From the land of Sea & Sun to the land of Fire & Ice
Iceland has always been a dream destination. The Aurora Borealis phenomenon was said to be a one of a kind experience and it has always been on our To Do list. Therefore when the opportunity appeared we booked the tickets and started planning our trip from Greece to Iceland, from the land of Sun and sea to the land of Ice and Fire. In this Journey the team consisted of 4 people, Panos, Panos, Panos and Stathis (no there is no typing error) and we also shared some other common characteristics.
Day 1 – Getting the camper, the Blue Lagoon & Northern Lights
After a stop in London for 13 hours (the price we had to pay for our low budget tickets) we boarded the plane to Iceland. When the pilot asked us to prepare for landing we were amazed by what we saw outside our window and it is not like we have never seen snow before, but the extent of that amazing winter landscape was breathtaking.
First task for our adventure was to pick up our 4×4 Camper Van. We have decided that the only way to re ally explore Iceland and visit every place we wanted was a camper van. In addition, that would allow us to actually “hunt” the Aurora Borealis, the absolute task of our trip. After thorough research online we decided to rent a VW California camper Van ideal for 4 persons with their backpacks. This particular van had a retractable tent mounted on top that, when opened, created an additional room, for sleeping two people.
We did not regret that choice at all! We arrived at the rental office near the airport by following the directions on the website and the respective e-mail. The staff was very polite and helpful and after explaining everything we needed to know we set off to our adventure! Iceland road trip!!!
After our long trip to Iceland what a better way to relax than a hot bath. First stop Blue Lagoon. One of the most beautiful lagoon installations in Iceland We arrived in a volcanic environment; we checked in and proceeded to the actual pool of hot water. The few meters from the changing rooms to the water were the first steps in the cold Icelandic weather, without a full set of warm clothes, and there were many more similar experiences to come.
An hour later we decided to leave the lagoon and move on with our journey. Ideally we would go to a grocery store to buy provisions for cooking, but we were informed that shops closed at 18.00 so we had a walk in the fairytale city of Reykjavik. The amazing Cathedral was closed for the night so we had to make do with just passing by and a note to revisit.
After we had quenched our thirst for city walking we followed our plan and took our camper van closer to Þingvellir national park, so we would save time in the morning. We found a suitable location to park the van and started preparing for sleep, when from outside the van we heard some muffled sounds. One of the team members (Panos) was outside washing his teeth when he saw a faint sign of Aurora, could we be so lucky?
And indeed we were. What started as a faint greenish glow soon became the most amazing show we have ever seen. We stepped out of the van, ignored the cold and sat mesmerized, actually right below this green sheet of moving light. The show lasted for more than an hour and we still could not believe our eyes, since the forecast of this night was not good. After managing to accept our luck we packed up the gear, and adjusted the van for the night.
We were kind of worried about the night temperature in the van since the heat was powered by an extra battery and the fact that two of us would have to sleep on the roof was a bit risky in our minds but the van proved us wrong. Heat on the vehicle was indeed sufficient and in some cases we had to lower the level to medium. In addition, the extra space that was created on the roof, was more than enough for two people sleeping. Of course the sleeping bags provided by the company did their part in keeping us warm too.
Day 2 – Silfra & the Golden Circle
The alarm rang and we started to prepare our gear for one of the most “unique” experiences in Iceland. We had booked a dive in Silfra diving site, where the North American and Eurasian continents meet. The water has amazing clarity and actually the park itself is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The morning of the dive the weather was not on our side, actually it was quite windy and the snow did not stop falling. Once more our concerns about the van and the tires were extinguished by the smooth performance of it in this weather. We parked in the designated parking and walked towards the meeting point.
When we arrived, we met the divers who once more asked us if we were sure about our choice of suit. To set things straight, when diving in this environment, you are presented with two options when it comes to the suit. The dry suit which you put over your clothes and is the “safest” option since you only get cold in your hands, and the wet suit which is a regular 5mm diving suit. The disadvantage of the dry suit is that it reduces mobility in the water, and you cannot actually dive, you mostly float. Therefore and after considering our options we decided to dive in the wet suit which in theory was going to be colder, but bearable. Interesting detail is that no else wore the wet suit, and as we were later informed NO ONE this year had chosen the wet suit.
We changed into our suits and went out to meet the rest of the divers, where we were briefed by the guide diver. Once outside the van a tall guy approached us since he heard us talking and said
“You are Greeks?” After basic introduction he asked us “Why”?
