A Taste of Winter
https://www.rent.is/blog/the-ringroad/A week in Iceland
Our Rent.is Camper van
My friend Julie and I were ready and waiting (im)patiently at the Bus Hostel an hour before our scheduled pick up for Rent.is campervan. At 12 noon, right on time, a man arrived, bundled us into his van and drove us down to the car depot.
At the office, we were shown our home for the next seven days. Our Nissan camper was basically a workman’s van with a bed. A raised platform in the rear was the base for our very comfortable spring double mattress. Underneath were two plastic tubs containing a portable gas stove (with one half canister and one full canister), two plates, two bowls, tow cups, two spoons, two knives, two forks, two saucepans, one frying pan, chopping boards and a handful of other cooking utensils. A nice touch was the dish-washing liquid, washing brush and tea towel. No need to buy those things you use just a little of. Everything that two people on a road trip could possibly need.
The back of the van also held a heater which ran from an external battery. Under the bed platform was a fried and 15 liter jerry can of clean drinking water, camping table and two camping chairs. We were all set.
Up front we had all the electronics we needed – GPS, portable WiFi device, cigarette lighter charging socket (who actually uses these for cigarettes anymore?) and a USB port.
Reykjavik was showing us a fine blustering day. We were blown around and got our first taste of the reason why it’s recommended to hang onto the car doors when opening them. My scarf and hair were whipped around my face and we found it took strength to walk.
We didn’t stop to explore the van much or organize our things but threw our bags on top of the mattress and got behind the wheel. At 1pm, with a full tank of petrol, we were ready to hit the road.
The Golden Circle
Rent.is were helpful with their weather advice and with some storms coming our first stop was the Golden Circle and then we had a plan to head north, clockwise around the ring road.
Despite the 90km speed limit (which I think I was the only person in Iceland to observe), it was a short drive to the Alþingi at Þingvellir, the site of the world’s first democratic parliament, established by the Vikings. We found the fissure valley created by the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates to be particularly fascinating. Filled with rivers, waterfalls (the first of many) and tiny islands, the area is beautiful.
Read more: Waterfalls in Iceland
Out of the wind and back into our camper and off to the next stop on the list – Geysir. This is the famous geothermal area with geysirs of spouting water. It was amazing to see the steam literally rising out of the ground. We didn’t see The Great Geysir ‘erupt’ (apparently it’s activity has lessened over the years) but Strokkur bubbled then spurted water three or four times while we were exploring the area. We stayed upwind – it was too cold and windy for Julie and I to want to get wet, though we saw a few others get drenched.
It was getting late in the evening but we decided to push on to Gullfoss, hoping to catch the waterfall in the last rays of sunshine. Although the light was fading we could clearly see the gushing water and two cascades that makes this waterfall one of Iceland’s most beautiful (though I think being the judge of that would be difficult!).
We had been told that in October in Iceland, most of the camp grounds are closed but you can often park there for free even if the facilities are locked. Or just pull up anywhere, as long it’s not private land or a main road. This, however, is not true – Iceland’s tourist season is getting later and later and businesses are staying open to provide facilities to the many tourists who visit.
We think it’s important to use these facilities where they’re available and not to damage the land or environment or disrespect local people who live in the area all year round. We met a number of people who chose to camp in car parks, even in the middle of town, rather than use the perfectly good campsites that were open and available. We found this frustrating as it’s not only illegal but disrespectful. Some people treated the areas badly too, at one site we pulled up and saw faces in the car park. Use the campsites!
Read more: All year campgrounds in Iceland
Skjól Camping, just outside Geysir, is one such site that caters for tourists outside of the summer season. We met a very friendly girl running the bar who told us the best place to camp and gave us directions for the next day and a discount to the Secret Lagoon.
We were so excited about our first night in the camper van. It made our dinner of pasta, vegetables and duty free red wine even more delicious!
We slept really well that night. The mattress was super comfy and the heater kept us toasty.
The Secret Lagoon
In the morning, we could see the steam rising over at Geysir, just as the steam was rising over the cups of our tea and coffee. We had a lazy morning and finally organised our things in the camper van. Then we followed Skjól Camping’s directions to the Secret Lagoon, near Flúðir. The Secret Lagoon is a geothermally heated bathing pool, one of Iceland’s oldest pools and used for swimming lessons. It’s completely outdoors and we spent hours watching the clouds go by and small geysirs surrounding the pool bubbling away. Definitely recommended!
The wind was still blowing and the storm still brewing so we started making our way north to Snæfellsnes Peninsula. We decided not to take the tunnel but the long way around Hvalfjörður. We were rewarded with waterfalls at every turn.
