The Camper Van Mabel
It all started when two sisters and a cousin decided on Iceland for their third international cousin trip. The planning began and it was determined that a camper van on the Ring Road was the best option to see the most of the incredible country. After purchasing the Lonely Planet guide book, the top spots were starred, and many more off the beaten path were highlighted. Little did we know that the camper van was going to work out exactly as we had dreamed.
Our adventure started at Blue Lagoon Geothermal Spa with a soak, mud mask, algae mask, and Gull beer to relieve the tension after a long flight from America. Once refreshed, we took a bus to Reykjavík to experience more Icelandic culture before picking up our Camper van, whom we affectionately called “Mabel”. Our first stop was the world’s most successful hot dog stand, Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur, followed by checking in to our Airbnb, and a nap. We awoke in time for a little walk around town before dinner. We admired the Hallgrímskirkja Church, did some souvenir shopping, and then took the advice from the visitor center guide to try the “Icelandic Street Food” restaurant. It was a small location that served traditional Icelandic food. The owner made everyone feel welcome immediately and the dishes gave us a terrific preview of the country’s culture.
On the morning of October 9th, we woke with excitement knowing that this was the day we had all been waiting for to arrive— meeting “Mabel”! After the necessary grocery shopping, we were on our way along the Golden Circle. Þingvellir National Park was first on the list. We stopped at Almannagjá Ravine where the North America and Eurasian tectonic plates are tearing away from each other, which is also the site of the world’s first democratic parliament, AlÞingi. Continuing into the ravine we saw the pool, Drekkingarhýlur, which has a dark history of where women were drowned after being convicted of the worst crimes (i.e. infanticide, adultery). From there we continued the path down to Öxarárfoss Falls and saw our first rainbow! Even further down the path we walked into the canyon, Langistigur, where men were beheaded and hung, and where a scene from The Game of Thrones was filmed. Continuing along the Golden Circle we drove to Geysir to watch the active geyser Strokkur erupt. Tired from our first day on the road we made a quick meal and got settled in for the night. We already were seeing the perks of bringing “Mabel” on the journey.
Our second day on the road we were up early and ready to complete the Golden Circle at Iceland’s most famous waterfall, Gullfoss. Although it was chilly, it was lovely to beat the tourist bus crowds, with a few other early birds, due to being able to sleep en route. We even noticed that we were beginning to pick up on some general Icelandic lingo, such as foss meaning waterfall and jökull meaning glacier.
Now on to the Ring Road (Rt 1), traveling counterclockwise. Heading towards Southeast Iceland, we climbed up behind Seljalandsfoss for some amazing pictures and a testing out of our rain gear. “Mabel” once again came to our rescue when we could easily get out of the pouring rain, grab a bite to eat at the table in our warm van, and hang our gear on our clothesline as we traveled to the next location. On the way to completing the trifecta of waterfalls for the day with Skógafoss, we stopped, unexpectedly, at Drangshlíð which are houses built into the rock face. We drove by Sólheimajökull as we headed for our last big stop of the day, Reynisfjara (the famous black sand beach). Located there are multiple incredible rock formations, including basalt columns, a huge stone sea arch called Dýrhólaey, and sea stacks called Reynisdrangar. From there we continued down Rt. 1 to Kirkjubæjarklaustur for the night. Due to the classic rainy conditions of the southeast, we once again appreciated the luxury of “Mabel” by being able to cook dinner while we prepared for bed.
Thankfully, when we awoke, the sun was shining and the wind was blowing, and we knew that it was going to be a good day! Our day started with a hike up the canyon, Fjarðrárgljúfur, before driving to Skaftafellsjökull and walking out to see the glacier face. Following that walk, we drove to an iceberg filled lagoon called Jökulsárlón (aka glacier lagoon) which flows out to the Atlantic Ocean. After nearly a thousand pictures (no exaggeration) between the three of us, we headed to Höfn, hoping for a clear night to see the Northern Lights like our Aurora app suggested. Initially there seemed to be a cloud cover, but thanks to the final evening walk to the restroom, we were able to spot something dancing in the sky. Once again, a perk of “Mabel” became apparent as we starred in awe at our first Northern Lights experience.