“What do you mean why” we said?
“Why on earth you decided to dive on wet suit?”
“Because they told us it is bearable” we said.
“Ok guys come and meet me after your dive and tell me about it”
He tapped our shoulders and left!! That was exactly what we needed, another guy looking us like we were on death row. Things started to get colder but we had no idea what was going to follow. We stood in the platform for the final setup of the suits, fitting the mask and waiting in line for the entry to the freezing water or for our feet to freeze completely.
We were already way passed our tolerance level of cold. We tried to make fun of our choice, especially one Panos could not stop laughing with our reaction to cold and guess what, he was the first one to enter the water. One step into the water and his laugh actually froze, he turned back and said in a panicked face “Guys THIS IS WRONG”.
Despite his last warning, things had already taken their course. We were going in. Actually the first feeling was warmth, since from -9 degrees we entered the water at 2º, unfortunately that feeling lasted moments before changing into freezing cold. Three minutes into the water and we were already shivering. The clarity of the water, along with the beauty of scenery, which was outstanding, more than compensated for the shivering cold.
After 40 minutes into the freezing water, we arrived at the exit point where at this particular moment we could not actually enjoy the beauty anymore since the cold was actually unbearable.
We exited the water and started running on a snowy path back to the changing room (which was actually a van where we had left our clothes). 500 meters later we arrived almost frozen outside of the changing van where we were rushed out of the suit by the divers. The last 2 minutes where we stood with our bathing suits wet into the snowy cold weather are still very alive in our memory.
After hastingly changing back into our warm clothes, in plain sight, and while still being frozen, we were rewarded with a hot chocolate cup… It took some time for us to realize what we had actually done and to get our body temperature back to normal but in about ten minutes we were back in the van towards our next pinned location. Needless to say, the heat on the California was set to high.
We headed towards Kerið Volcano Crater Lake which was completely frozen at the moment of our visit. An amazing sight, despite the fact that we could not discern the famous red volcanic rock that surrounds the water.
After that, we continued to Geysir Hotsprings location. On our way there, we passed by some amazingly beautiful creatures. Horses within our reach so we could not but have a few minutes break to socialize with them. After all Panos (one of us) is a really big fan of horses.
When we arrived at Geysir hot springs location we were faced with a snowless wet area full of moss and low height flora. In addition the area had an intense smell of sulfur and the moisture was noticeable in every breath. We witnessed the eruption of the geyser, and despite expecting more in terms of height it did not fail to amaze us.
Next stop our first waterfall Gullfoss! Upon arriving we faced a breathtaking landscape. We headed towards the waterfall on the wooden path and as we got close we could barely talk to each other from the really strong sound of the falling water. The view from the edge of the cliff was amazing!!!
After soaking in the ambience of this amazing sight we headed towards Seljalandsfoss, another waterfall that we would visit the following day. On our way there we had programmed a stop on the grocery store to get supplies. Eating out in Iceland is really expensive compared to Greece therefore we chose to prepare ourselves some of our meals. We stocked some pasta, sauce, eggs, veggies and all other necessary supplies. After completing shopping, we headed towards the Secret lagoon, a small lagoon establishment where we had another hot bath and relaxing time before dinner.
The only thing that was left to do is to find out where to cook our dinner and where we would stay overnight. Another handy feature of our camper van was that it packed all necessary cutlery for 4 people cooking and serving. We decided to move closer to Seljalandsfoss so we could start the following morning closer to our starting location.
On our way to Seljalandsfoss we came across a summer camp that was closed at this period of year but the shed in the buildings provided a great location for cooking. Plus there were really clean toilets with running water that would prove useful for cleaning the cutlery. Cooking in this cold can prove time consuming and boiling spaghetti in small pots needs patience. After an hour or so we sat and enjoyed our “gourmet” menu of spaghetti with premade tomato sauce in the freezing dark landscape of Iceland
Day 3 – Waterfalls & Black sand beaches
Next morning after the morning ritual of washing in the cold with our bottled water we set off to Seljalandsfoss waterfall. During the night snow had fallen so when we woke up we faced that amazing scenery. Once more our vehicle had no problem at all passing through the snow without even “sweating”.
Since we slept close by, it took about 15 minutes, to arrive in the parking location. Once more we faced an amazingly beautiful waterfall with one extra point of interest, a passage that leads behind the waterfall. So we walked a path of medium difficulty, due to ice patches and continuous spraying from the waterfall and did exactly that, went behind the waterfall. Totally worth all the sliding! Make sure you do that!
