2000km in a 4×4 camper around Iceland
For six nights and seven days, and roughly two thousand kilometers later, our VW California Beach camper van brought us home comfort and reliable transportation throughout the magnificence of Iceland. Compactly equipped with the staples as well as the luxury of automatic transmission, 4WD, WiFi and our trusty night time heater, the Beach made our adventures easy to achieve. It also helped that the October weather cooperated during our counter clockwise travels of the Ring Road plus a few side trips. The four of us have a lifetime of memories, stories and photos to share.
Iceland is set up perfectly for travel in a camper van. Campgrounds supplied with fresh water, flush toilets, warm showers, clean up stations as well as electric hook up are strategically located, many just right off the Ring Road. All but one was open. There was a 1500ISK fee per person per night. Some, the showers were included. Others charged 400-500ISK. Toilet fees were also included although you may have to pay elsewhere in Iceland. A fee of 100 or 200ISK was common, in either a pay to use or honor system donation.
We were advised to fill up if we saw a gas station. And indeed, in some areas of Iceland that is true. The landscape makes travel extremely remote. However, I would say that we were always able to find fuel anytime our van reached half full. The fuel stations are self- serve and all require a credit card with a four digit pin number for usage. The automatic que on the screen often asks you to estimate how much fuel you require but you can fill up until it shuts off and you will be charged appropriately.
Our pre-trip logistical planning had us check out the customs declaration options of Iceland. We decided to bring dehydrated meals along with us as well as the one liter of alcohol allowed. Food and alcohol are expensive in Iceland compared to what we were used to paying. You can purchase goods at the duty free shops in the airport when you arrive and most people do because there is quite a bit of savings. Grocery stores were abundant enough to pick up the extra supplies that we needed. Using dehydrated meals allowed us more time to travel and take advantage of the shortened daylight as much as we could. Head lamps were a huge help too. Don’t forget that Iceland has some terrific restaurants and cafes too. You won’t want to miss sampling some of the delicious fresh and local fare. Let’s travel!
Day 1 – As the sun rose and brought light to the cloudy sky, we anxiously waited for Renae and Tanner to return to our Airbnb with the camper van. Margaret and I finished packing up our supplies. After a thorough orientation, it was time to load up and be on our way! Heading east out of Reykjavik on Route 1 towards Seljalandsfoss was our first stop. Seljalandsfoss is easily visible from the road and is quite a sight to behold. Following the path from the van leads you up close and personal with the mighty waterfall. Taking the stairs to the right leads you to experience it first hand from behind the waterfall. Wearing a raincoat is a good idea as the powerful spray goes everywhere. If you continue down the path, as few people do, you come upon a beautiful smaller waterfall called Gljúfrabúi. It’s worth the extra time to do so.
Next up was a stop at Seljavallalaug, a small warm pool hidden in the back of a valley. After a twenty minute walk along the river, we arrived. The spot was so scenic and the sunshine so plentiful that we decided to have a picnic lunch here. We were glad we did.
Continuing east, Skógafoss was up next. It was surprisingly crowded when we arrived so we decided to keep going and explore the black sand beach, Reynisdrangar. There is something so mesmerizing about a walk along the ocean on a beach. The enchanting vertical basalt sea cliff columns as well as the sea stacks only added to the beauty. The ocean is powerful and unpredictable here so it is advised to never turn your back to the waves or you may be tragically sent out to sea.
As the sun set we drove back to the Skógar campsite to spend the night and check out the waterfall tomorrow in the morning light. We ate, played Yahtzee and then converted our dining room into its sleeping quarters. Sweet dreams.
Day 2 – I awoke much earlier than the Renae, Tanner and Margaret so I put on a warm coat and hat, grabbed my camera and headed out to see what Skógafoss was all about. I climbed the lengthy set of stairs (370 in total) that takes you up to the top of the waterfall.
