Touring: Iceland


My 2000+ km driving route, not exactly spoilt for options in Iceland.

I have always wanted to go to Iceland. But I've only wanted to go in the same sort of way that 'I have always wanted to go to' the Shetland Islands and lots of other less obvious 'holiday' places. Had I really wanted to go that much I'm pretty sure I wouldn't have taken 48 years to get on a plane to Keflavik.

Mini 360 tour

The truth is that Iceland is one of those places that doesn't grab you for a summer get-away (it has the word 'ice' in it after all) and it doesn't appeal in the winter (we usually have enough ice of our own).

The 'Caddywagon' - with double bed, a fridge, chairs and table, lots of storage and a 'cooker'. Which I broke.

A wrong turn took us through Rejkavik's warehouse district, which was fortunate as I chanced upon some warehouse murals I'd wanted to see.

Reyjkavik

Upon arrival we had an unfortunate wait for someone with a sign to appear in Keflavík arrivals hall. I had started to consider just how easy it would be to create a fake camper hire website for overly trusting tourists. Fortunately, Iceland being one of the least criminal nations in the world this was not the case and I suspect a disorganised youth had been made responsible for morning airport runs. He had probably just got up late.

Keflavík isn't too far from Rejkavik, so were soon in its midst. It's not very large and one of its main landmarks, Hallgrímskirkja, is clearly visible whislt driving in.

[Left] Hallgrímskirkja, the rocketey cathedral. [Right] Reykjavik concert hall interior.

Reykjavik's colourful houses. It pays to brighten up such a harsh environment as best you can.

And so we left Reykjavik and ventured into Þingvellir national park along empty roads and under heavy skies and with a general surprise at the lack of humans.

[Left] The Rift walkway in Þingvellir national park. The first of many things used in Game of Thrones. [Right] One of many Þingvellir smaller waterfalls.

Gulfoss waterfall, about 10pm. No rest for the sun at this time of year, but with most of the natural attractions open 24/7 a great time to escape any crowds. (But you need a few people to understand the scale).

Þingvellir National Park

Þingvellir national park is an active geothermal area, so hot springs and gisers are abound. This one builds to a hot watery fountain every five minutes or so

Driving into the North West. The first of a couple of vistas where after driving over a ridge it took a while to understand what I was looking at. Here it was an enormous flat plain adjoining the sea. Enough flat space to see both ends of a rainbow.

The '1' is the main paved ring road, and most of the few interior roads need a 4X4 so can't be driven in the VW Caddy camper I hired. On leaving Þingvellir my only routing dilemma was whether to start clockwise or anti-clockwise. I decided on clockwise as good weather seemed to be moving around in that direction, which turned out to be a good decision.

Glacial valley, Þjóðvegur with dramatic cloud shadows.

Some beautiful roads in every respect up through this part of Iceland.

Huge plains amplify the enormous skies. Distant mountains loom... and odd things that looks like very steeply cliffed islands lurk on the horizon.

The North

Camping for the night at the 'Camp site across the river' in Varmahlíð. It finaly decided to be really sunny at 11pm.


Left] Cheap instant camp coffee time. [Right] Icelandic Horse farm

Another wide, and mostly empty glacial valley.

Goðafoss waterfall in the Bárðardalur district.

Within a couple of days we were up in the north heading north east towards the geothermal region of Hverir.

Housing and farms in the north choose a toy-like shade of blue to contrast with the landscape. Beautiful landscapes, but teenagers still stare at phones.

Hverir and Myvatn

Volcanic silhouettes and hot spring lava caves (featured in Game of Thrones of course...)

Hverfjell. A 2500 year old tephra crater. 1000m across it's caldera and a 420 metres high.

Not the Blue Lagoon, instead Myvatn Nature Baths, a quieter and cheaper alternative.

Hot mud pools of Namafjall. A delicious honk of sulphur.

Then suddenly... we're on Mars.

Vatnajökull National Park

Mars, but with waterfalls. After a 28km drive down a rutted, gravel road which took ages, and was ludicrously dusty we eventually reached the jewel of the north, Detifoss waterall and the beautiful Selfoss.

Dettifoss. No safety rails here, and one of the reasons Ridley Scott filmed the start of Prometheus here, as there are no restrictions to standing right on the edge.

Selfoss, a 10 minutes walk up river from Detifoss. Simply stunning.

Curious rounded mountains in the East of Vatnajökull National Park

Lupins Lupins Everywhere...

Camping near Hofell with icelandic sheep keeping watch.

Looking serene, but just over those peaks is Katla, the most dangerous of icelandic volcano/glacier combinations.

Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon. The huge glacier, Vatnajökull has a meltwater lagoon into which large pieces of glacier break off and drift eventually out to sea.

[Left] A very high waterfall, and people living in a region that would be devastated by glacial floods if Katla blows. [Right] The vast Eldhraun lava fields in the south were created in one of the greatest eruptions in recorded history 1783 to 1784 - and is known as the Skaftareldar (The skafta River Fires). The moss loves it.

Vik beach, or 'black sand beach' as it is imaginatively known. A bit of an ominous evening light. Stacks loom just offshore.

Caves and bassalt volcanic rock formations.

The basalt rock formations at Vik beach and Seljalandsfoss.

Skógafoss waterfall. We managed to camp for the night right next to it.

We walked to Mýrdalsjökull, 'The Black Glacier', the icecap covering active volcano Katla which has a caldera 10 km across. Slightly worrisome.

[Left] The looming gorge draining down into the Mýrdalsjökull glacial lake.
[Right] A 2 mile walk out to the wreck of a plane.

In 1973 a United States Navy DC plane ran out of fuel and crashed on the huge black beach at Sólheimasandur, on the south coast of Iceland.

Finally, a decent coffee.

Bjarnarey island from the ferry out to Heimaey. I wonder who lives here. Turns out there's a lot of speculation on the internet for here and the next-door island of Elliðaey. Maybe one of them really is Björks retreat.

Vestmannaeyjar Islands

[Top] Cliff birds.
[Left] The mural painter has been to Heimaey too it seems. [Right] More Icelandic ponies.

The colourful town on Heimaey

Lovely coloured pummice and tephra.

Heimaey is basically a massive volcano with a few vents. People live there. Sometimes they die. Only one person died during the last eruption of Eldfell in 1973. Worryingly, the town at it's foot is now much bigger.

Climbing Eldfell. We decided to take the path less travelled - i.e. straight up the side. The town sits right below. Pompeii and Naples it isn't, but it has potential to go badly at some point in the future.

[Left] A very peaceful Helgafell. [Right] More Icelandic ponies

View from the top of Eldfell looking over Helgafell and the rest of the Vestmannaeyjar, including Surtsey.

[Left] The Pompei of the North, as it's known. These crosses mark where houses and buildings once stood, before the lava swamped them.
[Right] Randomly drying fish bits (for the tourists I presume?).

A bird. But it's not a puffin. Just call me an ornithologist.

Back inland, this time it is The Blue Lagoon.

Having existed in a small van for eight days, the Blue Lagoon was a welcome treat to soak away the squalor of the miles.

[Left] Traditional stone sculpture. [Right] We attempted to climb a near vertical mountain by way of slippery ladders. After already climbing two volcanoes that day we gave up, it was a bit risky and we were a bit knackered.

If or when I ever return, I plan to do it in something a little more substantial so I can get into the centre of Iceland.

[Left] Some traditional turf roofed huts. [Right] The Viking Museum at Kef as we await to travel home, circuit complete.

Epic. Vast. Unpredictable. I hope I return.