Do as your children say! Our daughter and her boyfriend took a camper van tour of Iceland in 2015 and convinced us we shouldn’t miss it. So, here’s the tale of the Sherman Saga…
Sept. 10, 2017
WOW airline is an easy flight to Iceland, but WOW, were we tired after arriving at 4:45 am yesterday and waiting until 3 for our Airbnb. Today was an easy rental pickup at Rent.is – van was ready and waiting, so after a brief orientation we were on the road to Skógar on the south coast. We named the van “Gudrid” for the ancient Icelandic tale of Gudrid the Far Traveler. First plan was to hike the Fimmvörðuháls trail from Skógar to Þórsmörk but we learned buses were no longer running for shuttle so this would be an out and back hike. The Skógafoss campground is just below falls, so we pulled as close as we could get…how nice to fall asleep to the sound of waterfalls! This is our first van experience and it was great to unpack once and have the flexibility to move on if we didn’t like where we were. Walked to the base of the falls after dinner in the darkness – very peaceful to be there alone.
Lesson for today: On a very windy day, face the van into the wind to open the doors, otherwise doors may never again close! Under no circumstances open both front doors at once or you’ll create a mini-hurricane wind tunnel…
Sept. 11, 2017
We set the alarm last night for every 2 hours to check for Aurora…no luck. Climbed the many stairs to the top of the waterfall, entered through a gate and hiked upward on the Fimmvörðuháls trail. The trail was spectacular with 20 or more waterfalls and misty canyons along the river for first 5 miles. Above the bridge it becomes a glacier covered, volcanic landscape when taking the red trail. Our loop was 18.75 miles but worth every step. We also felt very lucky to have such a beautiful, sunny day.
Before settling for the night we decided to find hot springs – listed on a website as one of the best in Iceland. We passed Skógar, turned onto a dirt road and parked at a farmhouse.
We walked a pretty path along the river about 10 minutes and arrived at a hot spring pool – Seljavallalaug. Surrounding cliffs were really beautiful, but jumped into COLD water! Pool was about 30 feet long and at one small corner hot water entered – so that’s where we stayed about 20 minutes before changing and hustling back to Gudrid. Good adventure even if it didn’t turn out as expected.
Lesson for today: These hikes are remote, come prepared with layers of clothing, food, water, HIKING POLES, and a compass/GPS and log into website for tracking. A more manageable hike (and almost as beautiful) would be to the bridge and return for 10 miles round trip…you’ll see amazing waterfalls!
Sept. 12, 2017
Raining, foggy and cloudy, but we’re ready to explore! Onto of Jökulsárlón lagoon with icebergs. After a bit of exploration we parked Gudrid under the bridge and watched small icebergs breaking and floating downriver from the lagoon to the ocean…seals played and surfaced too! Great viewing while eating lunch in our warm van.
We crossed the bridge to the other side of the lagoon, hiked about a half mile along the ridges surrounding the bay and lost all the people. So glad we aren’t part of the busloads arriving for a 15 minute visit…we can set our own schedule. On the Oceanside, the black sand beach was lovely – especially with the sun peeking through.
Back to our Skógar campground since we plan to move south in the morning. While brushing our teeth we noticed a bright green cloud above – and a flash of shimmering. The Aurora…even if just for a minute!!! Just too many clouds and they closed in again.
Lesson for today: If you’d like to lose the crowd, just walk about ½ to ¾ mile from the crowded area and you’ll be mostly on your own.
Sept. 13, 2017
Headed to Westfjords, looking for some off the beaten path sights. Our initial destination was a wool co-op center (Ullarselið) in Hvanneyri. There was only one other customer in the store – no other tourists or buses. This is a knitting co-op of 15 local women who use sweater patterns with geese, Ptarmigan, fish, reindeer in lovely, soft colors. The same sweaters are for either men or women with no front or back to them. The sweater I chose was knit by the daughter of the woman who helped us… just makes it more special.
We moved on Borgarnes and to explore the Settlement Museum. It had great headset explanations in multiple languages and unique, interesting displays of ancient Icelandic settlement from the 900’s on. It also had wonderful explanation and display of Icelandic sagas. After travelling through some interesting but desolate hilly terrain we landed in the small village of Búðardalur. Tonight was absolutely clear and the Aurora prediction website was very high so we drove out of town at sunset and waited…and waited. I checked the website again and prediction had dropped to low. We still drove down a small dirt road and listened to the sheep “bah” as we watched the incredible starts and night sky. The Milky Way was so bright so we didn’t leave without a great memory.
