Tour de Iceland

Upon leaving America, my adventure was not quite over… I made a week’s stop in Iceland, where I met up with my university friend, George Potter, for a circumnavigation of Iceland.

I had been to Iceland before, but the previous visit was restricted to the Golden Circle and Reykjavik. Both nice places, but I was looking forward to exploring the splendours of the rest of the country.

Having arrived into Keflavik airport at 6.30am I was slightly bleary eyed. Luckily I only had to wait 2 hours for George, for his slightly less glamorous arrival on a easyjet plane from Manchester. We wasted no time, and quickly collected our rental car, which was a very attractive Hyundai I30. Fortunately, you can rent a car in Iceland at the age of 20, as opposed to 21 for the majority of Europe, so this made our trip possible. We made a quick stop at luggage storage to get shot of most of my things collected in America, before continuing on in earnest. The road network in Iceland is not that complicated, so we successfully got on our way and negotiated Reykjavik with few complications. As this trip was organised over Skype, we did not really have a concrete plan, just accommodation bookings, and then we filled in the gaps in between. Despite this, and both being very tired, we managed to get to the infamous sites of Geysir and Gulfoss waterfalls. It was strange to have some sort of familiarity with these attractions, as this was the first time I had really re-visited a place. We then progressed to yet another waterfall, Seljalandsfoss , where we sheltered from the rain and waited for our bus to the Thorsmork Volcano huts. The bus there took about an hour, and travelled over huge rock fields and surging rivers. Some brave French tourists had attempted to cross the river the night before in their hire car, but were subsequently washed away. Thankfully, the tourists survived unscathed. In practice, the volcano huts were huts in the middle of nowhere, near the Eyjafjallajokull volcano. We were lucky to have an attic room all to ourselves, and were particularly thankful of the sauna. It would have made a very good location to explore the true wilderness of Iceland.

The next day we caught the bus back and retrieved our car for the pursuit east. We passed through the pretty little town of Vik, and had lunch in Kirkjubaejarklaustar, which was home to a small collection of basalt columns. The weather had picked up by this point, so we were lucky enough to see the beautiful glaciers and glacial lakes of Skaftafell and Jokulsarlon glistening in the sunlight. However, at Jokulsarlon, we came across a slight problem… Our car keys had snapped in the emission, so we could not lock the car. Eventually we got through to the emergency number, and arranged to meet a representative of Budget in Hofn, which was handily our base for the night. Our car was replaced with an identical version, but later we would run into a few problems with this change over. The hostel for the night was a former old people’s home, but it was nice enough. After dinner, we drove to nearby Hoffell, which is home to geothermally powered hot tubs. Absolutely stunning to be gazing over at glaciers in bright sunshine at 11pm.

With the drama of the previous day over, we were looking forward to a slightly more quiet day. We left Hofn reasonably early and drove through the fjord lands of the east of Iceland. Spontaneously, we picked up some French hitchhikers, who were somewhat ambitiously hitchhiking all the way around Iceland. Certainly made for a tight fit in our car. Gliding through this landscape was simply stunning, and we would often stop at random vantage points to take in the unspoilt views. Before reaching our base for the night, Reyoarfjordur, we stopped in the bizarre town of Faskrudsfjordur. This place had been (and to a certain extent still is) populated by French fishermen and women, so there was a quirky mix of French and Icelandic on the signposts.

The next day was a spectacle for sheer unbridled beauty. We drove our way across the Mars-like landscape of northwest Iceland, before eventually reaching Krafla volcano. To stretch our legs, we walked around the nearby Leirhnjukur crater. The ground was so warm, and you could visibly see steam oozing from the ground. The high level of sulphur made for a beautiful spectrum of blues, greys, oranges and yellows, which speckled the ground like the first fall of snow. Truly awe-inspiring place. We then quickly toured the stunning Hverir mud baths. A bit of poor map reading by myself meant we had to double back on ourselves to go to the Dettifoss waterfall. Ambitiously, we took the 50km dirt road to the east of the waterfall, but were very much rewarded. Dettifoss, which is apparently the most powerful waterfall in Iceland, roared as water cascaded 45 metres. From the east side, one could stand on the lip of the waterfall, and indeed touch the water before it descended into oblivion. On the opposite side, the layers on snow and dirt looked like a huge vienetta. Slightly overwhelmed by the whole thing, we continued north to Asbyrgi. This was the site of a beautiful horse-shoe shape depression (and consequent waterfall) at the end of a secluded valley full of birch. Another inspiring place. Finally we drove around the Tjornes peninsula, through Husavik, and to our accommodation at a farmhouse called Arbot. Nice secluded location.

From our endeavors of the previous day, we were a little late in setting off. Again we went back on ourselves to the Jarobodin baths. Essentially these were like the Blue lagoon, but quieter and a lot cheaper. After this relaxing experience, we stopped at Myvatn. We explored some pseudo-craters, a water filled cave and some wood land, whilst battling the vast amount of midges. In some locations the ground was literally black with them! After this, we stopped in Akureyri, which seemed like a huge metropolis compared to what we had become accustomed too. A fairly decent place, and the perched cathedral was particularly enjoyable. Finally, we continued north up the peninsula to the small town of Dalvik. Here we stayed in an old pharmacy. For some reason, I fancied to experience an Icelandic pub, so I marched into the local establishment. I sat at the bar, and ordered a beer. To my surprise, the man next to me turned to me and said in a thick English accent, “I wouldn’t bother, it’s shit”. What is going on here! Turns out I had stumbled across a 73-year-old writer who had recently moved to Dalvik. To make things even stranger, he was born in the village in rural Hampshire that George plays football for. He was good fun though, and it was interesting to hear his perspectives on Iceland.

We left Dalvik the next day and progressed west. First, we drove through the quaint fishing town of Sigulfjordur. After this, we braved another dirt track to Osar, in the hope we could see some seals lying on a black sandy beach. Unfortunately visibility was a little poor, so we could only faintly make them out, before some helpful Ukrainian tourists lent us their binoculars. Thankfully, we made it back to the main road, before heading to Borganes for a well earned rest. You could tell you were getting closer to Reykjavik, as suddenly there were a lot more people.

Our last day in Iceland was certainly a long one! In the morning, we explored Thingvellir, which was the site of the first parliament of Iceland, and also where the tectonics plates of Eurasia and America can be visibly seen to be pulling apart. After this, we spent the afternoon and early evening in Reykjavik, walking around and taking in the sights. For me, the cathedral is still my favourite location. Just before a biblical rainstorm came, we left and drove towards the airport, in search of a suitable location to sleep in the car. Eventually, we settled upon the lighthouse of Gardur. Sleeping in the car was not the most comfortable thing ever, made worse by the near 24 hour sunlight. Consequently, we had to get inventive and create some sun blocks out of clothes. Great engineering solutions!

Very early the next morning, we dropped off our car, picked up my bags and headed for Keflavik airport. We caught an easyjet plane back to Manchester, UK, and the trip was very comfortable. Of course the car hire company tried to charge us for the broken key, but after several emails, they eventually dropped the charges as the key was already broken. Top tip – take pictures of this sort of thing. Admittedly, arriving back in the UK on an easyjet flight was not as glamorous as my Virgin atlantic flight to Chicago all those months ago, but it was nevertheless nice to be back in the UK. I think it made it an easier transition by stopping in Iceland. After arriving back, I spent a few days seeing my friends in Lancaster University, before returning home. It was strange that everything seemed familiar, but was somehow different. In my next post, I will provide a more detailed roundup of this ‘study abroad’ experience.

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