The Best Things in Life are Wild
“The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be
seen or even touched – they must be felt“
Nevertheless, here are the photos and memories of all moments we were able to see, feel and touch in Iceland during our road trip.
Luke and I planned a strong 6 days leading up to our Iceland trip, this included running a marathon, moving in together and job interviews, followed by a ‘relaxing’ hop over to Iceland. The concept of a relaxing adventure holiday vanished when we almost missed our train and then almost missed our flight too. Our ability to coordinate our lives and finally make it to Iceland seemed to be a miracle and one we were ready to fully embrace.
We continued on as we had started our week at home: bold and optimistic. Therefore, we decided to do route 1 (plus detours) in just 7 nights. In total we drove 2500km around Iceland. Yes, it was a lot of driving, but damn was it striking and even more so, a beautiful adventure.
Day 1 Saturday
Our adventure started Saturday morning. After a swift shop stop to the camper rental office we rushed to Krónan budget supermarket to ensure we had enough food to maintain our hunger for adventure, and enough snacks for the drive. We wildly underestimated our wilderness appetite and had to stop a few more times. Still, one shop was still humongously cheaper than opting for eating out.
Photo Left: A sketch from the first day driving when Luke’s face had a consistently confused/WTF look on it, whilst learning to drive on the other side of the road. Meanwhile, I’m happily smiling out the window. A pretty accurate representation of our roles.
Photo right: Luke’s real confused face seen in action.
Our first stop, like most tourists, was Silfra. For the most part, we were not sure what to expect when we got to there. I imagined massive tectonic plates tearing apart in front of our eyes, whilst Luke just tried to stay on the right/wrong side of the road. Despite not seeing the world being dramatically torn apart in action, we were overwhelmed by the scenery. As we were slightly geographically challenged, following the herds of cars worked out well. Initially we wanted to scuba dive there, but given the latest law changes, there were several restrictions for divers and so we were unable to. We considered snorkeling, but our minds were changed by the ability to see straight down to the bottom just from standing at the side. Luke’s words were ‘how different it be from just laying in the water with your head down?’.
Photo: The weather was unexpectedly hot, so I decided to wear my jacket the most convenient hands-free way (as is popular among children). Luke laughed at me for about 5 minutes before being converted to my childish ways.
Photo 1: Silfra and the tectonic plates. Photo 2: Where the snorkelers enter.
Driving along the merry roads of Iceland, the spectacles of Geysir appeared. Having only ever witnessed the saucepan boiling spilling over with the lid still on, the eruptions out of the earth were mind-blowing. Yet for those who are competent in the kitchen, I’m sure it was incredible too of course. As tempting as it was to touch the hot water bubbling in the area, there was a gentle reminder that the nearest hospital 62km, which was a good motivator to stay clear. So we did. We took a photo each. Each photo accompanies an awkward 5-10minutes of waiting and looking like a bit of a muppet.
Photo: The awkward 5-10 minutes of waiting with a camera pointed at the tourist in front of the pending water eruption.
We made sure to put our cameras away too, to appreciate the magnitude of the incredible nature erupting out of the grounds in front of our eyes. Surprisingly, rain gear was not essential. We merely stank of rotten egg for the rest of the day, but figured we probably didn’t smell much better prior to the Geysir visit anyway.
Photo left: Bianca with Geysir explosion
Photo right: Geysir explosion without Bianca being a tourist and blocking the view.
Photo: A bit further up at Geysir.
Just down the road we found ourselves at the magnificent Gullfoss. We were lucky with the weather and managed to get a few rainbow photos. We did bring waterproofs here, although it wasn’t massively essential. The noise and the image of the gallons of water storming past our eyes at the waterfall were impressive. The gift shop, whilst having a variety of interesting merchandise, was expensive but a convenient toilet stop. From shirts to canned mountain air, they’ve got ludicrously expensive souvenirs covered!
