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Ósar and Borgarvirki

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Stretching into the arctic waters of the Atlantic on Iceland’s northeastern coast, the Vatnsnes Peninsula is usually over-looked, but has a couple worthwhile places at which to stop. At Ósar, there’s a seal colony which lives on a sandbank just across a narrow stretch of water. And the Viking-era fort at Borgarvirki offers interesting history and a fantastic view of the region.

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Borgarvirki

It was an extremely windy afternoon, and we feared that Ósar’s seal colony wouldn’t be home. At first, these fears were borne out. We hiked about fifteen minutes down to the shore, but didn’t see a single seal. Eventually, though, one raised his head out of the water. He was watching us closely, taking our measure, and only disappearing when Jürgen started making kissy-noises at him.

The flirting must have worked, however, because seals now started popping up all over the place. We saw at least ten, diving around, playing, and always keeping a careful eye on us. We had hoped to see them basking on the shore, but it wasn’t exactly a day for basking. Still, if you want to see seals, Ósar seems a pretty safe bet.

Next up was the ancient fort called Borgarvirki, just south of Ósar. It’s built atop an immense volcanic plug and dates from the settlement era, but not much else is known about Borgarvirki. It doesn’t appear in the literature or accounts of the time, so nobody knows for sure who built it or for what purpose. I assume it was a defensive lookout, because from the top you can see for miles.

Locations on our Iceland Map: Ósar | Borgarvirki

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October 11, 2013 at 1:12 pm Comments (4)

The Kjölur Interior Road

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After our successful completion of the Introduction to Highland Driving course provided by the Kaldidalur Road between Húsafell and Þingvellir, we felt confident enough on the very next day to tackle level two: Kjölur. The 200-kilometer route F35 cuts through the interior, connecting Gullfoss to the northern town of Blönduós.

Kjölur Road Trip

The drive started out without any major drama. “If anything, this is easier than Kaldidalur,” I semi-shouted at Jürgen over the music we had blasting from the stereo. Björk grunting something about being a hunter. “Maybe I’ve just become a better driver since yesterday!”

The drive wasn’t just easier, but more beautiful than the previous day’s journey. Glaciers everywhere. To the left, the Langjökull; to the right, the Hofsjökull; in front of us, the Hvitárvatn glacial lake. The sun is shining! And then we spot a rainbow. Björk is purring in joy… it’s oh so quiet. And it’s all so lovely!

Of course, the road eventually degraded into a mess of potholes and puddles so deep they might qualify as ponds. Eventually, I started to question my driving abilities. Eventually, Björk’s voice started to grate on my nerves. Eventually, the landscape looked less lovely than desolate. We weren’t surprised; this is Iceland, where the only constant is constant change. Earlier on this same day, we had experienced hail in Reykjavík, a thunderstorm around Selfoss and sunshine at Gullfoss. Everything shifts rapidly in this country: landscapes, weather, moods, road conditions.

By the time we reached the halfway point, at Hveravellir, we were finished both mentally and emotionally. Our car was filthy, our nerves were frayed, and we had played straight through Björk’s entire discography. On the upside, we could stop driving for the night, knowing that an evening of wine and hot springs awaited us. The downside? The second half of Kjölur loomed the very next day.

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October 9, 2013 at 6:58 pm Comment (1)

The Mighty Waterfall of Gullfoss

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Arguably the most impressive sight along Iceland’s Golden Circle is the enormously powerful double-stepped waterfall known as Gullfoss (Golden Falls). Here, the Hývtá River’s journey through the highlands comes to a magnificent end as it drops over 100 feet into the canyon below.

Rainbow Gullfoss

From afar, the breadth and force of Gullfoss are awe-inspiring enough, but it isn’t until reaching the ledge of the viewing platform that you can see the full scale of the waterfall. After the initial descent of 36 feet, the river takes a sharp right and immediately crashes down another 69 feet. This secondary waterfall is obscured from view until you’re close up, and turns Gullfoss into something extraordinary.

Normally, we tend to thank celestial powers for magnificent natural wonders, but in Gullfoss’s case, we can extend at least part of our gratitude to a fellow human. Sigríður Tómasdóttir was raised on a nearby farm, and loved the waterfall as she would a family member. In the early 20th century, foreign investors discovered Gullfoss and won permission to construct a dam on it. But they found a stubborn and bitter opponent in Sigríður. In order to raise awareness of the threat to the waterfall, she walked barefoot from Gullfoss to Reykjavík and even threatened to commit suicide by throwing herself into the churning water. Thanks largely to her persistence, the investors eventually backed away from the project.

In truth, she sounds like a nutter, but we should all be appreciative of Sigríður’s reckless selflessness. Gullfoss is an amazing display of nature’s power, and it would have been a shame to have lost it.

Location on our Iceland Map

We toured the Golden Circle with a car from SADcars, located near the BSÍ bus station. They’ve got some of the cheapest rentals available in Iceland.

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August 15, 2013 at 11:53 am Comments (5)
sar and Borgarvirki Stretching into the arctic waters of the Atlantic on Iceland's northeastern coast, the Vatnsnes Peninsula is usually over-looked, but has a couple worthwhile places at which to stop. At Ósar, there's a seal colony which lives on a sandbank just across a narrow stretch of water. And the Viking-era fort at Borgarvirki offers interesting history and a fantastic view of the region.
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