This trip of a lifetime was the result of my incredible, generous family. Thanks to my parents supporting our home loan, beyond already having had us live with them for almost a year, when Joyce left me some inheritance. Dad’s advice was that whatever we spent it on, it should be meaningful. Something we would remember and think fondly of her. Since my parents’ generosity and our year of saving meant we didn’t need to put it into our home deposit or furniture, we were left with the question of the best way to spend it.
I’d loved the idea of going to Iceland for a little while. I’m not sure what prompted it – probably the Girls Love Travel Facebook group I’ve been following enviously, igniting my wanderlust – but the idea of travelling around a country the furthest point from Australia, especially in a campervan and in our own time, seemed highly appealing. A visit to a travel agent (the amazing Justin at Flight Centre, thanks to Amanda’s recommendation) and we rethought the whole thing, booking a tour around Iceland and tacking on Norway as a bonus. It seemed silly to travel so far and see only one country.
So, here’s what we did…
21-22 Sep. • CANBERRA > REYKJAVIK •
First up, it takes a really, really long time to get to the other side of the world. I realise that pre-planes and modern technology this would have been a lifetime, if not impossible, journey, but still. It’s a real long way away, even with fairly direct flights.
Thanks to the new connection by Qatar Airways, we were able to get on our international flight from li’l Canberra, annoyingly hop off the plane for an hour in Sydney to pickup many more passengers, and then head onto Doha, Qatar. We felt better about not embracing a longer layover when we stepped off the plane (thankfully straight into the airport) and it was 33° at MIDNIGHT. Seriously.
A delay on the tarmac in Doha meant (7hrs later) we missed our connecting flight in Copenhagen. While seemingly inconvenient, it worked out beautifully, meaning we could not enjoy a pause off-plane for a few hours, eating some non-airplane food, and hanging out.
We ended up arriving in Reykjavik around 5pm Sunday, just enough time to get from the airport to our hostel, check in, get some dinner, and have a little explore. We found some gorgeous buildings, many souvenir shops, and a good pizza place just up from our hostel, before crashing out for a nice jet-lagged sleep.
Flying into Copenhagen
23 Sep. • REYKJAVIK •
For our first full day exploring Iceland, we did our own walking tour of Reykjavik, hitting all the dodgy tourist museums along the way. There was the Viking Museum, a creepy wax museum with poorly timed narratives that kept you staring at a single figure for a ten minute story; the Aurora Borealis Centre, the best part of which was their epic pinboard of visitors.
After exploring the marina and a long walk on the waterfront, we had the best lunch at Hamborgarafabrikkan (Burger Factory). We were utterly confused by their sign of “360,390 Icelanders” – Icelanders served? Burgers served? What could it mean? – before Googling revealed that this is indeed the entire population of the country! For context, the population of Canberra is 395,790. This blew our tiny minds.
Then we really made the most of being in a foreign land full of new cultural experiences and enjoyed what we do at home, an escape room. At Reykjavik Escape we proudly nailed their (35% escape rate) Mafia Room. Thankfully escape rooms are fairly universal and, while we were stumped by our lack of geography and a confusing password, we were very happy with the experience.
Then, after a short but well deserved nap, we met up with our Intrepid group – 5 other Australians and our guide/driver, “Lilly” (because her full name, Sigurlaug Lydía Geirsdóttir is impossible to pronounce) – for introductions and dinner of traditional ‘meat soup’ (lamb & veg) at the local favourite, Loki Cafe.
Epic pin board
Awesome buildings in Reykjavik
Graffiti in Reykjavik
Awesome buildings in Reykjavik
Awesome buildings in Reykjavik
Hallgrímskirkja Cathedral in Reykjavik
Rainbow street Reykjavik
Epic pin board
Sculpture on the boardwalk
Epic pin board
24 Sep. • REYKJAVIK > ÞINGVELLIR NATIONAL PARK > GEYSIR •
Day one of our Intrepid Tour, we set out from Reykjavik for a beautiful scenic drive out of the city. We saw the site of the first recorded parliament (around 930 AD), Þingvellir National Park, also the site where the European and North American continental plates connect, which shift apart 2cm every year. The expanse and beauty of the land, particularly at this point of connection between literal continental plates, was truly magical. Even for sceptics, you could understand the majesty and power of the place, and why it was selected for the site of all important decisions so long ago. It’s retained relevance to modern day, with key decisions being made there as recently 1798.
