Iceland, sparsely populated but abundant in natural wonders
I’m just back from a four-day road trip around Iceland with Simon, which couldn’t have been more needed as I was starting to run myself into the ground. In order to fully feel the benefit of the time away we both agreed to disconnect 3G/WiFi and just be completely present in the incredible surroundings we were visiting. The one thing we didn’t give up though were our cameras. These go with us our on all our adventures and are the reason we met when we both joined an evening photography class. Using photos and the odd paragraph or two I’ve documented our adventures around the island, day by day, and the stunning natural beauty spots we found along the way:
We pick up our hire car and the road trip begins along Route 1 – the ring road that runs around the island. Our first stop is in Iceland’s capital city, Reykjavík which lies on the coast. After dumping our bags at our hostel we explore the town centre, which is a quirky place with lots of brightly coloured buildings, a shipwreck and graffiti murals dotted all over.
Hungry from travelling we find a local bar that claims to sell “the best soup in town”. It’s not an exaggeration. There is a meat and a vegetable option and we both go for the tandoori chicken with beef, pepperoni and vegetables. It may sound like a strange mix, but it was spicy, creamy and delicious – the perfect medicine to warm our shivering bodies, which were in full shock mode from the severe temperature change.
A word of warning though if you are travelling to Iceland – everything is vastly expensive by UK standards and our soups and soft drink came to almost £30
One of the attractions Iceland is most famous for is The Blue Lagoon, a geothermal spa set inside an ancient lava field, on the Reykjanes peninsula and one of the 25 Wonders of the World. We’d hoped to visit it by day in order to marvel at the vivid blue water but unfortunately, all the slots were full, making our only option a night visit.
I don’t trust myself at the best of times with gadgets anywhere near water but in the pitch dark it’s going to be more hazardous and frankly pointless, so I haven’t any of my own photos of the incredible lagoon. Instead, here’s one from the attraction’s own website so you don’t just have to imagine what it’s like.
As well as the spectacular views there’s also a swim-up bar and free face masks which can be applied in the water. For those lucky enough not to worry about a budget, you can also book an in-water massage – if only we were millionaires…
For me, the Blue Lagoon was the highlight of the whole trip (even in the pitch black) so if you plan to go, do put this top of your list and book a day slot well in advance. You can stop off en route, from or to Keflavík International Airport airport (since it’s only 20 minutes from it).
From Reykjavík, we then drove South West to Þingvellir – one of the few places in the world where you are able to easily see the effects of two major tectonic plates drifting apart, above sea level. Unfortunately, the weather was dreadful and the visibility too poor to see it. I was also very unwell this day too so it was bed all day for me, whilst Simon went exploring alone.
This was an action-packed day beginning with a visit to the Strokkur Geyser beside the Hvítá River. The geyser is a huge fountain of boiling hot water (approximately 80°C) that erupts from the ground every 5-8 minutes spraying the land, and you if you happen to be too close. The eruptions tower between 15 and 20 metres high but sometimes as high as 40 metres!
Next up is the Seljalandsfoss, one of Iceland’s best-known waterfalls, right by Route 1. What we didn’t realise, and I wish I’d known at the time, is you can walk behind the waterfall into a small cave.
As we head to the village of Vik, almost by accident, we spot a glacier in the distance and decide to take a slight detour to explore. When we get closer the landscape takes our breath away.
A brilliant white glacier rises up from charcoal black sands, a short distance from the sea and on top of the volcanic rocky landscape, green moss is sprinkled contrasting vibrant colours against the dark land. The Glacier is called Myrdalsjökull and we soon discover one of Iceland’s most infamous central volcanoes, Katla, is hidden beneath it.
Our final stop is at Reynisfjara (Black Sand Beach) where we have high hopes to see The Northern Lights – but the weather is not on our side and the skies are cloudy. It’s still a very beautiful sight to behold though and there are numerous points of interest to snap photos of, including the Gardar – a cliff of regular basalt columns that are akin to a rocky step pyramid.
Out at sea and visible from the beach, there are also two striking black basalt sea stacks, called the Reynisdrangar. The violent waves crash against the black pebble beach here and we are warned that the sea has recently swept a careless tourist out their death. We go as close to the waves as we dare and then retreat to the cafe for a warm hot chocolate as the darkness draws in.
Our final day is slightly tempered by the realisation that I have left my brand new tripod in the Black Sand Beach cafe and the weather is at its worst since we arrived. It’s scarily windy and hammering down rain, making the chance to visit any more sites challenging. We have to return the hire car for 1:30pm too, so we conclude our adventure and head back. As we drive home and I admire the views, I muse how Iceland is really unlike anywhere I’ve ever been and how similar to the moon it is – vast, rocky and barren. Four days wasn’t nearly enough time to see all the wonders the island has to offer so I’ll be back again, and hopefully more successful in catching the Northern Lights.
Useful links for planning a trip to Iceland: