Iceland’s rugged power and mythology as seen from a camper van
There are many ways to explore Iceland. You can stay in a hotel and explore the Arctic island through tours; you can hit up hostels and make plans with the new friends you find there; you can even depend on the generosity of strangers by hitchhiking and everything in between.
We three Canadians thought we’d live adventurously and rent a camper van for our recent sojourn to Iceland. This way, we get to see the country on our schedule, at our own pace. The best part? In the mornings we wake up surrounded by Iceland’s ferocious nature.
Without a doubt, this decision turned our experience into an incredible adventure that can only be described as a once-in-a-lifetime type of trip.
We rented from Rent.is, one of many companies that rent campers. There are a few things we considered when renting from Rent.is. First, they had a van that was automatic (very important, as only one of us could drive stick-shift), it slept three people comfortably, and it came with “all the fixings” – sleeping bags, blankets, pillows, camp stove, plates, cutlery, cooler and chairs. It also had lots of room for our stuff and last, but certainly not least, WiFi!
Armed with a GPS, carefully crafted playlists, six bags of the most delicious pre-popped popcorn in existence and adventurous spirit we were off.
Our first day of real travelling we headed to the Snæfellsnes peninsula. The drive north let us get to know our camper van, our mobile hotel and home far away from home. After hours of driving and getting our first real taste of the stunning Icelandic landscape, we found ourselves at a campsite on the north shore of the Snæfellsnes peninsula. The rain kept us cooped in the van for the night, but we were not deterred. The heater that comes with the van? It was one of our best friends because Iceland in October is much like Canada in October – cold!
One of our favorite things about Iceland was the rumor that belief in elves, trolls and hidden people persists in Iceland. To jump into the legends of old, we bought two books of Icelandic folk tales. We gathered up our blankets and warm clothes, cracked open some cold Icelandic beers and dived into the tales of the Hidden People. Outside, with the wind and rain hitting our camper van and the rugged, volcanic landscape illuminated in the dusk light, we felt like we were part of the stories, with hidden people just outside our door, waiting to lead us on an adventure. (Though hopefully without it ending quite as poorly for some of the people – all of them named Jón – in the tales.)
The next day was Waterfall Wednesday! The amount of waterfalls in Iceland is unbelievable, each more beautiful than the last. In the Snæfellsnes Peninsula, we crossed the bridge above Kirkjufell and gazed at the mountains in the distance. On Iceland’s southern shore, We walked behind the waterfall Seljalandsfoss and felt like we got caught in the rain even though the sun was shining. That afternoon we stopped at Skógafoss, and winded ourselves climbing to the top – almost 400 steps up – where the river cascades over the cliff.
We popped into an information center to find out where we could set up camp for the night – before arriving in Iceland, we took the Icelandic pledge and planned to camp only where we were allowed. The Icelandic pledge says “I will follow the road into the unknown, but never venture off the road, and I will only park where I am supposed to. When I seep out under the stars, I’ll stay within a campsite.” Being Canadian, politeness and following the rules is in our nature. Some fantastic and friendly attendants informed us about the high winds advisory, which warned those with campers and camper vans to stay put for the time being.
As we learned the previous night, the weather in Iceland can be quite harsh – it can quite literally blow you away.
We’ve never experienced anything like it before; gusts nearly knocked us off our feet. With Safe Travel Iceland warning us to delay travel and the winds beating up against our camper, we sat huddled in van unsure of what to do.
Luckily, our location was idyllic (like basically everywhere else in Iceland). The base of Skógafoss, with its roaring power and almost constant rainbow, is also a campsite. But outside the wind roared, rocking our camper back and forth. We actually googled to see what strength of wind could tip a camper; luckily we couldn’t find a solid answer.
The sun was just setting on the horizon, and we knew we couldn’t continue our journey for the day. So we turned on the lights and opened our books and read, hoping to jump into another world to escape the anxiousness of reality. The hours went by, and we could feel our camper van continue to sway in the wind. But by 10:30 pm, the night was clear, and we could see stars peeking out. Every night we had been hoping to see the Aurora Borealis since we arrived, and that night felt like it was the night.
The wind was still bitterly cold, and we wrapped ourselves in coats, hats, mitts and scarves to brave the Icelandic night. Our efforts paid off. There, above our heads, was a flicker of green light, dancing in the sky. It was a breathtaking way to end to a slightly anxious night. We stayed out a while, the wind still biting at us and watched the lights dance.
In the morning, the sun was shining, and the winds were calm. We were on our way again.
These two experiences stand out to us. They would have never happened if we had done the traditional way of exploring a new county. Renting a 4×4 camper van gave us the flexibility and affordability that staying in a hotel couldn’t provide.
To end our saga, we just have to say that the camper van let us explore and immerse ourselves in Iceland. Every curve of the road, every other side of a mountain granted us another striking view of this incredible island. We maneuvered so many roundabouts, passed pastures of ponies, and fields and fields and fields of sheep. It was a drive like no other, and only the camper van allowed us this intimate view of Iceland, one that tour buses and hotels won’t get you. The camper van allowed us to craft moments of our trip that were equally heart-stopping and breathtaking, each becoming an unforgettable memory.
We also discovered a fantastic camper van culture. We met other campers (tenting and campervanning alike) and learned that this unique way of travelling can be quite an experience in Iceland.
Read more: The Golden Fur
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