We live in the Great Lakes Region of North American and are of the age when our children no longer live with us and some of them have children of their own. Though our house is now quiet, we have been realizing that our caretaking commitments will sooner than later be shifting to keeping an eye on those who once cared for us. This conveniently brought about the determination that there is no better time than the present to walk right out the door and into an adventure just for the two of us. The decision on where to go was made in minutes after going through a friends pictures of their recent Iceland trip one evening after dinner.
As we are people who prefer to camp more than stay in hotels, we locked into the idea of renting a camper van for some international camping in Iceland quite easily. In terms of length of stay, we decided to make the most of it and tour for two weeks because our research indicated there would be more than enough to experience and we didn’t want to end the trip with a feeling something had been missed. Iceland is commonly referred to as the land of Fire and Ice. We finished the trip with the opinion that Iceland is a land of raw elemental forces that are blended in beautiful and fantastic ways. The scenery was stunning and mixed with ever changing weather created an experience of complete delight for persons of our seasoned nature. The effect this has on people is interesting as we perceived Icelanders to be active, passionate and ironically progressive with conservative values. In a significant way this made us feel at home during our travels.
The following are some highlights of our adventure and some suggestions on how to possibly make your adventure in the land of extremes one that you will reflect on with satisfaction for years to come. We opted to include some pictures of scenery that is not normally displayed in reviews and blogs to expand on the relevance that Iceland is more than Glaciers, Waterfalls and Volcanoes.
- Cameras – People travel to Iceland from around the world to photograph its endless fantastic scenery. Practice your photography ahead of time. Make sure your equipment is in good working order. Have a plan for keeping your lenses clean and dry and for keeping your cameras charged. Have two cameras (two cells or a handheld camera and a cell). Always follow the expert adventures rule #2 – have your shooter (camera) with you at all times to capture the moment!
- Cash – Coins are only needed for some pay showers and for laundry. When needed the campground reception supplied coins via credit card transaction.
- Clothes – Top/Bottom rain shells. Multiple layers synthetic clothing. Wool is recommended if you got’em. Waterproof boots (back up pair recommended but not a must). Socks, Socks, Socks. Dry warm feet are happy feet.
- Coffee – If you like to drink coffee bring a french press. The campground kitchen taps have very hot water. Offering table neighbors some coffee is a great ice breaker.
- Credit – Make sure you have a pin number for your credit card as N1 gas pumps require you to have it. Try to make sure you use cards that charge no currency exchange fees.
- Golden Rules – Do unto others as you would have them do unto you (i.e. – Don’t be loud when others are sleeping) and respect the land and property as if they were your own (i.e. stay on paths, follow instructions on signs, don’t harass or feed the animals, make sure all trash including microtrash is cleaned up, clean out the sink drain when your done with dishes).
- Hiking – Hikers might plan to spend more time in the National Parks as we feel they have the best hiking.
- Navigation – Use Google maps. With Rent.is you get 5 Gigs of 4G internet. We had excellent coverage 95% of the time.
- Northern Lights – If you were not fortunate enough to see the Northern Lights in Iceland, look out your window to the north on the flight back home.
- Serendipity – Pick out 1-3 things that each of you want to do. Leave open time to allow for serendipity. This suggestion doesn’t work for everyone.
- Share – If traveling the Ring Road talk to people traveling the opposite direction as they will give you excellent information on campgrounds and things to do that are ahead. Get those maps out and lay them on the table. Laugh at how bad all nationalities are at trying to pronounce Icelandic place names. It is also a great way to make the world a better place.
- Sleep – Bring ear plugs. People snore when they’re tired (nuff said). In larger campgrounds some soul will occasionally want to share their music with everyone until about 10 O’clock.
- Stay Dry – Bring 4-6 microfiber towels. Use them to keep your camper clean and dry. It rains a fair amount in Iceland and is cool at night (there will be some condensation).
- Stay Happy – End your day earlier than most. We typically got to campgrounds right at 5 PM. We had the pick of spots and the facilities to ourselves before things got busy. This allowed us to get out early and get to places before most other people.
- Towns – Go for walks in the towns you stay in. Each town has its own flavor. In our walks we found that outside of Reykjavik nobody locked their parked bicycles. We hope that Iceland never loses this quality.
- Walkabout – The Reykjavik Campground is located next to multiple green spaces and is easy walking distance to downtown. Take a few strolls around Reykjavik to take in human made wonders and curiosities.
- Weather – Pay attention to hazardous weather forecasts. We are glad that we did and as a result did not get stuck in North Iceland or Sandblasted.
September Iceland Adventure Highlights
Day 1 – Þingvellir – We landed in Keflavik about noon and picked up our Renault Trafic 3 Camper van from Rent.is. Drove to Costco and loaded up with supplies for a 14 day tour. We finished the day at Þingvellir Campground, showered, ate supper, took a short walk and then retired for the evening. Warm sleeping bags and a heater after 32 hours without sleep and we were out like lights.
Day 2 Morning – Earth & Water – Þingvellir. In the morning we toured Þingvellir National Park, which is located on the tectonic separation of the North American and European plates. It is also more romantically famous for being Iceland’s first location of rendezvous and government forum dating back more than a 1000 years!! You could easily picture in your mind the magical gathering of ancients that once occurred in this scenic location. There is a wee bit of hiking at Þingvellir, but it is close to Reykjavik so it comes with many friendly tourist as well. We felt it was a great place to be able to tour.
Day 2 Afternoon – Earth & Water – Glýmur. We stopped and had lunch at Laxá í Kjós then proceeded on for a little hiking at a place called Glýmur. Not seen in the above picture but included in the Glýmur hike are a fairy cave, a single log river crossing and the second highest waterfall in Iceland. In our minds, Glýmur is a good hike to do if you go to Iceland. After hiking out and visiting with international adventurers we headed to Arnarstapi, located on the Snæfellsnes Peninsula and camped for the evening.
