We split our Iceland visit so that we spent a few days in the city and a few more in the wide open spaces of the southern region of the country. For the second half of our trip, we rented an Airbnb 15 minutes outside the small town of Hvolsvöllur, about an hour east of Reykjavík. The house was at the top of a steep gravel climb, with unobstructed views of the nearby Eyjafjallajökull volcano.
In the distance on a clear day, we could see the tiny white vertical line of Seljalandsfoss waterfall dropping off the mountainside and the jagged rocks of Vestmannaeyjar — the Westman Islands — jutting out of the ocean.
From our home base we did a lot of exploring I described in other blog posts: trips to waterfalls, a black sand beach and puffins, a gorgeous waterfall hike, and a ferry ride to the dramatic Westman islands where sheep hang out on clifftops. But we also did some exploring even closer to home. I loved to see the snow-capped volcano in different lights from our front deck, including a 3:30am sunrise.
One day while everyone else was still sleeping I walked around the area near our Airbnb. Our host told us we could walk to the top of the hill behind the house for some great views, so I walked up the gravel road where I found a small set of three steps over the sheep fence. Once over the fence, I looked out onto a vast expanse of hills with nothing on them: no structures, no roads, no foot paths, no trees, no animals. Just moss and lichen and hills and valleys as far as the eye can see. It felt strange to go up there — did anyone own this land? Was I trespassing? Would a large animal come barreling out of nowhere? But we checked with the host and she said it’s fine, trespassing is not really a thing around there, and that we were free to enjoy and explore. So we did. Mostly I just photographed little flowers.
We attempted a hike one day that wasn’t too far a drive from the house. Where the gravel road intersected with one of the F-roads (roads that require 4WD), there was immediately an unbridged river to cross, along with two signs with big red Xs that said “Impassable.” We did not try to cross the river in our rental Suburu. We backed up and took our original gravel road back around to where we think the parking area was.
When we arrived where we thought the trail would be, there was a ripping stream to cross before we could even get to the trail. On the other side, we could not see the trail, despite an open view of where the trail should be. There were no other cars or people for miles, and we couldn’t find a crossing that we felt good about, especially not to get ourselves or our gear soaking wet before we even began the hike. So we just walked along the rushing water for a bit, our son crossed for fun to see if he could do it, and we enjoyed the wandering sheep.
It turns out that the F-roads hadn’t opened yet; we were still early enough in the season that they were too treacherous to attempt. On another day, we had wanted to try another hike, to a mountain colored by minerals that would have required travel on F-roads to get to it. After our first encounter with an impassable F-road, we learned more about the route and saw that even if the roads were open, we would have had to cross about 20 unbridged rivers and streams to get to our hike. So we went back to watch puffins again instead, and took a little side trip to a glacier.
We had an amazing trip, and I’d love to go back and spend more time. We squeezed a lot into our few days there, and if we were to go again, I’d want to take things slower and savor each place more. Maybe go a little later in the season as well, like July or August. I have a sabbatical coming up in a couple of years, maybe that will be a good time…