Inspired by many beautiful photos from Iceland, we already considered visiting in 2021. Unfortunately the whole pandemic situation did not allow that, so we ended up in Croatia. In 2022 the situation luckily had changed, so we could finally go to Iceland. And boy was that a gem!
We had 15 days in august to experience The Land of Fire and Ice. From the very beginning, the plan was was to rent a car we could also sleep in, to allow us to travel as much as possible in whatever pace would prove to be appropriate. This happened to be a great idea, as we already changed the plan before we even left home. There was suddenly an active volcano just outside Reykjavik, and we just had to see that.
Reykjavik, Rain and Smoke Clouds
As we began the descent to Keflavik Airport, we looked out the window for glowing red lava lakes on the ground and tall smoke clouds in the sky. You couldn’t see much, cause luckily the eruption wasn’t as enormous as when Eyjafjallajökull enveloped the entire Iceland and big parts of Europa in black smoke back in 2010. But we could actually see the smoke pillar from the air, and on the bus ride from the Airport to downtown we became more and more convinced, that what we could see was actually from the eruption. We were really excited to see the volcano, and curious as to if there would be anything to see at all. Before that we did have an entire day in the Icelandic capital, Reykjavik.
You probably want to keep in mind, that with 120.000 inhabitants, there is a limit to how much there is to do in town. We were able to walk around the entire city, and the main attractions to us was the lovely spring like August weather (seen from a Danish view point) and the big recognizable Hallgrimskirkja (church). On the small scale attractions Reykjavik did offer two very nice shopping streets loaded with street art.
On day two we picked up our car from the airport – a Dacia Duster with at foldable tent on the roof. The guy at the rental company did look a bit flabbergasted when he asked if we knew how the tent worked and we said no – it was stormy with a bit of rain, and not the ideal condition for a demonstration. As we secretly wondered if dedicating to 12 nights as beginners in the tent was a great idea, they guy suggested that we could always put the mattress in the trunk and sleep in the car. We were going to be okay – probably.
The weather didn’t get any better, but we did have a long list of things we wanted to do, so we defied the weather and drove towards the Bridge Between Continents. It was a brief but complete Iceland experience. The gorge, the midatlantic ridge made from the tectonic plates of Eurasia and Northamerica, that moves 2 cm further from each other every year, the black lifeless sand filling the hole and the unforgiving Icelandic summer weather of cold, rain and strong winds. After crossing the bridge from one continent to the next and back again, we had to accept our defeat by the weather. We might be of viking origin, but we packed for a vacation not a survival trip in the arctic circle. I was wet all the way through from the sideways rain, and so cold I could barely change my clothes in the car. The locals always say: ”If you don’t like the weather, just wait five minutes.” So we sought shelter in a local shopping mall, and tried to make the best of it. We did also need a 12v to USB converter for the car, and in the afternoon it became quite nice out.
Despite our road trip having a rough start, we did make it to Kleifarvatn (lake), where it i was a bit foggy yet pretty, and a few random stop along the way. Everything was so beautiful and made us stop to admire it, but it was nothing compared to what was waiting. We also came across our first geothermal area: Krýsuvík. Imagine that you only had to travel 2.000 km to find such different nature, where boiling water bubbles from the earth, and the water running from the hills are anything from 0 – 100 degrees. The whole area was shrouded in steam and smelled like sulphur – if you don’t know this smell, it’s the smell that’s halfway between a good fart and eggs. We also hiked up the hills a bit, and from there we could see a greenish crater lake called Grænavatn, and appointed it our dinner spot. As the day was coming to an end, we went to one of Icelands two free camping areas left: Strandkirkja (The other one is Bíldudalur in northwestern Iceland)
Day 3 – The Volcano
The weather was perfect – quiet, sunny and roughly 10 degrees – as we headed to Fagradalsfjall and the new erupting volcano. The name covers a 5 x 16 km large area with multiple recent eruptions. The latest was in 2021, where the area was active half the year and made several volcanoes (2023 comment: Another pretty big eruption is going on this summer). As we came close to the area, the police had closed the road, and we feared that we would not get to see it. They told us to wait or turn back, as they were waiting for a report on the safety in the area. We waited with everyone else, and 10 minutes later, they let us pass. And so we were some of the first to arrive at the car park.
