Antipodean if you do antipodean if you don’t: London to Lindisfarne

The next leg of our ‘Volcanoes, vans and a haggis’ adventure takes place in the United Kingdom. We have six and a half weeks booked in a Spaceships campervan and will travel a roughly anticlockwise circuit of England, Scotland and Wales. As previously mentioned, the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and the World Bog Snorkelling Championships in Wales are two of the big highlights planned for the trip.

We have never travelled in a campervan before and I must confess that I had one or two brief moments of reservation in the lead up to the trip. Was zero nights to six weeks going to be too much? Would the taller member of our party even fit in the van?

I quickly learned that the UK, almost everyone you meet will chat to you about the weather (in fairness it is a near universal topic of non-offensive, ice-breaking small talk). Once they realise that you are from Australia they often adopt an apologetic tone as though a foggy, wet summer is somehow a collective failing on behalf of the British people.

A few days into the trip, in Whitby, we woke up to our first sunny day and, figuring that it might be the best weather we saw, dressed accordingly in shorts (and jumpers… there was a limit to our bravery). While visiting the Abbey we struck up a conversation with one of the staff members and when the chat inevitably turned to the sunny day (of which he was quite proud) we mentioned that we had come out in shorts since the weather was so ‘nice’. Our attempt to take a cup half-full approach to the quasi-warmth and embracing the English ‘summer’ was a wry “How very antipodean of you…”

On the flip side, if you mention that you are finding it a little chilly (when asked of course, we don’t walk around complaining to strangers about their home), people will reassure you that it’s quite warm and that 18 degrees is a fine temperature for the summer holidays. There is generally an inferred suggestion that the softness of Australians in cooler climates is infinitely amusing.  After a few weeks we have developed an effective middle ground approach by which we admit that yes we have seen quite a bit of rain but reassure them that this has been balanced with some stunning days of sunshine. And this is, for the most part true, if you consider 80:20 a roughly even balance.

Day  1

After a not entirely reassuring delay in Reykjavik, because a piece of luggage had “damaged the hull of the plane” requiring an engineer’s inspection, we arrived in London mid afternoon. I have a huge travel crush on London and will tell anyone who will listen that it is one of the most underrated cities in the world (passed over for destinations that sound a little more exotic or chic). This was just an overnight stop though with time to catch up with friends and family before picking up our campervan the next morning. A haloumi kebab, a pub meal, many beers and London was done.

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Day 2

We collected our Spaceships campervan and headed straight for Windsor to belatedly celebrate Ryan’s 30th… at Legoland. It is a magical place where amazing Lego exhibits like the Star Wars display make you remember how cool it was to be a kid while simultaneously strengthening the resolve not to spread the joy by having any of your own. By 2pm the collective energy was waning and there was a full blown temper tantrum happening every 30 metres or so (Ryan and I behaved ourselves though). Kids were over-sugared and over-tired and parents looked sunken-eyed and bewildered. We saw one dad napping against a wall with the family’s bags (I assume the rest of the family was on a ride but he may have just done a runner). Even more exciting than Legoland was arriving at our campsite to spend the first night in the van. We camped at the delightfully quaint Glebe Leisure, not too far from Oxford.

Day 3

It was time to get our English Heritage on and the first stop was Kenilworth Castle. Visiting famous castles and other historically significant sites was a huge drawcard for me and I couldn’t wait to see these places for myself. Here is a questionably brag worthy anecdote to put this into context. When I was a kid I used to spend hours tracing castle floor plans from a book of British castles that I owned(read –  borrowed from my dad in a permanent-loan capacity).

From there we visited the Battle of Bosworth. The museum is very close to the location of the Battle of Bosworth where King Richard III was killed, ending the War of the Roses and placing the Tudor line firmly on the throne. I am fascinated by the War of the Roses history and Richard is an historical figure of particular interest as he seems to be a key example of how history can be reshaped by the victors. The museum included information on the recent archaeological discoveries that have helped them to narrow down the specific site of the battle as well as the discovery of Richard III’s skeleton.

We took a long haul drive from there all the way up to Whitby area where we stopped by to visit my Uncle Geoffrey (my poppa’s brother) and his family. We arrived at Bay Ness Farm late in the evening  to secure a beautiful cliff top pitch looking down to Robin Hood’s Bay.

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Day 4

We woke to the previously mentioned sunshiny day and headed into Whitby to make sure that we were at the Abbey when it opened. The audio guide will encourage you not to race out to the Abbey but to take your time listening  to the introductory audio to set the scene. Disregard this. Get there when it opens and take a lap around this magnificent structure before it is crawling with people (and dogs, but more on that in future posts). You can then head back to the beginning of the audio tour to take your time. Many of the English Heritage sites have free audio tours that add a lot to the visit.

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By the time we finished at the Abbey, Whitby had transformed into a heaving mass of people and we got our first taste of English seaside towns in the summer holidays. The water front was bustling with people and the air hung heavy with that greasy smell of fried food that smells so appealing  when you’re hungry and like a heart-attack-by-smell the rest of the time. Being hungry, we indulged in  tray of chips and I widened my culinary experiences, arguably not in a good direction, by trying chips with curry sauce for the first time. Just as chips are a staple at Indian restaurants here, curry sauce is available at every fish and chip shop.

In the afternoon we returned to our campsite and wandered down into the charming Robin Hood’s Bay by foot. The small seaside village is full of narrow winding alleyways that it would be quite easy to get lost in except for the fact that it is also very steep so if in doubt you can just head downhill and you will pop out at the beach eventually. The presence of sunshine aside, we decided that it would be better to have a pint than a swim.

Day 5

In the morning we had a little bit of time up our sleeve so we popped down to have a quick look at Scarborough. It was shaping up to be busier than Whitby by lunchtime with the beach front lined with carnival attractions and vendors of small plastic things of a shiny nature designed to capture the attention of children and the hard earned cash of their parents. We confined our visit to a flying visit of the castle (thanks to our English Heritage passes once again) before returning to Robin Hood’s Bay for a family visit.

We spent the morning with another of my poppa’s brothers, Peter, before setting our Spaceship on course for Stockton-On-Tees for another family catch up. We detoured via Guisborough to have a look at their priory on the way, and arrived at the home of my Great Uncle Robert mid-afternoon. Robert showed us around the local area and took us out for a brilliant pub meal. One of the surprise features of Stockton was the incredible Tees Barrage White Water Rafting Centre, a series of artificial rapids, complete with canoe slalom course, that have been built into the Tees. I had never considered Stockton as an adventure sport destination but I would definitely add it to my list of destinations next visit.

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Day 6

Some of family lived in Stockton before they moved to Australia, so in the morning Robert gave us a quick tour of many of the local sights including the church where my grandparents were married and some old family homes. From there we headed north to explore Hadrian’s Wall.

