Unbelievable what can be seen deep down beneath, far, far away…
.We are high up, the sun is shining into our small oval window allowing us a glimpse of sheer beauty: From a marvellous blue sky we look down onto layers of puffy white
clouds that occasionally allow us a peek of massive mountain ranges underneath, topped with cold white powder! Landscapes in shades of olive green to red, brown or black, wide and open, areas of great vastness. I feel overwhelmed by such an incredible display of natural beauty!
With the descend, straight long roads become visible and the occasional exact round circle where they meet. And then a last turn, and we fly over silvery shining water, forever! I fear we will land in the ocean……But, no, the bright red “Air Berlin” plane lands safely on a long stretch of Icelandic runway. As soon as we stick our heads out of the comfort of the air-conditioned cabin, an amazingly strong wind blows us almost off the stairs.
Iceland, here we come. All four of us are glad that we have our warm scarves at hand. It is cold here!
After the collection of our suitcases and a few minutes of anxious waiting a young pretty blond Swedish girl greets us in English and picks us up in a battered van to drive us to a big tin shed in order to collect our 4WD for the next ten days. Ron is happily sitting beside her on the way and uses his charm to impress her with stories from our home Australia and from previous adventures.As we leave the car, we are told to always hold the car door firmly as the wind throws it around and can hit you (or the car parked next to you).
One thing, and only one thing is the same as in Africa: the rented car has no petrol so the first thing one has to do is fill up the car.
Ok, the next gas station is not far and there is a “Bonus” Supermarket right next to it so we can shop for groceries for the next two days.
Everything is quite expensive here, but we can pay everything with credit card which makes things easy. How expensive things are can be explained by two shopping “fits”: We purchase a road atlas for $ 40 and a few days later I pay $ 25 for a bar of handmade soap in a remote fishing village. But – hey, we are only in Iceland once (for now) so it’s alright.
Finally, we are on the way. The roads are good, traffic is little and we can make it to our first Airbnb in just under 2 hours. I am anxious all the way because I am responsible for the accommodation part of the trip and and the instructions how to get to the place are vague.
(Much later I realise that I hadn’t read the emails from the hosts carefully enough…)
Eventually we find our little cottage and settle into a warm wooden house in beautiful surroundings. When we wake up the next morning, light snowfall drops out of the sky and the fields surrounding our house are covered in a thin white blanket.
The freezing wind from the day before has eased and we excitedly start on our first encounter with snow.
“We”, the four of us: my lovely husband Ronald, my beautiful happy daughter Maren and my sister Christel who turned 70 a few days ago. What a combination!!
Two vivid photographers, eagerly researching every picturesque spot on this island and two ladies just enjoying life without the burden of carrying a camera around and happily pottering along, using the photographers’ stops to walk in the crisp air, snow covered mountains ahead, small streams and dark lakes on both sides of the straight empty roads and the warming wintery sunrays on their backs.
At times, the air is just too cold and in one instance the rain outside is so icy that they remain in the comfort of the warm car while the two photographers don’t miss an opportunity for the next perfect shot even if it means frozen noses and soaking wet coats.
What we don’t know at the time is that we are about to experience so many more amazing landscapes and scenery, that we will feel the cold crisp air on our faces and the powdery snow under our soles in so many different beautiful places – and that Iceland is a place of pure wonder.
First day: The Golden Circle. Waterfalls, Geysirs, horses with fringes that completely cover their eyes, small picturesque churches and small forests, cute white snow-camouflaged little dove-like birds and lots more. As we travel the main road, simply called “the 1”, there are ample opportunities to venture off the bitumen onto smaller tracks, and each time we encounter a different landscape, mountain, lake or waterfall, all prompting unanimous “Wow’s” from all of us. Happily,we stop the car each time, put on our coats, scarves, beanies and gloves and explore each awesome place of natural wonder.
Then there is this mighty waterfall, Gullfoss or Golden Fall. Rushing from great heights, in steps, around bends, the ice-cold crystal clear water is thundering down. Along the slip edges the yellow grass is covered with foggy frost, and tiny icicles are hanging as frozen water drops on the safety rod along the path. A few kilometres from there,
we find emerald green water, a river (or is it a small lake?), surrounded by dark cliffs. The colour of the water is so, so beautiful.
