When our 2010 trip was rudely interrupted by a certain volcano bringing the world to a standstill, Iceland had always been on the list for sooner rather than later. A chat with friends earlier in the year bought it further forward when they said they fancied a weekend away and somewhere they wouldn’t normally go – so Iceland it was! So six months planning became a 4am taxi to Luton Airport for our delux Easyjet flight to Reykjavik and at 9am on Thursday morning we touched down in Keflavik with a mission to see as much of the island as possible before we left again late Monday afternoon. One of the major decisions we agonised over was car hire as we had read nightmare stories about the car hire companies in Iceland. We booked through www.holidayautos.co.uk who were far cheaper than all the major and local companies (something which immediately aroused suspicion) but had no issues with them and their local agent Thrifty. We hired a Ford Kuga (great for four adults and luggage) and after a walk round with the agent to inspect the car it was off into the lava fields on the main road to Reykjavik. Driving in Iceland is pretty simple and if you want to go anywhere outside the capital you are going to use the only motorway, Route 1 which runs around the island with a spur off to the airport in the south west corner. Accommodation had been easy to book – we used www.redappleapartments.com and the choice was huge (and for those who cannot be without the internet, yes us, most had free wifi). After a slight hiccup in collecting the keys which resulted in us finding our way around Reykjavik a little more quickly than we anticipated after walking across town and back again, we found our apartment which was ideally located at the quieter end of the main street, Laugavegur, so close to the shops, bars and restaurants. So all settled in, it was time to start the weekend properly – find a bar! Place of choice was the Lebowski Bar, an American diner and bowling alley styled place (coincidentally the film The Great Lebowski is one of June’s favourite films) for happy hour. Before the financial crisis drinking in Iceland was ridiculously expensive (wine still not cheap so we bought some duty free on arrival at Keflavik) but current exchange rates have made it no different to a night out in London. After a few beers food was required and with Bob keen to try some local delicacies, we found the ideal place:
None of us was keen to try whale on principle but the boys went for the puffin menu. We all tried a bit, as you have to, and of the four of us Bob was the only one who said he’d have it again! Up early again Friday morning with the plan to head to Jokulsarlon, a 400km drive from Reykjavik, to the glacier lagoon where icebergs break away from Europe’s largest icecap and head out to sea. However as started to head over the higher ground on Route 1 to the south east of Reykjavik, visibility was almost non-existent so it was decided to go to plan B and not risk five hours in the car (each way!) with not being able to see a thing. At this point we didn’t actually have a plan B so there was nothing for it but find a coffee shop (#clewleystopsforcoffee knows no geographical boundaries!) and get the maps and guidebooks out. Plan B turned out to be waterfall day with the falls getting gradually more spectacular as the day went on – we couldn’t have planned it better if we tried! Stop 1 was Seljalandsfoss where you can walk behind the curtain of water running off the Eyjafjallajokul icecap (yes, that volcano again).
From there it was on to Skogafoss where the water plunges around 60m onto the gravel and ash – the noise and force of the water is amazing. There is also a staircase here up the side of the fall to a platform at the top where as well as a great view of the waterfall, you can also see the coast but the weather wasn’t on our side for that.
Our final waterfall was Gullfoss, part of The Golden Circle of tourist attractions and certainly one of the most spectacular.
Continuing the water theme we moved on to the hot springs at Geysir. Geysir itself doesn’t do too much at the moment but Strokkur erupts every few minutes and if you’re standing
in the wrong place then it’s time for a soaking! The colours of the pools are an incredible shade of blue with all the dissolved minerals they hold.
