Austurland – East Iceland

Location MapAusturland, I like the sound of that of that place. Maybe Vesturland is the same, but the east fjords are really the first time in Iceland that I’ve felt like I was in fjordland. Enormous scale cliffs rise up out of the sea and stretch for tens of kilometres out towards the open sea. The land is green and the mountains trap the clouds, forbidding them to escape. The land is calm and quiet. There are few birds even and it’s easy to find a place where you feel complete solitude.

Driving around Austurland, the east of Iceland, was refreshingly different and suited the wet misty weather from which it seemed there was no escape. It had been raining all week along the south coast and it was not expected to stop. Nor was it in Australand, but somehow it was much more bearable. Perhaps it was because I’d only ever seen it like this.

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A tiny farm and tiny fishing trawler compared to the east fjords

The wireless eftpos machine on the bus at Jokulsarlon hadn’t worked, so yet again I was riding the coach for free to Höfn. The campsite at Höfn seemed to be another one of those no-frills-charge-you-for-everything type places so I considered continuing to Egilsstaðir. In the end, I had to continue to Egilsstaðir if I didn’t want to miss the 12 noon bus to Borgarfjörður the next day. The buses take forever to drive around the edges of the fjords.

So I hopped back on and the driver was kind enough to ignore the fact that I technically owed him a few thousand krónas. Buses in the east are expensive due to the remoteness and it cost me 9,000ISK to make the four hour journey to Egilsstaðir.

There was no commentary, but as we wound around the mighty fjords they spoke for themselves. I’m glad we went the long way.

We changed to a smaller bus in Djúpivogur where it was difficult to fit all the bikes. Alternative methods were necessary to transport them.

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Left: Taking the backseat
Right: Transporting bikes in Austurland

Egilsstaðir

We arrived in Egilsstaðir around 10pm and handily all buses stop at the campsite. It cost 1,500ISK to camp including the amazing geothermal showers. I had to pay a one off 300ISK contribution for the WiFi, but it works in your tent and the staff don’t seem to mind if you share the code.

I’d set up and showered within 20 minutes. I’ve gotten very efficient like that. I checked the weather around Australand and it was nothing but rain for the next 10 days.

There isn’t actually a lot to do around Egilsstaðir and they don’t try to invent anything to do either. It’s really just a base for exploring Australand. I did some exercise and found a bunch of interesting wrecks during an afternoon where the rain stopped.

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Old highland 4x4s and farm trucks

I didn’t even know Volvo made these weird ass vans. I can’t tell whether it’s just a regular van or meant to be an armoured vehicle. Given its a Volvo, it’s probably as tough as an armour vehicle though.

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What is it? An ex-military vehicle or a minivan?

With nothing much to do I tried to up the ante with my camping cooking skills and eat healthy. To be honest, I think I’ve been doing well only eating out three times during the whole time in Iceland. It saves money and is healthier, but I felt like I was missing out on the local food.

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Up-ing my camping cooking skills to tuna carbonara

Borgarfjörður Eystri

I took the once daily 12 noon bus from Egilsstaðir to Borgarfjörður Eystri with the hope of climbing Dyrfjöll and seeing the Stórurð rock pool in the mountains, but the weather wouldn’t allow it. I essentially wasted 4,000ISK on the return journey, but at least I got to try a local fish soup.

The rain and fog was just relentless. Soft and gentle, but unending. I set up camp in the rain and knew I’d be packing up in the rain as well. It was only 1,211ISK though. The cheapest camp by far, but there didn’t even seem to be WiFi in a nearby restaurant let alone the campsite.

I met this funny old Australian chap on the bus called Robert or I guess Bob as a Robert of his age should be known. He was in his 50s, alone, had been in Iceland for almost three months and had been to Iceland seven years in a row. Seven?! He’d also been to Greenland and the Faroe Islands, but had never even been to the UK. Absolutely bizarre for an Australian.