Once again, the English Heritage passes were proving their worth and we were able to visit Chester’s Roman Fort and Museum, and Housesteads Roman Fort to learn more about the wall and the fortifications  built along it. By the time we arrived at Housesteads there was a decent wind driven down pour on. We didn’t let this deter us from joining a free tour and managed to last about 45 minutes in the rain learning about how the fort operated before we decided it was time to go solo so that we could pick up the pace. We legged it up to the wall past some very water logged sheep and traversed a tiny section of the wall while I hummed ‘Hadrian, Hadrian, build it, build it’ (an historically questionable ditty about the purpose of the wall from beloved Australian children’s singer Peter Combe of ‘Toffee Apple’ fame).

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Soaked through to the skin, we turned the van into a mobile drying rack and drove well over an hour to Lindisfarne with the air-conditioner blasting and wearing just our undergarments (keeping our fingers crossed that we wouldn’t have to pull over unexpectedly). We were very happy to arrive at our campsite at Barn Neal for a hot shower and some warm food.

Day 7

Lindisfarne had been a fairly last minute addition to the itinerary, driven by our recent preoccupation with all things Viking (because of our visit to Iceland and,full disclosure, a recent addiction to the TV show, Vikings). The Holy Island of Lindisfarne is historically famed because it claims to be the home of Christianity in England and also because, the Lindisfarne Priory was one of the first sites sacked by Viking invaders in 793AD.

The island is only accessible by causeway at low tide which means it is uniquely isolated with limited accommodation available on the island itself. In the small village, many of the shops operate on very odd times to accommodate the changing window of time in which day visitors can access the island. As well as the lovely village and the ruins of the Lindisfarne Priory, the island also boasts its own castle which stands in aloof isolation on the eastern edge of the country.

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Lindisfarne marked the end of our first English leg of our trip. From there it was time to head north to visit my favourite ‘land of the brave’ – Scotland.

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There’s a troll outside my window: Akureyri to Snaefellsness

There’s a troll outside my bedroom window. For those of you familiar with the similarly titled tale about a hippopotamus, I should clarify that it was not, however, eating cake. The troll in question was the Kerling troll. One of three trolls in a competition to carve out the fjords of the Trollskagi and to separate the Westfjords from the rest of Iceland. In typical fashion, this troll was caught by the sunlight and turned to stone – which is how it came to be standing outside my bedroom window in Drangsnes.

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Trollskagi

The Trollskagi or Troll Peninsula sits on the north west corner of Iceland before you head out onto the Westfjords. Compared to the well trodden paths of the Golden Circle and the highly patronised Skaftafell, the Trollskagi and the Westfjords are, for the most part, relatively quiet. That said, you are still unlikely to find a scenic lookout or point of interest without at least a few other cars pulled over. You could pull over to take a call In Iceland and six other cars would pull over too just to check they weren’t missing out on a picture worthy vista or a secret waterfall. I had been really looking forward to the chance to see some of the more remote fjords and farmsteads on this section of the trip.

After exploring the Sigufjordur section of the Trollskagi, we headed out to Vatnsnes for our second day in the area. Vatnsnes is growing in popularity thanks in no small part to the novel Burial Rites. The novel is an historical fiction about an infamous murder case on the peninsula. Agnes Magnúsdottir and Fridrik Sigurdsson were convicted of the murders of two men at the farm at Illugastaðir in 1829. Subsequently the pair were sentenced to death and Agnes Magnúsdottir became the last person in Iceland to be beheaded in a public execution. On the way onto the peninsula you pass Þristapar, the site of the executions.

The other big stop we made at Vatnsnes was to pay a visit to the Hvitserker. The Hvitserker is a 15 metre high rock formation standing just off the coast. The Hvitserker was a troll who was fabled to have been rushing to the shore to try and stop the sound of church bells that had been irritating him. In case you haven’t worked out how the rest of the story goes, the sun came up and the unfortunate troll was turned to stone.

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Hvitserker

The weather changed as we left the Hvitserker, emphasising the harsh conditions faced by the farmers living in such remote locations. It must be challenging enough today and it is hard to fathom how people coped in the past. As you round the head of the peninsula, you pass church at Tjorn where Magnúsdottir and Sigurdsson’s heads are buried.  The farm at Illugastaðir is just a few minutes further along the road. Illugastaðir is a poplar stop not only because of its notoriety a infamous murder site but also because it has a resident seal population that obligingly rests on a rocky outcrop not far from the shoreline.

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Illugastadir

Once we had explored this beautiful but desolate stretch of coast we completed our circuit of Vatnsnes with a visit to the Icelandic Seal Center in Hvamstanngi. Our evening destination was a couple of hours away in the Wetsfjords. We had heard mixed reports of the roads in the area but were surprised to encounter over 70 km of gravel road almost as soon as we left the main Ring Road. I had horrible visions of us spending the next three days bumping and jolting along in our 2WD at a relative snail’s pace. Did I mention that our rental car was approaching 20 years old on a conservative estimate?

Westfjords

Although the ride out to our accommodation in Drangsnes was a bit challenging, fortunately it turned out to be the last of the unpaved roads we faced in the Westfjords. As well as being home to the Kerling troll, Drangsnes is also famed for its hot pots. Three hot pots are built into the sea well as you drive along the main street. We heard that they could be hard to spot but there was no missing them when we drove past. The tubs were packed with people enjoying a cheeky beverage or two when we arrived just after dinner time.

We saved our dip for the next morning against a spectacular backdrop of thunderous looking clouds and the beautiful fjord. The steaming soak in such a spectacular location was well worth a quick dash through the cold. After a pre-breakfast dip we continued into the Westfjords to visit the region’s biggest town, Isafjordur.

While Isafjordur escapes many of the crowds coming from the Ring Road, it does get inundated by thousands of day-visitors stopping by via cruise ship every other day or so. We arrived during peak time and used it as an excuse to seek refuge with a few more Icelandic brews at a local bar. You don’t need to be a super sleuth to have deduced by now that swimming and beer played significant roles in our self-guided exploration of Iceland. We were also lucky enough to stumble across a small gallery showing a selection of short Icelandic films while we were in Isafjordur.

The next day we headed out into the fjord for a couple of hours of kayaking. Our group included one lady who fell in as she tried to get in the kayak and a pair of American ladies who shared a double, could not paddle in unison and bickered the entire time. They turned up wearing disposable rubber gloves over their ordinary woollen gloves in a creative bid to keep their hands warm and waterproof. Needless to say we were not in elite paddling company and it was not the toughest paddle we’ve ever done but there was lots of opportunity to paddle out and circle back to the group, and it was really lovely to be out on the water.

