I. Love. Iceland.
Our long-delayed honeymoon started off at the beginning of October with a four-day trip around Iceland in a 4X4 which had been kitted out as a campervan. Four days is long enough to see a lot of the main (most touristy) sights if you beast it and spend a lot of your day driving, but you could easily spend at least a month on the island, exploring its dramatic landscape(s).
Iceland is exactly the kind of landscape I love- muted colours, a bit rugged and wild with a beautiful bleakness that is actually enhanced by dreary weather. Speaking of which, weather-wise October was an okay time to go. The wind howled at times (enough to nearly knock me off my feet) we had some heavy rain, but we also had periods of sunshine. It's not warm, so come prepared for the cold; hats, gloves, coats, thermals and rain-proof footwear. The good thing about this time of year is that it's much quieter- most campsites officially close in September, but remain open throughout the winter season without being staffed or charging any fees. It means you might not have access to all the facilities but, hey it's free!
We managed to pack a lot into our little break so I thought I'd share our there-and-back itinerary, which we had tenuously cobbled together after flicking through the Lonely Planet, but the majority of decisions of where to go were made on the fly, and it serendipitously turned out well. I was navigator, leafing through the guidebook and shouting out road numbers, and my husband was the driver, dealing with the high winds (always) and sheet-like rain (occasionally).
Apart from the Golden Circle, all the stops are are short distance from the ringroad (Route 1) which circles the island, and are clearly signposted. Nice and easy! Just keep one eye on a map if you can because the long and unfamiliar place names can be hard to spot (although there is usually a place of interest symbol too). All stops are in the Lonely Planet which you can buy here.
Day 1: Arrival in Reykjavik (oh my god, I spelled that right first time!)
We landed in Reykjavik in the afternoon and spent a few hours pottering around the city, which feels more like a mid-sized touristy town than a capital. We didn't have too much time there and there's probably a lot we didn't get to see, but we had long enough to get a good feel for the place and try not faint at the price of everything. Oh, yeah. Iceland is expensive. After ordering what turned out to be nearly a kilo of lamb at Saeta Svinid Gastropub we headed to the Lebowski Bar for White Russians. A solid start. We stayed at Konrad's Guesthouse, we didn't meet Konrad (or anyone else) but it was a decent place to stay with shared facilities including kitchen and is in a fantastic location right by the famous Hallgrímskirkja church.
Day 2: Reykjavik to Skoga, via the Golden Circle, Seljalandsfoss waterfall, and Seljavellir hot springs.
Go Campers picked us up from our guesthouse, gave us the usual safety spiel and advised us on the route we had planned. They were very helpful and come highly recommended. We set off for the Golden Circle (which is actually more of a line if you go to the three main sites). The Þingvellir National Park is where most people start off. Here you can actually see the boundary rift between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates, and walk alongside it. Pretty mind-boggling. It looks like an inland cliff. Also in the National Park are important heritage sites, such as Alþingi, the world's first democratically elected parliament according to the tourist brochures. If you have time there are plenty of walks in this area to various lakes and waterfalls.
Next up is the geothermal area in Haukadalur, which has milky pools and eggy-smelling steam vents peppered alongside the path, but the principal attraction is the geysers Geysir and Strokkur. Strokkur is very active, you only need to wait 5 minutes between eruptions, but you will be extremely lucky if you get to see Geysir blow.
The Gullfoss double waterfall is stunning and the last stop on the usual Golden Circle trip. We spent a while here, watching the icy blue water thunder down into the valley. There are a lot of different viewpoints which are easily accessible, and, like a lot of Iceland, there isn't much in the way of safety barriers which makes the experience a bit more of a thrill.
We then followed the R30 down to the R1, and hit the road on which we would spend the rest of the trip. The Seljalandsfoss waterfall is just off the R1. You can walk behind it which made all of my Disney's Robin Hood fantasies come true. The sheer amount of water is crazy- it looks so gentle and hypnotizing that you feel you could stand underneath it like some Timotei advert but in reality you'd be crushed; don't try it. If you walk behind the waterfall you can return one of two ways, either the way you came (dry) or follow the path around (wet). I hadn't spotted this distinction and so I got very wet.
We continued onto to Skoga as the clouds got darker, and on the way stopped at the Seljavellir 'hot springs', which is actually a swimming pool build into the side of a mountain, and is fed hot thermal water by a pipe. We didn't stay long as the weather turned very very nasty, and it's not actually that warm unless you hug the pipe that the water comes out from. To get there turn off the R1 onto the R242 signposted Raufarfell, keep driving until the end of the road to find a parking area. There aren't any signs for the pool itself so it's not that clear where to go, but from the parking area follow a rough path for approx 15 minutes towards the bottom of the valley and the pool will come into view.
