A Very Grand Icelandic Journey – Trip Report
In the summer of 2018, I and my wife went over to Iceland. It was a self-planned 11-day trip, and one of the best ones in my life.
Among dozens of waterfalls that we managed to see, there is nature like nowhere else, rough, spoiled by the volcanic activities. Beautiful and ever-changing. You can go from desert-like fields to green valleys amongst high mountains, with lakes in between. You can watch how the cloud is seeping over the edge of a box-shaped mountain and slowly falls into the ground below and, for the same – unlimited – amount of time you can watch waterfalls do the same.
You can see a horse hoarder driving a flock of wild horses along the road, or you can horn at stubborn sheep that has taken the road as their dedicated resting stop, for the day. Iceland is a land with such a diversity regarding the scenery, the weather conditions, people and places, that you will be amazed the whole journey. I know it for a fact because I was amazed myself.
Iceland has been on my wife’s must-go-to list of places for quite a long time, and, as we both like Nordic countries (Norway is among one of the best, by the way). Although it was easy to decide to go, it was harder to prepare for this journey properly, as this was an environment that we did not know much about or what to expect. So we read a lot, and we did our best to prepare ourselves.
Preparing For Trip
It all started with preparations. We were not exactly prepared for an 11-day trip into the wilds. By “Into the wild” I meant – we were planning on sleeping in our car or in the tent, being on the road for most of the time, and climbing, exploring and venturing wherever we can. So the preparation was a crucial part.
Renting a Car – the most expensive and most necessary part
First – we did research on car rentals. One thing anyone traveling to Norway must consider is – the insurance for the car. Every car rental service will offer you a basic insurance package. However, it is very wise to opt in for additional insurance for gravel and additional self-liability insurance. As we found out (by calling a few of the car rental services ourselves) is that the many gravel roads they have in Iceland inland roads (not the main road around the island that is paved 90%) can really damage the car, causing smaller and larger dents, those roads are also slippery, and with a rough terrain. So additional insurance is a must. With that, we could take our 4×4 jeep on any road. And it turned out to be useful. The funny thing in Iceland – tourists there seems to be quite uncertain regarding where to go and what to see. We noticed that anytime we would pull over somewhere, even if there was really nothing to see there, a couple of cars would also pull over to check what we are stopping for. Once we took a tiny gravel road with really rough terrain to get closer to a volcano, it led us straight through a hardened molten lava field. As soon as we started driving on that road another car, a smaller one started to follow us, and soon the driver of that other car realized that he is in trouble, as his car could not cope with the terrain. We ended helping him turn around to get back to the main road. And his car got damaged because he would slip into ditches and bump against larger rocks and hardened lava.
Bringing the Gear – what to take with us and what not
Then we had to think about the gear we would bring with us. We were sure of some things we would need for sure. A pair of good sleeping bags. When choosing a sleeping bag we made sure that it can keep us warm even in lower temperatures, tho it was summer, nights could get quite cold.
As we would prepare our own food most of the time there, we also needed a gas cooker, dishes and so on. But the baggage is limited. The best way out? We chose to rent all that in Reykjavik – everything we needed we found here, the process was easy since we arrived really early in the morning and their office was closed, we could pick up our gear from the locker they would leave us.
Did We Forget Something? Of course!
Some smaller things that we regret not taking with us – cover for our eyes – Icelandic nights in summer never gets dark. A tripod for our camera (the scenery is magnificent), an extra pair of layer – we thought that it would be warm, and it was, but not everywhere we went. For our coffee pleasures (and something that would help me concentrate while on the road) I would have appreciated a mug or a camping coffee maker.The exciting thing about Iceland is that it has so many different environments. You can have a desert-like plateau, then, when you go up north you will have ice mountains covered in snow where you can go on whale-watching boat trips. Up in the mountains, once you step out of your car, you will be met by a strong gush of cold wind, almost knocking you off your feet, chasing tiny sand grains around the hilltop. You then see a sight you would imagine could be viewed on another planet. Then going back down, seeing the great waterfall of Skogafoss. The everchanging scenery is what keeps you on edge, wanting to see and explore more and more. After 11 days we were exhausted and craving for more.