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After kayaking, we visited the nearby town of Sudereyri for a swim in a geothermal pool (for something different to do). From there we headed south to Sudereyri to visit the Arctic Fox Centre. The Arctic fox is the only mammal native to Iceland. The centre has a lot of information about the foxes and the research that is being done to protect and monitor them.

My day, if not my entire trip, was made here when we saw a lady change out of her Iceland-suitable boots and into a pair of plastic orange high heels (with love hearts instead of normal heel stems) for the sole purpose of conducting a C-grade, DIY photo shoot in front of the foxes. It was a glorious display of primping and preening as she posed and waggled her feet through the fencing at the bewildered but captivated fox. Her pose-like-no-one-is-watching (we were definitely watching) parade was reigned in only once the fox had nipped her toes when she waved her tackily clad foot in its face.

After the magic we witnessed at the Fox Centre, we decided to regather ourselves with a stop at Litlibaer to have waffles and tea in a tiny restored house that stands alone on the edge of a fjord. It was adorable –  the door ways only came up to Ryan’s collar bone. After the restorative powers of waffles and jam we headed to our evening base at Holmavik.

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Litlibaer

Snaefellsness

The last two days on  the road took us to Snaefellsness Peninsula. The volcano under the Snaefellsjokull starred in Jules Verne’s Journey to the Center of the Earth. We didn’t climb the glacier ourselves to see if there was a volcanic entry to the Earth’s core but we did have a lot of fun exploring the area at the base of the glacier.

On the way into the peninsula we stopped into Stykkishólmur, another town featured in The Secret life of Walter Mitty. Near this town is the smallest mountain we climbed during our visit. At just 73m high, Helgafell is said to have been a favourite site of Thor worshippers until a small church was built on top of the mountain by a converted Icelander. It is said that if you reach the summit of the mountain, you can  make a wish. Depending on who you believe there are certain conditions about not turning back or speaking during your ascent – we did both so I am going to favour the accounts that offer you a wish in return for simply summiting this behemoth of a peak.

The Snaefells area has a lot of interesting sites crafted by volcanic activity. We took a long drive through the  Berserkjahraun. This extensive field of lava features another popular Icelandic saga, the Eyrbyggja Saga. A local farmer hired two berserkers to work for him only to find that one of them had taken a fancy to his daughter. He told the amorous berserker that if he could carve a path through the lava field for the farmer to visit his neighbours, the berserker could have his daughter’s hand in marriage. When the berserkers completed this seemingly impossible task the farmer and a local official (who was after the farmer’s daughter for himself), had the berserkers murdered in a sauna.

Just beyond this is the beautiful Kirkjufell mountain, a distinctively pointed peak on the shoreline with beautiful waterfalls just a stone’s throw away. While we were walking around the falls, we had the slightly awkward privilege of watching a random couple get engaged just a few metres away from us.

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Saxholl Crater

Other highlights in the area included the Saxholl crater. You can walk up 300 steps around the side of the crater to look back across the volcanic crater to the impressive glacier of Snaefellsjokull just a few kilometres away. We visited several of the lovely beaches in the area and our final stop for the day was at Dritvik.

On the beach at Dritvik you can test your strength against four lifting stones. The stones were used in the past to determine whether men were strong enough to work aboard the ships. The stones are 23kg, 54kg, 100kg and 150kg. The lightest stone is called the Almóði (weakling) while the 54kg stone is called the Hálfdraettingur (half carrier). If you could lift this to waist height then you were considered just strong enough to work as an oarsman out of Dritvik. The heavier stones are called Hálfsterkur (half strong) and Fullsterker (full strong). I am pleased to say that I could have scraped in as an oarsman (perhaps with a faux beard disguise) with the Hálfdraettingur while Ryan successfully hefted the Hálfsterkur.

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The next day we headed back to Reykjavik with plenty of time to return the car. In the morning we made a quick stop at a lovely wooden church, Budir before heading to Borgarnes. In Borgarnes we visited the Settlement Exhibition Centre. This was a fantastic museum that used beautiful and creative displays with audio guides to tell the story of Egil’s Saga and the story of the settlement of Iceland.

Reykjavik

When we returned to Reykjavik we decided the only fitting way to say goodbye was to finish the Barmuda Triangle. We did get waylaid on the way to our first stop by the tacky but enticing Lebowski Bar (themed around the film The Big Lebowski). We were really just there for the fun factor and our expectations were pretty low but the burgers turned out to be insanely good. A cheeky stout to wash down a  veggie burger that I would confidently place in the top five of all time, and it was onto our second Bardmuda stop, Skulli (we had visited Mikkeller and friends on our second time through Reykjavik).

With so many craft beers to choose from, a beer tasting paddle was really the only way to go. We finished the triangle at Micro Bar with another tasting paddle. There were some lovely beers but to be honest, of the ten we tried, the one that stands out most clearly in my mind was the Gaedingur Skyrgosi Sour beer. And it distinguished itself from the pack for all the wrong reasons – namely because it was indeed quite sour.

We made an impromptu decision to go see another show at the Harpa, How to become Icelandic in 60 Minutes. Not quite as amazing as the Icelandic Sagas show from our first visit but it was still very funny and worth a watch. As we dragged ourselves back to the hostel, tired and well beered, our final stop was the Chuck Norris bar for a greasy second dinner. It was much tackier but certainly not as good as the Lebowski bar.

Three weeks in Iceland saw us trek for six days in the Laugavegur area before spending a fortnight driving the Ring Road. I could write about Iceland for weeks and weeks and still have plenty left to say. I’m sure I’ll post again on a few odds and ends but that is a wrap for now. The next stage of our trip takes us to the United Kingdom to swap the SAD car and guesthouses for a Spaceship campervan.

 

 

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Fog and eggs: Skaftafell to Akureyri

**Apologies for the photo-less post. The wi-fi is not enjoying image uploads at the moment. I will pretty it up asap.

Driving through Iceland, you are likely to experience three types of fog. The first is the mountain flattener. It obscures the tops of all the magnificent peaks you are driving past and cuts them off with a uniform white line of cloud about 40 metres above your head. The second type presses in much closer and while the driver focuses on the 30 metres of visibility in front of the car, the passenger is able to get brief glimpses of the spectacular scenery being missed. Oooh, it looks as though we are driving along a cliff top that would offer beautiful coastal views in other circumstances.

The final type of fog sees you creeping along in a large cotton ball wrapped directly around your car. Technically I think this was all very low cloud cover rather than official fog, but either way, it made for some less than optimal driving. I found the best coping technique as a passenger was to trust in Ryan, doze off and try to nap through until the hairiest parts had passed. Fortunately we only encountered the bonnet obscuring cover on a couple of brief occasions but we did miss out on what seemed to be some of northern Iceland’s most spectacular scenery and spent a lot of time gazing at the bitumen (or gravel) directly in front of us.

