After traveling the East fjords, the north-east started calling, as I got very curious to see how much more remote and lonely the valleys and seashores must get. Starting in Vopnafjörður, I drove around Melrakkslétta, where they say you are (literally) only a stone´s throw away from the Arctic Circle. Its also the border where East Iceland meets North Iceland, one of the least densely populated areas of Iceland, and even at 5m above sea level, the scarce vegetation looks like the highlands up at 600m. I can´t really say much what the vegetation was like at 600m because the only high mountain pass I drove over on the way to Vopnafjörður was covered in such a dense, grey cloud that you couldn´t even see the yellow sticks marking the road, or have any perception of going up or down. We knew we were on our way down the mountain when we had to start using the brakes in the car, but nothing we could see or decipher with our eyes would have given us a sense of direction.
Bakkagerði and Þórshöfn were not such impressive towns, maybe because of the bad weather, or maybe because I didn´t meet a single other person in either town. Raufarhöfn was the perfect place to call home for the night, after we found a place called Sunset Guesthouse, which is actually just the private home of Magnea (the picture perfect Icelandic grandmother figure!). Langanes peninsula, which sticks out from Þórshöfn, was surprisingly one of the most memorable places I´ve ever visited in Iceland. Its basically empty, open space, with amazing bird watching opportunities and a few inhabited farms which clearly appreciate being remote and untouched. Most of the roads lead to dead ends and empty houses, and only a horse would have been sufficient to finish exploring the lonely corners of Langanes.
I discovered the most beautiful setting for a summerhouse at a sea-side farm called Krossavík. Its gates are usually locked but we happened to be at the end of the windy dirt road at the same time as the farmer was haying the land, so he let us in to explore. We kind of sorta broke into the farm at Skinnalón, since the little Skoda car we were driving actually fit under the chain blocking the road. There were more deserted farms than working farms, and almost no paved roads, during my roadtrip to Melrakkaslétta, but on the way out from Kopasker, we arrived back to the reality of traffic and tourists. We decided to take the bad road south past Dettifoss, and indulged in the Blue Lagoon´s little sister, the Mývatn Nature Baths.
A few weeks later, there was one more important place to visit, to satisfy my curiosity of the remote and middle of nowhere: Sprengisandur. Its the never-ending, black desert highland pass between the middle of Iceland, bordered only by huge lakes and Europe´s biggest glacier. The landscape is so sandy and black it makes your mouth feel dry just by looking at it, and we were unlucky enough to get a flat tire in the middle of it, at nightfall, without a lake or river in sight.
The moutain safety guys saved us the next morning, and we carried on to Nýidalur – the only green valley in Sprengisandur. We went hottubbing in the geothermal pool at Laugafell, and went fishing for nothing but seaweed at Svartá and Kvíslavatn. The only other human interaction we had was with the same two mountain safety guides at the refuge hut, and we just saw a couple of cars pass us when we were stranded roadside, but Sprengisandur gave me a new-found respect for the large, lonely, and sometimes dangerous vastness of Iceland´s highlands. I can only imagine what life was like for Icelander´s before road travel and cars – then men rode horses across Sprengisandur, a week or two long, with barely a bite of grass to eat! I highly recommend any traveler visiting Iceland to get off the ring road and explore the empty middle and lonely corners of Iceland´s beautiful landscape one day.
See more pictures from North East Iceland here.