A week in Iceland – October
Two Aussies studying abroad in Copenhagen, seven days and one camper van.
Iceland was a destination we couldn’t wait to check off our bucket lists and what better way to do it than a self-drive road trip around Iceland’s Ring road. We booked a camper van with no hesitations, despite having never even road tripped together before. We ended up having the trip of a lifetime, in a country of such surreal and untouched beauty.
DAY 1 | Keflavik to Reykjavik
Campsite: Reykjavik Campsite
We flew with WOW air from Copenhagen to Keflavik airport. We were picked up by the shuttle bus service that took us right to the door of the Rent.is office where we were handed the keys to a new 2017 model VW Caddy. The staff were extremely helpful; showing us how the van and its fittings worked. After getting to know our van, we were on the road and so excited to be heading towards our first destination.
One of the most visited (and Instagrammed) attractions in Iceland, we decided we couldn’t miss the Blue Lagoon. Located only twenty minutes from Keflavik airport, the natural geothermal pools are ideal for a stop on your first or last day in Iceland. Booking your tickets online in advance is essential due to the popularity of the pool. Despite the crowds, the size of the pool and thick clouds of steam meant you could find moments where it felt like you were the only ones there.
Feeling completely relaxed, we drove to Reykjavik where we stumbled on Mai Thai, a homey Asian grocer and Thai restaurant. Having been away from home for almost 3 months, we were both craving home cooked Asian food! After dinner, we made our way to Reykjavik Campsite where we had hot showers and got acquainted with how to turn our van into a double bed (something we would get very fast at over the coming week).
DAY 2 | Reykjavik to Akureyri
Campsite: Hamrar Akureyri
Our first day of driving and our first stop was Bónus for groceries. Grocery stores in Iceland open at 11am so we decided to drive to nearby Borgarnes and stop by Geirabakarí for breakfast. We would recommend a quick stop here for cinnamon buns and a pizzasnúð against a beautiful backdrop of lakes and mountains.
First on an extensive list of waterfalls was Hraunfossar. Located slightly off the beaten path, it comprised of a series of cascades which formed a stretch of beautifully blue water. The flora of the landscape was the real highlight as Iceland’s fall colors were in full bloom. After exploring the waterfall and its sister-fall, Barnafoss, we parked our camper van a little downstream for a quick lunch.
According to Icelandic legend, Hvítserkur is an ancient, petrified troll. However, the majestic rock formation is actually the result of the sea eroding away a volcano, leaving only the volcanic plug. We reached Hvítserkur as dusk was setting in and clambered down the rocks to the shoreline. The shades of grey in the last rays of the day were stunning and we were so glad we made the effort to drive out.
Day 3 | Akureyri to Egilsstaðir
Campsite: Egilstaðir campsite
We started the day with another waterfall, which was again, incredibly beautiful. Named aptly as “The Waterfall of the Gods”, Goðafoss was extremely impressive. Good hiking boots are definitely recommended as the areas around the falls are completely exposed and extremely slippery. We would also recommend taking a moment to admire the scenery opposite the waterfall, which was impressive in its own right.
The diversity of Iceland’s landscape definitely took us by surprise- waterfalls aren’t the only attraction around here! Straight out of a scene from The Martian, the Námafjall sulfur fields transported us from the lush landscape of North-West Iceland straight onto Mars. Though the smell does take some getting used to, we had so much fun walking around the bubbling lava pools and rising billows of steam.
We had originally planned on visiting Selfoss and Dettifoss, however unfortunately, the roads were closed and drivers proceeded at their own risk. Visiting in October has its benefits of less tourists and stunning trans-seasonal landscapes. However, it also carries the risk of unpredictable weather conditions and road closures.
To make the most of the day, we stopped at a scenic point for a quick lunch. Having a campervan definitely gives you the freedom to stop and enjoy the scenery around you over a hot cup of tea. It felt incredibly surreal sitting beside the road and eating a can of baked beans, with no other cars or people in sight.
