It has always been a dream of mine to see Iceland, when i caught The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty i got so catalytically inspired and it catapulted the idea from a fantasy into reality as i started researching routes, costs and details about Iceland. I will share some of them here for those who have the same interest in self-driving Iceland.
For our trip we didn't make the whole Ring Road as we had to detour from the South-East back to the West as a snowstorm had deemed most roads impassable through the East and North during our dates, but ill get into that in detail later. It was hands-down the greatest trip i've had driving 1,900km (1,180mi) in our 4x4 Volvo XC60, the raw and pure beauty of Iceland gets to you, how colossal everything was compared to ourselves, how wild, scary and thrilling nature can really be.
“We need the tonic of wildness...At the same time that we are earnest to explore and learn all things, we require that all things be mysterious and unexplorable, that land and sea be indefinitely wild, unsurveyed and unfathomed by us because unfathomable. We can never have enough of nature.”
― Henry David Thoreau, Walden
Here is a topographical map of Iceland with the route that we drove, what a massive place and I feel i've only scratched the surface, currently planning another trip there for January 16, definitely visiting the North this time. Winter Is Coming.
My travelling partners on this trip were 2 of my closest friends, Janelle and Haziq. We flew Finnair from Singapore with a long layover in Helsinki so we could also explore a bit of the city before moving on to Iceland, so we made use of the 6-8 hours we had to soak up the city, not much really, Cafes, stores, european architecture, cool churches, amazing Scandinavian product design stores but that's about it for me for Helsinki, I was prepared for the gritty raw nature.
We left Helsinki for our Icelandair connection and we were rewarded with a mid-day aerial view of the Icelandic highlands from the plane. So on April 24th, it was actually the first or second day of Summer, we got off the plane to SNOW. I think it was 3 Degree Celsius if I remembered correctly. That was very interesting to see, most of the asian passengers ran through the doors and were putting on more layers (hilarious to watch) so a tip to wear a couple more layers if you can, weather is very unpredictable. We got through security pretty quick there weren't that many people around, we went straight for the duty free shops for some supplies for the road but it ended up being Gum, Gummies and mini alcohol bottles. Haribos were immensely crucial to my driving on the roads, I was the only driver so frozen sweets definitely kept me awake.
We went out of the gates and a couple of guys from Thrifty.is were waiting for us to give us a lift to their office where the Volvo we were renting would be. Thrifty was pretty awesome and they had good reviews so i went with them, there are a couple of dogdy rental companies around so i would recommend a thorough google session for this. Reached the office, paid for the car and the insurance and we swiftly got our keys. Now speaking of insurance, it still is the thing you dont really need until you need it, theres the basic package, premium package and also the additional sand and ash add-ons. Read the fine print carefully! Basic package that is usually included doesnt really cover much, premium's got better coverage and sand and ash would save your ass. We were in sandstorms, covered in Volcanic Ash and we drove on gravel and sand that pummelled the car hard, by the end of the trip I had a good cleaning session just trying to get sand/ash and diesel stains off the surface of the car.
So apart from getting the car, the only other plan we had for the day (it was probably about 5-6pm) was to go to the ultra touristy Blue Lagoon or Bláa Lónið. This is the lagoon where Björk and her son was photographed by Juergen Teller way back in 1993. The entry fee for the lagoon was 30 Euros for entry and the use of the showers which was highly recommended/mandatory. It was fairly pricey but i just wanted to enjoy it and experience it at least once. The silica mud was great, the temperature in contrast with the air was so comfortable, the mist that encapsulates the whole area was magical in the sun too which was a visual bonus. We stayed in there for a good 1-2 hours before plucking up the courage to get into the cold and back up into the showers. Overall a very wonderful and memorable experience, Highly recommended! We were on our way to Reykjavik for our Airbnb lodging for the night shortly after. Reykjavik had cosy streets and was fairly easy to drive/navigate with the GPS and we had no problems getting there. Met our host's sister who let us in and showed us our room which had 1 bedroom with a queen bed, a sofa bed, attached toilet and a kitchen, pretty awesome for the price. Sofa beds never felt so good after a long day.
25th April 15 - Day 2
Rough plans for Day 2, getting a couple of SIM Cards from Vodafone, Icelandic Hotdogs and the Golden Circle tour where we'll stop by Þingvellir National Park where we'll check out the Silfra Rift, heading up to Geysir, Gulfoss and end it off at the Kerið Crater before moving on to Hvolsvöllur where we'll be spending our next 2 nights in. This would mark the start of our drive onto the larger roads of Route 1, we had to stop at almost every rest stop to just breathe in the raw beauty of the views.
First Stop, the Thingvellir National Park, there's a great deal of history of this area as the Assembly location of Iceland's parliament from 930 up till 1798. We took a little walk around the area, towards the top where the visitor's centre was located.