From the main road we hiked 7 km into the mountains past the still steaming barren lava fields and the old extinct volcano craters. It was hard to even understand, that all the black stone on the ground was once spraying from massive craters in the earth… and that as a kind of heavy liquid rock. Most of the trail was across deserted fields with a line of poles (and an even denser line of tourist) to guide the way. At some point we turned right and started to go down the other side of the ridge.
We couldn’t see how or when the trail ended. All of a sudden we could see the open crater in the valley. “Wow! I heard myself exclaim, and an American behind me added “holy shit!”. We sat on the hillside and looked at the volcano. It was unreal even though we knew what a volcano looked like. Just like you can watch a stream of water or a bonfire for an eternity, we could stare at the combination of both until we got too cold from sitting still. We had lunch, coffee and shot a ton of photos and videos of the erupting lava and slow magma streams, before we hiked the 7 km back to the car.
Total hike according to my Garmin watch: 13,12 km, 4 hour 21 minutes (3:02 in motion), 701 m ascend, highest point 323 m.
The hot underground of Iceland had more to offer, so we went to Reykjadalur to bathe in the hot springs. First we had to hike a little more, as the first many warm waterholes where boiling. The area was a lot greener than Fagradalsfjall and had both sheep and waterfalls. A few km up the mountain, we hiked along a small stream with a bridge or platform next to it.
The water came from a hot spring up the mountain, and once we got higher we changed to our bathing clothes in the 10 degrees weather and dipped in the the 40 degrees river. When it became to warm, I would lean my head on the river bank, and cool myself on the ice cold water running through the grass and into the river. After dinner and a short stop at Kerid Crater – an old red volcano crater with pure blue water in the bottom – we were tired, set up the tent at Borg Campsites, crawled onto the roof and went to bed.
Total hike according to my Garmin watch: 7,47 km, 1 hour 51 minutes, total ascend 693 m, highest point 332 m
Day 4 – The Golden Circle
The Golden Circle is the classic daytrip from Reykjavik including the most iconic landmarks of Iceland. Of course we had to see all of that, before we drove off to the east. First stop was the waterfall Brúarfoss. We were the first to leave the car and start hiking along the river. Once again we were extremely lucky with the weather, and could just enjoy the first 2 km through the trees, before arriving at the first waterfall Hlauptungufoss. It wasn’t very big, but we could get very close to the rapid and crystal blue water. We continued for another 500 meters to the next waterfall Miðfoss another kilometer to the main waterfall Brúarárfoss. It looks like it broke the river in half, and leads the water into the creek in the middle. A quite uniqe and very beautiful waterfall. So that was another 7 km of hiking today, and as the latest arrivals struggle to find a parking space, we had lunch in the car and moved on.
After a brief stop at the fall Faxi we arrived at a must see landmark on Iceland: The geysers in Haukadalur. It is curious how plenty waterholes filled with either crystal blue or boiling hot water gathers here. The main attraction was clearly the geyser Strokkur, and it’s 20-25 meters tall water bursts every 10 minutes. One could easily stand there for hours. Right next to Strokkur is an even bigger hole which is the geyser named Geysir. It is the worlds oldest geyser and have named the phenomena. Unfortunately it is mostly active during earthquakes so it is very rare to see it. But when it bursts, the water fountain can reach a height of 80 meters. I’m sad to say, that our photos didn’t turn out too well, as it was cloudy and grey, but the experience was great, and it was even free to both park and visit.
Next stop: The ginormous waterfall Gullfoss. It is actually two waterfalls angled 45 degrees on the river and opposite each other. The first one is 11 meters tall and the next is 21 meters. The cliffs around the lower part of the river is 70 meters tall. Here you can see and hear the violent forces of nature, that has carved the canyon through the years, as 140 m3 of water runs through every second (Yes that is 140.000 L per second). Unlike many other waterfalls, Gullfoss can be admired from afar, from the shore and from the top. You will get a little wet from the drizzle however, which also makes it hard to take photos. But you also want to be there to feel the unbelievable forces at play in the area.
I would also recommend visiting the cafeteria for a rest – unlike most of Iceland it is fairly cheap, and you can charge your electronic devices while taking a break or buy a souvenir.
As we drove south we made a brief stop by Brúarhlöð Canyon (the light blue canyon), before getting dinner at Valhalla Restaurant in Hvolsvöllur – a true viking restaurant with long tables and axe throwing and we had ribs and beer of course.
This is the end to part 1 of my Iceland experience. There was so much to do, and as we travelled for 15 days, the post got pretty long too.