The Magic of Iceland
I have a little secret, and I’ll share it here with you. But only because you all are fellow camper van lovers and adventure seekers. I discovered something in Iceland in April. Guess what it was? It was……..Magic. Yes, Magic. Although in retrospect, I suspect this magic is present in Iceland every month of the year, but I’d like to believe it was a unique experience I was gifted with at just the right moment. Why was it so magical in April, you ask? Spring in Iceland is a transitional time bookended by very extreme and diverse conditions when you consider Winter and Summer. In the springtime, you have both the snow covered peaks contrasting with the dark basalt rocks AND you begin to see the moss and wildflowers peeking through the earth. It’s simply magical!
My two children and I explored Iceland in April via the Renault Trafic 3 camper van. Our journey took us 10 full days around the Ring Road. By the blessings and grace of the Norse Gods, we completed our adventure with open roads, amazing weather, furry animals, kind people, yummy Skýr, warm pools, and restful nights. On the second to last day before returning our camper van, my kids and I did have a moment of sadness ~ we had become perhaps a wee bit emotionally attached to our van and just wished the journey could never end. I suppose this means we are already planning our next trip to Iceland!
Test yourself: How much do you know about Iceland?
Although one mere post could never do Iceland justice, I will attempt to be as concise but informative as possible in chronicling our journey, in addition to providing tips as you plan your own adventure! I am also very tempted to use an exclamation point after ever sentence, as a representation of how much I love Iceland. However, I will try to restrain myself.
Note on travelling with kids: You will want to stop and take pictures every 5 km. This will annoy your kids greatly. Do it anyway. Just tell them, “It’s Iceland, baby!”
We traversed the Ring Road in a counter-clockwise direction. Spending days 1 and 2 in South Iceland, we hit up all the usual attractions: Seljalandsfoss, a swim at Seljavallalaug, Skógafoss, Skógar Folk Museum, and Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach. Every one of these places are popular for a reason – they are incredible. We camped at Skógar Campground, at the base of Skógafoss. There were only a few other campers in the lot, and to see the waterfall at sunrise with a light dusting of new fallen snow with not a soul in sight was the best morning greeting.
On the evening of the second day, we drove on to camp for the night at the Skaftafell campground, in Vatnajökull National Park. On the way there, I had hoped to take a detour to see Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon, but road conditions didn’t allow for that. We set up camp at Skaftafell, where at this time of year the only two hiking trails open were: Breiðamerkurjökull Glacier and Svartifoss. Both absolutely brilliant sites, and the basalt columns at Svartifoss were nothing like I’d ever seen.
Interjecting here with a note on campground conditions: Being April (pre-tourist season), many campgrounds were open but not fully “ready” for tourists. Toilets/showers were operable, but water was not running in the outdoor sinks, garbage disposal was a bit haphazard, and there were not many options for sheltered cooking areas (which made cooking with a propane stove challenging in the cold and wind). As long as you can laugh through this, all will be well, and will bring you closer to your fellow campers. And to the best of your ability, please clean up after yourself and dispose of your waste properly. Not everyone does this and it leaves a bad taste for the local communities. So let’s all do our part to show respect to Icelanders and their home!
Okay, back to the journey….
Days 3 and 4 were spent enjoying the Eastern Fjords. Jökulsarlón Glacier Lagoon was every bit as stunning as you imagine, and an even bigger highlight was playing on Iceberg Beach, across the road from the Lagoon. If I were here in winter, exploring ice caves would definitely be on my list! On the third night, we rolled into Camping Höfn, and spent the evening at the local swimming pool. Swimming in an outdoor naturally heated pool with snowflakes falling on your head is pure joy. And a great way to have a cozy sleep – crawl into your sleeping bag toasty warm, with the wind rocking your van like a cradle.
One our way up the Eastern fjords, we stopped in to visit the Viking Village, about 5 km North of Höfn. An abandoned movie set, and us being the only visitors, it was fun to imagine what life might have looked like at the time of the Vikings. Driving along the fjords was the treat for this fourth day. The rugged coastline and the dramatic peaks were simply stunning! Our goal for the fourth night was to reach Egilsstaðir Campground. To get there, we had to drive through a very cool 6 km long tunnel, which emptied us out on a snowy/icy stretch of mountain road that was a bit hairy……Thankfully, we arrived in Egilsstaðir unscathed, but we had passed a truck driver who was not so lucky. The snow banks had helped keep him and his truck from tumbling farther – snow to the rescue!
Days 5 and 6 were very memorable ones. It was here that we got to witness the true hidden gems of Iceland. Dettifoss and Selfoss – wow! (Freezing cold wind – make sure you bring sunglasses, gloves and face gaiter to Iceland!) Námafjall geothermal field – it’s hot! Dimmuborgir – of course we had to pay our respects to the Yule Lads. They weren’t home, but we did manage to locate their cave in the snowy wilderness. Grjótagjá Cave – dipped my feet in the water, but it was HOT. Some poor lad dropped his phone in the pool, and he had to go after it. Ouch.
Ate a decadent dinner at Vogafjós restaurant with the cows staring us down …. “I’ll have the fish,” said I to the server. We watched the sun set for 3 hours from the pools of Mývatn Nature Baths. Sure wish I had that in my back yard! We camped at Vogar Campground, and while the offspring slept, I welcome in day 6 with a solo sunrise hike up Hverfjall Crater. The grand view from the top was something I can’t even put words to, so I won’t even try. Glorious!
Goðafoss is simply stunning, especially with the backdrop of snow. As I stood there mourning the loss of the Norse statues, I asked my son how he feels. “Fine. I like the Greek Gods better.” How do you respond to that? “Ok”, I said. We enjoyed several hours in the big town of Akureyri, mostly sampling fish and chips and eating ice cream. Yum!
Not wanting to leave the North, but realizing our days are numbered, we continued on to camp at Glaðheimar Campground in Blönduós. Spent the evening swimming at the Blönduós pool, of course. This was just a stopover point for us, though, as we made our way to southwestern Iceland. We visited the small spring of Guðrúnarlaug, and spent the afternoon and evening in the town of Búðardalur. I fell in love with this town and was ready to set up roots there. The campground here shares a property line with the town’s school. So we spent the rest of the day playing on the playground and watching the sun set over the western fjords. Note: this campground has really great showers!
Day 8 we spent driving out to see Kirkjufell and Kirkjufellsfoss. After all, we’ve come all this way, right? I will admit, the kids were not very impressed. I think at this point in the journey we have officially become waterfall snobs. Compared to the grandeur of what we’d witnessed over the first 7 days, this one was…..meh. Hahaha! But we didn’t let that stop us from enjoying ourselves with a snowball fight. After this, we carried on to our last adventure before hitting the big city – Bjarteyjarsandur Farm. We camped here for one night, toured the farm, and enjoyed the hospitality of a lovely Icelandic family.
Filled with love from sheep, goats, dogs, rabbits, and chickens, it was time to close the loop and finish off our stay in Reykjavik. Day 10 and 11, we ate hot dogs, cookies, smoothies, swam at pool, and soaked in the waters of the Blue Lagoon. Oh, and did I mention the Phallological Musuem? Yeah, we did that too. My son was enraptured and my daughter was slightly horrified. I confirmed with the curator that no animals were harmed in the collection of objects.
I can’t believe I got through that whole journey with you and managed to avoid one word – horses. Every single day we had to stop the van and pet the horses. Because they are so beautiful. And furry. Still dreaming of those horses….
Now go out there and discover your own Magic! Just be responsible. No wild pooping, drive safe, clean up after yourself, and recycle when you can. Cheers!
Read more: Our engagement trip to Iceland
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