After leaving the Skaftafell area we headed further up the east coast by way of the lobster capital of Iceland – Höfn. This was one of the few occasions we forwent the pre-packed sandwich or plain spaghetti in favour of a grown-up meal at a restaurant. And it was well worth it. Most mains will cost you around $30 AUD and it can be hard to find too many cheaper options. Often there is little difference in price between good restaurants and eateries you would expect to be much cheaper. For example we paid just a couple of dollars more for gourmet pizza at a stylish craft beer bar in Reykjavik than for pizza at a roadhouse off the Ring Road one night when other options were in short supply. In Höfn, we lunched at the lovely Pakkhus and took the chance to sample some more Icelandic beers and for Ryan to try some Icelandic seafood. The menu included a vegetarian option simply titled ‘Vegetable’. Despite its unenthused and underwhelming title, it was an incredibly delicious chickpea and vegetable filo wrap and salad.

We spent the night in Djúpivogur. The tiny harbour side village has historical connections to German trading and an infamous history with African pirates. Its modern day claims to fame include a display of 34 large stone eggs along the wharf and the House of Bones Sticks and Stones that is a hoarder’s paradise, housing a collection of flotsam and jetsam that has washed ashore in the area.

From Djúpivogur we headed further north to visit a beautiful little town called Seyðisfjörður . The roadway into the town (mostly obscured by fog  for us) and some of the town itself were featured in The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. The town is situated at the base of 17km long fjord and like many of Iceland’s fjord towns is nestled in a tranquil gap between the water and the steep mountains either side. After a stroll and some more local beer (including a very tasty porter called Black Death), we headed inland to spend the night at Egilstaðir.

The next morning we started driving at about 6.00 am to try and beat the crowds to Iceland’s most biggest waterfall by volume, Dettifoss. And beat the crowds we did. On the 170km we covered that morning we saw a total of one bicycle and zero cars. Although the weather was becoming steadily worse, Dettifoss was another amazing stop. The waterfall spills approximately 500 cubic metres of water per second and does not fail to impress.

By the time we arrived in the Lake Myvatn area, the weather had become very average. We stopped at the Viti Crater to view its blue lake and could barely see to the other side. The inclement conditions did encourage us to stop at the free information centre at the Krafla Power Plant, which we might not have done otherwise. It was one of those pleasant surprises you can encounter when your travel plans don’t work out as expected. The background on the process of harnessing geothermal energy was incredibly interesting. The history of the area also includes a nine year period when the geothermal outlets spilled lava over a 36km area causing the Krafla Fires.

Many people we had met had raved over the Myvatn area. If we hadn’t already witnessed the surreal displays of Iceland’s geothermal power on the Laugavegur trek we might have found the area just as mind blowing. As it was it was incredibly nice but not quite the life changing experience it had been hyped up to be. A big drawcard for the area is that it displays a range of Iceland’s unique features in quite a close area. Close to the Krafla area is Hverir. Hverir is a sulphur field of geothermal outlets of steam escapes and bubbling pools of mud. It is fascinating but to call it the real life Bog of Eternal Stench would not be unfair.

The Myvatn Nature Baths are a smaller, slightly cheaper, version of the Blue Lagoon with a less fancy lobby but beautiful views down the mountain to Lake Myvatn. By the time we had finished soaking and steaming the sun was making a concerted effort to appear. The next stop was a walk through the lava field of Dimmuborgir before braving an army of midges for a walk up the pseudo craters along the edge of the lake itself.

We backtracked a little way to spend the night at a beautiful but remote guesthouse at Grimstaðir. The Myvatn area where the demand for accommodation far exceeds the supply.

The next morning we thought we would try the early bird principle again to check out another famous Icelandic waterfall (this one is renowned for being incredibly beautiful. When we arrived at Godafoss we certainly had the place to ourselves. We also couldn’t see the far side of the waterfall for the thick cloud – it was cotton ball level coverage. I have always believed that a nap fixes most things and sure enough after a 40 minute kip in the car, the weather had cleared enough that we could at least see the entire waterfall.

 

After swinging through the capital of the north, Akureyri, we decided to push on and explore the first section of the Trollskagi or Troll Penninsula. The first stop was an imposing abandoned herring factory at Hjalteyri before heading up to Siglufjörður to learn all about the herring industry at the Herring Era Museum. Herring might sound ho hum but it was a very cool museum spread over three buildings that were once part of one of Iceland’s more prolific herring factories. The museum won an award for best museum n Europe in 2004.

The final stop for the day was a cheeky 60 km drive for a swim at the Hofsós swimming pool. The little town has been put on the map for its pool which has been built high on a cliff overlooking the ocean giving it an infinity pool feeling. The weather was still pretty cold and wet so it was lovely to get into the water and swim some laps in the relative warmth of the pool. Better still was getting into the toasty outdoor hotpot for another soak. If you haven’t spotted it yet, local beer and testing out the local swimming holes became a bit of a recurring theme on our roadtrip.

We returned to Akureyri for the night. The main street offers a good variety of restaurants, souvenir shops and a cinema. While it is certainly bigger than most of the other towns in the north there is not a lot to see in the town itself. It would be a good place to base yourself if you were looking at taking organised day trips around the area. It was nice for a night and gave us the chance to unwind at the movies before heading off to explore the rest of the Troll Peninsula the next day.

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You should see ice: Skaftafell

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You think water moves fast? You should see ice. It moves like it has a mind.”

This quote had been echoing through my head since our trek. The huge glacier of Myrdalsjokull was a permanent presence and the land had so clearly been shaped by long ago glaciers that had dominated the area. The words nagged at me as if they were some profound insight into the glacial past.

On our first day in  the Skaftafell area we went ice climbing beneath the pitted labyrinth of the Virkisjokull ice fall. Throughout the day the ice fall cracked and rumbled as it shed large chunks of ice and threatened to spill one of its precariously balanced seracs down the hill. You should see ice.

And two days later, with the underwhelming impact of being batted by a tiny kitten, it hit me. Deep Blue Sea. The foreboding description of life on the mountain was not a profound observation from a cinematic masterpiece but a quasi-inspirational speech from a tacky thriller in which sharks have developed the ability to swim backwards (which makes them more threatening would you believe?). Had I also remember the subsequent cheeseball line I might have divined its provenance sooner – It’s like it knows it killed the world once and got a taste for murder. It’s delivered in signature soap box style by Samuel Jackson moments before he is chomped by a super shark. Retroactive spoiler there btw.

That aside however, you really should see ice.

