Thursday, 28 January 2016

Iceland 2.22: Sprengisandur 2

In the middle of Sprengisandur is the oasis of Nýidalur - a green valley which was discovered by a lost traveller in 1845.  It is now the site of a hut maintained by the Icelandic Hiking Club, and a magnet for anyone travelling across this part of the interior.  Unlike the rest of the road, where we met virtually nobody, Nýidalur was actually reasonably busy: mainly with Germans and Australians.  I spent quite a while chatting to the warden, and he told me that he worked for two months in Nýidalur during the summer season, but the rest of the time he was a sports teacher in Reykjavík.

Just like Kjölur, Sprengisandur has a regular service bus which operates during the summer months.  Nýidalur also has a small airstrip which presumably is used to bring in supplies and deal with any emergencies.

The only hairy episode in our crossing of the interior happened just south of Nýidalur.  A large river must be forded, and - unusually - the path of the road was very poorly marked.  We had to make a guess as to the path we should follow, and for a while we sat on a sandbank in the middle of the river with a car which refused to go anywhere.  The four wheel drive controls, including differential lock, were "fly by wire" on the Vitara, and for some reason the onboard computer had become confused as to the car's mechanical state.  As with all computer problems, a quick "power-cycle" cleared the confusion, and we were soon on our way.  Phew!

The clouds began to build as we crossed the watershed, and was clear that there was some serious weather happening over both Hofsjökull and Vatnajökull.

The rivers were wider - and deeper - in the southern part of the highlands too, which made for interesting driving conditions.  We were relatively comfortable in our 4x4, however - at least compared to the poor cyclists who had to navigate the freezing water on foot.  Two can just be seen in the second picture while attempting a crossing.  There was far more plant life around the rivers than we'd seen elsewhere, although between the rivers the land was still as parched as ever.

The picture here is a stitched panorama of half a dozen images, and hopefully gives some idea of the scale of the storm which was building above Hofsjökull.

As we neared our destination it was clear that we were driving into the middle of some proper Icelandic weather.  The lighting was truly amazing, with dark brooding skies just over the hill, but us still in bright sunshine.

We did, indeed, have to drive through some very heavy rain, but luckily this only happened once we had come off the F26 and onto metalled roads.  It felt very strange to be driving so fast - and so smoothly - compared to the previous 6 hours or so.  We discovered that the hotel we'd booked appeared to have been built to service a large hydro-electric project, and was actually in the middle of absolutely nowhere.  Luckily it did have its own hydrant, though, so we were able to rest easy in our beds.

Hrauneyjar is, indeed, an island of green in the middle of the lava, and was surrounded by all sorts of plant life - including the ubiquitous purple lupin.  After the exertions of the day we were both exhausted, however, so decided to hit the deck after dinner at the hotel's surprisingly good (but expensive) restaurant.