Right after Seljalandsfoss we visited Skógafoss, an amazing waterfall without any trekking involved.
On the right side there were some steps that allowed us to visit higher grounds and experience another point of view of this amazing waterfall.
And to complete the waterfall tour of the day Κvernufoss was next on our list. Getting there required some trekking. Nothing particularly difficult but it can take up to 30 minutes.
When you arrive you will be rewarded with the beauty of this waterfall. The fact that it requires some trekking prevents tourists from visiting so if you do visit you may enjoy it by yourself. Here once more you are able to walk behind the waterfall. Better bring a raincoat with you since the mist from that fall is quite intense.
After visiting 3 waterfalls in the same day we had a complete change of landmarks. We headed towards Dýrhólaey Lighthouse located in a stunning cliff that offers amazing views of the shoreline from above. The lighthouse itself is a concrete building built in 1927 and is fully operational until today.
You should be very careful since the winds in this location can be fierce at times. To the far left of the lighthouse we could see the famous black beach which was going to be our next stop.
Despite looking really close to the lighthouse, getting to the Black beach took around 20 minutes, since the road circles around natural landscape. Arriving here certainly stuns the viewer. The sand itself is black (obvious from the name) but it is not actually sand, it is small pebbles and stones of various sizes that depending on the angle sun shine beautifully. To the far end of the beach you can see a unique natural pyramid like mountain cliff. You could describe this as a staircase to the sky, and it certainly is difficult to believe that this is completely natural formation.
Abandoned airplane. One of the most well-known sites of Iceland is the wreck of a DC plane in south Iceland. The wreck occurred in 1973 and the remains are still on the black beach. Since 2016 the owner of the land does not allow visitors by car in his land in order to protect the flora, so one has to walk from the closest parking location and trek into the snow to reach the plane. We parked, packed our gear and started for our minor adventure. When we set off the weather was a bit windy but the temperature was not that low.
After approximately 45 minutes of walking we finally reached the wreck and it was worth every step we took. At the time of our arrival there were several people there but as time passed people were leaving so we had opportunity to get some amazing photos.
After about an hour and since the light was getting low we decided to leave for our camper. The way back seemed longer and there were less people on our way. The wind had picked up, the light was getting scarce and a drop in the temperature made our way back a bit harder. It is important to be careful when visiting the wreck since there are no clear paths or marks on the way, in case of bad weather it is very easy to be stranded and lost in the snowy south Iceland.
Our day would be completed with a stop for hot chocolate in Vik village. Small and very beautiful with no particular sights yet it is worth visiting to get the feeling of Icelandic life. At the time of our arrival people seemed to have swarmed the few pubs and cafes. We did the same and enjoyed our hot chocolate trying to get our temperature back to normal.
In our research we had located a summer camping that we would investigate so we could cook if possible in any shed or roofed place. In this case we got even luckier than expected. The camping was indeed closed but the installations were unlocked so we had a sheltered place to cook and eat, protected from the elements of nature. In addition, there was hot water in the showers so we had also a shower and we were now ready to continue our trip.
Before our trip we had heard that in some summer camping sites the installations are open and clean, amazingly polite gesture for the travelers but finding one is quite a lucky guess. After cooking and eating we cleaned the place and left for our selected sleeping location for the night.
On our way there luck strike number two, a greenish light appeared on the sky in front of us. Yes, Aurora Borealis!!! We parked the van and headed out for the hunt. Once more, the show was amazing, there is no way you can compare the one sighting with the other I believe that once more we were all left with our mouths open. This time, we moved on to the second level of observation, we used the table and camping chairs from the van, opened the bottle of Greek “Tsipouro” we brought from home and things got amazing. The Aurora Borealis has this amazing effect on people that see it for the first time, it is so unique, so out of the ordinary that it is very easy to lose track of time and of temperature. That was our case too because when the show was over we realized that we were outside the van for more than 1.30 hours almost frozen. Right back in the van, temperature to the max and in about ten minutes we were back to normal.
After being comfortable with the temperature we move on to locate a suitable place to sleep. The wind had picked up and there was snow falling so a protected site would be ideal. We did locate a place that seemed to fulfill our requirements, and we prepared the van. The night was indeed windy and the temperature was lower than usual. Τhat once more created a feeling of nervousness to the people that was going to sleep on the roof. Yet the van proved to be way better than expectations. Indeed you could feel the wind moving the tent but that was all nothing more. Once more the van proved us wrong for worrying.