Photo left: Canned Iceland air Photo Right: Gullfoss in all its glory
We ended our day in Skógafoss and stayed the night here. The campsite is a parking lot with a brilliant view of the waterfall. Although the facilities were minimal, we didn’t expect much, and so we were content with our choice of location for our first night in the camper, which was now our home. An Icelandic lady came to ‘collect’ from us- what exactly, we didn’t know and our faces looked slightly concerned. Luckily, it was just the fee for the campsite, which we were surprised to be able to pay by card. Only once during our whole trip did we have to use cash. Cash is certainly not King in Iceland, more like the servant that occasionally gets called upon.
For dinner we made penne pasta with canned mushroom + canned sweetcorn, Kidney beans, and beef stock. I’m not sure if it was a delicious as we thought it was, since we were very hungry.
Day 2 Sunday
The next morning we woke to the sound of Skógafoss outside. We swiftly made breakfast which consisted of porridge (water and milk… gotta save those pennies). Majority of our meals were the same combination of our previous dinner and this breakfast.
Following, we went straight to Vik to take a closer look at the black sand beach. We pitched up our dining gear and had some stormy coffee and lunch here too. Despite the wind, once the hot drink settled in, everything was dandy.
As we drove towards Vik, I pointed out a bunch of cars parked up. We both dismissed the many tourists we had seen and assumed there was nothing there we needed to see. I soon realized that we had missed the DC plane crash site, which we had hoped to see. Our lesson here was: if there’s a bunch of tourists parked up, go see what they’re looking at.
Photo: Tourists (including us) circling the mysterious looking plane.
I was elated to hear that we weren’t going to gawk at an incredibly tragic site when I read that miraculously all the passengers survived this crash. Although it’s a 3-4km walk to the site, it was definitely worth it. I wish I had made sure to have peed prior to the hike. The walk there is totally flat and resembles a ‘moon meets Mars’ setting; it required a space detour and Luke standing guard for me to be able to pee.
Day 3 Monday
Photos: Stopped by the side of the road having breakfast, creation of make shift drying line and lunch making in progress.
We parked up on a parking spot on the road between the mountaineering company and petrol station to stop and make some breakfast. Rapidly other cars came to admire our beautiful breakfast view made up of glaciers and mountains. Although the quiet moments were lovely, we were equally entertained by all the visitors who gave us the nod of approval. One group of young American guys all wanted to have a picture together. We did want to offer to take it for them, but they had so much fun directing their own nature photo shoot. I would be lying if I said that we didn’t enjoy watching their inability to coordinate a group photo.
Soon after, we went out on a glacier for the first time. We had agreed to do one big tour as a part of the trip, as Iceland is so expensive we knew we wouldn’t be able to do everything or even some things (probably just the one thing).
Photo left: Inside an ice cave on the glacier.
Photo right: Celebrating not being hit by the guides ice axe
and finding our way on a glacier where everything looks the same.
Our glacial hike was lead by a funny German turned Kiwi guide, whose main vocabulary included ‘sweet’, ‘yeahyeahyeah’ (said repeatedly without break), ‘aw yeah?’ and ‘tikitiboo’. He confessed a few times that he was lost and stated ‘it all looks the same’ on the glacier. I would argue that he was also slightly too liberal with the use of his ice ax, and swung it around at any given opportunity with tourists ducking out of the way behind him. Nevertheless, he was highly entertaining.
Photo: Ax usage in action by guide
As we survived the guide’s over-zealous attitude with the ice ax, we decided to drive on the Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon, not to be confused with one you leisurely relax in. As it was late afternoon, the crowds had vanished and only a few spectators remained. It was truly unique to observe the ice caps traveling with the stream into the ocean. Whilst sat by the rocks, one of the large ice blocks decided to flip over in front of our eyes to expose a clear, blue side of it that was hidden beneath the water. A little way down, we observed the rogue icy bits that traveled into the ocean- actually in the ocean. Some had failed in their journey toward the unknown, and washed up beautifully on to the beach.
Photos: Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon and the beach where some wash up
We had been optimistic about finding alcohol so far, but with the monopoly system and strict opening hours, we repeatedly failed to acquire any.
