Iceland 2009: The South

Thursday 18th June: KirkjubŠjarklaustur - Skˇgar (107 km)


You know you are cycling in Iceland when ... it never gets dark.

Iceland is located just south of the Arctic circle, between latitudes 63-67 degrees north. Between late May and late July sunset is at about 11:30pm, sunrise at about 3am, but it never gets all that dark during the short night. Winter is the opposite: short days and long nights. At the campsite at KirkjubŠjarklaustur a few people stayed up all night to celebrate Independence Day. They were just going to bed as we were having our breakfast. At the next campsite (Skˇgar) two young women walked down from the mountains at 6am and asked us for directions - they had walked all night from Ůorsm÷rk.


Mřrdalssandur and Mřrdalsj÷kull

The black sands of Mřrdalssandur with Mřrdalsj÷kull in the distance


The flat, straight and windy road across Mřrdalssandur

Nowhere to hide


Lupins

Although not native to Iceland, lupins are planted to combat soil erosion


Skˇgafoss

Skˇgafoss


At the base of Skˇgafoss waterfall

Having fun


Skˇgar

Skˇgar camp site seen from the top of Skˇgafoss



Karen's diary:

What a lovely blue-sky morning, too good to waste! Everybody was up late partying last night (except us). The Swiss and the Danes were still sleeping in their tents when we left at 7.30am. It seemed warm and we cycled without our heavy jumpers - pretty soon we removed our jackets, too. The gentle tailwind increased in strength until it was blowing a gale and we moved fast. The sky was so clear that for the first time we could see (far away to the east) ÍrŠfaj÷kull, the huge mountain that we had circled around two days earlier. It looked big and majestic and even from this distance we could make out some of its glaciers. Ahead of us (to the west) we could see Mřrdalsj÷kull, another icecap ringed by glaciers.

The road took us across Bˇlhraun, a bouldery lava field similar to yesterday's. It is a fascinating landscape. Bˇlhraun is a part of Mřrdalsandur, another huge glacial flood plain. Towards the end of the sandur, where the lava field ends, masses of lupins have been planted to stabilise and improve the soil. The lupins have a sweet scent, especially in warm sunshine. The sandurs have been subject to severe sandstorms and sometimes the road has to be closed. We had been warned not to try riding across the sandurs if the wind was too strong.

And the wind was strong. Ahead of us was a strange sight - tall plumes of brown, smoky haze, billowing across the horizon - we guessed that it must be a sandstorm and I started to feel a bit nervous. When we passed through it, however, it was almost unnoticeable. A long line of campervans had pulled over on the side of the road; the occupants were standing on the roadside, pointing their cameras at the strange phenomenon.

At the end of Mřrdalsandur the road skirts around the base of Mřrdalsj÷kull, following a line of tall, broken sea-cliffs. The cliffs are full of nesting birds. Soon we reached VÝk, a pleasant coastal town nestled in a narrow, green valley with sea-cliffs on both sides. We had almost run out of food so our first stop was the supermarket and our second stop was the picnic table across the street. The sea-cliffs to the west of VÝk are impassable so the road climbs steeply up the valley behind the town. It crosses a grassy ridge (from which we could see the ice-cap) and descends again, crosses another short, steep hill and the rest of the road to Skˇgar is flat. Now we could see Eyjafjallaj÷kull, a higher mountain than Mřrdalsj÷kull but much smaller in area.

Skˇgar, a little village at the base of the mountain, was our final destination for today. At the end of the campground was Skˇgafoss, a very beautiful waterfall. You can walk right to its base (and get soaked!) or up a long stairway to the top, where there is a very fine view of the coastal farmland. The stairs also provide access to the hiking trail from Skˇgar to ١rsm÷rk, one of Iceland's most popular national parks. The sky has clouded over now but we have had an excellent day.