It is constantly shifting, splitting and reshaping itself, and it is pretty amazing to climb on. We spent the day ice climbing on a ‘Glacier Extreme’ day tour run by Glacier Guides. The first two sites are top roped while you are reassuringly belayed from the ground. The climbing itself follows a fairly basic process; reach up knock one ice axe into the wall, knock the other one in, lift one foot and kick the front four spikes of your crampons into the wall, repeat with the other foot, stand up, find your balance and then lift your first axe and begin again.

The tricky part is becoming proficient in transferring your weight through your legs with minimal flexion through your ankle. Your foot needs to be at a right angle to the wall to keep all four front spikes secured. If your heel is dropped too low, all four spikes won’t find purchase. If you lift your heel ask your climbing, the crampon will flick out of the wall. It is really an activity where you need to trust the technique and not get flustered.

After completing a few climbs on each of the first two sites we moved onto a canyon which gave us the opportunity to abseil into a crevasse and then climb out again. The abseil was easy and once at the bottom it offered you a really unique perspective. The climb out was not quite as easy as the gentle descent but it was lots of fun.

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The next day was a much less demanding ice adventure as we visited the iceberg lagoon, Jokulsarlon. The lagoon is fed by a large glacier that periodically claves off huge sections of ice and drops them into the water. The huge bergs float in the lagoon for days, months or even longer before the break up and drift out to sea through an inlet. It is a surreal vista and even if we hadn’t been able to get out on one of the boats, just seeing it would have been one of the highlights of the trip.

The spectacular lagoon has been used in several films including Batman Begins, Die Another Day, and Lara Croft: Tomb Raider. We got the chance to head out in a Zodiac (a RIB) to zip among the ice bergs and to view the face of the lagoon relatively close up. There is also a cheaper option to get out on the water in a larger amphibious boat (like and aqua duck) but you can’t get quite as close to the ice.

Once you’ve explored the ice at its source you can head across the road to the black sand, ‘Diamond Beach’. The beach is covered with fascinating fragments of ice that have washed ashore on their journey out of the lagoon. They create an interesting array of natural ice sculptures of all shapes and sizes. Even if you are on a short visit, it is worth venturing away from Reykjavik and the Golden Circle and making the effort to explore this eastern section of Iceland’s coast.

Accommodation: There is not very much accommodation along the coast near Skaftafell and our selection was determined by what was available within a 100km or so for a vaguely reasonable price. We ended up at a bed and breakfast at Kalfafellstaddur for two nights (about an hour north of the Skaftafell park entrance). The location and rooms were lovely. You get the sense that they must get a lot of people turning up expecting the freedom of a guesthouse such as the use of kitchen facilities and similar. There were quite a few firm instructions but apart from this (and provided you don’t expect to be able to cook your own two-minute noodles) it is a lovely place to stay. Dining options in the area are fairly limited too.

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Beyond the Golden Circle: Reykjavik to Skaftafell

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After returning to Reykjavik, a celebration to mark the end of the six day Laugavegur trek was in order. We decided to have a couple of drinks with the other members of our group at  a craft beer bar called Mikeller & Friends, one point of a trio of establishments known by locals as the Barmuda Triangle (because you will inevitably lose track of your friends as you hop between the three on a night out). The bar shares the building with a tasty, unnamed pizzeria who waived our drinks tab because they forgot to place our orders. At Icelandic prices, it is certainly worth getting your pizza late to save a few drinks worth of kronor.

It is easy to get used to sleeping with almost full light for twenty-four hours a day but rolling out of a bar well after midnight to a barely shadowy city is a little surreal. This bigger than expected night out saw us make the most of the late checkout time (11.00 am is pretty standard for most guesthouses) to catch up on some sleep. Subsequently our first day on the road had a much later start than anticipated. Our planned itinerary for day one was to tackle the much lauded Golden Circle.

Iceland’s Golden Circle is a popular trio of natural wonders that are linked only by the fact that they are easy to complete in a single day trip out of Reykjavik. The circle is comprised of Þingvellir (Thingvellir)  National Park, Geysir and Gullfoss.

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Our first and only stop, as it turned out, was Þingvellir National Park. This was a lot more distinctive than I had anticipated. The park runs around the outskirts of a very large lake and sits on the juncture of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, a place where two tectonic plates come together. This creates a couple of notable attractions.

The first is Silfra which is the underwater chasm between the plates. It’s claimed that the visibility under water is up to 100 metres, and the incredible clarity is dazzling even from the surface. There are regular dry suit snorkelling and diving trips through the Silfra costing from about $170 – $450 AUD. We didn’t get in the water this visit but it could well be on the list next time.

The second big feature of interest is distinctive cliff line created by the tectonic ridge. It is visually spectacular and also a politically significant site in Icelandic history. Þingvellir is the home of the Alþingi (Althingi) or historical parliament of Iceland. From around 930 Icelanders decided that they needed a meeting or gathering place to set laws and determine disputes. Each year Icelanders would travel from all around the country to meet for up to two weeks for the Alþingi. Each area was represented by a Godar (district leader) who would participate in the parliamentary proceedings. The gathering became a key social event for trade, arranging marriages and for the sharing of stories, with Icelanders travelling from all around the country to attend.

There are lots of sites of historical significance at Þingvellir, you can visit the Lögberg, the stone  that was believed to be the central podium for the Alþingi. The nominated lawspeaker would memorise all of Iceland’s laws and recite them from the Lögberg every year. Another key function of the Alþingi was the dispensing of justice. Near the Lögberg you can visit is the Drekkinghyalur, a pond that was used to drown women believed to be guilty of crimes such as infanticide and adultery. Men also had their own special places to meet horrible ends including Gálgaklettur (Gallows Rock) and Gálgaeyri (Scaffold Beach).

Although a very beautiful area, the less attractive side of Þingvellir was that we got our first real taste of how inundated Iceland is with tourists during their summer season. People were rocking up by the coach load and, as you would be aware, one of the immutable laws of the universe is that people get dumber in groups. Case in point, try organising a dinner out with your best friend – easy. Try organising a night out with six of your best friends – nightmare. At key attractions in Iceland, people reach herd proportions so you can imagine how the IQ of people (who are probably reasonably intelligent in their day to day lives) becomes diluted.

Although there is not too much explicitly bad tourist behaviour there is enough to make you uncomfortable sometimes. One of the biggest frustrations is seeing people leaving the set paths to try and get their own clear or uniquely insta-worthy shot at the expense of the environment. It is very easy to see unofficial paths that have been worn into the natural environment because one or two people have left the path and a thousand have followed.