Waking the next morning, still excited from the Northern Lights, we headed into town for coffee and sightseeing. Before reaching a coffee shop, we stumbled upon a 3 mile harbor walk starting at the seaman’s monument on Óslandshæð Hill called Höfn’s Nature Trail. After a beautiful walk in the sun looking at glaciers off in the distance, we went to get coffee and groceries. Another perk of “Mabel” is the possibility to purchase food for multiple meals because of a fridge and shelves. After a resupply, we went into a local bar to sample a local beer, Vatnajökull, which is made with water from 1000 year old glaciers and locally grown thyme. From there we drove to the Viking Cafe, which was a little off the road, and got to admire Vesturhorn mountain and eat some locally made desserts. For the remainder of our sunny day, we drove along the Ring road between mountains and the ocean to Seyðisfjörður for night, which is off of the Ring Road but completely worth the drive. There is a beautiful blue church, an artist walk, and a local pub called Kaffi Lára El Grillo, which is named after a sunken British oil tanker in the Fjord. We tried the local beer named after the restaurant and shared a burger before heading in for the night. Just down the street was the local campground which put us in a good place for an early departure the next morning.
After a good nights sleep, we took a short walk up to Tvísöngur, which are natural harmonizing cement domes honoring Icelandic music. We were sure to test out the domes while there. From Seyðisfjörður we headed to Mývatn with a full schedule of places to see in the rain. Our first stop was Grjótagjá Cave, which is a hot spring that appeared in The Game of Thrones in a scene with Jon Snow and Ygritte. Next stop was Hverfell Crater which is a 2700 year old crater created by cataclysmic eruption of the existing Ludentarskál complex. This crater stretches 1040m across and 463m high and we hiked to the top to look inside. After being awestruck by this phenomenon, we drove to a 2000 year old lava field called Dimmuborgir, which means dark castles. This is the home of a family of Icelandic Yule lads. We attempted to call for the Lads while on our walk with the recommended “Jólasveinn”, but came up short due to the best months being November and December.
We didn’t sulk too long because we still had more to experience on the day. After leaving the lava field, we drove to the Mývatn nature bath and warmed up with a soak in warm water during the same 35ºF sprinkle that we experienced while walking in the lava fields. Once warmed, we settled in at the Mývatn campground called Vogar for the night. Although we had planned to make our own meal, we splurged on two pizzas to-go at Daddi’s Pizza at the campground. We sat in “Mabel” enjoying the tasting treat and reminiscing about the terrific day. Little did we know that it was about to get even better. On our last bathroom trip before bed, we once again spotted the start of some dancing Northern Lights. We spent over an hour admiring the dancing greens and pinks with fellow campers as we all cheered in awe at the incredible sight.
After a terrific display the night before, we awoke ready for another incredible day in Iceland. Unfortunately, we woke to sub par weather. Our first stop was Goðafoss, which was a beautiful waterfall but we only spent about five minutes outside due to the incredibly high winds, which continued throughout our drive to Akureyri. In Akureyri we scheduled a three hour whale watching tour, despite the windy conditions. We had the opportunity to see five humpback whales while on our tour! To celebrate the money saving that we had been doing by cooking all our meals, we indulged in a local fish and chips shop. After being completely satisfied. We drove to Varmahlíð for a toasty night in “Mabel”.
Waking on our last full day with “Mabel”, we had a lot of miles to cover but we still wanted to make sure that we were taking in the sites. As we were driving along the Ring Road, we saw a sign for a Seal Centre in Hvammstangi. We had heard about seals but had yet to see them, so obviously we had to stop. The centre was closed but we received directions from a lady at a wool shop on where to go exactly. We were in for a surprise. We had the opportunity to watch a few dozen seals relaxing on the rocks in the sun. After admiring the beautiful creatures for quite a while, we continued on our drive until we reached a campground that is located on an organic farm, Mosskógar just outside of Reykjavík. This was a perfect last night in “Mabel” eating fresh kale and spring onions from the farm in our pasta. In the morning we headed to the airport to end our adventure.
Now having been home for two weeks we have had time to absorb our adventures and appreciate all that we did and saw. The sights of Iceland are so unique and the trip was full of lifelong memories. As we reminisce between the three of us one common thread that always comes up is how glad we were to have gotten “Mabel” the camper van. It will always stand out in our memories as one of the best parts of our trip.
Read more: Van Life around the Ring road
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