It was fun to view the surroundings from this unique vantage point. I noticed a hiking path and decided to keep going. I walked for almost an hour, on what I later learned to be on one of the most famous hiking trails in all of Iceland, Fimmvörðuháls. As the sun cast its light upon the Mýrdalsjökull glacier, the ice radiated an enchanting pink hue. Against all the other colors of the surrounding landscape it was a sight to behold.
The foot path followed the boulder strewn icy blue river that provided the sound of rushing water to the morning stillness. Simply put, it was gorgeous. After breakfast, the four of us headed out to do the same again. They could not miss it.
We re-organized our sleeping and eating quarters into driving mode and set off to continue the day’s adventures. First stop, Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon. After a short drive down an F-road, we found the parking lot. The path leads you into a windswept grassy meadow that suddenly opens up to overlook the canyon. The jagged cliff edges dotted with dying grass and intermittent sprinkles of fall red color were spectacular. We lingered for an hour and got back in our trusty Beach. Lunch and a drive to Skaftafell National Park, our next campsite, awaited us.
As you drive, the mighty mountains and glacier can be seen in the distance. They lure you into their spell. We arrived at the park just before darkness was setting in. We decided to make use of the last of the day’s light and hike down to the glacier’s edge. What a sight to behold, the massive sheet of ice and its icy cold waters.
Day 3 – After a hearty breakfast, we set out for Svartifoss, the black waterfall. We wound up the mountain through a mini forest of fall colors. The glacier, the sun rising over the mountain and the cold morning air only added to the magnificence. The waterfall was incredible. It spills over vertical black basalt cliff walls that are so unique.
Our goal for the night was about 5.5 hours away so we needed to get driving. However, thirty five minutes away, hidden right off the road was the Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon. WOW! What a place! In the cold sleeting rain, we meandered over the hill to drop down to the other side and step into a whole other world. Words simply cannot describe the feeling of looking upon floating icebergs of all shapes, sizes and colors against a stormy sky and icy water along a rocky beach. Our hands froze as we tried to capture photos to show our friends and family back home.
The sleeting had let up so we quickly got out of the car to explore the black Diamond beach. The name describes it perfectly. We all took our own separate paths to get lost in its splendor.
Lunch and a drive through some extremely remote country side left me with so many questions about Icelandic life. How does one survive so far from groceries, gas, schools? If you are a farmer here, are you always destined to be a farmer here? Is it just in your blood? Part of the beauty of travelling is seeing firsthand how other people live.
As darkness fell, the weather was foggy and the temperature was dropping. We elected to stop in Egilsstaðir to camp for the night. Eat, go to bed early and get an early start in the morning.
Day 4 – To my surprise, everyone got up early as they promised and we were on our way in the darkness between seven and eight. Iceland has so many great pullouts that we simply drove until there was enough daylight and then had breakfast. The famous Dettifoss in Vatnajökull National Park was next on our adventures. We weren’t really sure what to expect and if the rode would be open to get there. Luckily the road conditions report was correct and we were transported into another one of Iceland’s most incredible landscapes. It makes you feel like you are on another planet, walking among barren volcanic rocks hearing the thundering roar of the falls in the distance. And just like that, you turn the corner and there it is; Dettifoss’ sheer size and raw power. If you take the time to hike farther up the river from its origin you run into a second beautiful waterfall named Selfoss. Do so, it’s worth it.
Back in the car left us with some decisions to make about what to do next. There was so much to see in the Mývatn/Akureyri area, we wanted to prioritize. I took a hunch and voted for Krafla. And oh my, what a choice! It was a surreal adventure to hike among this geothermal and volcanic area with its black lava and multicolored hued melting pots with steam spewing out against a fiercely cold wind chilling your faces. Driving past the geothermal power plant was pretty cool too. We also made a brief stop at Hverir but it was crowded and very muddy.
To Margaret’s delight, we happened upon Grjótagjá, the famous Game of Thrones cave.