Day 3 – Earth & Water – Snæfellsnes Peninsula. Went hiking in Snæfellsjökull National Park. Above is our photograph of the Lóndrangar Basalt Cliffs. Our morning also included climbing Saxhólar Crater. It was great fun as we pretended that we had found Jule Vernes entrance crater to the center of the earth. Stopped for lunch at Gufuskálar. Finished the day with a drive to Sæberg Campground stopping to photograph Kirkjufell along the way. Sæberg Campground (Farfuglaheimili Tjaldstæðið) has full facilities including natural springs tubs located on a surreal fiord on the NW central shore. Quite a treat that we highly recommend.
Day 4 – Earth & Water – Tröllaskagi Peninsula. A driving day with multiple stops at scenic pull offs taking us all the way up and around the Tröllaskagi Peninsula including one and two lane tunnels, quaint fishing villages and a wildlife sanctuary. The day ended with dinner, hot showers and laundry at Hamrar Campground in Akureyri.
Day 5 – Fire and Ice come together to make waterfalls (foss). We hike past Goðafoss waterfall in the rain before driving through fantastic lava fields to a second magnificent waterfall hike of Dettifoss. Rain shells are a good idea!!
Day 5 – Fire – Lake Mývatn. We camped a couple of meters from the terminus of a lava field with a large volcanic structure (cinder cone) in the background at Vogar Campground. The Lake Mývatn area is geothermally powerful. Many of our family and friends thought we were off our rockers at this point as nothing like this exist in the North American Great Lakes Area that we are from. We were absolutely loving it.
Day 6 – Fire – Hverir. On our drive from Lake Mývatn to Egilsstaðir Campground we stopped at Grjótagjá, Krafla and Hverir. Pictured is a hot sulfur steamer at Hverir. It smelled exactly as it looked. Visually nothing grew down wind of this geothermal feature.
Day 7 – Snow & Wind – Mount Snæfell. After camping in the town of Egilsstaðir, we drove up into the interior on the tarmac roads 931 and 910 towards Kárahnjúkar Dam to try and get a chance glimpse of Icelandic Reindeer. At the highest point of the drive we came across snow and Mount Snæfell as seen in the picture. On the drive back out Hengifoss was climbed and enjoyed before driving east and settling for the evening in Berunes.
Day 8 – Water & Ice – Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon. We could put about 100 stunning photos from this lagoon in the blog, but then no one would get to the exciting stuff seen below. It would be a shame for anyone to go to Iceland and not get to see this place. Best to get to this location early in the day if possible as it is well known.
Day 9 – Earth, Ice & Water – We started our day at Diamond Beach. The black sand beach contrasts the sparkling diamond like ice in a way that we’ve never experienced before. It was incredible to see. Next we hiked to Svinafellsjökull Glacier as seen in the picture above. The Glacier is located near Svinafell Campground where we camped for two nights. We ended our day by hiking to Svinafellsjökull glacier. There is more than a wee bit of hiking in this area and its worth visiting for just that purpose alone.
Day 10 Morning – Serendipity & Earth – Dverghamrar (dwarf rocks) and Foss á Siðu. Not far west of Vatnajökull National Park is this seemingly unexciting pull off. A short walk from above yields this mystical place known to be frequented by Gnomes, Trolls and Dwarfs. Can you see them peering out at you through the cracks in the basalt? A short stop and stroll at this location is recommended for those who enjoy stories and fantasy.
Day 10 Afternoon – Earth & Water – Seljavallalaug. After stopping for some photos at Dverghamrar and Skógafoss, we went for a dip in a hot springs pool. It takes a little hike to reach it, with the valley seen in picture leading to it being quite wonderful! Beware it is a popular site and swimming is more pond like than pool, but refreshing nonetheless. The hike in and out are full of energy and warm feeling and well worth doing even if you choose not to swim. Seljavallalaug is truly a special place and the persons who constructed the hot springs pool at this location in 1923 knew exactly what they were doing.
Day 11 – Wind & Waterfall – Gullfoss. A storm from the north brought snow to the north and interior, sand storms to the east and high winds to the south. Luckily we made our way to Selfoss Campground before the winds arrived. Pictured is Skógafoss experienced in 50 km/h wind.
Day 12 – Wind & Earth – Stokkseyri. Just south of Selfoss is the small artsy village of Stokkseyri. In the center of town is this earthen hut that was used to house up to 16 fishermen when the sea was to rough to go fishing. We kept our touring on this day to low elevations due to high winds and went hiking/wildlife viewing in the Flói Bird Preserve and visited the modern art Stone Circle on Hwy 38.
Day 13 – Reykjavik. We went for walks in Reykjavik and area parks. Pictured is the geothermal wash area where the early settlers washed and dried their clothing. This park is located adjacent to Reykjavik city campsite where we stayed our last two nights. During our Reykjavik walkabout we visited the Höfði house, the Sun Voyager, Harpa concert hall, Hallgrimskirkja and other sites along with checking out some of the downtown shops.
Day 14 – Reykjavik. A perfect end to our adventure was spent taking in the beauty of the Reykjavik Botanic Gardens. Our first and only Iceland frost occurred the night before and yet these flowers survived and became more beautiful! The day ended with donating our leftover food to incoming adventurers, returning the cozy home away from home camper van and a flight home. Though we missed seeing the Northern Lights in Iceland we got to see a full east to west vivid green curtain out the north window of the plane on the way home.
Read more: Engagement vacation – Amazing Iceland
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