Due to the masses of people and some fairly average weather we decided to call it a day with the plan to try our luck on an early start to visit Geysir and Gullfoss the next day. We spent the night at the beautiful Bergþórshváll (Bergthorshvall)  just south of Hvolsvöllur. Bergþórshváll is the farm at the centre of one of Iceland’s most famous sagas, Burnt Njáll. The saga describes a blood feud that developed between the heroic warrior, Gunnar Hámundarson and his close friend Njáll Þorgeirsson, due to tension between their wives. As the title suggests, a key plot point is the burning of Njáll and his family at their farm.

Historical significance aside, the farm is also incredibly beautiful and the guesthouse is situated in the middle of nowhere (in the very best way). The farm is overlooked by the infamous volcano Eyjafjallajökull that became globally infamous when it spewed the teensiest bit of volcanic ash into the air in 2010 (enough to close most European airspace for about a week).

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On the road again – Geysir and Gullfoss

The gamble to delay the final stages of the Golden Circle paid off and we arrived at Geysir at about 7.00 am to beautifully clear blue skies. The Great Geysir for which the site is named erupts very infrequently with many years in between eruptions at some points (depending on seismic activity). It has a smaller friend, Strokkur, who is much more reliable. Strokkur erupts every 5-10 minutes and generally shoots near boiling water up to 20 metres in the air.

Much like the flame spurt in the Fire Swamp is preceded by a small popping sound, Strokkur’s eruptions are preceded by some distinctive bubbling and a small dip in the pool’s water levels before each spray, giving you enough notice to get your camera ready. In case you are thinking, geyser be damned where can I see this Fire Swamp? I should inform you that you will only be able to see it by rectifying what was clearly a negligent  oversight in your upbringing and watching The Princess Bride on Netflix immediately.

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The impressive Gullfoss waterfall was similarly (and delightfully)absent of tourists giving us a blissful half an hour to ooh and aah at the impressive double drop of the 32 metre fall by ourselves. The glorious weather delivered a very pretty double rainbow. As we left at 9.00 am the first tour bus was just pulling up. We have found around the entire country that an early start to beat the crowds is not as early as you might think. Arriving anytime before 9.00 am seems to be enough to beat the masses and is well worth the effort.

From there we headed east along the coast to check out some equally beautiful (but much more crowded) waterfalls including Seljalandsfoss, Gljufrabui and Skógafoss. At around 60 metres, Skógafoss is one of the tallest waterfalls in Iceland. A legend also claims that there is Viking treasure behind it.

We continued east along the coast and past the beautiful black sand beaches and decided to visit a site that had been recommended by several locals, Sólheimasandur. The beach is the site of a US DC-3 airplane wreckage from a crash landing in 1973. It is easy to find in peak season as there are dozens of cars parked in a fairly random spot on the coast road and dozens of people streaming off toward the horizon. What our friends failed to mention with their suggestion is that it is more than a brief jaunt off the main road. A cheeky and unexpected 8 km round trip later and we had visited the impressive wreckage.

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This was another key site for tourist-induced face-palm interaction. While most people ducked in and out around the wreckage taking the pictures they wanted and then stepping back to let others do the same, a few strugglers decided to have full personal photo shoots of themselves posed and draped all over the plane. Super weird and super frustrating.  It was here I discovered that the brighter your jacket, the more likely you are to spend an extended amount of time in conspicuous places blissfully unaware of the dozens of other people around you. Take your selfie and get out of the way.

The unexpected mini-trek and a check-in deadline of  7.00 pm meant that we ran out of time to stop at Vik and some of the other sites along the south east corner. We drove almost three hours straight from Sólheimasandur to our accommodation in Kálfafellstaddur ready to explore the scenic Skaftafell area and surrounds.

Accommodation Bergþórshváll Farm. It is worth the 20 km drive from the main road to stay in this serene and well equipped guesthouse. It is very spacious and has a good sized kitchen as well as laundry facilities. I would recommend spending two nights here if possible as a base to explore the surrounds and to enjoy the beautiful farm location itself.

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Landmannalaugar to Thorsmork: Trekking in Iceland

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Trekking was the centre piece of our trip to Iceland. In the very early planning stages it was the big bean that tipped the scales in the favour of visiting Iceland (in this scenario the scale has dozens of arms, with a potential destination hanging off of each end begging to be explored).

There are several places you can do guided multi-day hikes in Iceland and after a lot of deliberation I finally decided on the six day Laugavegur trek from Landmannalaugar to Thorsmork and around the Fimmvorduhals. There were some very tempting looking treks in the Skaftafell area, but the deciding factor was that the Laugavegur trek is famed for offering some of the most diverse landscapes in Iceland. As you move through the trek the out of this world vistas change from day to day.

The planning and equipment logistics as well as the local knowledge made the decision to participate in a guided trek (rather than go it alone) a no brainer. And this decision was well justified in terms of safety, companionship of the group and the wealth of information our guide was able to share with us about the trail and Iceland in general. The trail is well established and would be easily navigable on your own with a good map and compass for support but there are risks. On our first day of our trek a man (not associated with our trek) fell through an unstable ice bridge and died in the area we were walking through.

All of the organised treks through this area are assisted, which means that you only walk with a day pack. Your large bags, the kitchen tent and daily food supplies are transported between the campsites each day. Again, from a logistics point of view this was fantastic for us as we are travelling as part of a three month trip and would have had to arrange storage  for all of our none hiking essentials in Reykjavik to get our big bags down to a manageable trekking weight. It obviously also makes the walking much more comfortable.

It has been quite difficult to try and find the words to describe this trek in terms of my own experience and feelings. It was absolutely magnificent and I know that it is one of those experiences that will have a long lasting impact.

 

Day one – Landmannalaugar to Hrafntinnusker

The trek group met in Reykjavik. The company we were walking with had two groups going who would be staying in tents and one group who would do the trail and stay in the permanent huts. The drive out to the start of the trek takes about 2 1/1 hours to Landamannalaugar.  After about an hour and a half, the bus turns off the road and begins the most incredible ascent through black sand. The super bus then begins to climb through an incredible peaked area and takes on terrain you would be impressed to traverse in a normal 4WD.

As you approach Landmannalaugar you begin to see the iconic striped hills that are streaked with yellows and reds.  The drop off point is at the bustling campsite. For those spending longer there, there is the opportunity to brave the icy air temperature and take a dip in the thermally heated natural stream.

You will hear many times from guides and hikers that this trek was listed as one of the top twenty treks in the world by National Geographic a few years ago and it is immediately easy to see why it received an entry on the list. You leave Landmannalaugar through the lava field of Laugahraun (believed to have been formed in 1477). This is followed by a steep ascent of about 500 metres which offers spectacular views back through the delta of Landmannalaugar.

As you continue to climb you can see the volcano, Hekla, off in the distance. The pressure has been building up in Hekla and an eruption is overdue. This season all climbing trips to the mountain have been cancelled in anticipation of some imminent activity.