After our second night in the conveniently floor-heated cosy cabin we pack all our belongings and make our way in anti-clockwise direction around the island.Greeting us with soft snowfall in the morning, the weather turns out to be very wet for the remainder of the day. Luckily, this will be our only rainy day, with ice cold winds and lots of rain. We see a mighty waterfall that allows visitors to walk towards and behind the fall to admire the gushing curtain of water rushing down straight in front of them. We also find a beach with black sand, but the wind and rain are so bad that we can hardly hop out of the car to have a look at it.
Next stop: South Iceland.
This is where I found it most difficult to find accommodation that is not too far to travel in one day and also not too far to the next stop in the east. Finally, I settle on a small place between Vik and Höfn that ends in Klaustur.
Our accommodation is stunning. The guesthouse is surrounded by soft, gentle, yellow hills that form a perfect edge around a clear lake that is home to plentiful trout. The house itself is double storey and has big windows on all sides. As we enter, we can’t help but gasp another round of “wows”, as we explore the artistic interior design which is very modern, very unusual, with the main colour being black. Plenty of photographs of the Iceland singer Björk are found everywhere. But the best is the view all around.
Our shared room is upstairs so we have to walk the wooden spiral staircase up onto the second floor. Our long loft room has two comfortable beds behind each other on both sides, in black and white colours beautifully decorated and with a small window at the far end.
We love the house and the yummy breakfast the next morning. There we also meet our Icelandic host (the only one we meet personally in Iceland) who tells us that this guesthouse is used by fishermen during the summer months. He gives us more useful information about the area over coffee and pancakes.
Today we start with a small walk (45min) to a waterfall that had been recommended by our host. It is a beautiful scene as the waterfall tumbles down in between basalt cliffs and it looks like a cathedral. Thankfully, the weather today is sunny and much warmer than yesterday.
After that we travel to a glacier and walk along it for some time, hopping over cliffs and admiring the ice masses that resemble a big long tongue sticking out between the mountains. Perfect objects for our photographers. Even a few other tourists can be seen here, not many though. On the way back to the car we suddenly hear a strange sound, short, sharp, like a thunder, but different, the glacier is moaning. Somehow frightening. We come past a plaque that tells us aboute the fate of two young German guys who disappeared here a few years ago…… The earth is moving…. I am glad when we are back in the car safely.
After a short drive, we reach the ice lagoon, a surreal scene. We could spend hours here (if it wasn’t so cold) to watch the wondrous ice sculptures that have separated from a glacier and now float in the water of a lagoon where they can spend up to 5 years, melting, refreezing, and occasionally toppling over with a mighty splash, and then move on through the river out to sea. Apart from crystal clear ice sculptures, the main colour here is a light icy blue.
Driving along the fjords afterwards takes a long time, but its worth it. Mountains reaching the sea, it reminds us of the boat trip we took from Bergen back to Oslo in Norway a few years ago.
Our next house is in the east, directly at the N1, the main ring road that winds around the whole island. Because there is hardly any traffic, it is still a very quiet spot. The house itself is the most basic one of all our accommodation, I call it the “No frills” place.
Cheaply put together, we notice in every corner that an amateur owner builder has been at work here, but it is sufficient. The beds are comfy, the place is warm and the kitchen is well equipped. Again, we don’t get to meet the owners although they live on the farm across the road. I miss the interaction with the locals and write this comment in my review on the Airbnb website.
From here, we travel north along the coast to a cliff face where lots of sea birds nest in spring, among them the famous puffins. Maren spots them after a while and the photos turn out beautifully.
Such cute little creatures, their faces look like a cartoon character and they move in and out of their burrows, clumsy and hobbling, collecting chunks of grass to build their nests. On the same day, driving through thick snow across mountain passes, we also pass a lovely restored grass roofed little red cottage, another small church and finally visit a fishing village that is supposed to be very busy during the summer months with arts, craft and knit work. When we are there, however, it feels cold and deserted and not very inviting. Still, one or two tiny shops are open and this is where I purchase my expensive hand made soap as mentioned before. I must admit though it’s fragrance is one of a kind ( I might dare to say it smells cold) and I will just let it sit and spread its scent in our bathroom at home for a while to remind us of Iceland.