We ended day 3 in Höfn, a town I was excited to stop by not only because it’s known to be a lovely remote seaside village, but I had read Walter Mitty was filmed here too. We spoke to some local Icelandic young people, who said Walter Mitty big news in their very small town where everything shuts at 9pm. We parked in a car park overnight, which wasn’t glamorous, but it was definitely an experience.
Day 4 Tuesday
We woke up in a Höfn car park, but drove straight to the swimming pool for a swim. There were a few excellent slides that we tried out, in between running around frantically in the cold. We did not attempt the ice bath; in fact we actively avoided it.
We drove a lot today as we wanted to maximize our time in the north. We stopped by Seyðisfjörður, as recommended by our new Icelandic friends near the glacier we hiked on. The drive from Egilsstaðir to Seyðisfjörður was the foggiest and most intense mountain drive I’ve experienced. I think Luke shared similar feelings, though I think fear of crashing in the extreme fog probably added in to his mixture of emotions.
Photo left: Seyðisfjörður Kirkjan (basically… Seyðisfjörður Church)
Photo right: Us being nerdy and taking photos which matched the movie Walter Mitty
We went to hotel Aldan as seen in the movie when Walter has just finished his immense long board journey. I spoke to the staff there about the filming, one waitress didn’t know too much about it, but one waiter interrupted our conversation and proudly stated “I was here- and it was pretty cool”. He told me about he filming and when Ben Stiller smiled at him. I celebrated his experience with a big smile and I probably clapped too, but we both acknowledged that we were a bit nerdy and lame for being so thrilled that one human smiled at another. We heard many had attempted to do the long board scene. Emphasis on attempted.
Perhaps ‘shamefully’, Luke and I took photos similar to the Walter Mitty scene ones. We were comforted to hear that some tourists has even re filmed the scene, cried at the hotels new exterior colour as it no longer matched the movie. We suddenly felt less silly for our commitment to the movie. Regardless of Walter, the town is small and beautiful. We would definitely recommend going even if you’re not a Walter Mitty fan, as even on a wet and cold day, it’s beauty managed to shine through with waterfalls in the backdrop.
Unfortunately, my poor navigation skills meant that we missed out on the magnificent Dettifoss on this day and we continued North toward Mývatn.
On our way to Mývatn, unintentional we stumbled across stinky and mysterious Hverir. It was unlike anything we had ever seen before. It was like walking among tiny mountains erupting with steam at incredible speed. This unplanned visit highlighted Iceland’s wild and active nature for us.
Mývatn is overwhelmingly raw. It’s nature stripped to its most original. You can see cracked lava fields and it feels like driving through a movie set based on mars. We ended our day in a small carved out parking spot by a lake in Mývatn where we made a fishy dinner from a can we found in Bónus, in combination with a long desired cup of red wine.
Photo: Dinner by the side of the road in Mývatn
Day 5: Wednesday
It was a tough start to the morning. We woke up listening to the relentless wind, hand in hand with the rain, beating against our camper. It made it hard to get out of our sleeping bags, so we decided to finish watching our film before embarking on the world outside. Eventually, we did… below you can see the photographic evidence.
The wind in Mývatn was so intense that we had to be careful with opening our car doors, as they could blow off. As a result of the rain, we used a back up breakfast plan and had banana and Nutella on bread whilst being rocked gently by the furious wind outside.
We got to the nature baths an hourly early, so decided to use our time wisely and went to explore Krafla. We didn’t realize that going to the crater was equivalent to visiting the North Pole. I was so wrapped up it was almost impossible to identify me in the photo below.
We eventually managed to battle through the wind from the car park to the nature baths front door. We were delighted with the view of the lagoon and even more thrilled to hear it was half price due to the wind. ‘A little wind’ we thought ‘won’t bother us’. But being persistently whipped by eggy smelling water whilst sitting in a cold, debatable warm, lagoon, did bother us. Yet, like all the other tourists who had also paid half price, we put on a brave face and endured the stormy bath with occasional sprints to the steam room.
Following our troublesome experience in the lagoon, we drove toward Akureyri but not without stopping at Goðafoss waterfall. It’s incredible how many waterfalls there are in Iceland and how each one is breath taking.
