A week to make it: Iceland’s Ring Road in September
We wanted to go somewhere remote. A place not flooded with tour buses and souvenir shops, long lineups and crowded monuments. We had only one week to ignore assignments and business meetings, to escape reality and surrender all responsibilities. We disregarded the rumours about high expenses and unpredictable weather and booked our flights to the land of fire and ice.
Geologically speaking, Iceland is the youngest landmass on the planet. A mere 25 million years old, at times Iceland displays the temperamental moodiness one can expect from any adolescent. Constantly changing weather meant we had to be ready for beaming sunshine one moment, driving rain and wind strong enough to fling volcanic stones across the road the next. Every now and then one of the country’s 30 active volcanoes erupts.
Needless to say, we made sure we were prepared for anything.
Pro tip: Rain gear (including rain pants) is essential. Know what it’s like driving two hours straight with a wet butt? We don’t. We had rain pants.
Reserving with Rent.is was a no-brainer. The CamperStories gave us insight from real travellers and their all-inclusive packages and informative FAQ page provided easy booking. When we arrived at Keflavik International Airport at 4:45am there was a shuttle bus waiting for us which took us directly to our 2016 VW Caddy camper, fueled with a full tank of diesel, ready to hit the road.
When camping in Iceland there are no deadlines or check-in times and the best part of our plan was that there was no plan. Every morning we rose with the sun, a cup of tea and a quick glance at our map. Sometimes we drove towards a destination, sometimes we drove just to drive. Having complete freedom allowed us to discover wilderness and natural beauty only known to the locals. We made lunch next to glaciers, drank beer in natural hot pots and ate dinner blanketed by the Northern Lights – no reservations necessary.
If we arrived at a crowded location, we vowed to gear up and walk just a little bit further to discover what was beyond the tourist’s eye view. For anyone who ever told you Iceland is overcrowded, they probably just weren’t doing it right. At every busy parking lot, there is a path less travelled and a new perspective waiting to be revealed. Sometimes the most picturesque places are those that go unmentioned in Lonely Planet, or are unsearchable on Google Maps – the places travel bloggers describe as simply indescribable. What makes driving through Iceland so exclusive isn’t what you read about in your travel guide – it’s what you didn’t read. It’s squishy green moss hugging the black volcanic rock like Velcro, the enormous waterfall tumbling over the cliffs of a farmer’s backyard, and hours on the open road in the uninhabitable northern region.
We’re not going to list everything we saw during our week-long trip around the ring road. We’d be here all day if we did. But we did want to include a few stops that we couldn’t bring ourselves to leave out.
It’s not the sight of Dettifoss that hits you first, it’s the sound. The thunderous roar of 500 cubic meters of water per second that pitch over the 44m drop in a single mighty curtain of water slowly rises up on you as as you walk down the path to greet Europe’s most powerful waterfall. When the falls finally come into view, it’s the type of sight where one could very easily lose track of time marveling at the power nature is capable of.
Pro tip: There are two roads that access the falls. The 864 that runs along the river’s eastern flank is gravel and can be unpleasant depending on the time of year. The 862, however, on the west of the river, is recently paved and a comfortable drive.
A 7.4km round-trip hike will take you past two of our favourite vistas from southern Iceland: Svartifoss waterfall and Sjónarnípa, a lookout with an excellent view of Skaftafell glacier. The track meanders up through fields of volcanic rock and alpine flora, with views of distant mountain peaks, one of which, Hvannadalshnjúkur, is Iceland’s highest.
Pro tip: Expect to be on the trail for 2.5-3 hrs, bring snacks, plenty of water, and gear for any weather. We got lucky and had some of the best weather of our whole trip for this hike.
A drive along the Snæfellsnes Peninsula in western Iceland is a worthy detour from the Ring Road, and somewhat of a consolation to missing out on the Westfjords like we unfortunately did. The circumnavigation of the peninsula is an easy day trip and includes some of western Iceland’s most iconic stops, including Kirkjufell mountain and the glacier-topped Snæfellsjökull volcano.
The landscape transforms almost as frequently as the weather, and you can’t blink without missing something incredible. If we stopped at every photo-worthy sight that caught our attention, there’s a good chance we’d still be there. Touring the Ring Road by camper van was our utopia – a euphoric escape only comparable to places you read about in childhood fairy tales.
Iceland is for the curious and the outdoorsy – the most optimistic of travellers. You could stay inside when the heavens open, or you can prepare for all weather. You could get bummed out at the number of people waiting to get a photo at the bottom of the waterfall, or you can get up a little earlier and get the place to yourself. You could spend a week incessantly hunting for the aurora, or you can enjoy all of the beauty that the country has to offer and, if you’re lucky, the lights might just find you.
What to pack to take your camper van experience up a notch
- Terry cloth hand towels: Although we also brought travel towels these were so much easier to dry off with in a rush when there’s seven people waiting for the one campground shower.
- Packing Cubes: It’s amazing how often we managed to lose things within the small confinements of the Caddy. These cubes are a lifesaver for keeping everything organized.
- Clothesline: Hang it on the hooks across the back of the van overnight. Wake up to fully dry rain gear, towels and dish cloths.
- Dryer sheets: Put them in your cubbies with your clothes – pretty much everywhere. Keep the van smelling fresh, and trick yourself into thinking your clothes are actually clean.
- Cigarette lighter power converter: No need to buy country-specific wall adapters. Charge everything while you drive or sleep.
- Freeze-dried meals: Preparing a hot meal in five minutes after a long chilly day of hiking was a game changer. We bought food from the grocery store for breakfast and lunch and had a dehydrated meal (brought from home) each night. Dinners included: beef pho, spaghetti and meatballs, pasta primavera, mac ‘n’ cheese and risotto.
- Headlamps: Other than obvious reasons, headlamps were great to attach to the headrests while getting ready for bed. Save the car battery for the heater!
- Dry bags: Don’t miss out on photos because your camera might get wet. Bring a dry bag to carry it in between shots – also great for wet bathing suits.
- AUX cord: Because road trip playlists are essential.
Our route and the ground we covered each day.
Kate & Dan
Read more: Taking advantage of the never ending Icelandic summer days
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