Ella and Mr Adventure
Anyone Can Do This: Icelandic campervanning tales
of Mr Adventure and his highly anxious wife.
leep in a van he said. It will be great, he said. It’s the only way to see everything that’s amazing, he said.
Can’t we just hire a normal car, I said. It’s cheaper, I argued. And stay in this cute little airbnb cottage and drive from there…I pleaded.
“It is completely safe and completely beautiful, you will actually love it,” said Mr Adventure, an Australian who loves camping and has actually done the Ring road in a campervan in Iceland before. As part of our honeymoon trip Mr Adventure requested that I sleep in a van for six nights and re-visit his favorite landscapes of Iceland. Reluctant (but keen to avoid an early divorce) I negotiated down to three nights in the van and a deal was struck; we were going campervanning in Iceland.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against gorgeous landscapes and sublime natural phenomena, I have even been camping before (I have!) but being an anxious person I still thought of the isolation, the lack of readily available help, thoughts like “what will happen if I can’t find a shower for three days”, “what if I can’t sleep”, “what if we break down and are stuck in a snow drift”…”what if one of us gets sick and we are in the middle of nowhere!”. You know, completely normal thoughts.
To say I was trepidatious would be an understatement. It is defined as “apprehensive or nervous” which sounds about right but also leading up to the trip a few minor panic attacks ensued.
Our plane landed at midnight in Iceland. The instructions from the hire company say to walk 100 meters straight out of the airport and wait for the orange courtesy bus that comes every 15 minutes. We found the spot signified by the hire company logo on a sign and I spent 10 nervous minutes wondering if the bus would ever arrive or if we would spend the night in that cold bus shelter. But I need fear not! The bus arrived and dropped us just around the back of the airport and we quickly and easily signed out the camper van.
The van itself is truthfully very comfy-looking. It had two clean and fluffy sleeping bags on a generously sized in-built mattress, a water storage (water out of the tap is clean and fresh in Iceland, it won’t make you sick – I checked), a powered coolbox, camping cooking facilities and free WIFI – which worked straight away and opening my Facebook app (sad but true) made me feel immediately less isolated.
By this time it was about 1am and we needed to find a camping spot. The closest one was North of the airport was on the point near the lighthouse, about 10 minutes drive. Search Google maps for “Camping Garður”. A few not very well painted speed bumps rattled my nerves on the way but other than that getting there was easy, and once we arrived there were clean toilets and a camping sink. We pulled up by the sea wall for the night and slept well in the peace and quiet, despite the sun coming up very early at this time of year. One night down…two to go.
Our plan was to head into Reykjavik in the morning for three days worth of food supplies and car snacks. Now this is where it gets interesting, even the drive from the airport area to Reykjavik was incredible. I am usually one for white and turquoise beaches, glorious rain forests and fields filled with flowers. I had pre-judged Iceland, I had seen photos and just thought the place was a big brown field of rock and grass with areas of ice and a few waterfalls here and there. How wrong I was. Photos can’t begin to depict what you will feel like in this landscape blessed with the most interesting and stunning nature you may ever see. It is SO AMAZING.
I was still feeling quite apprehensive. Mr Adventure kept his cool as I failed in giving directions into the center of Reyjavik, I am ashamed to say it was Siri who got us there in the end. Reykjavik is a town that is quaint and colorful and stylish, I loved it straight away. It has a Scandinavian influence and the main street was perhaps aimed at tourists, but everything was design-sensitive and beautifully executed. The Opera House, Harpa and the public library are two amazing architectural buildings which impressed upon me that this country has its priorities right and is design, not developer driven.
We strolled down one of the main streets. I wanted to buy everything in every shop, there wasn’t anything tacky in sight. No novelty shops, and even the tourism shops were style-focused. We started the day with a coffee and Chia seed pudding at Reykavik Roasters, a tiny coffee shop and charming hipster haven with great food. We stocked up on croissants from a ridiculously gorgeous bakery called Brauð & co. Try the hazelnut croissants, chocolate croissants, the nutty bread (I don’t know its name). We got a couple of gourmet sandwiches for lunch on the road at the deli section of Ostabúðin (expensive but lovely). Finally, stocked up on camping groceries at the common supermarket “Bónus” – look for the piggy bank in the title – and we were ready to hit the road.
