Our Trek to Iceland (Part 2)

Iceland, Aurora Borealis,Myvatn

As I start writing part two of our trip to Iceland it seems somewhat fitting, yet concerning for those displaced, that the land of fire and ice has yet another volcanic eruption. It is a testament to one of the world’s youngest islands that its volcanoes create, destroy and re-create Iceland’s landscape, and it is a land of change and wonders.

Getting There

The trip started off with the typical long lineup to check in at the airport and the back and forth weaving through security. After that we settled in to our seats for the seven-hour flight. Between the in-flight movies “Driving Mom”, a couple of documentaries about Icelandic horses, a music festival, and starting to read “The Sagas of Icelanders” the flight was over in no time. We arrived in Iceland at 6am Icelandic time, which was 10pm our time. Keflavik was pretty dark as we started to descend except for the streetlights and a few cars ferrying people to work. But as the sun began to come up, we could see the rocky and craggy landscape. Getting through the Keflavik airport was a breeze, and after a bite to eat and a coffee we caught our airport transfer and were off to our rental stay in Reykjavik.

Keflavik Airport, Sculptures
The Jet Nest (“Þotuhreiður”) is by Icelandic artist Magnús Tómasson and Rainbow (“Regnbogi”) is by Icelandic artist Rúrí

We decided to spend three days in Reykjavik to get to know the city and recover from the time change. As well, I had pre-booked a morning Foodie tour of Reykjavik a couple of weeks earlier with the “Reykjavik Food Walk”, but somehow I got my days mixed up so we had just enough time to drop off our bags at our accommodation on the outskirts of the city and walk back to town. Never having been to Reykjavik before, but armed with a tourist map, we made our way to the meeting point. This was one of the not-so-few times I had to use my cell phone and Google maps as I led us north west instead of south west into town. Nonetheless we arrived ahead of time with a few minutes to explore and take a few pictures.

First Impressions

I had no real preconceptions about what to expect as far as architecture in Reykjavik. The trip to our accommodations revealed no highlights among the multiplex business and residential developments that make up that part of the city. But on our walk back to the city we discovered parks, sculptures along the shoreline, and beautiful heritage homes. I was amazed at some of the buildings in the downtown core. Our meeting point was the Harpa Concert Hall, a gorgeous glass building situated by the harbour. Breathtaking in scale and appearance compared to its neighbouring buildings. But now it was 10:30 and time to meet our tour guide and other foodie partakers. If you have done the math, it is now 2am Vancouver time and we are still feeling great. The “Reykjavik Food Walk” was amazing and our tour guide Ben was hilarious. We got to try the local fare, everything from traditional breakfast to their famous street hotdogs to exquisite smoked arctic char. No food tour would be complete without trying Hákarl or fermented shark. Okay, I think you could skip this one. We were brought to an quaint old bar where we were served mini cubes of Hakarl which smells overwhelmingly like ammonia and you are supposed to chew it 20 times before having a shot of Brennivin . This was definitely not the most delicious food item we had, but I did like the shot of Brennivin.  The rest of the day we explored Reykjavik stopping for a bite to eat and sampling locally made chocolates at the Omnom factory, and of course local beer. In the evening we just wandered around the city and topped the night off with some amazing ice cream. Icelanders love their ice cream. I couldn’t tell you what time it was when we got back to our accommodation, but I am sure we had been up for over 36 hours and now it was time to get some sleep.

Iceland, Keyflavik, Harpa concert hall
Iceland, Harpa concert hall
Reykjavik, Hallgrimskirkja
Rainbow Road, Reykjavik, Happy snap
Food tour, Smoked fish, lamb
Fish and chips, Fish Restaurant,, Beer

And sleep we did. We woke up the next day at noon, well rested, a bit disoriented, and feeling like we had wasted some of our holiday because it was a beautiful sunny day. We set off a at a quick march and after grabbing a coffee and some local pastries, we spent the day exploring Reykjavik. First stop was the shops along the rainbow road, planning our souvenir acquisitions, and then off to the National Gallery, the photography museum, and other smaller galleries. There is so much to see in Reykjavik but “you can’t see it all”, well at least we couldn’t in the time we allowed for our time there. We just kept telling ourselves we have to leave something for the next time. One of the highlights for us was the dinner of fish and chips at the Reykjavik fish restaurant. The fish was so fresh and tasty, it was phenomenal! And then, what evening would be complete without some more ice cream.

