Iceland in September
Having lived all the formative years of our lives in the tropics, falling in love with the picturesque Nordic countries and their rich culture was not a mystery. After reading numerous accounts of life and travel experiences in Scandinavia from travelers far and wide, the desire to make a trip to Iceland had only gotten stronger. My husband (Visu) and myself (Pav) had been saving this trip for a special occasion. Our anniversary was just around the corner, so what better time would we save this treat for.
Although our recent trip to Finland was a lovely one, we were unable to make last-minute alternations to our schedules based on the aurora forecasts. To this end, we missed watching the Northern lights during our stay there, which was disappointing on a personal level. Being more on the spontaneous side of the decision-making spectrum, we realized renting a Campervan would be the best choice for us since we were intent on covering a lot of ground in a week’s time. More importantly it gives us the flexibility to tweak our plans in the eleventh hour and be where the northern lights show up, without having to worry about accommodation. For the unaware, the northern lights show up when there is a high enough solar activity with clear skies. With an unpredictable weather, having a fixed plan reduces the chances of experiencing the northern lights. Rent.is it was!
We landed at Keflavik on the 18th of September to be welcomed by a mild rain accompanied by winds strong enough to make it difficult to walk. And so, our adventure began right after we landed and set foot on Icelandic soil. We spent the first night at the Airport Inn Keflavik which is a 10 minute drive from airport.
DAY1 Monday – Gearing Up
Monday dawned and we couldn’t be more excited! At about 9 in the morning, a friendly staff picked us up from our hotel to the Keflavik Rental Office. While my husband was busy doing the paperwork, I was eagerly leafing through the booklet handed to us for interesting spots, pools and campsites. Before heading off to the first stop on our trip, we halted at one of the BONUS Supermarkets to load our cooler box with essentials and tons of snacks for the subsequent week.
The Vanilla flavored Skýr and the fresh sandwiches were delicious. 😀
We looked at the weather forecast and decided which way to head. As per the forecast on the Accuweather website, it was sunny with partial cloud cover and so we headed to Þingvellir National Park without any further ado.
Þingvellir is a UNESCO heritage site with a huge fissure running through it but more importantly, from the perspective of a Game of Thrones fanatic (a.k.a me), this is also one of the sites where they shot the series. We also had the wonderful chance to engage in some diving adventures between the Eurasian and North American plates at the Silfra tectonic fissure in the Þingvallavatn Lake which is undoubtedly considered the National Shrine of Iceland. In spite of intermittent rain, we ambled along the boundary of the lake and got to embrace the drizzle without which we would never have seen such a magnificent rainbow.
Where Next? We decided to head North-West rather than sticking to the initial schedule for the day – the Golden Circle Tour. This was because the forecast for the western region showed areas of clear skies and the Kp index for the day around 5 (In other words, a high probability of seeing Northern Lights) if we manage to be where the skies are clear.
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As we drove along in our camper van, we hopped out ever so often to get a glimpse of the mythical terrain.
With the route mapped out, we figured we had enough time to see another alluring spot in ‘Glýmur’. We were quite delighted to see the welcome signs for Glýmur as for a while our dear friend, garmin seemed to lead us nowhere.
With the constant rains, the caves on the way proved ideal for shelter. We could not have asked for a better place to enjoy our energy bars and drinks.
As the sun was setting down, we realized we still had a long way to drive to reach the nearest unclouded region and started driving again.
On the way we stopped at Grillhúsið in Borgarnes which seemed like a nice place to have dinner. If you are in the region, you’ve got to try their steaks! With our bellies full and an ardent desire to spot the lights, we continued driving till we started seeing the stars.