Mr Adventure, whilst adventurous is also very level headed, so when he saw that the weather was going to be windy in the south where were headed for the night, he decided to stop into the tourist information center in the middle of town to check their advice.
Setback 1. The lady at the tourist desk turned her screen around to show us that SEVERE WINDS and STORMS would be plaguing the Southern part of Iceland and that some roads would be closed. She recommended that we stay in the Golden Circle and the peninsular just north of Reykjavik where Ólafvik is. I was really happy about this as I thought that there would at least be PEOPLE around and we would be far CLOSER into civilization should we get into any trouble.
Mr Adventure was disappointed because he said the Golden circle would have loads of other tourists (well, Mr Adventure, we are tourists too you know…) and Ólafvik he thinks is great, all of Iceland is, but for him it was not as spectacular as some of the other parts Iceland he had seen. Regardless, we set off for a first night in the Golden circle, towards Geyser. I felt quite content and safe, especially as I regularly refreshed the great live road mapping website for any potential danger (it was a fine and sunny day, but you never know). You can find it at Road.is.
The scenery as we headed out of Reykjavik just got better and better. We met a middle-aged couple from New York part way through the drive who asked about our van. They were going to get a camper like ours but weren’t confident about how comfortable it was. Instead they had hired a normal car and were driving in and out of Reyjavik each day. After a quick inspection they decided that a van like ours would be a much better way of sight seeing.
Our first stop was at Þingvellir National Park (note, in Iceland the “Þ’” is a “Th” sound). An interesting history of the first parliaments set on two tectonic plates that shift gradually each year. We made a coffee and ate our expensive gourmet sandwiches and set off to check out a waterfall. It was fantastic, from the moment I saw this waterfall gushing fresh spring water over a ridge I was in love. This land is STUNNING. We ended up doing a whole walk, about 2 – 3 hours looking at the various sites and views and Mr Adventure took a photograph or two.
It was a bit sad, some of the gorgeous clear pools at the bottom of the ridge have had thousands of coins thrown into them by tourists wanting to make wishes or for good luck. Coins are bad for the environment and natural landscapes. There are signs saying so, but they were either too late or people are ignoring them.
I have been to Japan and absolutely love onsen – hot Japanese natural spring baths, so I spent some time researching a possible hot spring in Iceland. Mr Adventure said the Blue Lagoon was gigantic and a bit commercial, so I came across one called the “Secret lagoon” nearby and we decided to give it a try. My word. HEAVEN! We pulled up near some of the charming greenhouses that are lit by sunlamps in the late evening reminding us of Christmas. The Secret lagoon is wonderful, about $40 each including towel rental and it is so pure you need to shower first. Stepping into the hot spring from the cold fresh air into the spectacularly naturally heated water, feeling our feet on the clean smooth pebbles below was magic. Then some Icelandic horses trotted past. We stayed in for an hour or so. Magic magic magic.
Mr Adventure read google reviews of a couple of campsites at Geysir, we pulled into the better rated one and were rewarded. There was a basic field to park on, but inside was a quirky Icelandic dude who had fitted out his place like an Icelandic version of an American Saloon. Skjól Campground was about 2,400 Kr per night for both of us. This whole camping in Iceland thing is not as remote as I thought. The pizza they were making smelled amazing, but we cooked our pasta with tomato basil sauce on our little stove and decided we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to have a drink in the quirky bar, where the talkative owner told us of visits of the likes of Dev Platel and Beyonce and Jay-Z (for realz???).
A windy rainy night but cosy in our sleeping bags in the van gave way to a glorious sunny day the next morning. We went to Geyser and joined about 150 other tourists watching this phenomenon. You have to see it close up, the way the water bubbles up and breaks like a conical ocean wave and then bursts into the sky. I hate that sulfuric-rotten-egg smell that this stuff has, but it wasn’t so unbearable out in the open.
Onwards we went to Gullfoss, a huge waterfall, not as pretty as the one the day before but MASSIVE. Mr Adventure checked the weather and said that it seemed it was now clear in the south! He was happy, I immediately became trepidatious, but we agreed that if things looked dicey we could turn back.
