This is the 5th post on our trip to Iceland. Find more here.
Day 6: Vestmannaeyjar Islands and East to Vik
In the morning we had a rental car delivered to our hotel from Route 1 Cars. We got a bit worried that it wasn’t coming, only to discover the rental car people were sitting across from us in the hotel lobby the whole time. Oops!
This was the first time either of us had driven outside of the United States, but fortunately Iceland is pretty “normal”. The road signs are all quite clear, and since the island is basically uninhabited, there isn’t any real traffic to deal with.
We left the capitol and merged onto Route 1, the “Ring Road” that circles the entire island. The first part of the trip was a repeat of the drive to our horse farm from a few days earlier, but before long were headed off into new territory, discovering new mountains, sheep, waterfalls, and roundabouts.
Somewhat spur of the moment we decided to take the ferry to the Vestmannaeyjar Islands, which lie just south of Iceland’s coast. As we drove along the coast towards them, we were in a wide flat plain, but in the distance we could see a few towering mountains. In fact, those were our destination–an archipelago of volcanos formed in the last ten thousand years. The newest member of the chain was only formed in the 1960s!
The times listed in our tour book were wrong, but fortunately we reached the port just in time to board the 12:30 ferry. About 40 minutes later we arrived in Heimar, and hungrily found food at Gott, which was indeed quite “good”.
The island has two claims to fame–the volcano which erupted in the 70s, nearly wiping out the island and substantially enlarging it, and puffins, the cute birds that like to nest along the coasts. We headed first towards the volcano area, climbing into a set of lava hills that rise over the eastern part of the town thanks to Eldfell, the new volcano that erupted in 1973. Among the lava rocks are street signs and building memorials, indicating the old parts of town lying 30 meters below.
We walked to Eldheimar – Pompei of the North, a museum commemorating the eruption. It includes a house that has been excavated, letting you see a fairly well preserved home, surrounded by lava. The museum had a reasonably interesting audio tour, but was a bit overpriced (~$20 per person).
Next we wanted to find puffins. Unfortunately, Vestmannaeyjar is surprisingly ill prepared for tourists. The cafe near the ferry which used to double as a tour office apparently just closed. The information center is actually a small shop with just a handful of pamphlets. Only one booklet had a decent map, but they didn’t have many so they were keeping them behind the desk and only giving them to people who were staying overnight. The people we asked for help at a craft shop and the museum were very friendly, but had no sense of how long things would take on foot–if we’d followed their advice fully I think we would have missed our ferry!
In the end we took a nice long walk to the south east of the town center, going between the old (Eldfell) and new (Helgafell) volcanos, trying to reach a path along the coast that might have puffins. Instead of cute birds we found a closed fence and private property, so we continued our walk along the road to the airport where we ordered a cab back to the harbor.
While we didn’t exactly get to see what we’d wanted to, the island was still filled with some amazing sights. The impressive rock formations from the old volcanos tower along the edge of the coast, some over 230 meters tall. The volcanos range from rough and red with craggy lava flows in the newer areas, to older more weathered hills with grass for sheep grazing. The island is larger than we’d expected, it probably would have been better to bring our rental car on the ferry or to have taken some kind of guided bus tour.