Camper Van Harry on the Ring road
After one week living in Australia I unexpectedly met a handsome, gentle, viking-looking, curly-haired man by being in the right place at the right time. If you would have told me then that he would be the man I fell deeply in love with, and two years from that day we would be living out of a camper van, road tripping across Iceland together, I would’ve looked at you like you were completely and entirely ógnvekjandi geðveikur (translated to “freaking insane” in Icelandic, according to Google). Sure enough, there we were, the viking man and I two years later, cuddled together looking up at the glow of the Northern Lights in the magic and bewilderment that is Iceland.
The morning we collected our van Harry and I were ecstatic that everything we had been planning over the past few months had finally come to fruition, and was ours to make the most of. A new chapter together in a foreign, wildly beautiful country. Our van came equipped with bedding, kitchen supplies, heating, WiFi, and plenty of storage for our thick winter clothes. We hopped into the van, overly-giddy, belting out the songs on our hand-picked road trip playlist and set off for the Golden Circle. This would a place to set the tone of the enchantment that would lie ahead over the following nine days, satiated with waterfalls, geysers and vibrant geothermal pools in crystal hues of deep purples, oranges, and blues.
The late August air was crisp and refreshing, bundled in a scarf and sweater. We drove off the beaten path to Brúarfoss, where thousands of tiny waterfalls trickled into a stunningly blue stream of water contrasted against black rocks. It was captivating and well worth finding, a theme that grew more and more familiar as our journey continued.
The daily pursuit to find a spot to park our van for a bite to eat would become one of our favorite endeavors of the trip. Not only due to the fact that we love food, but to scout out a new place to savor a meal and revel in the surreal and unique beauty of Iceland. Quite frankly, it’d be possible to do this every five seconds considering every square inch of the way was breathtaking, but we kept ourselves moving forward. Harry and I rarely ate out, having done most of our grocery shopping at Bónus in Reykjavik before heading off on our road trip, which seemed like the best way to go due to its inexpensive and plentiful options. We simmered Tikka Masala on our stove top, the sea breeze wafting through, without another soul in sight. The itch to explore as much as we could led us to hop back into the van and travel on. By dusk we unexpectedly stumbled upon Seljalandsfoss. A disappointment washed over us when we found this waterfall after dark, but as we walked closer it became all the more spectacular as we were the only ones under the moonlight experiencing this all-consuming phenomena; an eerily magical experience.
We parked as close as we could that night to Skógafoss, exhausted to our core, stepping outside only to brush our teeth. We were able to make out a faint figure of a waterfall rushing in the distance but climbed back into the warmth and comfort of our camper van. We opened the back doors the next morning to unveil the most beautiful waterfall we had ever seen, laying in our nest of blankets taking it in. We threw on our rain jackets and made our way as fast as we could up the side of the waterfall until our lungs felt like they could explode with the cold morning air. There was always a stillness to wherever we ended up, taking in what was before us. A silence in the presence of something so mesmerizing that you may never see again, it stirs something inside you, which in my opinion is the best part of traveling.
We headed south to catch sight of the of the black sand beaches that rimmed the shoreline, whitewash foaming the black sand and basalt columns towering above us. It was like stepping into another world. We stopped in Vik, a tiny fishing village, where we tucked into soup, fries and chocolate dusted cappuccinos for a warm pick me up. Our van weaved through surreal and ever changing landscapes on our way to Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon, one of our most treasured experiences in Iceland. We trekked along the canyon, a place unlike anywhere I’ve ever seen before, where I had to stop myself from taking pictures every other second and just be, in this fairy tale-like misty, green, unbelievable place.
On day four we woke to a clear cool morning as we brewed coffee in the back of the van. A silver river twisted through the black sand, melting off monstrous glaciers in the distance. We packed up and drove closer to the mountains until they hovered above us. We trekked up the mountain to catch a glimpse of yet another stunning waterfall, Svartifoss. After cooking lunch at the foothills of the mountain we drove through the winding, scenic roads further south to Jökulsárlón, a glacial lagoon freckled with icebergs and playful seals. Tourists started to dwindle as we drove east through miles of black sand beaches, past tall winding mountains dotted with tiny farms and tangles of evergreens. We drove down a dirt path for an early night, devouring our grilled cheese sandwiches dipped in tomato soup with a Viking beer in the coziness of our van and watched the giant grey waves of the Atlantic crash onto the black rocks beside us.
Fierce wind and bucketing rain dictated most of our travels on day five. It rained relentlessly through the picturesque fishing villages up the east coast. We pulled over to overlook the sea, snuggled up in the back of the van with mugs of hot coffee and chocolate chip cookies, listening to the rain outside. We traveled along the jagged coastline with mountains pinching into the sea until we reached a village called Seyðisfjörður, where tiny colorful houses reflected in a stunning, glassy lake. We drove inland to Mývatn where the landscapes dramatically changed to flat desolate golden fields as the sun began to stream through. As we drove closer to Mývatn the land turned black, the mountains turned black, with silver streams cutting shapes in the ground. We were the only ones on the road, all but a few clusters of white sheep on the mountains edge. Down a dirt path we discovered the most powerful waterfall in Europe, Dettifoss. We arrived at dusk as the only ones there, the area covered in giant jagged rocks. We caught glimpses of the Northern Lights for the first time in Mývatn as the sky turned black. We snaked through mountains with silhouettes of steam rising out of the ground until we found a place to park alongside the road to rest. We stood under the shimmering greens of the Aurora Borealis clutched to each other in awe as the lights danced across the sky.
Seeing Mývatn for the first time in daylight felt like we had landed on a different planet. A desolate area of greys and golds, warm under a sleeping bag. We headed to Grjótagjá, a small lava cave with a thermal spring inside. We spent the day exploring all that Mývatn had to offer, bubbling pools of mud and steaming fumaroles, craters, lakes, volcano, and even took a trip back to Dettifoss to explore the waterfall in the daylight. Húsavik was our next destination, arriving in time to cook dinner on an emerald grassy headland overlooking the black sand coastline, dark mountains capped with snow in the backdrop. We cooked curry with wine stained lips talking into the night, the green glistening glow of the Northern Lights spilling through passing clouds above.
A week on the road, we woke to howling wind that cradled our van, teamed with pelting rain. We left Húsavik for another waterfall coined “the beauty” in contrast to Dettifoss, “the beast.” We carved through mountains where simple farms and trickling waterfalls were etched into the scenery. We passed through Akureyri, a city painted against a mountainside backdrop on the sea’s edge. We decided last minute to turn off the Ring Road and experience the Westfjords, made up of bumpy dirt roads where other cars on the road were far and few between.
We took an early morning dip in a tiny geothermal hot spring beside the cool ocean, as the only people around for miles. The Westfjords were more rugged and uninhabited than the Ring Road, both unique and exceedingly rich in scenery. After following roads that scooped around bodies of water tracing the coastline, we explored a beach with red swirls of sand and blue water, where sheep sunbaked in the sand. Peering out the van window to sheer cliffs beside us and an abundance of rainbows beginning and ending in the rivers and oceans before us. Though we didn’t get much time to explore the Westfjords before heading back to Reykjavik, Dynjandi was by the far the most incredible waterfall we came across in our time spent there.
A road trip unparalleled to any other I’ve experienced. The otherworldly beauty of Iceland will forever be imprinted as one of my favorite countries to date. Nine adventure-packed days on the road wasn’t nearly enough to see everything that Iceland had to offer, and we plan to return again someday to explore more nooks and crannies of this wildly magical country.
Read more: Exploring Iceland in a VW Camper
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