"The formation of Silfra and the Þingvellir valley is a consequence of the tectonic drift of the Eurasian and the North American plates. Every year, the plates drift about 2 cm further apart, which builds up tension between the plates and the earth mass above. This tension is released through a major earthquake approximately every ten years. In these earthquakes, cracks and fissures are formed in Þingvellir. Silfra is one of the largest cracks and started with a deep cave where most of the underwater wells feed it."
Strokkur, a fountain geyser in the geothermal area beside the Hvítá River that is still regularly erupting amongst many others that are less active.
After Geysir, we headed up north towards Gullfoss, one of the most popular tourist attractions in Iceland. As one first approaches the falls, the crevice is obscured from view, so that it appears that a mighty river simply vanishes into the earth. If you're lucky you would be able to see the rainbow in the falls on a sunny day.
Now after Gullfoss we were supposed to go back down south towards the Kerið Crater, with some research of its coordinates and also the GPS device itself, we were pointed to the area where its supposed to be. There was a turnoff into an unpaved road but the path got rougher the deeper we went, the car got stuck a couple times in holes and deep drops but the Volvo handled it well, thank goodness for 4WD. After countless close shaves of actually damaging the car, we gave up and went back around, giving up on the crater as it was getting pretty late. Really gotta get used to that 8pm Sunlight.
We drove for the next hour or two to this Airbnb in Hvolsvöllur, Björg, our host was extremely helpful over the phone. She runs an adventure company in South Iceland and gave a lot of tips for our travels and also advice on weather. Do check out her listing if you're ever in Hvolsvöllur, sick spacious place with an outdoor Hot Tub.
26th April 15 - Day 3
The morning of day 3 started off with a solo dip in the Hot Tub with a nice pear Skyr, which is an amazing Icelandic Yoghurt with a very different texture compared to normal yoghurts. We made some eggs, ham and toast that we got from Bónus (an affordable supermarket) for breakfast and was on our way out, aiming to go as far as the DC-3 Plane Crash site before returning back to Hvolsvöllur for a second night.
First stop on the route was Seljalandsfoss. There is a route that leads behind the waterfall itself but the path was still frozen and a slippery hazard, but definitely check that view out when you're there in the summer.
Skógafoss is one of the biggest waterfalls in the country with a width of 25 metres (82 feet) and a drop of 60 m (200 ft). Due to the amount of spray the waterfall consistently produces, a single or double rainbow is normally visible on sunny days. According to legend, the first Viking settler in the area, Þrasi Þórólfsson, buried a treasure in a cave behind the waterfall. The legend continues that locals found the chest years later, but were only able to grasp the ring on the side of the chest before it disappeared again. The ring was allegedly given to the local church. The old church door ring is now in a museum, though whether it gives any credence to the folklore is debatable. Oh and scenes from Thor: The Dark World and The Secret Life of Walter Mitty was also filmed here.
I have dreams about climbing/summiting mountains someday, maybe the 3776m Mt Fuji, 4096m Mt Kinabalu, 5885m Mt Kilimanjaro or maybe even one of the 8000m giants someday... So to actually semi struggle with this climb of 60m to the viewing deck proves that i definitely need much more training to actually reach those goals/heights.... I DIGRESS.
For our next stop, some of you may have seen this on Instagram or online, a carcass of a plane in the middle of a black sand beach. The story behind it was that on Nov 24, 1973, a United States Navy Douglas Super DC-3 airplane was forced to land on Sólheimasandur’s black sand beach in the south of Iceland after experiencing some severe icing. All crew members survived the crash, but the airplane’s fuselage was abandoned and now it is one of Iceland's most haunting and iconic photography locations. Do research on how to actually get to this location, there are several articles and Google Maps also have it logged as a place of interest. It is about 9.3km towards the shoreline driving through a black sand beach to actually get to the plane, it is easy to get lost but make sure you follow the tracks that are left there by several jeeps that run tours to the plane. But just in case, these are the coordinates of the plane. 63.459523, -19.364618
There is a sign at the turnoff from Route 1 into the black sand that indicates you'll require a 4WD vehicle to actually drive on this road, people have driven in with normal 2WD cars but i could see why a 4WD would be good. you'll be vulnerable to gravel damage or getting stuck while driving up a dune. Also, never ever drive off-road (off a path, track or road and over vegetation) We almost got in trouble with some locals when we got lost and was driving across some Moss towards the road as we lost the path in the dunes. They take that very seriously there as the growth of vegetation could be hindered by years from our damage. (we sincerely apologized)
This was the furthest we got through the South before turning around and driving 60km back to Hvolsvöllur, Tourists who are often in Iceland for a Layover would also travel this far on a day trip before going for their layover flight so that could be a consideration.
Now this post is getting pretty long and i think i am going to publish this for now and continue Day 4-8 on a seperate post. Do leave me some comments on what you think or if you have any questions i could answer. Im really new to this blogging thing and i can imagine myself posting some really technical and geeky posts on Film Photography and such. But i hope all of you would enjoy this and maybe someday visit this beautiful country too!