Next stop: North Iceland. Our second last Airbnb place takes us to Hauganes, a place on a picturesque fjord between Akuryri (second biggest town on Iceland) and Dalvik. Another day of sitting in the car and hopping out so many times to explore new surprises in a bit more detail.
Fascinating for me are the drives on snow covered mountain roads, the snow piled up high on the sides, the majestic, white piles of rock that appear all around us and reflect the cold Icelandic sun shining brightly from a steel blue sky. A picture I haven’t seen since my childhood days when I went skiing with my family in the Austrian Alps! None of us had expected anything like this and we can’t believe this winter wonderland!
There don’t seem to be any other cars, we only meet the big snow plough that clears the road ahead of us. And then, we drive around the next corner, and the ocean appears in front of us, dark blue water, open spaces. But even when we drive through the mountains, we never feel closed in, it feels like white snowy highlands. Fascinating, mind-blowing, awesome.
How small we are!
More waterfalls on the way and to get to them, we walk through thick fresh snow that squeaks under our shoes and leaves foot prints on the virgin white carpets. And that’s a good thing because we almost get lost, trying to find the way and have to walk all the way back.
Eventually we arrive at our destination. The house doesn’t look much from the outside, but the double story apartment surprises us with funky designs and contemporary furnishings as well as a beautiful view all around. And- there is free WiFi – Maren is happy.
A warm house, comfy beds, well equipped kitchen, lounge and dining, two bedrooms and a modern bathroom with great shower- what else does one need to be contented and happy?
Around this part of the country we find the famous sulphur steaming mini volcanoes,bubbling hot and smelly black mud patches, lava…..I don’t like this area, not so much because of the smell but the looks – reminds me of what people say about hell – very scary.I picture being thrown into one of them, never able to come out again!
There is another place where big lava has left scurrile sculptures all around, the black rock formations look fantastic with the white snow. We also climb another crater rim and have a beautiful look from up there.
The next day is a rest day. First half we spend in Akureyri. Iceland’s second largest town is not very exciting, but we visit the big church (from the outside only, as, like most of the other ones this one also has locked doors), some souvenir shops and a nice little café. We are rather disappointed. The Icelandic cities are not what you come here for, we reckon.
In the afternoon we hop on a boat that takes us to a little island just off the coast. We walk around it until we get wet feet from sinking into the deep snow and big puddles underneath it. Not much happening in this little island village either, but it looks clean and calm.
The Icelandic villages are not what you come here for either, we reckon.
During the night, our photographers stay up late in order to spot the northern lights. This night seems to be the most promising one of all if you believe the internet sites who continually update just like the weather forecast.
But – no luck.
Next day we travel to our final accommodation. A wooden summerhouse with hot tub on the deck about 45 km from Reykjavik. We arrive relatively early as the journey doesn’t require to stop too many times for once and decide to finish the day off by traveling to Reykjavik and beyond to the “Blue Lagoon”. One and a half hours later we line up at the cashier and pay a lot of money for 4 tickets to swim in this natural, hot, steaming blue water. It is a great feeling, with head and hair sticking out in the freezing air and the rest of the body sizzling in 38 to 40 degrees. This water is beautiful and in addition contains some white mud that is supposed to heal all sorts of skin disorders. We all put a white mask on our faces and hope for the best.
Eventually we have to hop out and the air is crispy cold again as we walk back to the car, calm and a little tired. By the time we are back in our summerhouse, we are too sleepy to jump in the hot tub and leave this special treat for the final night.
On the last day we explore the Snæfellsnes Peninsular, with more snow covered mountain tops, our last beautiful waterfall, more lush fjords, haunting volcanic peaks, dramatic sea cliffs, and sweeping golden beaches.
A worthy place to finish off our journey through Iceland. We would have loved to continue on to the Westfjords, but our time is up and we treat ourselves with the hot tub outside on the deck of our summerhouse before we fall asleep, ready to pack and leave this beautiful country the next morning.
All four of us are overwhelmed by the beauty of what we have seen and praise God for his glorious creation. And, we agree that Iceland now ranks in the top three of any country we have been to.
To me, it comes straight after Australia, my top country.