We arrived at Skoga by nightfall and camped at the Skogafoss campsite which is basically the carpark and surrounding fields at the Skogafoss waterfall. The campsite was officially closed but the toilets were open. We cooked some food in the van, played cards and drank whisky.
Day 3: Skogafoss to Jökulsárlón via Dyrhólaey and Reynisfjara, Fjaðrárgljúfur canyon, and Sólheimajökull, Skaftafell & Svínafellsjökull glaciers
Waking up as the daylight slowly unveiled the view of Skogafoss was as incredible as you'd imagine. We made breakfast then walked up the side of the waterfall to a viewpoint. We then set off on the long drive to Jökulsárlón, with lots of stops along the way. The first place we stopped was Sólheimajökull glacier, number one of three glaciers that day. You get a lot of glacial bang for your buck in Iceland. From R1, follow the signs off onto a recently paved road until you reach a car park, and then it's a short walk to the glacial tongue. You can do glacier walks here, but we didn't have the time.
Before the town of Vík, you reach the turn off for Dyrhólaey and just after that Reynisfjara. Dyrhólaey is a cliff area with rocky sea arch. You can drive down to a car park and watch the waves crash against the black lava cliffs and black sand beach. Because of the weather, everything was a monochromatic grey black hue which gave an eerie, ethereal atmosphere. It was one of my favourite places. From Dyrhólaey you can see Reynisfjara beach, where the Reynisdrangur offshore sea stacks are. Reynisfjara beach has a cliff of large, tall basalt columns in interesting formation . People were trying to climb up them.
After lunch we hit the Fjaðrárgljúfur canyon, again just off R1. From the car park the path follows the canyon for a few km. It's strangely beautiful, strangely coloured, and strangely mossy. Take a look.
The weather started to cloud over and we couldn't see much, so when we passed Skaftafell glacier we couldn't really see it. Most people come to this area to hike in the National Park, but alas we were on a tight schedule. We headed to the northern side of Skaftafell, where there's a dirt road leading to the Svínafellsjökull glacier tongue. The dirt track lasts about 2km and after the car park it's a short walk to reach the glacier. It was a particular ice blue, and the pool of water surrounding it was a chocolaty brown, like milkshake. The weather was getting worse so we didn't spend too long there, and pushed on to Jökulsárlón, where we parked up in the car park (not sure if we were officially allowed to stay overnight, but we saw no signs), cooked dinner and snuggled up. Sleeping in the van was cosy and warm- I was glad we had paid extra for a 4X4 as it felt secure against the wind.
Day 4: Jökulsárlón to Hveragerði via Reykjadalur hot springs
Jökulsárlón is magical. Huge icebergs float and roll in the lagoon on their way out to sea, and the beach on the opposite side on the road is littered with small diamond-like pieces of ice which have broken off the larger bergs in the surf. It's odd and beautiful.
We started our return journey towards Reykjavik. The weather picked up and we had a period of brilliant sunshine and spotted the glacier that we hadn't been able to make out through the clouds the day before. The area between Jökulsárlón and Vík has long stretches of quite desolate landscape interspersed with lava fields covered in green moss, and the rare house or two.
We spent a lot of the day driving towards Hveragerði where we knew there was a hot river that you could bathe in. It's about a 40 minute walk into the mountains. You slowly start to see steam rising in the distance until you reach a geothermal area that has a wooden walkway over some of the hotter bubbling sections. All around you is spluttering mud and that familiar eggy sulphur scent. As you walk upstream, the water gets hotter so it's worth walking a bit further that the immediate area you come across, but be careful as our first toe-dip into the river was way too hot, and a group ahead of us warned us they had been scalded there. We moved a bit downstream and opened a bottle of wine. To get there turn off the R1 at Hveragerði and follow the Breiðamörk road until the car park at the end. Park here and follow the obvious path for approx 3km to Reykjadalur. You'll probably spot troops of people walking the same way with bags full of beers.
We spent the night in Hveragerði campsite where I had the best shower of my life (and the first since we left Reykjavik). It was one of the few campsites that was still open and the first place we had to pay to park. We reluctantly toasted our final night in Iceland.
Day 5: Drive to Reykjavik and depart
Our final day was basically driving from Hveragerði to the airport. Four days was enough to give us a sweet, sweet taste of Iceland, but I can't wait to go back to discover more.