Iceland was the top of my bucket list for several years and so there was no way I wasn’t going to go while I was so close, living in the UK. It didn’t take much convincing to get Ciaran to take the time off work to come with.
Weirdly enough one of my favourite memories from the trip was spending almost the entire flight over doing crosswords and puzzles in the newspaper together. Landing in Keflavik airport it look us a little while to locate the rental company as they were actually called a different name than what we booked through. But no, it was not a scam, and we were soon in possession of our awesome camper van and setting off down the right side of the road, Ciaran taking a bit to adjust and smacking his hand into the door trying to change gears. First stop was the supermarket for supplies for when we ended up in the middle of nowhere, which was quite fortuitous because that happened a lot.
I think we were both insanely happy, partly just because we weren’t at work.
We bypassed Reykjavik to head straight to the Snæfellsnes Peninsula in the west of Iceland after reading this was a spectacular route and less touristed (because nothing ruins a trip more than having to see other people doing the same thing). We managed to pack so much into our first day, mostly because it doesn’t get dark until past midnight and we lost track of time. We walked about forty minutes over the lava fields to Eldborg, an old, dead volcanic crater. Ciaran forgot his phone and mine went flat at the summit so it was a great success all round. Just up the road was the Gerðuberg basalt columns which presented some great modelling shots, as I ran around the base snapping pics of Ciaran and his scarf blowing in the wind (oh the drama). We took an impromptu trip through a farm to a waterfall we saw from the road and ended up scrambling up and over it for quite a way. I had this incredibly euphoric moment brought on by the beauty and spontaneity of it all. Then we came across a little black church by the beach, before walking WAY too far (and then back again) to a very underwhelming cavern. We were so hungry we jogged back. Also it was 10pm.
This was the most amazing thing about Iceland … the absolutely boggling amount of different landmarks and scenery in such a compact space. Within kilometres it would change from lava fields, so snow-topped mountains, to beach, to steaming mud bogs. It was like being in a video game like World of Warcraft.
With all the surrounding tiny towns closed up for the night, we camped out in a car park and with arguable success, cooked dinner (I turned the little gas stove into a giant fireball that we basically had to throw out of the van).
Day two started with a bang when we realised we had a flat battery after SOMEONE left the headlights on all night. When you’re in remote western Iceland this kind of problem becomes slightly more challenging to solve, but instead of worrying we decided to climb a glacier instead. Our slightly eccentric guide John took us and an American couple hiking up Snæfellsjökull, the glacier that featured in Journey to the Centre of the Earth. I guess it’s not surprising that it was the coldest I have ever been in my life. I’m really glad we did it, but when all you can see is blinding white and you feel like your hands may be in critical danger, you question the value of the expedition at the time. We sledded down some slopes with mixed success.
Thankfully John was able to rally the locals of the town to produce some jumper leads and I cajoled some passing tourists into lending us their hire car engine. We spent the afternoon driving around the coast of the peninsula, which at that end is mostly desolate lava fields. And then bam, most impressive mesa you’ve ever seen (Kirkjufell) just plonked on the coast. Now I’d read that just nearby there’s a cute little lighthouse you can walk out to, but when we found the road it was marked private property. If you know me, this was not an issue. However about halfway out to the lighthouse we were almost mowed down by an angry Icelandic land owner in a ute who started yelling at us incomprehensibly. Apparently we were trespassing and he didn’t care what any travel book said, going to see the lighthouse was not a thing you did. Alrighty then.
We spent the evening in Stykkisholmur, a stunning little harbour town where sunset just made everything magical (and therefore instagrammable). We splashed out a little at a fancy restaurant (who am I kidding, I’ve been splashing out since October) and ordered mussels with wine.
The night ended with a drive back towards Eldborg to find a tiny hot spring in the middle of nowhere called Landbrotalaug. We had to go all terrain in the dark and take a gamble on walking out into the darkness when the road ran out, but lo and behold, we found a tiny two person hot spring! I got naked and got in because why the fuck not but Ciaran was a little more hesitant and suggested we came back when it was daylight. Spent the night in the Eldborg car park, which as a bonus, had a building with toilets and more importantly, power points!