We arrived in Egilsstaðir, one of Iceland’s larger cities well ahead of schedule. We googled for local attractions and found that we could tick another waterfall off the list with nearby Hengifoss. About a 30 minute drive from Egilsstaðir’s city center, Hengifoss is a real hidden gem and well worth the drive. Taking about an hour and a half (round trip), the hike to the waterfall, although steep, provided gorgeous views over the valley and we were gifted with a perfect sunset.
After driving back to Egilsstaðir, we had a quick stop at Bónus for additional dinner supplies and also bought some Icelandic Skýr. A thick yogurt with incredibly high levels of protein and almost no fat, we both immediately loved Skýr (and could not stop eating it for rest of our trip).
Day 4 | Egilsstaðir to Skaftafell
Campsite: Skaftafell Camping Ground
Driving long distances isn’t everyone’s ideal holiday however Iceland’s spectacular landscapes make the drive an attraction in itself. Day 4’s drive provided us with so many stunning landscapes and photo stops. There were few moments where I wasn’t pressed up against the windscreen with a camera or trying to capture photos out the windows of our camper van!
The small fishing town of Höfn was our first stop of the day as we wanted to see a typical Icelandic fishing village. We caught our first glimpses of snow along the way and parked on the coast of Höfn to make lunch, catching glimpses of glaciers and snow-laden peaks in the distance.
Located on the edge of Vatnajökull National Park, Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon is absolutely breathtaking. The floating icebergs and shards of ice along the beach create a spectacular photo op! We also walked to nearby Diamond Beach (literally across the road), which the lagoon flows into and roamed among the icebergs on the black sand beach. If you have the time, grab a kettle and some snacks and head up one of the surrounding hills for an afternoon picnic. The birds-eye-view of the lagoon is equally as breathtaking and tourist-free!
SKAFTAFELL + NORTHERN LIGHTS
A gateway to the rest of the national park, Skaftafell camping ground has a visitor’s center, paid shower facilities, hiking trails as well as opportunities to book glacier hikes and activities. It was definitely our favorite campsite and we enjoyed yet another perfect sunset over the glacier peaks.
We became incredibly excited when we realized that there was no light pollution, barely any other camper vans and the skies were completely clear; it was the perfect conditions to see the Northern Lights! The green glow appeared as early as 9pm and only grew stronger throughout the night. We felt so blessed and it was yet another tick off the bucket list!
Day 5 | Skaftafell, Vík & Hellishólar
We woke up extra early, knowing it was going to be a packed day but not wanting to miss the opportunity to hike up to Svartifoss waterfall. Surrounded by dramatic geometric lava columns, it is highly unique waterfall that is well worth the visit. Although the sign at the start of the hike indicated it would be about an hour and a half round trip, it ended up only taking us 45 minutes and we were soon our way to our next destination.
Believed to have been formed in the Ice Age, the 100m deep canyon was very picturesque. Walking trails above the canyon to viewing platforms give a magnificent view of the river and surrounding waterfalls. As we were on a tight schedule, we skipped trail where people can choose to walk inside the canyon on the river bed.
One of the more well-known cities in Southern Iceland, we were surprised by how Vík still had the air of a small, seafront village. We explored its famous Black Beach and had a picnic in the shadows of its impressive cliffs.
Skógafoss was especially impressive as we were lucky enough to have a full rainbow across the powerful falls. It is definitely a popular stop for tourists and tour buses and unlike in the north, we struggled to get photos without other tourists in them too.
SELJAVALLALAUG (SECRET POOL)
If you’re up for a bit of an adventure then definitely stop by Seljavallalaug, a pool tucked in the hills in a beautiful gorge in Skógar. With 267 (and counting) TripAdvisor ratings the pool isn’t that much of a hidden secret anymore but still a beautiful spot. We arrived late in the afternoon in golden hour and had a quick swim. A good tip would be to change into your swimsuits in your car before walking to the pool and although the pool is fed by a hot spring, it is by no means warm so be prepared for a chilly dip!