One thing I was really grateful for was the coffee percolator that I took with me from home. We had that gas burner with us to prepare food on, and because of that every time we would want hot coffee – we just had to stop at an appropriate place and make some coffee. As I used to work as a barista this is something I am good at, and something I like doing.
Hit the Road, Jack!
Landed in Reykjavik airport. We were met by cold winds and rain. All in our face, but we were expecting that. We had to take a bus to our car rental agency (that was written in our guide) only to discover that the bus went a huge circle all around the airport and we ended up around 300 meters from where we started. Could have walked. We laughed.
Note on Icelandic driving culture – like most BMW’s owners they have no idea how to use the turn indicators. Tourists there, for the most part, look lost and confused. Driving here and there, stopping whenever they saw someone else stopping.
We started our trip from Reykjavik and went counter-clockwise around the coasts. We had our route all planned out already. We found this great map that was created by some other Icelandic voyager, you can find it here. We found all the landmarks and sights that are must see there. You can see that there are quite a lot. At the end of our journey, we would even skip some waterfalls as we would both sigh and say – another waterfall? Nope, I have enough now for a lifetime.
However, in the beginning, we would go to every single one, marveling about the magnificent power and sight in front of us.
About the hot spring pools in Iceland – even the ones that were marked as “remote” would be full of people. So we did not attend the Blue Lagoon pool, and we passed some other natural spring pools as we saw that there are a lot of people. Luck was on our side tho, as we were going to a small city in the Northern-east part of the island we noticed that further away from the road there is a cloud of steam rising above the thin forest. We went there, and discovered a small lake that was warm! Some locals were there, snorkeling in the water. We asked them what they were doing and they replied, that they are fishing for goldfish. Apparently, that’s something the Icelandics do, and we found it both hilarious and exciting. We joined them for a swim. The “lake” was shallow, but it was warm, and the weather was cold. One of the best experiences we had in Iceland.
Then we went to a small city called Húsavík. It was amazing. Hugged by the mountains from all sides and with a port within it looked as of from a fairytale. Fast moving clouds dropping from the hilltops and flowing into the valley just to disappear somewhere in between.
A lonely boat laying in the water between seaweed with mountains in the background. Everything is green, blue, red – a mixture of colors that creates a world of vividness and lifeforce. My favorite place in all Iceland.
Regretfully we could not go to famous Iceland abandoned plane sight, although we really wanted to.
The next best thing was the black beach in Iceland. By an error we first approached it from the “wrong” direction, which then turned around to be the best direction, as there were no people, the weather was stormy and the view – epic.
We were the only ones on that side of the beach, trapped by turmoiling sea and high rock wall, overcome with green plants and seagulls enjoying the gushes of winds created by the immovable masses of the granite and rock or Icelandic coastline.
The beauty within that is irreplaceable, inexpressible
There are just so many things to see in Iceland. 11 days is not nearly enough. You could spend months there discovering more and more new places. Long forgotten gravel roads that lead inland to nowhere and somewhere at the same time.
And hilltops, small, wonderful waterfalls, sulfur fields, and dead volcanoes telling you a speechless story of old days when Iceland was green with trees, unruined by lava fields.
Little fisherman towns, where you have a small port, bringing every one interested on whale watching tours, promising spectacular sights. The way the colorfully-painted houses stands out on the ever-so-often grey sky of Icelandic weather, highlighting the life on the ground.
And once the sun comes out it then becomes a one of a kind gem, with blue water, green mountains and a sky that looks higher than anywhere else in the world.
About The Author: Arvis is the writer and editor at https://coffeforus.com/, interested in literature, photography, and travels.