When we located a patch of clear sky, we found a large lay by and parked the van. Typical of Iceland, this place seemed to be in the middle of nowhere; pitch black, and a night sky strewn with distant stars. We decided to spend the night there, in eager anticipation of the Northern Lights. In about half an hour, what started hazily in whitish-grey, started transforming into an active, bright ribbon of color. We stepped out of our van into the biting cold realizing that the Northern Lights had finally made an appearance. Soon enough the night sky began to fill with a slew of shades of green and a tinge of pink. We sat there amazed, watching the enigmatic light show of the Aurora Borealis with awe, sipping on coffee, on that chill, unforgettable night. Finally the cloud cover ended the show around 3 in the morning.
• Sense check the weather before you head in any direction cause you have the liberty to change 🙂
• Check out the Northern light forecast religiously to have an idea about Kp index and cloud cover at various times if you too wish to get lucky.
Day 2 Tuesday
With the aurora checked off on the very first day (and in complete knowledge of the fact that the Kp index for the rest of the week was around 2), we focused on the other attractions that the country had to offer.
In about an hour’s time from where we had parked the previous night, we reached the Snæfellsjökull National Park at around 9 a.m. for a hike in the park which harbors one of the most beautiful vegetation, rich in flora and fauna. The highlight of the Snæfellsjökull Park is the glacier that sits atop a 700,000 year old active volcano.
About a two hours drive from the National Park, we camped near Deildartunguhver, a geo-thermal spring known for producing the largest output in Europe. I pulled out the stove to treat ourselves with hot pasta soup added with the tomatoes grown in the local farm nearby.
Now, reverting back to the Golden Circle Plan, our next stop was Strokkur geysir. Amongst the crowd, we waited in bated breath to witness a few eruptions of the fountain geyser after which we wandered around the mud pools and fumaroles.
Gullfoss, the reigning queen of Icelandic waterfalls,
enriched with a picturesque background.
Though the road this far had taken us past quite a few waterfalls, our excitement for the next one, Seljalandfoss, grew by the minute which is famous for view from behind the tall majestic falls. The day ended with a shimmering rainbow across the fall and us camping on a bay overlooking a farm nearby for the night.
Day 3 – South Iceland
Waking up at 6 a.m proved completely worthwhile as we had the perfect welcome to the new day, with a flock of sheep beside, the sun at the horizon and gorgeous landscapes in all directions. The DC-3 crash site being one of the most visited landmarks in the country, we were keen to make it early to avoid the crowd.
With the GPS handy we started driving towards the site. The fences along the walking path to the crash site guided us conveniently. After an hour long walk from the parking lot, we had in sight what anyone would have easily mistaken for a Sci-fi movie set. The abandoned fuselage of the United States Navy DC plane lay there untouched. The contrast of the grey plane on the black sand is surreal. Our walk back to the parking lot was no less riveting as all we could see as far as our eyes could was black sand back grounded by an elegant mountain range.
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The caves on the way to Dyrholaey were ideal for a bird’s eye view.
After a short drive, we reached Dýrhólaey and boy! The scenery of the black beach from the top was beguiling. My eye out for the round puffins, we drove further up near the lighthouse. We didn’t have any luck spotting the Puffins but then a local had warned us about their rare presence in and after September. The innocence of a penguin combined with the vibrancy of that beak, I was disappointed to not see them.
We walked around Kirkjufjara beach which offered interesting rock formations and then, we were onto one of the world’s most enchanted landscapes, The Black beach. The insane basalt columns looked as though it was nature’s attempt to sculpt an enormous work of art. The gusty winds sent the umbrellas and currency flying which in turn sent the poor guys scurrying, shouting “I got it! I got it”. The abyss seemed perpetual. The black beach is an embodiment of irony for beaches had never been bizarre yet this serene, bleakness had never been this beautiful, and the sand as black as caviar had never seemed this appealing.
No beach experience is fulfilling until you play with the stones at the shore.
We concluded our beach visit by lunching at the Black beach restaurant. The Kjötsúpa, Icelandic Meat Soup and Turnip Soup were scrumptiously delicious. As we were settling inside our vans for the power nap by the parking lot of black beach, we could hear the howl of the growing windstorm. Next we headed to a campsite at Kirkjubæjarklaustur for the night. It was a comfortable stay and we used the stove to make some Indian food -Dal and Roti. We were accompanied by interesting folks from Singapore and whiled away time playing cards.