Our last stops were Hverfell and Dimmuborgir. Trudging up the massive crater that erupted 2700 years ago is awe inspiring. In the last light of day, we hiked the paths through another lava landscape with towering black rocks set off by white bark trees. It was really interesting to see how lava could take on a completely different form again. As we pulled into Vogar for the evening I thought of today as the day of many colored mud. Our shoes proved it.
We were within walking distance of a terrific restaurant, Vogafjós Cowshed Café. The menu looked awesome so we stopped in for some local beers and food. We had arctic char with dill, smoked lamb with fresh blueberry jam and cream cheese, cured goose and freshly smoked salmon. It was divine. We were also treated to the sight of a mother cow licking her newborn calf.
Day 5 – With all the sights we got to yesterday, Ásbyrgi canyon was in our lineup for today. What a peaceful, lovely place, with its abundance of trees, blueberry bushes, birds fluttering around and tranquil pond at the end of the canyon. A striking difference from all the lava landscape located so close by. Apparently other travelers didn’t want to make the trip as we had the place to ourselves for much of the time.
On our way back from the canyon we stopped in Húsavik at the Heimabakarí for some scrumptious pastries and coffee to warm us up.
We took an orange and chocolate cake to go to supplement our sweet tooth for the rest of the trip. It delayed us just enough to catch the sunset over the bay. It was special indeed.
Then off to Akureyri for the evening with a stop at Goðafoss along the way. What makes this waterfall so special to me is the story behind its name. It was blue and black at dusk.
The sky was clear for the first night all week and we thought that we might be able to see some Northern Lights. We decided to camp outside the city at Hamrar. What an excellent choice! Lo and behold about 8:30 pm a green rainbow started to appear across the sky. Shortly thereafter, the lights really lit up and starting dancing magically across the sky. We got out our cameras to see what we could capture. It worked! We were ecstatic. Unbelievably incredible!
Day 6 – After staying up until eleven o’clock the night before being mesmerized by the Northern Lights, we decided to sleep in a bit. Today was our second long day of driving ahead of us. We stopped in Akureyri for the much anticipated famous Icelandic hot dog with everything. The four of us went for a short walk in the botanical gardens and then we started the long trek back towards Reykjavik.
Through many miles of horse country we drove.
We were longing for a detour and a chance to get out of the car so we drove to Deildartunguhver Thermal Springs. Amazing to think how hot that water is and how far it travels. And then we found Hraunfossar and Barnafoss, the twin turquoise waterfalls. We pulled in just in time for a chilly sunset spectacle. Can’t believe how lucky our timing is sometimes.
We finished up with a stay on the ocean at the campsite in Borgarnes. The sky was clear again. The stars were coming out. And we thought with a little luck we might be able to see the Northern Lights again. And we did! They were spectacular. They were even more magical than the night before. Dancing to and fro, strengthening in intensity and then dimming. Woohoo!
Day 7 – Our last day of our Icelandic adventure in a camper van. We could hardly believe it was going to be over but not before one of the best hikes of the trip to Glýmur.
We ate lunch just outside the entrance to a cave in the sunshine.
We trekked the rocky river in our bare feet because the crossing log was already removed. We used the ropes to pull ourselves up the steep slopes.
We kept climbing up along the edge of the canyon walls to get continually closer to this exceptionally tall waterfall.
The scenery behind you is equally as magnificent as the scenery in front of you. What a day, what a trip to remember.
From Icelandic beer to Brennivin, from the freshest smoked fish and meats we have ever eaten to the most scrumptious bakari treats to cross our lips, from the coldest windiest most unpredictable weather imaginable to the sunniest outdoor lunches, from the most peaceful strolls to the strenuous mountains, from black sand to glacier icy blue, from gray skies to the magical Northern Lights: our Icelandic camper van adventure will be a memory to cherish forever.
Read more: Iceland in mid October
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