Day 4 – Fjaðrárgljúfur, drone filming & Jökulsárlón
This day started with a visit to an amazing Canyon. Ten minutes drive outside the main road we arrived to the parking spot of the Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon. After an easy hike you arrive next to the Canyon where man-made metal pathways are build all alongside the precipice, that allow for better viewpoints of it. It can be a bit scary for people not used to heights but trust me no photo you take can capture the awe that standing there creates.
Leaving the canyon we came across another field with horses. Once more we seized the opportunity to pet them and have some amazing photos
On our way to the next waterfall we made an unplanned stop. It was a moment where we said “guys let’s stop here for a while the landscape is amazing!” This spot proved to be one of the most beautiful locations of our trip. The Ring road was straight, leading as far as the eye can see, the lake, the mountain reflected on the water, the whole scenery could easily be a product of edit, yet we were right there seeing that with our own eyes. Photos only capture a small percentage of this beauty.
Here we also took our drone for a test. We had one with us but weather condition did not allow us to use it often. This location seemed ideal so we took it out, calibrated it and had some really amazing footage from it.
After enjoying the landscape for some time we headed to the next waterfall of the day “Foss á Siðu”. We left the main road for a few meters just to face a closed door that prevented us from getting closer to the waterfall. Even from that distance the waterfall was amazing.
Right after this, we headed to the next waterfall Svartifoss. To reach that amazing waterfall we had to trek on a slippery mountainous path. The way up proved to be tricky since not all of us had crampons to walk on slippery surfaces and they were indeed necessary.
After the uphill trekking, we arrived in an amazing waterfall. All that effort sliding and skidding really paid off
The way back was another issue we had to face since due to the slope it was really difficult to walk on icy pathways. One Panos who had special shoes moved along to prepare some snacks while the rest of us slipped and slid downhill in fashion.
After a quick snack we headed towards two lagoons that we had planned to see. The first one Fjallsárlón Iceberg lagoon is considered to be the small brother of Jökulsárlón which is really close by. Smaller than Jökulsárlón yet very beautiful, with some amazing views. On top of all you get to get really close to the frozen water and take some stunning photos.
Really close is Jökulsárlón lagoon, a glacial lake full of icebergs that slowly moved around. If you look closely you may also see some seals swimming and playing with each other.
After a full day we headed to our sleeping location where our efforts to see the Aurora Borealis were severely hindered by the clouds.
The whole area we were visiting was under heavy cloudσ so since we had enough time ahead of us and a perfect location we decided that it was time for some photo experimentation. The results follow:
Day 5 – Glacier hiking & Ice caves
We slept in this remote location, we experimented with fire, we were aware that we were close to a glacier but in the night all you see is mostly part of imagination. The following morning when we woke up, we faced the glacier at all its glory! Having breakfast in this remote part of the world, listening to nothing but your breath and facing nature at its best is something that cannot be described with words and trust me no photo can capture!
Finally, the day of our Glacier Hike and Ice cave visit. This was something the whole team was waiting for. The opportunity to walk on a glacier is unique and as the guides explained, due to the global temperature level raising the glacier is receding year by year. We arrived in the designated location; we grabbed our gear and entered a modified 4×4 bus that would take us closer to the glacier.
When we arrived we were separated into teams and each one headed to a different starting point. We fitted our gear listened to the basic guidelines of trekking on ice and started our hike.
The feeling of walking on the glacier is indeed unique! The landscape you see once you realize the nature of it, is simply amazing.
After about 20 minutes of walking and exploring the glacier we arrived to what seemed a mass of ice formation of random shape. When we got closer, we realized that this was the entrance to the ice cave we were supposed to enter.
Entering the cave was amazing! The color of the ice, the idea of entering a large ice formation was stunning. We walked through the ice corridor and were surrounded by thick, aged ice that was clear up to 15cm deep. One cannot describe the feeling of entering an ice cave; you have to do it to properly experience it. After exploring the cave to the extent possible we exited through the other side.
On our way back we had a chance to do some ice rock climbing.
Meet some of the glacier residents.
And learn some interesting facts about glacier moss a really resistant to elements, moss that looks like a mouse. Arctic biologists study these micro ecosystems since their origin is unknown.
After reaching our base camp we had a brief chat with the driver of our bus which was a Greek expatriate, we seized the opportunity to discuss for a while with him. It was obvious that we all enjoyed the chat.