As we were still frozen to the core, we went to cafe Götubarinn in Akureyri to warm up. I asked the lovely Icelandic waitress for some advice about what cake we should have, as we hadn’t eaten out yet. She told me that rhubarb was very popular in Iceland, so we went with that assuming Icelanders might have nailed any dish with rhubarb, if they like it so much. It was delicious.
Photo: Hanging out in Götubarinn and enjoying some rhubarb cake (shared between us).
After spending the evening in Akureyri, we decided to head West as there was a bunch of stuff we wanted to see there. Luke was feeling fresh, so I made us two cheese sandwiches and wrapped them in foil as our dinner for our long journey. Things did not quite go as planned.
After approximately 40 minutes of driving, it started to snow a little. We thought ‘hey this is great, look how beautiful everything is with a drizzle of snow’. Rapidly, the drizzle of snow turned into a full blown snow storm and we were stuck on a steep mountain road in the middle of it. What’s more, we had summer tires on, whilst trucks and other well prepared cars, ploughed straight past us with their winter tires. We were not the only ones taken by surprise. An Icelandic man in front of us started reversing his car down the mountain, in order to get to a platform where he could turn his car around safely and go back down. Although he was able to reverse down relatively swiftly, as inexperienced van drivers, we were unable to follow his speed. Our method resorted to being my head stuck out the passenger window, straight into the snow storm, yelling ‘left’, ‘right’ or ‘straight’.
Photo: An illustration accurately representing the snowstorm event.
After over an hour of project reverse-down-a-mountain-mid-snowstorm, we made it to the platform and turned our van around. We were defeated by Iceland’s unpredictable weather, but incredibly happy to be out of the storm…
On our way down (forward- no longer reversing), we saw a car in a ditch as a result of the storm. No one was in the car, but it definitely wasn’t there when we were heading up earlier. It really brought home how vulnerable we are driving in Iceland and how careful we have to be. Luckily, Luke and I were really supportive of each other. When one started to loose hope and feel like we were going to die in a snowstorm, the other would be positive. We switched roles a few times.
Photos: Left photo shows when the situation was becoming a bit sticky. Right top photo shows Luke blissfully unaware of the situation we are about to land ourselves in. Bottom right shows the Icelandic man reversing down the mountain.
Luke became obsessed with checking the road traffic updates after this event. We went to sleep in a car park by the seaside in Akureyri by about midnight. We were too tired to celebrate with a cider as we had planned, but felt the reward just from tucking in to our sleeping bags. Luke also asked if we could consider a warmer holiday next time.
Day 6 Thursday
Luke went for a 30 minute run, but the prospect of going for a run in the cold and to return to no shower, did not appeal to me. I phoned my cousin in Australia over the free camper Wi-Fi and updated her on our adventures. When Luke returned we drove to a petrol station, pumped up our tires, washed the camper and hoovered it throughout. It was free and took about 5-10 minutes between us. Definitely worth looking after the little guy considering how much we were using it. I also enjoyed posing for the photo, so there’s that.
We phoned up the road traffic people, they said it was not safe for us to go west using route 1 (the Ring road) if we had summer tyres and offered an alternative route. I phoned our rental company in Reykavik, they were so helpful and sympathetic with our situation and confirmed our alternative seaside route too. I have to say, it was a stunning route and we were grateful for the snowstorm leading us to it.
Photos: Images taken from our alternative route
We mad a quick stop by the side of the road and got our porridge on before embarking on our drive. Along our drive we finally decided to stop and greet some Icelandic horses. We couldn’t help but envy the view they had from their grazing home.
As anyone can imagine, this day involved particularly excessive driving. So we decided to do some equally excessive sightseeing following our giant rock visit. One of our stops was the giant rock in the ocean, Hvítserkur. We lunch by the top of the cliff while a bus of tourists ran down to take photos and admire the old thing. By the time we got down there, it was empty. So we took this photo on a timer. As the timer is only 10 seconds standard, I sprinted back to the rock for this photo, which is why Luke looks a bit overwhelmed with his arms to the side. We would have stayed for the lava-tube-cave experience, but by this point we had to make choices regarding our budget and it just didn’t qualify.
