Iceland – The Ring Road In a Camper Van – Part 2
It is day 4 of our Iceland road trip and we left the small fishing town of Hofn behind and continued on the Ring Road (Route 1) towards the East Fjords. We knew that today was going to be specially scenic, we have driven more than 650 km from Iceland’s Capital and we started noticing that there is hardly anyone on the road. We travelled on a virtually empty road for ages before we come across another car. We are now too far for day trippers from Reykjavik and also this region is very sparsely populated and therefore road traffic here is very minimal. As our little van climbs higher and higher the drama starts unfolding, and we get more and more excited to see what is around the next hairpin bend on the road as sheer mountain side drops etched with waterfalls reveal themselves in one side of the road and the cold waters of the sea in the other.
The road is good and all tarmac, but quite narrow in places, and bridges are often one lane. Some of the mountains are dark with jagged edges and deep fissures carved by the snow melting and running down the mountain side forming pretty waterfalls; we lost count of how many waterfalls we have seen. We pass through little fishing villages that feel lost in the vast openness of the landscape, small farm houses in idyllic locations by the base of a mountain or by a lake side with views that go on for ever. There was stillness and silence and we felt like we had it all to ourselves. The air was crisp and fresh but did not feel cold, the sun was shining with the occasional cloud overhead. I wanted time to stop and that moment to go on forever, and although we drove quite a lot of miles we did not feel tired at all as the beauty of our surroundings was so calming and relaxing.
We stopped at various places to take pictures or just take in the views or walk along a small trail on a cliff top, it was an overdose of beautiful and dramatic landscapes with gorgeous Autumn colours and ice capped mountains. My pictures don’t even come close to doing justice to what we experienced on the East Fjords.
We travelled through the highest highway pass in Iceland at 632 meters high, via a single lane 630 meters long tunnel to visit Neskaupstadur, a little D-tour that was so worthwhile if only for the nerve wrecking cross of the mountain pass. As we entered the tunnel we noticed the headlight of a large 4X4 coming towards us, so Brian had to quickly reverse out of the tunnel – luckily we were not too far into it and managed to get out of the way of both the 4X4 car and a police car that was driving behind it. Once at the other side of the tunnel the road drops down into the town of Neskaupstadur, which is at the end of the line. A little town that prospered during the herring boom, it has the biggest fish-processing and freezing plant in Iceland which looks out of place in this little town. After a quick look around we drove back up again for another go at the nerve wrecking tunnel.
We finished our 4th day at a lovely lake side camp-site in Egilsstadir and although the Camp- site looked closed and there was no warden or anyone there, the toilet facilities were open and so we made ourselves comfortable by the lovely lake to watch the sunset. We noticed large swarms of midges all around the lake and my heart sank thinking our idyllic setting is now totally spoiled by these little buzzing creatures, but as soon as the sun started setting and the air got a little cooler the midges disappeared leaving us to enjoy this peaceful lake side beauty spot…bliss!
Day 5 sees us driving North towards Dettifoss, the largest waterfall in Iceland in terms of volume of water and reputed to be the most powerful in Europe. It is 100 meters (330 ft) wide and a drop of about 45 meters (150 ft) down into Jokulsargljufur Canyon. To access Dettifoss we came off Route 1 and joined the tarmac paved Route 862 that leads into the West side of the Waterfall. It is also possible to access it from the East side via a gravel road Route 864, but we did not visit the East side. There is a large car park and toilet facilities, and it was not particularly busy when we visited but in the summer months apparently it can get quite busy. From the car park it is about 15 minutes gentle down hill, there is well marked trails through what it looks like a post apocalypse landscape of dark lava and volcanic ash terrain in itself a very interesting and surreal experience. You can hear the thundering of the falls before you can see it and get very close and personal with this fabulous force of nature. Dettifoss falls from the Canyon’s edge into a gorge with such force that it projects a huge plume of spray up in the air and as the sun shines on it beautiful double rainbows are formed. I lost count of how many beautiful rainbows we saw as we stared down into this mighty roaring waterfall.
Back on Route 1 we are now driving towards the Myvatn Region an area of turbulent geological activity as fierce volcanic eruptions have created and transformed this area, The volcanic zone in this area lies on the boundary of the Eurasian and American Tectonic plates, as the plates move at a rate of about 2 cm every year, volcanic lava wells up between the plates and fills up the ridge . There are a group of lava craters also know as pseudo craters or rootless vents on the shores of Lake Myvatn and also form little islets on the Lake. The formation of lava lakes created by the pseudo craters eventually gave way to the formation of a forest of rock pillars the biggest of which is called Dimmuborgir. All geologic formations in this area are quite recent dating from the Ice Age and the glacial periods. It is a little nerve wrecking to think of what is going on underground as hot magma sits quietly and deadly waiting to burst out!