With his loneliness, he reminded me to hold onto the people that you have and that endless travel doesn’t necessarily give you everything you need in life. Funnily, he’s the second Adelaidian that I’d met who had travelled insatiably, but at the same time had little to show for it and nothing they seemed happy about.

I tried to keep him company, but I actually got tired of the lack of silence as opposed to the excess of it.

Whilst I wouldn’t even have known the mountains existed had it not been for the map, there were two cool things in town. Firstly, a turf house called Lindarbakki.

The house is owned by an old lady called Elisbet who lives there every summer. Her husband died in 1987, but she and some helping hands maintain the 30m² cottage. The house itself was built in 1934 and is heated by the original oil heater. No wonder she doesn’t live here in the winter!

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Lindarbakki turf house with all the trimmings

The other thing that interested me was mention of a famous fish soup at Alfá Cafe across the road from camp. I had been wanting fish the whole trip, but despite being a heavily fishing oriented nation, fish still wasn’t cheap.. So I figured I had better get some before it was too late.

I shared a meal with Bob. He had the goulash and I had fish soup and a coffee for 2,200ISK. Pretty reasonable seeing as the self serve fish chunks were plentiful and you got free bread and refills. I’d actually planned on a light dinner and I went home stuffed.

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The famous fish soup was hearty and tasty

The next day we both gave in to the rain and took the 8am bus back to Egilsstaðir, but had the weather been better, here is a useful map for hikes around Borgarfjörður and Seyðisfjörður.

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Hiking map for Borgarfjörður and near Seyðisfjörður

Seyðisfjörður

My last stop in Iceland to wait for the ferry and the first time I’d slept in a bed for exactly three weeks. I had fond memories of the Hafaldan hostel in Seyðisfjörður. A converted block of the old hospital, with no creepy airs or ghosts (I swear) and nothing but a feeling of home.

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Home is where the hostel is

I remembered why I’d camped across Iceland though. It cost 4,000ISK a night and for some odd reason it didn’t come with sheets or a blanket, so you used a sleeping bag anyway. Cheaper than Reykjavik, clean like a hospital should be and with an awesome rain shower though (I always go on about the showers don’t I?). It is really nice to feel at home though and the staff are super friendly.

Seyðisfjörður is a really picturesque seaside town, with quaint Scandinavian houses and an established sense of home about it.

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The beautiful Scandinavian style buildings and epic scale of the fjord

I wouldn’t expect everyone to be friendly though. A lady barked at me for approaching her guest house from the wrong side, but nobody says Scandinavians are particularly warm people. I guess the lack of Vitamin D gets to you sometimes.

People take pride in their town and homes here though. I wonder if most of the people here are descendants of the original fishing people. You can imagine grandma’s house being here.

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The little details are all thought of making it feel homely

Fishing is still the key industry. That and when the ferry arrives from the Faroe Islands and Denmark once a week.

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The sea is important to Seydisfjordur's people

Seyðisfjörður was the place that Iceland’s first international telegraph cable was connected in 1906. I can’t imagine how they lay sea cables around the world, let alone from here to Scotland and using 1906 technology. There’s a commemorative British phone booth amongst the hearth which signifies the 100 year anniversary of Iceland’s “connection to the world”.

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Thank you Scotland!

I wanted to hire a bike and ride 18km down the fjord to Skálanes and the open ocean, but the rain came back. It was ridiculously expensive anyway – 4,500ISK for four hours.. Instead I just walked around the fjord near the town and found this bizarre shack filled with chickens.

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Mowing is a big job for these spring chickens

The next day I was bidding farewell to Iceland so I took it easy after that. I took advantage of the bright and brilliant kitchen to cook up what I’m fairly certain was salmon. Icelandic doesn’t always translate well in Google, but it said graflax which means dill and lax means salmon so I guess it was so.

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The last Icelandic fjords that I'll see for a while (this is also the chicken coup)

The next day I boarded the ferry bound for Tórshavn in the Faroe Islands, sailed out of Seyðisfjörður and Iceland disappeared into the mists.

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

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