December 7, 2019

Ring Road Day 3: Diamond Beach & East Iceland

I really wanted to visit Diamond Beach and since we didn’t get to do it yesterday, I decided to drive an hour south. I’d seen so many beautiful pictures of huge ice pieces that look like diamonds on black sand beach that I just couldn’t leave without seeing it myself. Unfortunately there was literally only one piece of ice on the beach. It looked nothing like the pictures I’d seen. Maybe it’s not a great place to visit in summer because all the ice pieces melt away?! Or maybe we just weren’t lucky?!

the only diamond at diamond beach

We were definitely not as impressed until we saw something moving in the water. We looked and saw dozens of seals just chilling on the beach and one seal swimming in the water. Take a look at this video. No diamonds on the beach but I’ll take dozens of seals instead any day. Here are more pictures of the seals at diamond beach. We watched the seals for a while then walked around the beach. The other end of the Jokulsarlon glacier lagoon had bigger and bluer pieces of icebergs floating in the water.

no “diamonds” but lots of seals

It was very windy at Diamond Beach so after about 45 mins, we drove east. We decided to have lunch in Hofn, Iceland’s Lobster Capital. On our drive, we saw Vatnajokull, the largest glacier in Iceland. It covers 8% of Iceland and the highest point of the glacier is almost 7,000 feet high. There are about 30 outlet glaciers flowing from Vatnajokull. No wonder we kept seeing glacier outlet one after the other. On our way to Hofn, we made a stop to try Icelandic ice cream.

other side of diamond beach

We usually don’t like desserts very much but ice cream is a must try in Iceland. We stopped at Brunnholl, a picturesque little family run guest house in Hornafjorour. They have a restaurant at the guest house that serves the most creamiest homemade ice cream I’ve ever had. It’s freshly made with no preservatives. We had Dandelion flavored ice cream. The owner said it’s her specialty and the dandelions were picked from their own garden.

first bite of dandelion ice cream

I never thought dandelion could be so delicious. I can’t believe I waited until my 5th day here to try this. I’m gonna be eating a lot more ice cream in Iceland. Next, we stopped at a local grocery store, Netto. We wanted to pick up some snacks for the road. We got smoked salmon and lamb. Both were very cheap and very fresh. Now, it’s time to eat langoustine at Pakkhus again. We wanted to eat at different restaurants in Hofn so we shared 1 order of grilled langoustine.

can’t wait to eat the langoustine

Next stop was a more budget restaurant, Hafnarbudin for langoustine sandwich. This was more like a diner. The langoustine baguette was also good. So far, we’re happy with our lunch choices. The third stop on this multi-restaurant lunch plan was Hafid for Thai lobster but unfortunately they only open for dinner. So, we went to Fiskbud Gunnhildar, a fish store. We asked the person behind the counter for their freshest fish we can eat raw, like sashimi. She suggested cod.

She cut it into 6 slices, sprinkled some salt and we ate it. It was by far some of the best and freshest cod I’ve ever had in my life and it only cost 80 cents! I couldn’t believe how cheap this fish was and wanted to eat more but there was more food to eat. Our fourth food stop was Z Bistro for lobster soup and lobster salad. The soup was good but the salad was not so great. It only had 3 small bite sized pieces of lobster. I think this was the first meal I wasn’t impressed with in Iceland.

gloomy day but still pretty

We were sufficiently full and finally started driving east on ring road. Iceland wasn’t super crowded to begin with but once we crossed the tunnel going east from Hofn, there were even less cars on the road. It seems most people only do South Iceland and Golden Circle. Very few drive the whole ring road. Our first stop, soon after the tunnel, was Almannaskaro Pass for the view. We continued to make stops along the drive where we had great views and saw a safe place to pull over. Most of the stops were 5-10 mins.

One of the stops we made had a black pebble like beach. There was a small pond where we saw a bunch of ducklings. One baby duckling was riding on top of mommy duck. It was so cool to watch the baby duckling trying to get into water but looked like it was scared. Eventually the duckling fell in the water and started swimming. It was like watching live animal planet. Even though the weather was overcast, windy and gloomy, the view was still worth the stop.

view from one of the stops

Djupivogur is a small town that’s only about an hour and half away but with all the stops, it took us almost 3 hours. There isn’t really much in the town but it’s a great place for a pit stop. Our next stop was Zeolites at Teigarhorn. There was a nice pull off point with great view of the zeolites, the mountain range, and the ocean. There are short trails we could go on but we wanted to continue our drive given how many stops we were making.

We were running out of water so we stopped by a stream and filled up our empty water bottles. The best part about glacier runoff water is that it’s safe to drink as long as the water is clear. I usually can’t tell the taste of water but glacier water tastes so sweet and refreshing. The stream we stopped at feeds into Berufjord. There was also a waterfall here so we made a quick stop to check it out. There were sheep roaming around and the waterfall area was fenced off.

filling our water bottles

There was a steep road that goes to the top of the fall but our little rental car wasn’t going to make it to the top. So we continued our drive. Now, you have to be careful after this stop. Make sure to stay on Ring Road. The GPS might tell you to go on 939 to save time. Based on what I’d read, 939 isn’t exactly a fun drive. It’s steep gravel road that winds around mountains and has lots of potholes, sharp turns, and narrow lanes. It’s more stressful than fun and only saves about half an hour. So, look at the GPS and make sure to stay on Ring Road.