There was a gorgeous walk around the buildings (added much later) and between the lava walls, plus a bonus waterfall just around a corner. This was the first of many stunning waterfalls we would be discovering on our journey. Then onto the hot springs and famous spouting Geysir, Strokkur. He goes off every few minutes with no warning, resulting in the video shifting a little as I lose focus and talk to Blake.
• GULFOSS > HVOLSVÖLLUR VALLEY •
We continued a scenic drive to the Niagara Falls of Iceland, Gulfoss, with an average water flow of 109 cubic metres per second. It was truly impressive, though the
Then stopped in at a local farm, Smáratún with the most incredible view of Eyjafjallajökull, to plant and name a tree each – Milo & Blakedòttir (Blake’s daughter). It was a much simpler process than anticipated, with a gadget designed to stamp into the ground, which you open (the hardest part) to reveal a pipe which guides the small plant straight into the ground. Tamp around the edge and voila, tree planted.
This was a part of Intrepid’s carbon neutralising efforts, creating a wall (in a few decades) at the border of the farm, and helping Iceland to restore some of their Forrest coverage destroyed by the Vikings so long ago.
We also drove by many of Iceland’s adorable sheep – of which the 3 million or so far outnumber the population of 360,000 people. They’re even able to roam totally freely throughout summer, only being herded back into sorting stations and returned to their farmers before the first snow hits (so they can be kept safely inside and don’t drown in the deep snow).
• SELJALANDSFOSS > SÒLHEIMAHJÁLEIGA •
With a cave enabling you to walk around behind the falling water, Seljalandsfoss was a real experience. We, of course, had to find the optimum vantage point where you were under the actual flow of water, not just the other side of it. A great experience all round.
Then we were making such good time we got to see yet another waterfall, Skógarfoss around the corner from our farmstay accommodation. This was another challenge to see just how close we could get and left us adequately soaked through. A little trickier as there was no path behind the fall, just up to the side of it, but the temperature had also started to drop so the idea of getting too wet was a little less appealing. All in all, it was a great afternoon for waterfall fanboy Blake. Then a good night’s sleep at Sólheimahjálega farm.
25 Sep. • REYNISFJARA > LAKI LAVA FIELDS •
On a very rainy day, we explored further along the south coast of Iceland. Starting at The Black Beach, Reynisfjara, backed by incredible rock faces and caves, eaten away and shaped by the sea. You could see the black rocks as they progressed through the stages of large, breaking up into smaller, and finally into a soft sand as you walk along the shoreline.
This was not a beach to swim at though. Looking out to the Atlantic Ocean, with no other land masses between it and Antarctica, the waves carry that momentum with force. There were plenty of tourists risking the water’s edge though, taking photos in sari’s on a freezing, wet day, and encroaching closer to the water for the perfect shot. Iceland is almost as dangerous for tourists as Australia, with this particular beach risking massive, sneaky waves coming up and dragging out tourists unawares.
Next stop, the village of Vík. Then we drove through the Laki lava field, covered in grey moss, though in the rain it was open and green, absorbing the moisture. We walked the uneven, rocky path of lava, and saw the full expanse of moss that had taken root, the first signs of vegetation in the area, and a glimpse at what so many areas of the country had begun as, not so long ago.
Lilly advised how Icelanders consider their land to be in a fluid state, because whether in 10, 100 or 1000 years, it shall be entirely reshaped by volcanic eruptions. Incredible when so many people in Australia approach everything with such a short term mentality.
• VATNAJÖKUL NATIONAL PARK •
When a volcanic eruptions occurs, it’s actually the glacier on top that caused the disasters. The magma hits the ice and causes a chemical reaction that sends ash and shards of ice everywhere. It was this reaction prompted by Eyjafjallajökull that caused all flights in Europe to be cancelled in 2010 and though further testing has revealed the total shutdown was not entirely necessary, its the magma, lava, and glacial mix that causes the biggest impact to the surrounding landscapes.
Along with the constant risk of volcanic eruptions, the expanse of glaciers across the country has shifted dramatically in the last ten years. The skaftafell jökull (glacial lagoon) at the base of the outlet we walked to for example has only been there for the last 3 years.