Day three; a return trip to Landbrotalaug for an amazing bathe in the hot water surrounded by ridiculous scenery. Unfortunately some other people also managed to find it, but we got a good run. We started driving more inland and visited two incredible waterfalls (Hraunfossar and Barnafoss) and then backtracked on a questionable road with more ridiculous scenery (running theme) after debating whether or not to take the road that the GIANT sticker on the dashboard of the van told us we weren’t allowed to drive on. We kept the van stocked with bread, ham, cheese and way too many lollies and chocolate and mostly nibbled as we went, sometimes stopping for a picnic. We decided to end the day at Þingvellir, the national park where the world’s first parliament was held and first attraction on the traditional Golden Circle route. It was easy to spend a few hours wandering around the beautiful rock formations, waterfalls and pools before camping for the night in another car park in nearby Laugarvatn.
At this point I should mention we spent every night working on a bottle of duty free Bombay Sapphire and playing cards, occasionally watching something like the new season of The Katering Show (seriously, amazing).
DAY FOUR! This day saw us join up with the tourists (mostly purple rinse set) to do some of the big sites. I’m sure Ciaran won’t mind me admitting that we stood for some 15 minutes, GoPro filming, waiting for Geyser to erupt until I googled it and found out it hadn’t actually blown for some years. Swivel the camera around to Strokkur down the hill, which erupts every eight minutes or so. Next on the Golden Circle was Gulfoss, a truly impressive waterfall (they never seemed to get boring). On advice from a friend of a friend we went to Flúðir to visit Gamla Laugin, a magical hot spring pool where we bathed while drinking prosecco. I think we both had this moment where we knew life wouldn’t get any better from this point on.
Another stop: Kerið, a huge crater with a lake in the middle that Björk sang in once. Thanks to our Lonely Planet book we then popped down to the south coast to Stokkseyri for dinner at Við Fjöruborðið, which was reputed to have Iceland’s best lobster bisque. Fuck me. That lobster bisque will always been one of the best things I’ve eaten. A quick wander on the black sand beach and then finally we headed in Reykjavik! Wow, we did a lot on this day. First stop was climbing to the top of Hallgrimskirkja, the very modern concrete cathedral in the centre of the city. Wandering the streets we ate some apparently famous hot dogs for supper (the meal when you’ve already had dinner and eat again) and then decided to drive out to the Blue Lagoon so we could be the first people there when it opened.
Great success! We were in fact one of the first people to get into the crazy blue waters, first getting all the photos out of the way before just relaxing and getting some white clay mud masks. It was quite difficult to leave. On the way back to Reykjavik we stopped at Seltún, these boiling, bubbling mud pits. In the capital we had a few things to check off, such as trying hákarl (fermented shark) which we did with whale, and brennivín, an Icelandic spirit. The hákarl honestly just tasted like chewy nail polish remover. The city had a crapload of cool and alternative stores, you know they kind that everyone looks in but never buys anything from. We did find arrow and diamond earrings that matched our tattoos which was bizarre and cool. Next on the list was a trendy coffee shop for Ciaran (and a nap for me) and then Icelandic Fish and Chips followed by skyr (Icelandic yoghurt) for dessert. Of course we had to finish off our trip with mojitos before, wait for it, retiring to the van to watch the latest Game of Thrones episode (ain’t no international trip gonna get in the way of GoT!) and finishing off the Bombay.
Early morning saw us heading to the airport and handing in the van, from which I mysteriously lost way too many of my belongings to not be suspicious.
I can safely say that Iceland was hands down the best place I have ever been, in every regard. I think travelling in the camper van was also part of what made it so good - having the freedom to go (and stop) wherever we wanted. I’m definitely planning to go back - maybe next time for a longer trip to do the whole ring road!