Our next day was more of a transitional day as we caught the shuttle to the airport, to catch the shuttle to pick-up our campervan from Kuku campers. You could say this is where our real adventure begins. The vehicles are a bit different than the ones we see here in North America, slightly smaller and different shapes from auto manufactures that are generally not imported to Canada because of Iceland’s proximity to Europe. The one we had picked out was slightly smaller than a sprinter van. It had a sink, a small fridge, was big enough for us to stand up in, but most importantly it had a heater for the coldest nights. After a walk around and orientation, and my wife reminding me to take the parking brake off again, we were off to buy groceries and beer or wine. We rented a GPS so navigating wasn’t going to be a problem… till it was. Our first stop was Bonus, the supermarket with the bright pink pig. As I mentioned, Iceland is expensive and shopping was a slightly different experience. Since much of their produce and products have to be imported the prices are higher and selection fewer, and there are lots of unique products we wanted to try, but our budget allowed us to stick to the basics and a few splurges. Finding a liquor store was not as easy as here and the hours are much shorter but their beer selection made up for it.  Wine is more expensive than what I was used to, so l stuck to beer and the home-grown varieties did not disappoint. Stocked up with food and libations we headed off to the golden circle. Yes, after I took the parking brake off.

Pingvellir National park, Volcanic landscape

Pingvellir National Park

On the road to Pingvellir, I had never experienced so many roundabouts in my life. They seamed to come every kilometre down the road.  But once we left those behind, and with it the sprawling residential developments, the view opened up and we got a sense of the landscape. Originally, we had planned a hike to see one of the last active volcanoes, but it was a 9 hour hike and that would take up most of one day, so we decided waterfalls would be equally exciting and more accessible. Besides stops along the way to gaze at the beautiful vistas of one of the largest lakes in Iceland, we wanted to secure our camping site. Camping is much different than how we, for the most part, see camping in BC or Canada. Camping is done on a flat field, often without markers, but usually with electrical hookups. From the air it must look more like a parking lot than camping, especially if the camp site is busy. When we pulled in, there were only a few campervans along the outside of the campsite but by nightfall it was beginning to fill up. Now this may sound like turnoff for camping, but it is not.  Most campsites in Iceland have a cooking area where people leave food and condiments and supplies as they head home after the end of their trip. It is a great communal spirit where you can pick up salt, sugar, spices or half a loaf of bread, pasta, etc. that campers are not going to pack home, and you can do the same when you leave. There are hot (thermal heated in Iceland) showers and some even have laundry service where you can, for a fee, drop off your laundry to have it washed, dried and folded for you when you return at the end of the day. Pingvellir is a world heritage site and the site of the beginning of parliament in 900AD. Also the site of Viking punishment, men were hanged and women drowned. From the campsite we hiked to Almannagia, a large 7 kilometre rift that marks the eastern boundary of the North American  tectonic plate. This was a great hike to start off our tour and our first waterfall – Oxararfoss. This was a nice rolling hike with wonderful introduction to the Icelandic volcanic landscape. We continued our road trip with a stop at Laugarvatn Fontana Geothermal Baths, this is where they bake Icelandic rye bread in the bubbling sand on the edge of the lake for 24hours. We did not take the tour or have a dip here but did have some delicious salmon and rye bread, which is sweeter and a slightly different consistency.