Back in Reykjavik for dinner but nothing quite so exotic tonight – pasta and burgers at Restaurant 73. Great food serving locally brewed beers. Highly recommended. Saturday’s trip was to the Snaefellsjokull National Park on the west coast. The weather was better today and we were able to see the ever changing scenery – moss covered lava fields, soaring volcanoes and snow capped mountains. All being keen photographers (between us we had 5 cameras and 4 phones on us at all times and then of course an additional phone plus 4 iPads in the apartment!) every car journey was probably 50% longer that it should be as we were constantly stopping to take snaps. We drove around the peninsula on the coast road and had great fun on the north coast just trying to get out of the car in the wind. The coast here is wild and rugged and the wind whips across the northern Atlantic – great to look at though when sitting somewhere warm and dry although that sadly turned out only to be the car as most places seem to have closed up for the winter (this was the second weekend in October). We decided that on the way back we go via Pingvellir National Park, the third part of the Golden Circle with Gullfoss and Geysir. Having checked the map there was a clear road labelled “Major route” however June missed the most vital words – “loose surface”…. Having no
idea if we were insured or not (insurance is very specific on the types on road you can drive on and this road was a mixture of black top and condensed gravel) we drove very gingerly for about 60km arriving at Pingvellir just as the light was starting to fade. We did however get to see where Iceland is literally ripping apart as the North American and European tectonic plates move away from each other. With a forecast of good weather for Sunday it was up before dawn to do the long drive over to Jokulsarlon and what a difference a couple of
days made! We were able to see for miles and in addition to the lava and mountains, we drove through the ashfields of the 2010 eruption and had clear views through to Eyjafjallajokul with its white cap stunning against the bright blue sky. As we moved further east we drove through mile after mile of black ash but only at one point is the road still under repair – quite a miracle really considering the devastation caused. Plant life is just starting to grow but it’s still very bleak until you get towards Skaftafell National Park where tongues of the glacier flow through gaps in the mountain out on to the plains.. The sat nav said 4.5 hours for this journey but you can imagine the number of stops for pictures (and coffee of course) but nothing prepared us for the final bend in the road as we approached Jokulsarlon.
Despite spending almost 6 hours on the road, there was a collective gasp from the car as we saw the icebergs on the lagoon. Lunch was a quick affair as we wanted to get out on the amphibious boat on the lagoon – well worth doing at about £20 per person for about 45 minutes spent out on the water. You get a little history and geology thrown in and the chance to taste 1000 year old ice straight out of the water. From there it was down to the beach where the icebergs who escape the lagoon find themselves. Words cannot describe the beauty of this place – black sand, grey seas and blue/white icebergs and I hate to think how many pictures we have but the location was well worth the journey and I would put this place at the top of places to see in Iceland. It took a lot to drag ourselves away but it had to be done as dinner had to be found somewhere on the route home. We ate a few times in service stations and were amazed at the standard of food – no plates sitting under hot lamps and everything cooked to order!
Our final morning was spent at the Blue Lagoon on the way to the airport; no need to worry about hauling home wet towels as everything (including swimwear is required) can be hired. We had wanted to do some shopping before leaving but it seems people in Reykjavik are not early risers and nothing opens until 10/11am but leaving a bit earlier meant our timing for the Blue Lagoon was perfect with no queues and plenty of room in the changing rooms (this had totally reversed by the time we left as coach loads had arrived). This is a great place to chill out (if we come back again June might have to find an excuse for one of the spa treatments) and there’s even a bar in the middle of the pool but as we were leaving around 12.30 it was getting very busy.
It’s only a short hop from the Blue Lagoon back to the airport for some shopping, lunch and maybe a glass or two of wine or beer before boarding our Icelandair light home (it was no more expensive to use different airlines for each leg and the timings worked out better doing so). From the dials on the car, we covered around 2000km in our short time in Iceland but loved every moment of it. Will we go back? Yes hopefully as there is still so much more to see and do. We’d like to do some walking next time and actually get out on one of the glaciers, and maybe a dip in one of the geothermally heated outdoor pools. Our one disappointment was not seeing the Northern Lights and Sod’s Law being what it is, the display was spectacular the night we left and was so good the following night that they switched the lights off in Reykjavik so everyone could see them in their glory.