. On the way we passed through mountainous areas where the local sheep roamed free, areas more barren with lava and moss, and Lake Mývatn. The lake is a breeding area for large numbers of ducks, and also clouds of small flying insects which while fortunately do not bite, they do try to enter the ears, nose and other orifices making them a great nuisance. I was most relieved that this was a quiet day for the latter, with very few around!
At Námaskard we left the coach to walk around the geothermal activity – the mud pots, steam vents, sulphur deposits, boiling springs and fumaroles. While it was fascinating to view and photograph these features, there was the pervading smell of bad eggs everywhere. As is so often the case on busy tours, I could have done with longer to see everything properly.
Next we drove on to Dimmuborgir, or Dark Fortress, Nature Reserve. Here there is a maze of lava pillars and formations to explore. Legend has it that these were formed when a large number of Trolls were so enjoying a party together at night that they forgot the time, and when the sun rose they were turned to stone where they stood. Whether you choose to believe that, or that it was formed from volcanic activity I will leave to you to decide. We had fun trying to spot faces and animal shapes in the lava forms.
We then moved on to Skútustadir on the shores of Lake Mývatn, where we had a late lunch at an hotel. Opposite the hotel was an area of pseudo craters, formed during volcanic eruptions. The extreme heat super-heated the water in the bog, rapidly changing it into steam and the resulting explosion forced the volcanic ash aside to form the crater shapes. There was just time after lunch to grab a shot of these craters, and of the ducks on the lake.
Our final stop on this tour was the highlight – the Godafoss Waterfalls. These stunning falls get their name from the time that Thorgeir, law speaker of the old Icelandic Parliament, tossed all his carvings of the Norse gods into the waterfalls as a public sign that Iceland would be a Christian country from then onwards.
On the way back to the ship we got some good views of our waiting ship across the fjord:
As we set sail for our next port, Reykjavik, I went up on deck to watch us sail down the fjord towards the open sea, catching sight of the pilot boat, and of a rural church. Near the church was a stack of what various local guides have described as “troll’s eggs”, “troll’s toilet rolls” or “tractor eggs”!
The next day was spent sailing around the north-west coast of Iceland towards Reykjavik. On the way we passed Drangaskord – a line of rock pinnacles said to resemble a dragon’s tail; the King and Queen of Cliffs in Hornstrandir; the Latrabjarg Cliffs famous for the birds that nest there; and Snæfellsjökull volcano, 1446m high, and which featured in the Jules Verne novel “Journey to the centre of the Earth”: