Mashu-ko, Mashu-dake and Io-zan

By Paul S Bryers, September 2016

If you are based in Lake Kussharo or Teshikaga area you can spend a very rewarding day viewing Lake Mashu, climbing Mount Mashu and visiting sulphurous Mount Io. 

Lake Mashu is one of Japan’s most beautiful lakes. Formed following an enormous eruption that resulted in a huge caldera, Lake Mashu has precipitous sides and is towered over on the East side by Mount Mashu. In the center of the lake is the tiny Isle of Gods, the result of a volcanic plug within the caldera.

Start your day at Parking spot #1 off Route 52; the latter winds its way past the West rim of the caldera. The views of the lake and mountains are stunning. Then take the Mount Mashu trail and head East. On the way you will get great views of the surrounding mountains, as well as the birch forests rising out of the endless bamboo groves. It takes about 2.5 hours to get to the peak of the mountain, with the last 400 m being steep but manageable – just don’t look to your right and definitely not to your left. The views of the lake are terrific – the views into the secondary caldera of the mountain are terrifying.







It takes about 2 hours to get back to the parking area. Get back onto Route 52 and go North. Mount Io is about 8 miles away. It’s a little disappointing compared to the easily accessible volcanic areas in Iceland and New Zealnd, but it is every bit as smelly (sulphurous). Still, worth the visit as you are in the area anyway. The take Route 52 back to Lake Kussharo – you might want to visit one of the free hot springs on the way.

Isle of Coll, Inner Hebrides, Scotland

By Paul S Bryers, June 2016

I have been coming to Coll for family summer vacations, on and off, for over 55 years. Coll – 12 x 3 miles and pop. 200 – is located 3 hours sail from Oban on Cal Mac’s Clansman. There are flights from Glasgow and Oban, but I recommend the sail. Typically, you will need to spend the night in Oban as the Clansman leaves early morning. There are plenty of great B&Bs in Oban (I recommend the Corriemar House on the Esplanade). It is more difficult to find good places for dinner, but the Ee-Usk on the North Pier is excellent.


The sail to Coll is beautiful, with views to the Morvern and Ardnamurchan Peninsulas and the Isle of Mull. As you approach Coll watch for the Islands of Rhum, Eigg, Muck and Canna to the North. If you are lucky, you might get to see the Isle of Skye in the distance.

Coll is the best place I know for total relaxation. If you need to be with people, don’t come.

As the Clansman pulls into the pier at Arinagour, the Island’s vilage, you get a sense of the rest of the island i.e., lots of machar with a few houses here and there.

You can stay at the Coll Hotel (simple rooms, great little bar and restaurant), in the village bunkhouse or in self-catering cottages scattered across the island. There is also a walled campground.

Eateries are limited to the Coll Hotel and The Last Port of Coll – both good, with local seafood (and wifi). Food stores are The Coll Stores and a small shop attached to The Last Port of Coll. My advice is to bring most your own food (and wine) if you are going to be self-catering.

You can walk everywhere (if you like 5-10 mile walks), but it’s best to have a car. You might be able to get someone to drive you around, but I wouldn’t bet on it – you cannot rent a car on the island. The island is pretty flat, so biking is an option. Take your own bike or hire from Fiona Kennedy at the Post Office.

There are excellent walks and beaches along the West facing coast of the island, especially at the West End (e.g. Crossapol, Caolis and Feall Bays) where there is a RSPB Reserve (think Corncrake and Lapwing). The East End sports two very beautiful beaches – Sorisdale (famous for Bill Travis in Ring Of Bright Water) and North End Beach. Between the two Ends are plenty of other beaches (e.g., Hogh Bay). Vitually all have golden or white sands and turquoise blue waters. However, if you want to swim, a wet suit is preferable (OK, essential if you are over 10 years of age).


Kayaks are available for rent in the village, and you might be able to get a local to take you out on a boat trip. Seals are plentiful on the rocks off of many beaches, and are very inquisitive so come fairly close.  Finally, there are a wide variety of seabirds, including the very noisy oyster catcher.