Breathtakingly beautiful, Seljalandsfoss is one of the best known waterfalls in Iceland and absolutely not to be missed. We walked along the trail behind the waterfall and the way the light hit the cascade was stunning! Be prepared to be drenched by the water and remember to take your waterproof phone cases and cameras!
Although fees at this campsite were a bit higher, it was for good reason. We were one of just two camper vans located there and had the new bathroom and shower house basically all to ourselves. Not to mention there were two hot tubs free for campers to use. It was a perfect night as we relaxed after a long day under the stars.
Day 6 | Golden Circle
Campsite: Þingvellir National Park Campground
The Golden Circle covers several stunning highlights of Iceland within one day’s worth of driving. It was almost a shock to be among so many people and cars again, after several days of driving, often with no other cars in sight.
- KERIÐ CRATER LAKE
The contrast between the red volcanic rock slopes and a stark sapphire lake is what makes Kerið crater one of the key attractions on the Golden Circle. We took the path both around the top of the crater as well as inside.
Otherwise known as the Golden Falls, Gullfoss was a magnificent display of the raw power of nature. Each of Iceland’s waterfalls is unique and awe-inspiring in its own way and Gullfoss was no exception. With lots of mist, we explored Gullfoss and its rainbows along a walking path that led right to a platform on the water’s edge.
Arriving at the famous Geysir we came across a ring of tourists surrounding the blowhole, all holding up their phones, waiting to capture the eruption from the geyser, which occurs approximately every 5-8 minutes. Steven was fiddling with his phone, trying to adjust the settings when Geysir erupted and he almost accidentally captured the moment.
After overhearing a young boy complain, “No Dad, not another waterfall”, we laughed, before deciding to visit one more waterfall along the Golden Circle. Although a little bit hidden and off the beaten path (we may have climbed over a few barbed wire fences), the steely blue waters and unique formation of the falls are well worth a little mud and a lot of adventure.
- EFSTIDALUR II
As lovers of ice cream in all temperatures (no matter how cold) we couldn’t resist visiting Efstidalur Ice Cream, which prides itself farm to table, homemade ice cream. We sampled scoops of strawberry, mint, coconut and tiramisu ice creams made from local milk whilst surrounded by three of the shop’s friendly dogs and we were definitely impressed.
- ÞINGVELLIR NATIONAL PARK
Þingvellir is home to a rift between two tectonic plates, stunning scenery and Iceland’s Parliament dating back to the 10th century. Although many choose to drive back to Reykjavik after completing the Golden Circle at Þingvellir, spending a night at the park’s camp grounds is something we would definitely recommend. Not only were we able to take in more of the park’s raw and unbridled beauty but we were lucky enough to see the Northern Lights again.
Day 7 | Reykjavik
Arriving back in Reykjavik in the morning, we visited the iconic Hallgrimskirkja and explored the streets of Iceland’s bustling capital. Arguably the best hot dog in the world is sold in Iceland and we decided to sample it for ourselves (if it’s good enough for Bill Clinton, then its good enough for us Aussies). We weren’t disappointed and its definitely a must-eat in Iceland and also budget friendly.
Saying goodbye to our motorhome wasn’t easy as we had loved every minute of driving and sleeping in it! With student budgets, a camper van is hands down the best way to see this spectacular country. The camping fees were always incredibly reasonable and we made sure to look up campsites that is open in Winter around the Ring road. Fuel stations were easy to find and we knew that there was 24-hour help from the Go Iceland rental office if we needed it.
Travelling in a camper van means you can stop as you please and pick and choose the destinations that you want to see the most. Some of our favorite parts of Iceland were the unscheduled, unnamed stop that were uninterrupted by tourists and had breathtaking views. Two Aussies, seven days, one camper van and undoubtedly, one road trip of a lifetime.
Read more: Stories from Iceland
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