After we separated with our new friend we decided to head back to Fjallsárlón lagoon so we could see it with more light than last time and this decision was much appreciated since due to the particular days weather which was colder or due to the winds that had picked up, when we arrived we were actually alone.
Day 6 – Reykjadalur Hot Springs River
This day had a unique hike of about 4km up a snowy mountain to reach the amazing Reykjadalur Hot Springs River. The path was indeed amazingly beautiful and of moderate difficulty. We passed through wooden bridges over the river, steep slopes, and really hot puddles of water. After an hour we arrived to the much desired location.
The site was actually a river crossing a narrow mountain valley with some man made pathways and some basic changing rooms, actually better described as changing walls.
The water upper parts of the river was really hot. Some of us actually tried the temperature only to rush out and dive in the snow. We decided to enter at a lower location down the river where the temperature was bearable. We enjoyed the amazing scenery of snowy mountains while relaxing in the hot ponds. Such a unique experience and the fact that the whole set up was natural made it even more astonishing.
After relaxing for some time we had to face the second hardship of leaving the hot pond and walking outside on the snowy pathway and having to change next to the open changing “wall”. Our swimming suit actually froze as we left it on the wall for like a minute. Returning to our California Van was not that exciting yet the landscape compensated us once more.
Our daily routine of finding a sheltered place to cook followed our hot bath in the natural lagoon and we found that in a most unexpected location. We visited Far West as well as Egypt in an instance. In what was marked as summer camping spot we came across an abandoned theme park. It seemed ideal to cook in the hardware store across the sheriff’s office and so we did. Cooking took more time than we had planned so the night fell and we had to cook with our head lamps on, we ate in turns cleaned our stuff and headed out.
Next stop Reykjavík
We were supposed to visit Reykjavík earlier yet due to the unplanned delay in cooking we arrived late in the afternoon. We visited the Sun voyager and headed to the Cathedral.
On our way we found a “walkie talkie” discarded in the middle of the street we decided to pick it up and we tried to locate the owner. After a couple of hours our friend from Taiwan finally answered our calls and we managed to locate him, we delivered the “walkie talkie” and they showed their gratitude by continuously bowing in front of us and we agreed to take a selfie to remember this moment.
After all these days in our winter outfits, snow pants, gloves, boots etc, we decided since it was our last day in Reykjavík to dress better and go out for dinner and a drink. We walked in the amazingly beautiful city of Reykjavík and we located the restaurant we had called to book our dinner. We were prepared for the cost of our dinner so we were not shocked from the high prices. We ordered lamb since this was one of the traditional plates they suggested. The food was amazing indeed, perfectly cooked lamp, tender meat melting in our mouths and on side sweet potatoes and mushrooms dressed in an amazing berry sauce. Despite being the most expensive dinner we had I believe that no one regretted it.
And in order to have a complete opinion about life in Iceland we decided to visit a local bar. From the few we passed on our stroll on Reykjavik we decided to enter the one with the weirdest people in. It was a nice small bar, with really unique decoration and above all uniquely strange music. The locals were really amazed by four bald bearded t-shirt wearing strangers occupying the bar and shot several photos of us. Little did they know that three of us shared the same name, and two the same grandpa, and thank god, otherwise we would have even more photos of us taken (not that we didn’t enjoy it). We had a couple of beers, enjoyed the rest of our evening and headed back to our van to get to our last night sleepover.
Day 7 – Last day in Iceland
Our last day in Iceland was almost completely free. We had a last coffee in Reykjavik and a short walk on the beautifully decorated streets. We packed our stuff on the way to the airport and we returned the car to the rental office. After a brief inspection of the car from the staff of the office, we were transferred to the airport to catch our flight.
Looking out of the window during lift off, we faced the same snowy view he saw when we arrived. Still an amazing sight, a breathtaking landscape and even though we had spent one week in it, we still were not able to digest that fairytale beauty. We had fulfilled our plans to the full, we had some really “ice cold” activities and yet the amazing scenery still awed us. Iceland has a lot to offer, landscapes and Icelandic altitude towards the environment. In our brief time we explored to the extent possible the south part of Iceland, mainly due to the car selection which allowed us that, we had seen Aurora Borealis twice even when predictions were against us, we dived in the frozen waters of the two continents meeting point, we hiked a retreating glacier, spend time on icy conditions and were amazed by natural beauty. Leaving Iceland left us with a feeling of need to see the rest, and that is the plan, north Iceland is to be explored as soon as possible.
Read more: Our October adventure in Iceland
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