"Magical light and ever changing scenery. This place will put a spell on you from the moment you start to venture out on the one road that circles the entire country."
After having spoken to a few friends who have visited Iceland it was clear to Cecilia and me that we needed to go. It has always been on our minds before our friends had gone, but their experiences were just a loud confirmation. Everyone who had been there, agreed - “the place is out of this world”. They also all threw out the same warning - it’s super expensive.
So we decided to do it on the cheap. We bought some better camping gear, stuffed as much food as we were allowed to in our bags and we hopped on a plane. A rental car was a must for us as we wanted to see a lot of Iceland.
We had not even been driving for more than an hour from the airport and the landscapes were starting to be quite striking.
Looking back at the entire trip, we had really witnessed some of the most dramatic changes in scenery we have ever scene. It’s almost as if someone took a huge knife and made a cut, and a completely different landscape emerged afterwards. Mountain ranges as far as the eye can see, volcanoes galore, endless waterfalls and beautiful ravines fill this small country.
The hiking was superb. We had a lot of amazing day hikes in the south, east and north of Iceland. Skaftafell National Park had a wonderful 8 hour hike. Here we found a really great campground on a nice little farm just outside of the park. It was away from the crowds a bit, which we value a lot. We usually don’t tend to follow mainstream tourism and often find ourselves running the opposite direction when we see crowds.
The further east we went, the more the crowds dwindled. Sheep and horses by the side of the road were often the main encounters of life from here on.
On the east coast we can highly recommend the little village of Borgarfjordur. It’s just a pristine little place in a fjord with some great day hikes in the area and a little spa in town where you can relax in a sauna and whirlpool under the stars.
One of our favorite places was actually in the North, where we didn’t expect to find all that much in comparison to the other areas after reading prior articles. Much of the North really felt a lot like the swiss alps. By complete fluke, we found this really quaint little ‘village’ called Holar nestled between two mountains with a wonderful herd of Icelandic horses and a good campsite.
Driving through the Westfjords was also a highlight of the trip. The fjords were incredible and made for a really interesting drive on our way to Isafjordur. They just kept us zigzagging along and what seemed like a short distance on the map, took forever.
The Skaftafell Peninsula was our last stop before heading into Reykjavik. Because of its proximity to the capital it receives a lot more tourists than the east, north and the Westfjords. But when we were there it wasn’t all that crowded and it’s truly a spectacular place. We stayed in the cute little town of Grundarfjordur and found several great day hikes.
Our trip was overall two weeks long and we went in early June. We had tried to find a perfect time with our schedule and to accommodate everything that this country has to offer. The main thing that we feel we missed out on were the Northern Lights. Apparently the best time to see them is Late September (although I know someone who saw them earlier) until April. We knew that we would miss the Northern Lights, but that just means we’ll have to go again at a different time of year. The great thing about June was that we got to experience the summer solstice. It’s something we both never witnessed and it was really cool. To have basically 24 hours of daylight makes it a bit tougher to sleep in a tent (bring some eye shields) but you actually get a lot more out of your trip, because of the long days.
Definitely one of the most memorable things we experienced, was an amazing sunset on the Skaftafell Peninsula that basically lasted about 5 hours, because of the summer solstice. And we actually managed to stay awake and chase the entire thing with my camera up and down the peninsula. It made for some of the best images of the trip.
We were pretty impressed that we managed to actually stay in a tent for 13 days without suffering from a sore back. The Vect-Air mattresses we had purchased from MEC are really incredible. Also the little Trangia stove was a great addition to our camping gear. Super easy and safe to use and at the same time it's very packable.
Overall, we drove about 3500 km Iceland in two weeks. We didn’t get to see as much of the Westfjords as we had hoped, because time was running out. They are definitely worth coming back to.
My only real disappointment with Iceland is that the multi day hiking is not as well developed as in New Zealand. It is also lot more costly in Iceland, because you often need to hire a tour operator or rent a crazy off road vehicle and travel in groups of at least two cars in case of emergencies. The areas for these long hikes are just really not that great to access.
But when it comes to long day hikes that will take your breath away, it is an amazing destination. If Iceland is on your radar I suggest the sooner you go the better or stick to the shoulder season. It is getting so much attention these days and it’s starting to get flooded with tourism.