We stopped by Grjótagjá too, a hot spring cave where you can actually bathe. We gave it a miss and so did everyone else we saw there. The cold wind and lack of medical support in the area is a good motivator to stay clear.
Nearby we found Deildartunguhver, Europe’s most powerful hot spring. It was cool but equally spooky to see boiling hot water flowing past us like that. Definitely was worth a quick stop to see.
Next stop was the magnificent Hraunfossar (below). We were truly astonished by how beautiful water can look when it streams through cracks of lava. Again, we got there late afternoon and it was almost just us at the attraction. My parents started wondering if we were the only tourists on Iceland when we sent them photos.
We ended up in Borgarnes for the night. And stayed at a closed campsite with an ‘honesty’ box. We did admire the Icelanic folks honesty. We saw a girl jump of her bicycle and just leave it parked up outside the shop. A small population clearly has large benefits, especially in terms of trust.
Day 7 Friday
The next morning we headed straight for Stykkishólmur. A small remote little seaside town, which features in the Walter Mitty movie (again). As I not only see many similarities between Luke and the character Walter but happen to love the film in general, seeing the place where the life changing moment for Walter happens in the movie, was really cool- in a nerdy way that I am reluctant to admit and seek help for. Although there’s not much to see in Stykkishólmur per se, the wind is an experience in itself. We found shelter from it to make our lunch, but found we looked very homeless. We titled the moment ‘what paying a lot of money to live like a homeless person looks like’ (below). We walked up to the top of a hill nearby to the lighthouse. The view of the town was beautiful.
We managed to also stop by the most photographed mountain in Iceland, Grundarfjörður. Despite being impressively pointy, the gloomy weather and return of the whipping wind, prevented us from being able to stay too long to admire it. The walk up to the waterfall next to the mountain was particularly entertaining and almost a matter of pure survival we were thrashed from side to side and left drenched.
I cannot emphasise enough how windy it was on this day. We had planned a journey along the West coast, but the clouds were what seemed 2m above our camper and we were battling the wind constantly. Feeling disappointed and overwhelmed by our situation, we did what anyone would do, pulled over and took a nap.
Read more: Snæfellsnes travel & Camping guide
Eventually we made it to Mosfellsbær, not too far from Reykjavík, and stayed at Mosskógar Camping site. Hands down our favourite campsite of the whole trip. It’s run by a half Danish, half Icelandic hipster who owns and runs the camping ground. His attention to detail and commitment to his site is evident and it was a pleasure to spend time getting to know him. Showering in an open air shower (just four walls, no ceiling), was an experience I was reluctant to embrace, but definitely enjoyed once the sun came out.
Day 8 Saturday
We spent the day exploring the wonders of Reykjavík, we couldn’t help but feel slightly like travelling warriors after surviving what Iceland’s roads had to offer and experiencing what the nature revealed to us.
We went to a lot of souvenir shops all selling the same thing. Then we sprinted through a flea market to discover we had to interest in being there. But mostly we spent time in cute café’s and walking around town people watching.
The day was a bit of a daze and it felt strange to be around so many people again. We splashed out on soup in bread as well as hot dogs, which was as adventurous as we were able to allow our bank accounts to be in the feeding department.
Photo left: Luke with his soup bread and a beer, feeling happy and warm at last.
Photo right: The Sun Voyager by the pier in Reykjavík
This was mine and Luke’s first trip together. We learnt so much about Iceland and each other during the trip and felt incredibly fortunate to have seen and felt the things we did during it. Despite the ups and downs experienced both as we learnt to tolerate each other’s daily camper habits, but also as we leant to respect nature to another level, I can safely say we left as slightly different people to the ones that arrived (especially a lot more tired).
In Iceland we found the best things in life are not necessarily free, as realistically you have to pay a substantial amount of money to get to Iceland. But truly, Iceland showed us that the best things in life are wild.
Thank you for having us, Iceland.
Read more: To be alive
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