The former steel bridge seen near the national park entrance is from the last volcano eruption, sending glacial waters down the plains with such force to bend it like aluminium.
Then onto Gerði before heading to our exciting glacial hike adventure!
• BREIÐAMERKURJÖKULL •
Named for the open plains and forrest that used to lie between 2 glaciers, we got to climb up the now joined ice mountain.
After getting geared up on a converted school bus, we took the bumpiest ride in the world over the un-paved terrain and saw first hand the evidence of global warming when he stopped 2.8km short of the glacier and pointed out that was where we would have started the glacial trek in 2001.
After the drive we were out and walking along jagged rocks, over many streams of various intensity, over a rickety wooden bridge with freezing glacial water rushing below, and eventually up to the edge of the glacier. It was the height of the water under this bridge that nearly caused our excursion to be cancelled, and walking across with the water flowing with great force, we felt it would have been the right decision to abandon if it hadn’t gone back down.
With crampons on and a solid hour on the ice, we learnt about the Moulins (as in Moulin Rouge) where the water cascades and spins into circles, carving a whole in the ice. The piles of sediment popping up nearby, into neat little (huge) termite mounds, is the result of this transfer of water.
On a clear summer’s day the ice is blue and can get up to 25°. Today, it was wet and getting dark, but you could see down the clear layers of ice to the ash in between, evidence of volcanic eruptions over the ages being compressed along with the layers of snow. It was simply incredible.
26 Sep. • JÖKULSÁRLÓN GLACIAL LAGOON •
This morning started with a very wet glacial lagoon ride on a hybrid boat. Remnants from the war that have been given new life thanks to the national tourism boom.
We saw a seal from the shore, rode around the various glaciers, and got to hold and even taste a small section brought to us by a lone scout (in a smaller boat able to get closer than we were to the dangerously unstable icebergs. They could have easily tipped and caused a mini tidal wave if we got too close. While the fog and rain made for limited views, the experience was still excellent.
On our way out, we visited the nearby Diamond Beach, where the crystal clear glacial pieces are washed ashore, after being polished by the waves. Lilly told us of the outrage one tourist had when she realised that the beach was scattered with something other than real diamonds. We were thankfully not so mislead, and enjoyed the views of the clear ice, black sand, and gorgeous glacial waters. Blake even found a pair of car keys dropped in the sand, and walking along figuring out what to do with them, managed to find their very relieved owner.
The rest of the day was filled with appreciation for not being the one driving, as we made our way along the East Fjords. Through constant rain, winding road, and through the most incredibly dense fog atop a mountain, we were ready for our next nights accommodation and some relaxation.
27 Sep. • SEYÐISFJÖRÐUR > SKRIÐUKLAUSTUR •
We said farewell to our little fishing village of Seyðisfjörður and headed into the highlands. After a stop at another waterfall (not life-changing, but still a nice spot), we drove through ‘the’ forest of Iceland. A place where they have planted a huge variety of trees to confirm what breeds grow best and can help
Lilly guided us through a magical forrest, between more trees than we’d seen on all of the island, and emerging next to a lake. Standing on the rocky edge she talked to us about runes, their historical significance as the messengers of Odin and the old Gods, and her interest in them in learning about a situation, people or advice. We where then each invited to reach into her crochet bag and retrieve a rune. They were all wrapped with their name and an English translation of their meaning. Should we feel uncomfortable or disconnected from its message, we could return and redraw, just the once, but if it felt significant and correct to us then it was to be retained. We were welcome to share our meaning, or keep it to ourselves, but given the closeness of our group we were all more than happy to share the meaning and reflect on the importance it places in our life.
Then a stop off at another visitor centre of Vatnajökulsþjóðgarðs National Park, with the most incredible projection display and touch table. Just down the path of fun obstacles was the home turn museum of Icelandic author, Gunnar Gunnarsson. A beautiful lunch spot. Blake discovered his favourite soup in the country, getting through around 6 bowls and a loaf of bread for a great price. I enjoyed the full buffet spread, the home made mains and desserts were too good to resist.
• RJÚKANDIFOSS > MÖÐRUDALUR •
Another beautiful waterfall along the way, and we reached our accommodation for the night. A stunning, warm and luxurious cottage on an eco farm, within the uninhabitable highlands.