From Route 1 as we approached Myvatn an awful smell hit us and then we saw it, just in from of us the red/orange lunar-like landscape of Hverir with it’s belching mud flaps and boiling cauldrons, steaming vents and piping fumaroles that hiss a strange noise as steam jets out from the ground below. We parked the car already holding our noses, but totally mesmerised by the most strange and surreal of landscapes.
We found a lovely camp site with very good facilities and got ready to visit the Myvatn Nature Baths, Northern Iceland’s answer to the Blue Lagoon but a lot smaller and less busy. We loved spending a few hours soaking on the warm, milky and mineral rich water whilst taking in the panoramic views of its surrounding. Already late afternoon, the air was cool but the water was lovely and warm and we did not feel cold at all.
All this relaxing in the warm waters of the Nature Baths gave us a ravenous appetite so we found a fantastic place to eat just a stone’s throw from our camp site, called Vogafjos also known as The Cow Shed. It is located at a dairy farm, surrounded by lush countryside and you can eat a meal with either views over the lush country side or of the farmers milking the cows in the shed which is fully visible from a glass window connected to the restaurant. The food is all about the local produce and it was just divine, a great way to finish off another outstanding day of exploring Iceland.
We wake up to beautiful sunshine and once again a Happy Camper van is parked right next to ours and like every morning we jokingly cursed them for ” stealing ” our van!! It went like this,” look, those b…ds they have our van!”….. originally that was the camper van we wanted, bigger and better designed than ours. I venture outside for a snoop into their van and get caught in a conversation with the lovely German couple Marie and Paul, who reported that originally they had booked the smaller van, but ended up with the larger one for the same price. They borrow my little lap top to transfer some photos from one full card to another with some space whilst Marie and I carry on chatting. They remind us of our children and we felt bad about all the early cursing, it is not their fault that all the Happy Campers van’s were booked out by the time we decided what van to go for. Often the people you meet on the road greatly enhance your travelling experience, and thank you Paul we enjoyed the chocolate from your home town.
After breakfast in the great kitchen facilities of our camp site we spent some more time in the Myvatn area and visited Dimmiborgir which means “dark castles” named after the giant jagged lava formations and we walked some of the trails among these solidified lava creations, the Autumn colours against the black volcanic rock made it all even more stunning.
We also stopped briefly at Grjotagia, a gaping fissure and cave filled with very hot water. We visited it in the morning with the sun filtering through, bathing in the cave’s hot water is not possible since the temperature of the water is about 45 degrees C and far too hot for bathing.
We then got back on the road and travelled North to the fishing town of Husavik, where we wanted to do a whale watching tour. So we arrived there near lunch time and booked ourselves into the Gentle Giants tour that was due to depart at 1:30 pm from the Harbour. We boarded the boat and got all kitted out for the tour. Unfortunately we did not see the whales, although we did see some playful Harbour Porpoises and loved the beautiful scenery of snow capped peaks and small water falls coming down the mountains and falling into the sea. It was also lovely to see Husavik from the water as we approached on the way back. Because we did not spot any whales we were offered another tour for free that we could have taken early next morning, but unfortunately we did not have enough time to take them up on their generous and very fair offer.
We stayed overnight at a camp site near the harbour and had dinner at this charming and homely wood chalet style fish restaurant (see picture below) right by the harbour. The sea food was delicious and so fresh as we chose to eat the catch of the day. And like everywhere else we visited in this wonderful country, the staff were very friendly and welcoming.
On our day 5 we did the shortest drive and it was nice to slow the pace a little, see below in green our route to Husavik.
Day 6 and our longest drive, with our first stop at yet another beautiful waterfall. This time Godafoss “Waterfall of the Gods”.
Next we arrived at Akureyri, Iceland’s second largest city and Capital of North Iceland. Although only about 18,000 people live here, it is compact and charming, sitting prettily by the snow capped peaks and not far from the Arctic Circle. The air is fresh, the centre was lively with nice café’s and restaurants and so we decided to have our lunch at the “Akureyri Backpackers Hostel” in the heart of the town with its cool travellers vibe and fantastic coffee and snack meals. I noticed that at every place we have eaten on display they will have jugs of water and glasses, so you can just help yourself to a drink of water; I found it to be such a great custom in particular because the water is Iceland is the best I have ever tasted anywhere.
With our bellies full we carried on all the way down to the Snaefellsnes Peninsula, with lots more stops at scenic and interesting places.
We arrived early evening at Borganes which is at the start of the Peninsula and started searching for a place to stay overnight. It took us some time to find an open camp site, and in fact we ended up staying in a camp site that was actually closed so the toilet facilities were locked up. We were able to use an outside sink and running water to cook our miserable dinner of pot noodles, since we were so tired and had no energy to go looking for a restaurant to eat. That was our last night in our little camper van; our love-hate relationship with our van reached our limits of how much we were prepared to “rough it” so to speak. so we decided that the next day after exploring the beautiful Snaefellsnes Peninsula we would head towards the bright lights of Iceland’s Capital and the comforts of the lovely Hotel Hilda, nicely located in the centre of the action and within walking distance of all the attractions we wanted to see in Reykjavik.