Weather – This is Scotland, so it can be wet for a few days in a row. However, over the last 10 years I have found the weather to be consistently good late May and June.

Traveling from West to North Iceland

By Paul S Bryers, August 2015

It’s a 4 hour journey by car from Stykkisholmur on the Snæfellsjökull Peninsular to Siglufjordur in North Iceland. A lot of dirt track but a good sound surface. Great views of the sea, mountains, big pebble beaches and waterfalls on the way. Plenty of horses with no names. Be aware that there is a 6 km single track tunnel under the mountains just before your reach Siglufjordur. At the end of the ride is a pretty little Siglufjordur, surrounded by snowy mountains and water and with an award winning Herring Museum. The recently opened Silgo Hotel is very pleasant, as is dinner at the affiliated Hannas Boy restaurant. 
    
    
    
    
       
    
    
 

Snæfellsjökull National Park, West Iceland

By Paul S Bryers, August 2015.

We awoke to a wet and cloudy day, but the circular Stykkisholmur – Snæfellsjökull National Park – Stykkisholmur was on our itinerary for the day, so off we set in our 4WD. This route has much to offer, including many spectacular – wait for it – yes, waterfalls and mountains!

First stop was Grundarfjordur fishing village, where the Saga Center folk offered some nice hot coffee, with free refills, and sound advice on what to see/do in the area (should you be so lazy as not to already have a detailed agenda for the day). There are many local hikes. It is important to listen to the center’s advice about individual hike difficulty and safety – these are dangerous mountains.

Next up was pretty little waterfall close to the towering Kirkjufell. While Kirkjufell translates to Church Mountain, I think the mountain looks more like the talking Sorting Hat from Harry Potter – Griffindor! It was 8 C with a brisk wind so we were freezing – for Icelandic Summers remember to bring your woolly hat and gloves; thermal underclothes probably not a bad idea. 
    
 
Even though it was only 11.25 am, it was time for some of Anna’s famous fish soup at Gamla in the very small town of Rif – delicious!

The main scenic route in the National Park starts at Route 574 at Hellissandur, where you begin to skirt the rugged slopes of Snaefellsjokill volcano. We started to see lots of lava spurs coming down from the mountain, and many lava fields. We then took Route 579 (dirt track) to Skardsvik golden sands. As it was August, there were hundreds of Arctic Terns feeding their babies – quite the sight! 

    
   
We continued on the dirt track and then took a left onto another dirt track for Vatnsborg crater carpark. From the carpark, we walked for about 2 km through a somewhat tortuous lava field, spotted with mosses and alpine plants, until finally reaching the crater. It’s small but you get the feeling that something big happened here about 1000 years ago. 
    
    
 
After returning to our car, we went back to first dirt track and turned left and drove to the end of the road to Svortyuloft bird cliffs – impressive! And a nice light house. 

    
 
After the cliffs, we turned around and went back to Route 574. We went south on Route 574 and then followed the marked turn off to Saxholl crater. It is a quick 100m climb to the top for great views of lava flows. 
    
 
We continued south on Route 574 and then turned onto Route 572 to the black sand beach at Djupalonssandur (car park and toilets). 
   
We continued on Route 574 to Arnarstapi, which is the best place to organize snowmobile or snowcat glacier tours up the volcano/glacier. As there was quite a bit of cloud and the real possibility of hypothermia, we decided not go up the volcano and instead we walked part of the beautiful Arnarstapi to Hellnar coastal hike (3km return).  We had good views of the volcano below the cloudline, with lovely twisting lava tubes. 
    
    
    
 After that we continued West on Route 574 and headed back to Stykkisholmur.
The day was completed with an excellent dinner at Sjavarpakkhusid (we had fish soup followed by local blue shell mussels).
So, that was Snæfellsjökull National Park and Surrounds. 

Stykkisholmur, West Iceland

By Paul S Bryers, August 2015.

Two hours from Reykjavik is the small fishing town of Stykkisholmur on the Snaefellsnes Peninsular. The trip to Stykkisholmur is quite spectacular. Initially, you are close to the coast with high mountains immediately to the West. After a 6 km tunnel that takes you under the Hvalfjordur, the countryside starts to get pretty desolate with big lava fields and huge volcanic mountains visible in all directions. Some of the lower hills are very red in color, which contrasts nicely with the sage colored moss/lichen coating the lava fields. Small alpine plants appear here and there; they seem quite lonely.

   
  
Stykkisholmur itself sticks out into the Breidafjordur, with views to the distant mountains of Westfjords. While the town is small with only about 1100 inhabitants, it boasts some great accommodations (including the best hostel in Iceland) and restaurants, notably Narfeyrarstofa and Sjavarpakkhusid.  

 There is not a huge amount to do in the town itself, but two “musts” are the short walk over to the basalt island of Sugandisey, where you can sit and enjoy great views of the fjord, and the Vikingsuchi Adventure Tour operated by Seatours. On this tour you approach a number of small uninhabited islands – note the very strong ocean currents – and get to see lots of seabirds, including pretty Puffins, regal Shags, Fulmars, Kittiwakes.  

    
   
You also get to eat seafood straight from the sea. The crew drop, trawl and then hoist a net which comes back up from the seabed full of creatures – colorful starfish and sea urchins, slightly scary looking sea cucumbers, crabs and lots of scallops. The fresh scallops and sea urchin roe were excellent, especially when accompanied with a little soy, wasabi and ginger!  

   
   
   
After the tour, you might like to pop into the Volcano Museum. 
So, that was Stykkisholmur – definitely worth a visit.

Reykjavik alive!

By Paul S Bryers, August 2015.

Reykjavik is an amazing city! 

Like the country and the island upon which it resides, and despite its ancient and rich history, Reykjavik is best described as “youthful”. The surrounding sea is fresh and clean, the mountains are high and show little signs of aging, the buildings are mostly modern, the architecture is angular and sophisticated, and folks of all types are made welcome.   
    
   

On the latter point, it was Gay Pride while we were there, and everyone seemed to be very excited about the 4 day event, with rainbow flags proudly popping up everywhere, and a street was turned into Dorothy’s yellow brick road – well OK, Dorothy’s rainbow road….Dogs and trolls were made to feel at home, and even puffins wanted to get in on the fun.   
   

On your first day in the city, take the free walking tour, which lasts about 90 mins, cover about 1.5 km and introduces you to the main sights. This tour was very informative, and with our guide, Lolly, was fun as well – he had a good sense of humor – you have to when you have green hair – and he will tell you about local politicians and the sex lives of elves. In any case, meet your guide at the starting point at Clock Tower on Laekjartorg Square at 12 or 2 pm. If you are in a group you will need to book at info@freewalkingtour.is. The tour includes Parliament, Old Cathedral, Hallgrimskirkja Church (very tall church which can be glimpsed from many parts of the city), City Hall, National Theater, and views of the huge Harpa Concert Hall. Lolly peppered our tour with anecdotes and fact that only a local would know. I would say this short tour is a must!   

   

After the tour, be sure to walk along the sea front to visit the glass covered Harpa Concert Hall and enjoy the great views of the mountains to the North.    

   

And that was Reykjavik!

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Celebrity – Down Under

By Paul Bryers, 2015

New Zealand, or Scotland on the other side of the world if you like, is always associated with the outdoors, wilderness, extreme sports, etc – so why on God’s good Middle-Earth would anyone go there on a 2 week cruise? Well, for us it was because this was going to be our first trip of many to The Land that includes Mordor, so we thought why not make life simple and have a consistent base – the Celebrity Solstice.

We started our adventure off independently with a few days in Auckland, including a pretty good New Year’s Eve featuring fireworks from the top of the infamous Skytower (you can bungie jump off if you feel so inclined). Auckland is a bike friendly city and fun to cycle around, especially southwards along the coastal bike path. There are hills if you want them, well, volcanic cones, actually. Also, go to the nearby islands – Waiheke for biking and vineyards and Rangitoto for a short hike up the volcano.

Our 2 week cruise would take us along the East Coast of the North Island, then along the East and Southern Coasts of the South Island, and finally off to Tasmania, Melbourne and Sydney.

Our first port of call was the Bay of Islands, north of Auckland. We spent the day on an old tall ship, visiting remote areas and small islands – a great day out on the high seas!
  

Next port was Tauranga in the Bay of Plenty, south of Auckland. As usual, Celebrity offered a great variety of shore excursions, but we decided to go independent and Heli-tour to White Island – an active, and I mean ACTIVE, hydrostatic volcano – about 30 minutes flying time from Whakatane Airport. This trip is not for the faint of heart – stick with your guide and follow in their footsteps. Apparently, the whole place can blow without warning. You will need to wear trendy gas masks thanks to the copious amounts of carbon monoxide and sulphur gas – phew!

  

Continuing south, we reached Wellington. What a setting! A hip place. Go see the fur seal colony out at Otaki. 

  

We continue southwards to Akaroa, which has been the cruise port for Christchurch since the last earthquake devastated the city. This area is the gateway to the Southern Alps. We took the Transalpine Express from Darfield to Arthur’s Pass, followed by a jet boat ride on one of the local rivers.  A very exhilarating day!     

  

Next port was Dunedin. What can I say other than it is a Northern Scottish town with funny accents – very beautiful. Go kayaking in the bay and talk to the fur seals.   

Our final days in NZ were spent cruising around The Sounds – Dusky, Doubtful and, of course, Milford. Just incredible, incredible and incredible……….Waterfall after waterfall………      

We were then off to Australia – Hobart, Tasmania followed by Melbourne and Sydney – but that’s another story.

So, our first trip to the Land that brought Hobbits to life was a great success. And yes, we have booked to go back in December 2015 for about 25 days. No cruising this time though. Instead, we have a sturdy SUV and a road plan that will take us from Queenstown to Picton via the mountains and West Coast. Can’t wait!

Isle of Arran, Scotland

By Paul Bryers, 2014

Situated about 1 hours drive from Central Glasgow followed by 1 hours sail from Ardrossan, the Isle of Arran offers great opportunities for scenic drives, cycling, walking, hiking and generally lazing around – depending on your needs and disposition.

We went there for 5 days in August and had a great time. There is a wide choice of accommodations and eateries – the former go from very basic to lavish, while the latter go from Do Not Eat There to excellent.

The Cal-Mac Car Ferry trip from Ardrossan on the Mainland to Brodick on Arran is only about 50 minutes, but it can be quite rough and breezy, so make sure you have your mac with you. Some people like to stand on deck and get blown around…

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We opted not to stay in Brodick itself, which is the main town, but rather stay in Lamlash Bay, which is just a few miles round the headland. Our accommodations were in the Lamlash Bay Hotel, which were adequate. The beauty of Lamlash Bay is the view of the Holy Isle, which rests just off shore. It’s also a good place to view rainbows. In addition, you can take an hour long Zodiac ride around the Isle to see sea birds, dolphins and seals, as well as have sightings of rare animals on the Holy Isle, such as Wild Eriskay ponies, Soay sheep and Saanen goats.

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Visit Brodick Tourist Office, beside the Cal-Mac Car Ferry Terminal, to get a full description of Island activities. There are some great walks/hikes, including a guided walk up Goat Fell, which is the highest point on the Island (873.5 meters; 2,866 feet). A visit to Brodick Castle, for a briefing on Island history, and Arran Aromatics, to stock up on smellies like soap, body wash, creams, etc., are a must.

There are plenty of places to do lunch and dinner on the Island, but we prefer to make our own lunch on the beach or in nearby field filled with smelly sheep, and then splurge at night time. I was the lunchtime chef, making good use of a small stove, bread rolls and tins of baked beans or ravioli, with a little help from my mother. Families are also good for giving directions.

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We had dinner in number of good places, but our favorites were GlenIsle Restaurant in Lamlash Bay, and the Brambles Grill and Douglas Hotel Bistro, both in Brodick. Check out my reviews of eateries on TripAdvisor – http://www.tripadvisor.com/members/542PaulB