Our First Camper Van Experience!
And not our last!
Sept 30 – Oct 2, 2017
Not too unlike the Vikings before us, Joseph and I decided after only one night in little Reykjavik that it was time to write our own Saga of Icelanders in the northern Snæfellsjökull (pronounced, by us only, “Snail Floss”) peninsula. While we are neither Icelanders nor was our camper van medieval, our three-day conquest still meets the minimum criteria to be called a saga in our book. Here it is.
Getting Started in Reykjavik
First, a little context. We had little idea about what we were doing other than knowing we had four nights in Iceland, wanted to visit some hot springs, and see the Northern lights. We did no planning before arriving and had never rented a camper van. And, we had an epic trip.
One cannot go wrong in Iceland—every time we turned our heads we saw the most beautiful thing we had ever seen. We spent our first day walking around Reykjavik, mostly visiting (the three or so) art galleries, and quickly determined that there wasn’t much else to do except eat expensive fish and drink expensive beer. It was camper van time. We sucked up the #VanLife jokes our friends were making in the group chat and headed to the Rent.is site to pick it up.
Make friends with the locals—they know all the good apps for locating bad weather and the Northern Lights. We had wanted to go south for a few days but couldn’t because the highway was flooded. The south was beckoning us with glaciers, waterfalls, rugged coast lines, lava fields, hot springs, mountains, small horses and more. Wait, that’s all of Iceland! So, no problem, we went through to the Golden Circle for a day of delicious Langostine and warm baths, and then north to the Snail Floss (Snæfellsjökull) peninsula. The Snail Floss is a perfect two-night excursion from Reykjavik; just enough time to see everything, and not so much that we ever strained to find something to do.
Thomas at Rent.is was our dude. He walked us through the insurance (take the full premium package) and showed us our sweet van. A bed for each of us with pillows and sleeping bags, a heater, refrigerator, cooking set, camping chairs, WiFi all included, and we were set. Thomas was a bit shocked that the two of us had rented a five person van, but we were destined to make the most of our spacious rolling accommodation– and it was the only rental van available in our last minute planning. Plus, we could both completely stand up inside, which was great for people who like standing. We stopped at the Bónus! supermarket for a few nights of provisions, including traditional Icelandic fish jerky, which promptly went into a garbage can before it had the chance to permeate the entire van with its unique aroma.
Reykjadalur Hot Springs
First stop: getting our dip on. The Blue Lagoon was fully booked during our trip (call ahead! We did not), so we went to the cooler (hotter) version, the Reykjadalur Hot Spring in the Golden Circle. A 4 km hike in to a steaming bath of spring water and friendly tourists, with some hot mud pools and Lord of the Rings scenery along the way. Pro tip – don’t go into the unmarked 100° Celsius bubbling mud pit, or you’ll burn your feet (“learning by doing” is our unfortunate motto).
Highway 54 to Snæfellsjökull (Snail Floss)
Then, the unreal drive north along highway 54 to our next stop, Stykkishólmur. We praised the Icelandic engineering that safely got us through the 6 km-long Hvalfjörður tunnel – a nice moment to rest our minds from the increasingly surreal landscape. Besides, at this point we had each mumbled the word “majestic” too many times and needed a breather.
Stykkishólmur and the Library of Water
We raced to Stykkishólmur so that we could make it to the Vatnasafn (Library of Water) installation by the artist Roni Horn before it closed. When we arrived it had closed anyway and so we learned our next two Icelandic lessons: one, most things are closed when you leave the city because there just aren’t that many people around, and two, if someone is indeed there and you knock, they’ll let you in because why not. Iceland is erupting with creative inspiration. At this point we felt compelled to listen to Björk, always a good move in Iceland. Another pro-tip: Go see the church in Stykkishólmur, it has a very, um, unique rendition of the Madonna and Child.
We then headed west to Kirkjufellsfoss, surrounded by otherworldly lava fields and lighting so majestic it forced us to take hundreds of iPhone landscape photos that will surely never be looked at again. But the grandeur! Who can stop trying to document. Everything was beautiful.
It was dinner time. After a solid five minutes of debate we pulled over on a seaside cliff that looked as good as any other ridiculously gorgeous place to stop, and we cooked. Joseph’s store-bought stir-fry was delicious. Bonus!
And then, we got what we came for: Northern lights! The key to finding them is the Veður “Aurora Forecast” website. It told us that the Northern lights would be in effect (they begin around the first of October, when we were there, and persist through the end of the winter), and that the sky over us would be free of clouds. A little after 10pm and bam! The coolest thing we had ever seen. Hello, universe, nice to meet you too.
Snæfellsjökull National Park
We slept well in the big warm van, woke up and made breakfast, and got back on the road west to the glacier in the Snæfellsjökull national park. The park was an alien landscape with colors across the spectrum. Think red, but green at the same time. Red/Green. Skardsvik Beach was a highlight.
At this point you may think our trip began to resemble The Trip (the movie), but we didn’t in fact have to resort to Michael Caine impersonations to keep ourselves occupied (though, for the record, this would be a scene worth recreating). Low and behold, our cell phones had coverage everywhere in the remote Icelandic Snæfellsjökull countryside (thanks, WiFi-enabled van!), and so our soundtrack blared accordingly. If you play the 1979 album Electric Day by the progressive electronic Krautrock group “YOU,” we’re pretty sure you’d get an understanding for what the lava rocks are hearing. That idea was good for about thirty seconds.
Hellnar, Raudfeldsgjá Gorge, and Hotel Búðir
“Oh hell nar” was just about all we said on the way to this minuscule town with alien coastal rocks and a strange photo shoot underway. Iceland is a big, empty country—even the tourists were rarefied wherever we went—but one just cannot avoid finding someone doing it for the ‘Gram, even at the far ends of the Earth.
After we left the gorgeous Raudfeldsgjá Gorge we stopped for a cup of tea at the rad Hotel Búðir and had a moment where we were convinced Iceland was setting us up. A full rainbow, start to finish, materialized in front of us. Wtf! We tried Face timing our friends in the States to show them this phenomenon that we were raised to believe was impossible to actually see in person. Of course, nobody picked up.
Gerðuberg Cliffs and Landbrotalaug Hot Springs
Last stop on our two-night adventure in the Snail Floss was the Gerðuberg Cliffs and Landbrotalaug Hot Springs. On the way we stopped at a natural mineral spring. We were psyched. Filled our bottles up with sparkling water right from the ground! Only in Iceland. Majestic!
We ended the trip making friends with a group of Germans and French in the hot springs before we cooked a meal nearby and saw the Northern lights for the second time. An unreal trip thanks to our camper van!
Matt S. and Joseph B.
Read more: Exploring Iceland in a VW Camper – Day 4
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