In the other direction you can see the colossal Vatnajokull, the glacier that dominates the south east corner of the country. You soon descend into the Storhiver area which is the first chance to see the mind boggling meeting of hot and cold. Steaming hot streams pour out from under giant slabs of ice – the icy valley is filled with streams hot enough to make a cup of tea over. After several snow crossings you finally come to the top of a big hill to look down into the Hrafntinnusker area and the first campsite.

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Day two – Hrafntinnusker to Alftavatn

After a morning of intermittent fog, our group set off at about 10 am. We had set a quick pace the day before so the delayed start meant that we had the track to ourselves. Hrafntinnusker means obsidian skerry which is very fitting as you are walking through rolling black hills. For us these obsidian crossings were spectacularly cut with sections of snow.

After a steep climb out of the valley, we were offered the chance to take a ‘short’ (2- 3 hour) detour. This took us through an impressive black delta valley and to the foot of a glacier. From there we climbed the steep snow to the top of Haskerdingur which, at 1281 metres, is the tallest peak in the area. This offered even greater views of the surrounds as well as the distinctive Hekla and Vatnajokull.

The snow allowed us to run or slide down the mountain much quicker than we had ascended. After exiting the canyon past some impressive bubbling mud pots and steaming outlets we rejoined the main trail. You are faced with some quite steep descents for the second half of this day and several sections of shoaly path which require a slow and inelegant shuffle that makes your knees decidedly unhappy. When you are not looking for a safe place to plant your feet you are treated to incredible views down to Alftavatn or Whooper Swan Lake.

A change in the weather gave us the opportunity to try out our wet weather gear for the last few kilometres. The last section is an easy flat walk so this didn’t pose too many dramas and arriving a little cool and very damp to the campsite meant that camp dinner tasted twice as good. This campsite is situated on the very edge of a picturesque lake.

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Day three – Alftavatn to Emstrur

From Alftavatn you hike east over a couple of small hills toward Hvanngil. There is a river crossing early on. It was fairly straight forward while we were there but the water was painfully cold. You trek  through beautiful green fields and rolling hills for a short stretch before the lush fields begin to give way to a long flat plain of black desert.

The second river crossing is a little wider and more demanding but again we were quite fortunate that the volume of water was relatively low on the day. From here the hike is mostly through the wide black desert sands of Maelifellssander. Our group was once again offered a detour to take a closer look at the glacier Myrdalsjokull which is a dominant and ever present companion on the horizon throughout the duration of the trek. This walk took us to one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen in my life. We celebrated this find by taking a short nap in the sun before hitting the trail again.

The arrival at Emstrur was dusty and very warm. The 500 kronor (over $5 AUD) for a five minute shower felt like money well spent at the end of such a big, dusty day.

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Day four – Emstrur to Thorsmork

The track out of Emstrur delivers several kilometres of small hills, none of which are too demanding. You cross an impressive river by bridge early in the day and soon after this you are able to take a detour that is short by conventional standards, (5-10 minutes rather than the 2-3 hours diversions we had become accustomed to), to view the juncture of two different coloured rivers.

After a few hours you are treated to the rare sight of small scrub and birch trees along the path. I heard a joke on our travels: What do you do if you get lost in a forest in Iceland? Stand up. Not only are trees an infrequent occurrence but typically they are quite small and sparse.

A final river crossing takes you across many small streams on a wide delta. In relative terms these streams seemed much warmer than the previous crossings. The relative temperature of the water depends on whether it comes directly from glacial run off. One more wide hill crossing takes you into the valley side campsite at the gorgeous Thorsmork. The Thorsmork area is a long stone river bed flanked by high dark peaks along each side. There are several campsites in the area and it is used as a launching point for many trails.

 

Day five – The Fimmvorduhals

This day had been dwelling in most people’s minds as the toughest day of walking as the track is straight up a big mountain (and return). A few people selected to stay in camp and explore the local area at their own pace or relax as we would be spending the final night in Thorsmork again. Although it was a continuous climb I thought the track was much easier than the preceding days as the trail itself was well developed and it cut back and forth across the face of the mountain at a very comfortable gradient.

My feet were in a very sorry way (more on that shortly) so I had been worried that I would not be able to get shoes on let alone hike but I decided to walk out to the trail head to see how I went. As it turned out I went  14 kilometres all up and made it to the top of the mountain ridge for breathtaking views of one of Myrdaljokull’s powerful icy walls and captivating 360 degree view (you don’t get sick of them).

I continued down by myself so I could take my time on my tender toes while Ryan and the rest of the group continued along the ridge to battle very fierce winds for a close up look at two of Iceland’s newest volcanic craters, Magni and Modi.

 

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Day six – Thorsmork and return to Reykjavik

The final day was a short trip out of camp to a nearby canyon before packing up and preparing to return to Reykjavik. Packing the bus was a feat for Tetris Grand Masters but eventually we were all stowed and on our way back to the city for a celebratory beer or six.

One of the deal breakers for an experience like this can be the people you end up spending the week with and we couldn’t have been more fortunate with our group. Not only were they all fit and proficient walkers, they were really interesting and lovely people. Our guide was a fascinating person and shared so many interesting stories and pieces of information about Iceland and the environment we were walking through. I really couldn’t recommend this experience highly enough. The walk is quite challenging and the fitter you are the more you will enjoy it.

My sad feet

Bec: Hey there my friend, how are you going?

Ryan: Good thanks.

Bec: Not you, I was talking to my blister.

I could write an entire essay on the sad state of my feet and hypothesise about what went wrong  but the relatively short version is that despite good shoes and socks, a fairly robust breaking-in period and early use of taping and second skin, my feet were an unhappy mess.

Before we even arrived in Iceland I was confident that I was going to finish the trek sans a toe nail (from breaking the shoes in). Nail issues horrify me but I was adopting a stoic determination to strap it up and pretend it wasn’t happening for a week.

On the third day we stopped for a second lunch and I removed my shoe to find a tiny piece of gravel had created a minuscule blister on the outside of my right heel. I taped that tiny bad boy up confident that it would be nothing  more than a minor irritation. That evening we arrived in camp and boom! Blister city. Each heal had developed monster sized eruptions on the outside (which, given their volcanic proportions I have since christened after two local volcanoes, Katla and Hekla).

In keeping with the geothermal theme, I had also developed a swag of blisters that resembled a field of bubbling, dangerous geothermal outlets around my toes. I second skinned and strapped as best I could (a risky move as I am very allergic to the glue in tape) but Hekla on my left heel continued to grow and grow over the next few days to the extent that I was concerned that I might have been sprouting a second foot. Fortunately Katla erupted of her own accord sometime on the fourth day so despite some short lived intense pain and a decent amount of icky, this offered some relief overall.