The day was so nice that he even suggested we should head 4.5 hours out towards the glacier lagoon. That is A LOT of driving, for me. It is very far away from civilization for me. I was petrified. None of the campsites even close to there opened for another few weeks. I said no. Mr Adventure was very understanding, and said “are you sure, it’s amazing?”. I said “yes thank you, I’m sure”.
We went to Seljalandsfoss waterfall which is stunning, it was sunny and gorgeous. I said, I don’t think I’ll walk behind it, I just did that in Queensland in the rain forest last month. But then all of a sudden I was leading the way and giggling at the rainbows that appeared in the mist and the water spray that began to soak me. Loved it. Would do again. There were smaller waterfalls, including one in a cave just a short walk along the path.
“Okay” I said out of seemingly nowhere, “if we push on from here and go to the glacier lagoon it will be about 7:30pm, it will be light until about 11:00pm so we could get back to Vik which looks quite populated and has a campsite that may be open. “GASP!” said Mr Adventure as he breathed in with delight, “We don’t have to if you’re not okay with it” trying to suppress his excitement. What a guy, how did I get so lucky. “Let’s go” I said. And we did.
So here’s the thing, you have to actually drive route 1 (the Ring road) on the south coast yourself to believe what you see. All I can say is that you feel like you are in the Arizona desert one minute (not that I have been there, but I have seen those Wylie Coyote Warner Bros cartoons), then a Scottish highland the next, then the moon the next. It’s like nothing else.
On the way through we detoured to a little campsite that was between two waterfalls, the bathrooms were locked, it wasn’t open yet but it was so pretty and green and peaceful that it made a great candidate for a possible campsite for later should we not be able to stop out near the glacier lagoon. Not as populated as Vik though, so I was surprising myself. Mr Adventure couldn’t believe it and kept saying he was so proud of me. Again, unsure how I deserve him.
The glacier lagoon, Jökulsárlón was the single most beautiful thing I have seen. I was trepidatious about this trip, then I was brave, now I was rewarded. Oh goodness. Large chunks of ice in whites and aqua blues floating on a still lagoon with the sun sparkling on the surface. Huge chunks of ice slowly melting from the glorious snowy mountains behind and into the ocean. And there were seals. SEALS! They were so cute and peaceful. We were in awe. 10 minutes back down the road, Mr Adventure took me to the lesser known glacier lagoon called Fjallsárlón. It was us and two other people when we got there quite late in the evening. It was still and peaceful, you could hear the ice shifting and cracking gently. It was life affirming. No I am not being dramatic, it was.
By this time, we had done what I didn’t really want to do and had driven all day long. We were in the middle of nowhere, and everything was shut. Actually things were shut but you never felt isolated. It is a really well organised and clear system in Iceland, and there are others just like you out exploring. We made our way back for another couple of hours to the two waterfalls campsite and made noodles in a cup (all we could be bothered with after such a long day) and we fell gratefully into a peaceful sleep.
The next day it was windy and rainy, but not scary. We drove into Vik to fill up on water and use the bathrooms, we went to Skógafoss, another huge waterfall that was going to be the main attraction of my previously much tamer itinerary designed by Mr Adventure. My friend and choir teacher was preposed to at Skógafoss, awwww, lovely. We had a good breakfast of eggs, toast and beans cooked on the camping stove sheltered from the wind by the larger camper next to us (cleverly positioned by Mr Adventure) and looking at the river and glorious mountains just next to us. We were rather exhausted by this stage but still managed to climb the colossal staircase and look down at this waterfall. This one we decided not to walk behind.
Our final stop was Seljavallalaug, an abandoned public pool that was built in 1923 and fed by the natural hot springs. You park the car and walk for about 10 minutes into the glorious snow capped mountains to find it. It truly is abandoned, but about 20 other tourists were there having a dip. It was much more mossy and not as gloriously warm as the secret lagoon, but we got in and it was very nice with an incredible view. A wonderful experience and highly recommended.
Back to Reykjavik, impressed with myself, grateful to my amazing husband and feeling exhausted but fantastic. Was it the red power ranger who said, “Courage is not the mere absence of fear, but the overcoming of it?”. If they are still making Survivor, I will likely never win it, but I can now happily say that I am stronger than I thought, and was well rewarded for genuine bravery (measured by my own fear).
I suppose you could now even call me, “Miss Adventure!”. Sorry what? No wait…
Read more: Mother & Daughter Getaway to Iceland
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