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After a refreshing shower at the campsite, we explored the trails around the campsite on foot to discover a hexagonal rock formation at Skaftarhreppur. We then got onto our vans and headed to the majestic canyons of Fjaðrárgljúfur. We spent the 3 hours there walking around the canyon with what was a terribly unpredictable weather (constant rain and sunshine for every five minutes, thankfully not much wind).
Weather conditions in Iceland are so inconsistent that it seems like three seasons have passed in four minutes. It was an amazing experience to be up there and witness the entire stretch of canyon in such weather conditions.
Our next stop, Svartifoss was an hour away. The falls were an hour long walk from the parking lot. During the hike, we stopped by the numerous streams and basked in the warmth of the sun.
We left for Jökursárlon glacier lagoon by 5p.m. Upon arrival, the ambient light of the location proved ideal for photos and hence we set out right away clicking pictures of the glaciers. This had to be one of the most dramatic landscapes that I had ever experienced. It was dusk by the time we finished our walk along the shore and chose my favorite iceberg for the photo shoot. We enjoyed the night sky flooded with stars, the milky way galaxy and a few shooting stars. We decided to camp on the beach for the day and the soothing sound of the waves was the lullaby for the night.
Next Morning we woke up to the sun rise at the beach. It was an utter bliss witnessing the picturesque landscape with the floating glaciers and the reflection of the radiant sun on the icebergs. Our attempt to capture the sunrise, parallel to the bus of photographers who had just arrived doing the same, was arguably a late contender for the windows desktop wallpaper.
It was a lovely morning spent alone, admiring the growlers floating by, taking a stroll along the length of the beach and hunting ice diamonds, all etching a beautiful memory. The feeling of serenity that you feel when you are in that remote corner of the world is simply priceless.
After some more exploring, we had a quick breakfast by the Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon, watching seals busy hunting their own breakfast.
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It was time we hit the road back towards Reykjavik and began the long journey. We stopped by for lunch at Suðurvik, a lovely restauarant at Vik. To travel is to taste, and in such places you will often be spoilt by choice for they offer incredibly fresh and preserved food bound by local tradition and culture.
Travelling to Iceland and not taking a dip in one of the hot springs would be a sin. We couldn’t manage to find tickets online at Blue lagoon, so our alternative choice was a few hot springs we looked up on our way with a little detour.
The perfect place was Hrunalaug, a natural one which had been stonewalled and seemed ideal to host a couple to celebrate their moment in Iceland. Fortunately, it was sunny throughout and was such a rapture to have the entire place for ourselves. I finally took that dip that I was yearning for in the hot springs and spent hours basking in the warmth looking at the surpassing landscape. With a heavy heart, I left a thank you note on the door and a tip in the ‘tip box’ and the place with a sigh!
We drove to Reykjavik the same night to avoid the last minute hassle as we had our return flight at noon. Pampered by the hot springs, we allowed ourselves to enjoy the pleasure of the Icelandic cuisine at Resto in Reykjavik. After finishing the exotic three course meal, we drove towards a campsite in Keflavik to camp for the last night in Iceland.
Day 6 – Last Day
The morning had arrived when we had to leave back home for the week. After doing a final round of packing and emptying the food box, we drove towards Leif (the lucky bridge) before heading off to the airport.
We bid goodbye to our dear camper van by 11 a.m and walked to the airport on time to board the flight to London.
Sparsely populated, geographically isolated, it is a showcase of our planet’s raw geology untouched with every other turn uncovering a mystifying natural wonder. In short, Iceland is the otherworldly.
So, what are you still waiting for? Instead of figuring out where to stay and what to see in a place like Iceland which has so much to offer from rugged landscape to rich folklore, I insist you hire a campervan and hit the road to heaven!
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