Lessons for today: Knowing who knit your Icelandic sweater and taking your time to choose with someone who can explain traditions makes it more fun and meaningful!
Sept. 14, 2017
We really wanted experience a réttir (sheep round-up) where the local farmers bring in their sheep from the mountains and back to their farms for winter. We found a round-up quickly – quite a few farmers up on cliffs bringing sheep down steep embankments, many on the road with farmer’s cars and family waiting behind the sheep. I asked one of the hardy Icelandic women (!) if we could help and she said just follow, so we did – for several hours. This is hard work!! The sheep are very high on ridges and cliffs and would rather not come down. The terrain was extremely rough and the sheep very skittish. The herders spoke to each other from cliff tops using Walkie-talkies and wore bright orange vests to be easily seen. The sheep were finally corralled into one farm to be sorted and sent home to their respective farms. It was a great experience even if we weren’t much help.
On to Ísafjörður by evening. Wow – this was an amazing drive along the south coast and up/down the cliffs of the fjords…like going up and down mountains with a dizzying grade (up to 14%), hairpin turns with no guardrails on dirt roads. Roads are hard-packed and well-maintained, though. Thank God Gudrid has good brakes and a strong engine! Ísafjörður had lovely little campground. There were trees, a waterfall and creek cascading and clean, warm bathrooms.
Lessons for today: It’s hard work herding sheep!! The south coast road of the Westfjords is not for those weak of heart or afraid of heights, but this area is the place to come to escape crowds and enjoy spectacular scenery.
Our coldest night with frost on the ground, but we slept well in our cozy camper. Nice to have a heater in the van for mornings. Up to another sunny morning, but again no Aurora last night due to clouds. Explored the small town of Ísafjörður with its lovely “old town”, then on the paved road over the north coast of the peninsula. We stopped at the Arctic Fox Research center, worth a visit to understand these elusive animals.
Back along the coast we rounded the peninsula to find the village of Drangsnes. Our destination: their seaside “hot pots” (hot tubs with hot spring water). One was cool, one warm and one hot – we made our way through all three while visiting with other van campers. We stayed for hours! At campsite, the wind was howling but the weather clear so we took a short walk at dark hoping again to see the Aurora. Nothing and it soon clouded over so we returned to the cozy protection of our little van and went to sleep to the sound of the wind.
Lesson for today: Don’t rely on the website Aurora predictor, it will get your hopes up and dash you down an hour later! You just have to be in the right place at the right time.
Time to head south since our vacation is ending. We headed to the Snæfellsnes Peninsula below Westfjords to the town of Stykkishólmur. Rain and WIND really hit, but ended with multi-rainbows!
There’s a lovely walk to the lighthouse on Stykkishólmur, worth the climb. Back at the campground we gave Gudrid a good washing down – just caked with mud from wet roads.
We used our chairs with back doors open to block the wind and enjoyed a nice glass of wine. After dinner we returned to town to find a geocache somewhere on the lighthouse hill and cliff. At dusk, we both agreed the clouds were way too light and way too green, but it just couldn’t break through the cloud cover. I stayed out for while just enjoying the wind and low clouds that enveloped me.
Lesson for today: Just about every campground and gas station has free water sprayers so you can quickly wash off the mud after a rainy, dirty drive.
Didn’t sleep much at all due to incredible, sustained winds. I really felt like Gudrid would tip over. On the other hand it was really crazy and fun to hear it as we huddled in our bags. Felt like we were rocking on a boat! Headed back to Reykjavik since we’re due back at noon. Such a great trip and adventure…we’re now talking about buying a similar van for travels in the U.S.!
Lesson for today: Seven days is not nearly enough to see this country. So many more things we wanted to do (sea kayak, horseback ride, more hiking, etc.) but we had to keep moving with time short. Two weeks would be great…next time! Also, watch out…you can become obsessed with finding the Aurora and it will make you a very tired person with so many late nights.
Read more: Kiwis on the move in Iceland
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