Originally our plan was not to spend any time in the Capital, but I am so glad we changed our plans after my meltdown in the camper van and Brian had to take control of the situation and make the executive decision of booking us into a lovely hotel in Reykjavik. I don’t think you appreciate the comforts of a soft warm bed and a “en suite” until you don’t have it. There is only so much adventure a girl can handle and although I don’t regret for one second our camper van road trip, it was time to get back into my comfort zone. Enough of pot noodles and middle-of-the-night walks to the camp-site toilets! We would have a camper van again to explore Iceland in a heartbeat, but maybe in the future we would choose a bigger van instead.
Day 7 we managed to drive all round the beautiful Snaefellsnes Peninsula situated in Western Iceland and again an area of incredible geological activity including the Snaefellsjokull Volcano, regarded as one of the symbols of Iceland. It has a glacier at its peak and apparently it was the setting for the novel ” Journey to the Center of Earth” by Jules Verne. The area around it has been designated a National Park .
Later in the afternoon we headed towards the bright lights of Iceland’s Capital and the comforts of the lovely Hotel Hilda. See below in green our route on day 7.
With a great night’s sleep and renewed energy we spent our last full day in Iceland exploring this charming place, the world’s Northernmost capital of a sovereign state with a population of around 120,000 people. It is know as one of the cleanest and safest cities in the world and we can certainly vouch for that. We wanted to visit The National Museum of Iceland to learn more about its settlement history and cultural heritage and I also wanted to get a birds eye view of the city from the tower of the Lutheran Church Hallgrimskirkja. We walked around old and new Reykjavik, looking at modern buildings like the glistening Harpa, but also enjoyed the more traditional buildings, colourful and quirky architecture and houses made of corrugated iron. We also loved the old harbour area and exploring at night when the city light’s up and all the cool bars, restaurants and café’s come to life.
We also recommend the very humble harbour restaurant called Sagreiffin or Seabaron, serving totally delicious lobster soup and you can also choose from a fridge full of fresh fish skewers that can be grilled for you and brought to your very humble and often shared table. This place has a very laid back and authentic vibe. The prices are also very friendly to your pocket, we ate here on a recommendation from the friendly receptionist at our hotel on our first night in the Iceland Capital. It is a gem of a place.
Day 9 and after a wholesome breakfast at our hotel we packed our bags back into our camper van and headed for the Blue Lagoon. I did not want to leave Iceland without a soak in the warm waters of this geothermal pool set amid an incredible black lava field. The water is a balmy 38 degrees C and it is mineral rich with some blue-green algae and the added benefit of smooth silica mud which is supposed to be very good for your skin. I recommend that you watch the short promotional film made by the company that run this very commercialized place in order to know what to do and expect. But basically at check in you are given a bracelet that lets you get through the gates, open you locker at the large and well organized changing rooms and you can also use it to pay for drinks etc.. at the pool bar. You have to shower before entering the pool in the open showers or in the private shower cubicles, preferably in the nude. I took my own towel, but I did hire a robe to keep me warm on the way in and on the way out of the pool, I also took my Havaiana flip flops and left them by the side of the pool until ready to come out. There are places to hang the robe by the pool, but I just left it on top of a chair and no one touched it. We loved the experience. We got hold of some silica which you can get from various boxes placed around the pool and I covered my face and Brian’s with it for few minutes before rinsing it off. My skin did feel nice and soft afterwards. Do remember to put LOTS of conditioner into your hair since the minerals in the pool water are not very kind to your hair. Conditioner and shampoo are included in you ticket price and there are big tubs of both in the changing rooms. The Pool area is quite big and we explored it well; there is a steam room, a funky cave and a waterfall which you can stand under to massage your back. We loved the whole experience and although it is a little pricey I did think it was well worth it. We also had our lunch at the Blue Lagoon Restaurant since we were very hungry and did not want to wait until we got to the Airport.
After our lovely and relaxing soak in the Blue Lagoon and our meal at the Blue Lagoon restaurant we got back on our camper van and drove the short distance to the large Warehouse where we had picked up our camper van 9 days earlier, located very near the Airport.
Sadly it was the end of our road trip in Iceland and what an incredible adventure we had. It is an extraordinary country that has totally surprised and captivated us. I loved Iceland’s stunning and varied landscapes, raw nature, warm and friendly people, and I left feeling that there is so much more I want to experience that another trip to Iceland in the future is a must, perhaps next time in the winter.
Once again apologies for the incorrect spelling of the Icelandic words and names of places also apologies that my pictures don’t do justice to this stunning Country. My next post will be on how much this road trip cost us and some essential information and tips.