Unfortunately, we couldn’t escape the weather and Snæfellsnes Peninsula was shrouded in clouds and rain. We stayed dry and warm inside our camper though, admiring the rivers and waterfalls without getting wet. We eventually found our campsite for the night, a little farm site at Eldborg with warm dry bathroom facilities and a bunkhouse which was closed at this time of year. We had a camper though, no need for a bunkhouse!
The next day was dry but low lying clouds greeted us. It did add to the dramatic scenery as we toured the Peninsula. We explored fishing villages, lava fields and even ventured out into the rain to climb the small Helgafell, where if you follow the rules, you will be granted three wishes at the top. I forgot to follow the rules. I couldn’t get enough of the lava fields though and the stories of Berserkers.
The town of Borganes is also worth visiting. The Settlement Center and Saga exhibition of Egil’s saga are far superior to that in Reykjavik!
Julie and I eventually escaped the rain and clouds on the Peninsula and finally found ourselves in a sunny (but windy) Hvammstangi. The campground was perfect. It was unmanned but an honesty box gave us use of some fantastic facilities, including bathrooms, a kitchen, WiFi and heated dining room. We had these same facilities with us every kilometer but it was nice to stand up! We chatted with some other travelers and watched the sunset.
Read more: Travel apps for Iceland
The next day we got to experience riding the fat, solid Icelandic ponies we’d been seeing in the farms as we drove along. We tried to get them to ‘tölt’ but they were a bit sleepy, preparing themselves for the winter. Of course, there were more waterfalls involved in our trek, and even a rainbow!
On the Road Again
The skies were threatening but the rain held off as we drove the long way around Skagafjörður and Eyjafjörður to Akureyri. The cliff hanging roads are not for the faint hearted! We passed Siglufjörður and drove through awesome one way tunnels. Luckily, there wasn’t much traffic coming in the other direction.
Akureyri was dark and raining. It seemed like a nice enough city but we decided to push on to the campground at Goðafoss. I found I didn’t really like driving at night in Iceland so we were relieved when we finally arrived at Goðafoss. Unfortunately, the campground was closed with no access available. Tired from a long day of ponies and driving, we didn’t want to get behind the wheel again. For the first and last time in Iceland we pulled up in the car park. There were five other campervans there too. We slept with the sound of water gushing in our ears.
Read more: Camp like a boss
We woke to a still and dry day – amazing. We took a short walk to yet another wonderful Icelandic waterfall.
It was a short drive to our next destination, Mývatn. There, we spent the whole day exploring this small but diverse part of Iceland. The area is full of remnants of volcanic activity, bird life, and active geothermal sites. Easily, one of our favorite parts of Iceland. We rewarded ourselves with some late afternoon hours at the Blue Lagoon of the North.
We started the next day with waterfalls and waterfalls. Dettifoss was well worth the detour from the Ring Road. We had come to expect stunning waterfalls in Iceland but weren’t prepared for quite how amazing this area is, which also includes the smaller but equally spectacular, Selfoss. The roaring river creates a waterfall with the greatest volume of water than any in Europe.
We had a long day of driving after our waterfall treat, stopping at fishing villages along the way. We learnt first-hand why so many cars heading in the other direction were so dirty – the Ring Road around the country is not quite finished in parts of the East. It was slow going through the gravel and mud with steep switchbacks up and down the mountain sides. But we made it.
Land of Ice
After an overnight stop in Höfn, which of course involved a delicious local lobster baguette, we came to the part of Iceland that epitomizes the slogan of land of fire and ice. We were the only people to make the detour to Heinabergsjokull. The sight of the glacier tongue and chunks of glacier floating in the flood water lagoon was something special, despite the low lying cloud.
The more famous Glacier Lagoon and black sand beach where chunks of glacier roll up on the sand were equally amazing, although more crowded. We even saw seals in the lagoon. The chunks of glacier on the black sand also improved our mood after getting caught in a rain shower as we walked around the lagoon. Somehow ice and sand made us happy.
I think this was the highlight of our trip.
Getting up close and personal to Skaftafellsjökull was amazing and I learnt so much about the glaciers and volcanoes underneath at the visitor center. My only regret is my knee injury and the bad weather which prevented Julie and I from doing some of the longer hikes. Definitely a place to come back to, with a great camping site too!
Waking up the next day to the waterfall (of course, there are more!) at Skógafoss made this campsite the favorite on our trip. Ferociously windy and rainy when we arrived, we woke up to what promised to be another great day in Iceland.
It was also a sad day, our last with the camper van. We were back in Reykjavik all too quickly. Seven days is such a short time to circumnavigate Iceland. 10 would be better. But if seven is all you have, go for it. We loved every minute.
Read more: Why not go to Iceland?
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