Anyway, that is enough about my festy feet. The days following the hike were spent in the blissful respite of thongs (flip flops for non-Australian readers, I am not over sharing about my underwear). This gained more than a few odd looks and comments from tourists who were all trussed up in their best hiking gear to explore sites that required a taxing walk down 400 metres of gravel path. I waved the still-in-full-bloom Hekla in their general direction which soon scared them away.

Tent or hut?

I would recommend the tent option. The huts are typical shared hiking huts (not personal cabins) and are pretty bustling and manic at some of the places. Although it is a little bit trickier in tents if the weather is wet, the tent gives you your own small but private space to unwind in at night and you can go to bed or get up whenever suits without disrupting or being disrupted too much. Want to have a ‘bird bath’ with wet wipes because there are no showers?  Much easier in the privacy of your own tent.

The atmosphere in the group dining tent is also quite nice as everyone pitches in to help prepare meals or just sits and swaps stories while they relax with a cup of tea. Another consideration is that I get the impression that the tent group tends to attract slightly more active and fitter people than the hut group (but overall most people I met seemed quite experienced and were up for the challenge regardless of which option they had selected).

Do it yourself

The company we used was adventures.is . We booked through icelandroadtrip.com  because they required a smaller deposit which allowed us to book and secure our dates earlier.

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Happy to be feeling blue

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View from Hallgrimskirkja

Arriving at Keflavik Airport in Iceland was an overwhelming experience not only because we were hitting the 40 hour mark of our travel odyssey from Australia but also because Keflavik was the busiest airport I have ever been in bar none. The arrivals and departures hall was wall to wall people and the crowds barely thinned out as we progressed through immigration and baggage claim. I’m not sure if this was an anomalous day or whether the sardine experience is standard for Iceland in peak season (based on what I’ve seen since it may be quite possible).

Here is a shocker for you, Iceland looks much like it does in the pictures (say what!?). The drive into the city from the airport is an expansive rocky tundra but as you approach the city you can see some impressive snow capped mountains in green and black. This green and black pairing typifies many areas of Iceland and one of my favourite scenes is seeing the clouds move off of the shaded mountains. The impressive hills come alive as the sun hits them and illuminates their ridges and secrets. The unique colour I have termed ‘Iceland green’ glows in even the lowest light but when the sun arrives it becomes spectacularly iridescent.

After catching a prearranged Gray Line Bus (FlyBus also arrange door to door transfers) to our accommodation our first evening was spent in a zombified daze that consisted of finding the main street and falling into the first restaurant we could find.

We had two full days in Reykjavik to explore and prepare for our trek. If you are not taking any excursions out of the city, this is plenty of time to explore.  Reykjavik is small and although it is a little confusing the first time you step out of your door it is easy to get a handle on things ones you have identified key marks such as the towering Hallgrimskirkja at the top of the hill. From there it is an easy stroll down to the Old Harbour and city centre.

The city was experiencing Euro Cup mania with flags and paraphernalia in every shop – even jewellery shops had soccer balls/ footballs in their displays. Most of the museums have an entry fee and as we were trying to start the trip on a frugal footing we didn’t visit any of the user pay sites. One of the most interesting things we came across though was a maps display on the waterfront that showed the history of shipwrecks around Iceland and the Faroe Islands. There were dozens of maps showing different types and eras of wrecks and it was absolutely mind boggling.

One of the best kept secrets we uncovered are the shows at Reykjavik’s very impressive cultural centre, Harpa. The Harpa building itself looks like a slightly smaller version of the Beijing Olympics swimming cube in more muted green and grey tones. It boasts beautiful views over the harbour and it is worth popping your head in to see what is going on. Harpa was offering several cultural comedy shows for the summer season, some traditional music and a Bowie photography exhibition.

We went to see Icelandic Sagas – a two person show that covers all 40 Icelandic sagas in 75 minutes. As a comedy, it was designed to be engaging and it a fantastic way to get the basics on some of the important stories that explain Iceland’s history. The sagas have their roots in real events and were relayed as verbal histories throughout out the 11th and 12th centuries before being recorded around the 14th century.  There is a lot of A killed B. So C decided to take revenge and then C was killed by D and E, and so on.

The sagas, and Iceland’s political history in general, are fascinating and worth taking the time to learn about. There is much more to Iceland than the reductionist picture of big mountains, cute coloured houses and puffins (although there is certainly an abundance of those things too).

Our second day started with a quick trip up to the top of the Hallgrimskirkja for a bird’s eye view of the city before organising some supplies for our upcoming trek. On our second afternoon we headed out to the Blue Lagoon. In peak season you need to book ahead to guarantee entry as they cap the number of visitors per hour. It is well organised with regular shuttles and, given its proximity to the airport, the option to store large luggage so that you can swing by on your way in or out of the country.

In places like Iceland it is really easy to get hung up on how expensive things are and spoil a lot of experiences by carping on about whether it was ‘worth it’. Even the most basic entry to the Blue Lagoon will cost in excess of 70 Euro once you factor in a bus transfer so you need to decide up front if you can let that go or if you are going to feel rorted by paying a mini fortune to sit in what essentially is just some very hot, albeit very blue, water with a heap of strangers. You need to work out what an experience is worth to you and then just get over it. There are lots of ways to save money when you travel (we have been living off homemade sandwiches, skyr and corn chips most days) but when you decide to splurge on a meal or activity you need to forget about the cost.

I pretended the Blue Lagoon cost us $20 and subsequently had a fantastic time. It is a really nice way to relax after a lot of travel and it lovely to spend an hour or so just unwinding. You are fitted with wrist bands that allow you to purchase drinks from the swim up bar, (and the prices are not any more expensive than other bars in Reykjavik). There was something pretty magical about sitting in the toasty water while the air was a crisp 10 degrees, enjoying a beer and just absorbing the fact that we had finally arrived in Iceland.

After a much needed snooze on the 40 minute bus back to Reykjavik we arrived back in the city just in time to watch the first half of the Euro Cup on big screens set up in the city square – an absolutely perfect finish to a great start in Iceland.

 

Accommodation: Loki 101 Guesthouse.

We have booked almost all of our accommodation in guesthouses. Guesthouses are the most common type of accommodation and generally offer a private room with a shared bathroom and communal kitchen. We selected this option as it was cheaper than a campervan (even with accommodation plus car hire) and offered us the chance to save some money by preparing our own food.

Loki is a clean guesthouse with a large communal kitchen and laundry facilities (which was handy). The rooms were small but adequate and, like most accommodation in Iceland, the guesthouse offers free wifi. It is located just 50 metres from the Hallgrimskirkja which is very helpful from a navigation perspective and also means that most major sites are within a 10 minute walk.

The guesthouse is also on the pick up/drop off route for most bus transfers and tour pick ups.

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