There’s a small section of Ring Road that’s also gravel but it’s not as bad as the descriptions I’d read of 939. The gravel section of Ring Road is no more than 10 km, probably less. It wasn’t very steep and didn’t have any sharp blind turns. Overall, the drive is very pleasant with beautiful views. We stopped on average about every 15 minutes because it was just so beautiful. We snacked on the smoked salmon while driving and enjoying the view.

One of the fun folklore I learned on this drive was about Nykur, a sinister horse-like amphibian beast that lives underwater. Nykur occasionally surfaces to try and get unwitting tourists to mount it. Once mounted, nykur goes directly underwater drowning whoever is on it. If you are wandering around in Iceland and see a grey horse near a water source, look at it’s hooves. If the hooves are backwards, it’s nykur and you should run for your life. If you can’t or don’t want to run, than just say it’s name repeatedly, like Beetlejuice, and it’ll go back underwater. Such a fun folklore.

Okay, back to the drive. Our next stop was Streitishvarf light house. It’s a small little light house and we only stopped because I need to stretch my legs. The day was so gloomy and windy that we couldn’t spend too much time outside at a stretch. I really should have taken my winter jacket. We drove through one or two fjords and beautiful landscape. The landscape is very different from south and south east Iceland.

Our next stop was a cute and well maintained bird watching house at the origin of a fjord and surrounded by mountains. It’s privately owned by Oseyri Farms and is open to public. It’s a great place to stop. You’ll be surrounded by mountains, fjord, greenery, and hundreds of birds. After about 10 minutes, we continued our drive. Our next stop was Studlaheidi, just before a 6 km tunnel entrance.

cute little bird watching house

This stop made me think we were in Switzerland. Beautiful green fields, huge snow covered mountain tops in the background, streams running through the fields, a few farmhouses, sheep grazing, and multiple waterfalls. It was an impressive sight and a perfect place to enjoy a snack. After a few minutes, we drove through a 6 km tunnel and on the other side was completely different landscape that made our jaws drop.

view on one side of the tunnel

The other side of the 6 km tunnel is Reydarfjordur. Thankfully, there’s a parking lot on the side. There’s a multi-layered waterfall on one side and the fjord on the other side. I’m starting to think south and southeast Iceland aren’t the prettiest and more impressive parts of the country. From this point on, the drive just gets prettier and prettier. It’s one waterfall after another, streams, beautiful mountains and just jaw dropping, beautiful landscape.

waterfall on the other side of the tunnel

We probably saw a few hundred waterfalls, though we stopped counting at about 50. Ring Road about 25 km south of Egilsstadir is very pretty. It was so hard to keep my eyes on the road and not get distracted by the sheer beauty. The half an hour drive from the tunnel to Egillstadir could easily take over two hours because I wanted to stop every few minutes.

Unfortunately all the restaurants in Iceland close around 9 or 10 pm so we couldn’t make nearly as many stops as I wanted. We had dinner at Salt Bistro. We took a break from seafood and ordered charcoal grilled lamb and chicken tikka masala. I wanted to know what Indian food with Icelandic twist tasted like. It wasn’t bad but I probably should have stuck to seafood.

The drive from Egilsstadir to Seydisfjordur is beyond stunning. Half of it is uphill and there are waterfalls in every which direction. We saw the source of waterfall as we drove up the mountain. The melting snow that leads to multiple waterfalls was something I’ve never seen. The road needs to have a safe place to pull over every quarter mile but they were few and far between. I wanted to stop after every bend and turn. We drove past a lake at the top of the mountain.

lake at the top of the mountain

Before going to our Airbnb in Seydisfjordur, we made another quick stop at one of the hundreds of waterfall and streams to fill up our bottles with fresh water. Seydisfjordur is a little over 3 hours from Hofn but it took us more than 8 hours because we made so many stops along the way and I still fell like it wasn’t enough. Once we got to our Aibnb, I realized I wasn’t going to sleep any time soon.

view from our Airbnb

The Airbnb was in such a perfect waterfront location with a nice porch at the edge of a fjord. From the porch we could see about 6 more waterfalls, mountains covered in those purple wildflowers, and a huge cruise ship. It was an absolutely perfect Airbnb and I was so excited to sit on the porch and have a drink to relax after driving all day. Just my luck, it started to rain so we went inside and enjoyed the view from the window. East fjords did not disappoint. It’s definitely one of the most beautiful places I’ve visited. There were so many hikes I wish I had the time to go on. Maybe at some point in the future, I might return to Iceland and hike around.

can’t get over this Airbnb view

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