At the end of January, I whisked my newly 30 year old fellow adventurer off to the land of fire and Ice. Our long weekend in Iceland was the perfect respite from the New Zealand madness that has been taking over our lives. This destination has been on the bucket list for a while, so it was good to fit in one last getaway whilst we were still on the same continent.
Where to stay in Iceland?
We opted not to stay in the capital of Reykjavik, instead finding a sanctuary outside the city, where our closest neighbours were snow covered mountains. We booked through Air BnB and stayed in the cute town of Mosfellsbaer, 20 minutes outside of Reykjavik. Our hosts Barry and Inga were lovely and their home was a pleasure to stay in. It was also the perfect base for exploring the Golden Circle, whilst still being only a 45 minute drive to the airport.
Things to do in Iceland
We arrived in Iceland in the afternoon and once we had picked up our car, headed straight for the infamous Blue Lagoon, one of Iceland’s top attractions. It is a tourist trap but nevertheless it is a must-see whilst you’re there. It’s close to Keflavik airport so the perfect post-flight wind down. The road leading up to the lagoon was surrounded by black craggy rock covered in moss and the odd dusting of snow. You’ll know when you’re approaching the lagoon as a giant cloud of steam can be spotted in the skies. As we wound round the road to the entrance, we noticed the milky blue pools alongside the road, looking otherworldly. It definitely has that mythical charm about it.
It was cold, dark and windy when we arrived so the warm geothermal bath was a welcome relief from the Icelandic winter. Once you go through reception you have to make a pit stop in the changing rooms to shower – and yes the rumours are true – you have to shower without your swimsuit before you enter the lagoon. There are closed shower cubicles for the self-conscious amongst us.
A tip – don’t bother paying for a bath robe. The distance between the changing room and the lagoon are minimal. We hung our robes up next to the lagoon, and when we came out we discovered someone had taken them anyway! We asked for a replacement and the lady who works in the café was happy to give us a fresh robe.
Tickets for the lagoon at 35 euros. There are also other ticket prices that include add-ons such as face masks and champagne, but I wouldn’t bother with this as you can get a free face mask when you’re in the lagoon.
The lagoon has a bar you can swim up to so you can grab a beer whilst you’re luxuriating in the mineral water. You don’t need to take any money as it charges your wrist band, which you pay for at the exit. It was dark at 5pm and the big crescent moon and stars provided a magical backdrop. We spent a couple of hours in the lagoon and made a beeline for the exit when our fingers were suitably wrinkly.
We spent a whole day doing a self-drive tour of the Golden Circle.
We awoke to a snow flurry, so we drove through Thingvellir National Park without stopping to look around – the visibility made it almost impossible to see anything.
Thankfully the weather gods were on our side, and as we made our way to Geysir the sun came out the view was phenomenal. The beauty of Iceland is definitely its desolate and hostile nothingness. For miles all you’ll see is black rock covering the ground and foreboding volcanic mountains surrounding the land. The inner areas of Iceland are mostly unreachable by car. Astronauts in the 60s actually used inner Iceland to practice their lunar landings, as the topography isn’t dissimilar to the moon.
As we stepped out the car at Geysir, the first thing you notice is the sulphuric smell. A rope lined path leads you up to the main attraction, Strokkur, but the whole area is covered in bubbling bogs and steaming holes, reminding us of the activity deep in the Earth’s core. Strokkur exploded several times during our visit and each time was as spectacular as the last. Don’t stand too close or you’ll get sprayed with hot water!
Back on the road, we headed to our last stop of the day, Gullfoss. Probably the best part of the Golden Circle, this waterfall is enormous and powerful and terrifying! Looking down, you can’t help but imagine getting close to the edge and slipping into the oblivion below. We could only attempt to capture some shots on the DSLR for so long before our fingers started to lose feeling and we had to scramble to put our gloves back on.
All in all, this trip is a must for any tourists visiting Iceland.
We spent our last day driving the South Coast all the way to Vik.
En route we passed through some small unremarkable towns, including Hella, home of the volcano they call the ‘entrance to hell’!
We stopped off at two waterfalls – Seljarlandsfoss and Skógarfoss – both huge and fairytale-like. Definitely worth a visit. We passed the volcano that erupted in 2000. There is a visitor centre on route 1 so you can look at a map to figure out which mountain houses the lava. This one usually erupts every 10 years so they were long-overdue an appearance! Perhaps this explains the empty land surrounding us. Only a brave few had farms and homes in this area. We reached Vik as the snow started to fall. After eating, we wandered down to the beach which was the highlight of the day, even though I was being attacked by the biting snow.
The beach has black volcanic sand, which was, on this occasion, covered with snow. Out into the sea are the fingers of basalt rock – thought to be trolls that froze there in time. They are, in fact, remnants of a once more extensive cliffline, Reynisfjall, now battered by the sea.
Standing on the beach was like being in a black and white movie. It was a disorienting but wonderful feeling. The only colour we could see was our own clothing. The waves crashing onto the beach are mighty and it feels good to be shown by Mother Nature who is really in charge of the planet.
We leave as the snow gets worse and hit the road back towards Reykjavik.
What happened next was crazy.
The blizzard got worse and we reached a point where we lost all visibility and had to stop the car in the middle of the road through fear of driving over a cliff. After looking at a map on the GPS we knew there was a gas station up ahead so we crawled at a snail’s pace to the car park. Struggling to open the doors of the car against the wind, we raced inside and waited.
The storm showed no signs of slowing, but as luck would have it a snow plough driver walked in to save the day. We followed the driver back onto the road for all of two minutes before everything ground to a halt. We were backed up by a queue of cars and no one was going anywhere soon. Two and a half hours later, after polishing off our car snack rations and tiring of many games of ’20 questions’, the emergency services reached our car to dig us out the snow! Finally free we zoomed off back to our haven in Mosfellsbaer for our last night in Iceland.
Would I go back? In an instance!
What would I do differently? Maybe aim to go either in September or March when the weather wasn’t so extreme. I’d take some supplies of wine with me as buying alcohol is not easy. I’d go for a week and travel around, stopping to stay at different places en route.