Kirkjubæjarklaustur and Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon

Location MapVisiting that ‘K’ town to see the canyon starting with ‘F’ because I can’t pronounce either of those names. Actually, after a little practice I can now and it’s hilarious! Tiny little places in the Icelandic scheme of things, but Fjaðrárgljúfur canyon was another one that got away from the last trip to Iceland and Kirkjubæjarklaustur was the nearest and most convenient town to stay in.

Getting in and where I camped

A friendly little minibus tour were kind enough to give me a lift up the road which was much appreciated given the strong winds and soaking rain. Klaustur as it’s called for short (the name is so long it’s even abbreviated on all the street signs) is just an hour or 70 odd kilometres from Vik and Dyrhólæy.

The driver, Bill, kindly dropped me right at the Kirkjubær II Campsite. Luck of the Irish!

The place was fairly basic, a bit old and a little crowded in the common areas at peak hour, but otherwise just fine. Camping was 1,300ISK, washing 650ISK and the all important drying was 600ISK. Showers and WiFi were extra on a pay per use basis, but I found free WiFi at the bank just 100m west up the road and you can use it from inside the nearby restaurant so no worries!

If you’ve ever wondered if a 50 króna coin exists, this place will prove it to you. Everything is run on 50 króna coins and they must have a million of them.

Kirk-you-bay-yark-louse-tar and F-yath-rAR-glyph-fur

I’m sure an Icelandic person or a student of the International Phonetic Alphabet might say otherwise, but I think it’s something like that at least. The town’s name is literally church-farm-monastery (kirkjan-bærin-klaustur).

The first priority was to get dry. Everything was wet, but thankfully my tent can cope with all the rain. I washed my stuff pretty quickly, but the line for the drier was about 5 hours long. God it was good to receive my dry clothes just before bed. I just felt sorry for anyone who was still waiting into the night.

The next day I waited until about 4pm for the rain to stop. I happily used the downtime and had a good chat with an Austrian Icelandic guy – a pretty cool mix! He and his girlfriend were only 18 yet travelling around here and speaking three different languages. I think at 18 I was…learning how to drive..

Finally I saw a good weather window and headed off. The trail to Fjaðrárgljúfur first went to the opposite end of town to Systrastapi (Sisters' Rock) and then up onto the cliff side. The rock is named after the nun’s from the monastery who started the nude photo trend that is now going on in Rio and on Instagram. Okay maybe I made that up…

Allegedly (I love that even the historical sign carefully uses the word ‘allegedly’), in 1783 a priest performed a miracle and stopped the lava flow before it reached the village. My guess is that the lava probably just cooled below it’s melting point where the molten rock stopped flowing and returned to a solid state coincidentally during the priest’s prayers. I’m no expert, but I’m pretty sure science was the saviour here guys.

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Systrastapi and the lava flow in the background

The grass was so long and wet I may as well have walked through a river with my boots on, because my boots would have been just as wet. Maybe even less wet. I couldn’t believe how sodden they were. I could have poured water out of my boot.

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Close up of the lava flow near a farm house

I made good time and probably only took an hour and a half to reach a farm near the ‘F’ road that leads to the canyon.

As I walked on the gravel road, a motorbike touring group pulled up behind me. A German guy offered me a lift which I wasn’t going to refuse. The off-road bike made quick work of the last 2km. The guy had been a motorcycle tour guide for 30 years doing rides all over Europe from Iceland to Russia. Fookin’ amazing!

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I made it to the canyon this time!

The canyon was pretty special. The only problem was that a bus load of American tourists showed up – there goes the neighbourhood. Unfortunately, the place was a little unlike the photos I’d seen with regard to “the untouched nature” aspect.

Since the road was nicely graded and it was just 2km from Highway 1 the place was heavily trampled and safety wires had been strung up around all of the lookouts in an attempt to idiot-proof things. Disappointing.

But, if you wait around long enough everyone might leave and then you can get the photos you wanted.

I think it’s worth walking the full track. They make you walk 50m from the canyon edge (where you can’t see anything) and you walk almost a kilometre for a crappy waterfall. Call me a snob, but if you spend anything longer than 5 minutes outside Reykjavik you will see that there are millions of waterfalls everywhere. Usually dozens on the same mountain face.

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Left: View from the left side of the canyon
Right: The best all-round view is probably from the bridge

My boots were so soaked anyway that I waded across the river to see the other side and walk up the river. It’s a really peaceful place down in the middle of the canyon.

Sadly, with all the excitement over, I now had a 9km walk back via the road to town. I was hoping someone who was leaving might take me back or that I could at least hitchhike from Highway 1.

I walked most of the way to the highway and everyone ignored me, but at least I got to see this sign and laugh. Perhaps I did need to do a #2 here and be a rebel.

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Apparently there have been ish-twos in the poopy past

Before I could though, a German dude picked me up and dropped me back in town. What a life saver! I forgive them for the war now.. I mean no! Don’t mention ze war! Sorry… Fawlty Towers joke.

With rain all along the south coast, I decided to just chill an extra night. My tent was set, I had food, but if only my boots weren’t sodden.

I figured no one would appreciate my boots bashing around inside the machine, so I sneakily put my boots under the drier where a vent was pumping out all the exhaust air. Come morning, I had dry boots. Hells yes!

I ate dinner and shared a conversation with a very determined American lass. She’s previously ridden across the USA and she was now riding a lap of Iceland. With a lot of rainy days, wind and the occasional bent wheel she’d made it three quarters of the way around now. Pretty inspiring! I need to find my own place for a cycle journey. New Zealand anyone?!

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Modern Icelandic houses in Kirkjubæjarklaustur

I tried to hitchhike for 2 hours to get a ride from Kirkjubæjarklaustur to Skaftafell, but not a single person stopped. The majority seemed to have full cars though so what can you do… There’s just less people headed east from this point too. In the end, I engaged the bus backup plan and it was fine. Watching the scenery while it wasn’t raining and eating cheese was pretty relaxing.

Between Kirkjubæjarklaustur and Skaftafell there are a ton of really nice farms and turf houses nestled under the gigantic mountains (and later the Vatnajökull glacier too). I just wish it was possible to stop and get a decent photo of them – next time.

So I rode the bus to Skaftafell where the weather wasn’t much better. It was far better last time so I’ll share some of those experiences too.

To see the rest of my July 2016 trip to Iceland click here.

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