We explored the small area, following the track across an expansive land, until a river meant we had to turn around. The setup included a family built church, and a long way out the back of the farm, into the desolate wastelands with ash rather than soil, up until the lack of a bridge forced us to turn around. Then I had a delicious dinner of Reindeer steak and we saw our first glimpse of the Northern Lights. Not actually as green as in phots, but even glimpsed between the clouds it was an incredible sight live across the sky.
28 Sep. • LAKE MÝVATN > SKÚTUSTAÐIR •
Today we saw Europe’s strongest waterfall, Dettifoss, in the barren wasteland nicknamed “Mordor”, the Mývatn area. With an insane mass of water falling to the abyss it was definately impressive. But we were much more enamoured by the nearby Selgoss with its pretty falls, stunning rocks and reflections. We saw the crater of Víti (Hell), saw the geothermal power plant of Krafla.
Then we found the place they make mud. Or used to mine sulphur anyway, the mudpools of Námaskarð. The geothermic mud pits are the result of active volcanic plains, hearing the water naturally and creating sources of green energy. The sulphuric smell was almost overpowering for me, but Blake had fun walking around.
We bathed in some geothermal pools, the geothermal baths of Mývatn for lunch. Much less crowded than the Blue Lagoon and just as strong in the minerals, with silky water that’s meant to do wonders for your skin. We enjoyed the hot springs, overlooking the volcanic hills and valleys. Then off on a beautiful walk through another magical forest, Dimmuborgir lavamaze (feat. sheep) and gathered in an Elf Church before heading onto our farmstay, seeing the Skútustaðir pseudocraters along the way, and to our accommodation for the night where we made a friend of the local Icelandic Sheepdog and enjoyed a night out in their naturally heated hot tub.
29 Sep. • AKUREÝRI > GAUKSMÝRI •
Today we started our journey north with a stop off at yet another waterfall, Goðafoss (Waterfall of the Gods). Then to the Grenivík village where we dressed for fashion and went out into Iceland’s longest fjord for whale watching trip with the Keili Seatours. The owner & captain were amazing at spotting and bringing us alongside the whales, we saw a heap of humpbacks up so close. It was incredible and Blake’s favourite part of the journey so far.
We explored the town of Akureýri over lunch, with its adorable heart traffic lights, and Blake and I wandered far down the road to Old Town, with museums (all closed on Sundays) and beautiful houses. It was the perfect way to enjoy our sunniest day yet. A drive (and nap) later, with a stop off at this old turf house church, the little turf church of Víðimýrarkirkja, and we are at our horse farm accommodation for the night.
Then we got an incredible show of Northern Lights. After our peek through the clouds the other night, and with such amazing blue skies all day, we were hopeful but unsure of what tonight would hold, and it totally exceeded all expectations. These pictures, though showing up more green than the human eye can see, just can’t capture the rapture and awe of the entire sky being covered in a spread of pulsating waves of light.
A truly spectacular phenomenon, it was hard to drag ourselves away back inside the warm and to bed, even once the incredible display had cycled through for us twice already.
30 Sep. • SNÆFELLSNES PENINSULA •
A quick farewell to the horses at Gauksmýri and we hit the road west toward Snaefellesnes Peninsula. Stopping at the Glanni waterfall, Vatnaleið the volcanic valley, Djúpalónsandur beach, and Lónsdrangar, we had heaps of beautiful photo opportunities along the way.
Then we reached our evening accommodation at Lýsuhóll where I rode Icelandic horse down to the rocky beach at sunset surrounded by incredible views. After an incredible home made dinner – like home made in their kitchen and seated around their dining table, and the most delicious feast we’ve had yet – we slept in small cabins with a beautiful view of Snæfellsjökullglacier and it’s volcano.
1 Oct. • REYKJAVIK •
Quickly bringing our last day in the countryside, we completed our circle tour and returned to Reykjavik. It was a whirlwind journey and it was so hard to say goodbye to our little Intrepid’s family tonight, with a group lunch where we farewelled our incredible guide/driver/expert/champion, Lilly, then the rest of us couldn’t bare to have it end so had dinner together and said our farewells. Truly a life-changing experience.
And then onto Norway…