Pingvellir National park, Volcanic landscape
Pingvellir National park, Volcanic landscape

Then we were off to Geysir, this iconic spot with all the tourist amenities of a huge restaurant and a parking lot large enough for the big tour buses to roll in and out from, but cross the road and you are in another world where the geyser Strokkur shoots up 30 meters or one hundred plus feet into the air every few minutes and there are many pools of sulfur smelling, aqua-marine water boiling up to the surface. After exploring the area for a while the next stop was Gullfoss. This mega waterfall is spectacular and allowed me to take out my camera and tripod and start using the LEE filters 85 Aspire kit. The kit includes three adapter rings for various lenses, a 0.6 and a 0.9 medium graduated ND filters, the 10 stop big stopper, filter holder and little carrying case.  It is perfect to balance out the exposure in the sky with the foreground or to slow down your exposure to get nice effects of flowing water and waterfalls. The hike to Gullfoss looked to be easy going with parking near by. It was a rather grey day as you can tell from the images, but not raining so that was good. What you don’t get when you first arrive at these massive waterfalls is the sense of their immense power or how much spray comes shooting back at you when you get nearer. We soon found that out with spray covering us and my camera.  This is when you want to have your rain cover already on your camera to protect it and not tucked in your jacket.  There are many vantage spots to view the waterfall and access is great.  It was starting to get late and we were a bit chilled so we decided to wrap up the day with a trip to the Secret Lagoon, Gamla Laugin (old pool) https://secretlagoon.is/ . This was my favourite hot spring in Iceland, perhaps it was because it was the first one we visited, or it was the natural setting – somehow the experience is the most memorable for me. Then we were off to find a campsite, make dinner and bed down in the camper van.

Geysir Iceland
Geysir Iceland
Geysir Iceland
Geysir Iceland
Geysir Iceland
Geysir Iceland
Geysir Iceland,
Gullfoss iceland
Gullfoss iceland
Gullfoss iceland

The next stop was Seljalandsfoss, the famous waterfall that you can hike behind.
This is one of the many tourist locations where you have to pay for parking, though I am sure some people don’t. Not sure why it is an issue for some as it is money used for the sites and parks upkeep. If you decide to hike behind the waterfall, I do suggest decent hiking boots and your rain cover for your camera, as it is very misty behind and around the waterfall, as I was learning. As well there is a second smaller waterfall Gljufrabui to the left of Seljalandsfoss that is slightly hidden, and you have to navigate a small pond to reach it, but it is a great spot for a photo, and a few less tourists. Next, we were on the road to Skogafoss, yet another breathtaking waterfall with sheep and beautiful rolling landscape along the way. We did not get that close as the mist made it hard to take any decent pictures, and there were a fair number of tourists at that time. We had to just take it all in.

Skogafloss, Iceland, waterfall
Seljalandsfoss, Iceland

Dyrhólaey was the next point of interest, with driving wind and rain off the ocean. We drove up to the viewpoint and lighthouse but the parking lot was full and sometimes other tourists don’t appreciate you trying to park a large camper van beside their small compact. So, we just parked near the cliffs and wandered around and took photos from there. We soon arrived at the Reynisfjara Beach black sand beach. This is where you will find an amazing expansive black sand beach (hence the name) with Basalt columns and rocky sea stacks emerging from the ocean, so there is lots of space for the tourists to spread out. You do have to keep your wits about you as there are rogue waves, and you and your gear can get washed out to sea. If you are not feeling reckless, you can walk along the shoreline and see some beautiful visual gems that typify Iceland. Our stop for the night was Vik, a nice town with a very large and crowded campsite as it is a major tourist destination. All the tables were in use with travelers making or eating their dinners, while others just camped out playing cards. There was such comings and goings that we just found a couple chairs, made a cup of tea and sat and watched from the sidelines. We decided to go back to the campervan to make dinner, which was a bit of a challenge as the wind coming off the ocean was quite strong. We had rented a small table and a couple of folding chairs as we wanted to eat outside as much as possible. So out they came. To battle the wind, we used the back doors of the campervan as a shield so the little propane cook stove would not keep blowing out, and a hot dinner of hotdogs hit the spot. After that we climbed back into campervan, turned the heater on full, played cards and fell asleep. The next day’s breakfast was a bit of a splurge as we headed to the restaurant Sudur Vik for a wonderful full cooked breakfast and coffee. You just have to sometimes.  After breakfast and filling up with diesel, we had a few minutes to wander around the large souvenir shop Ice Wear.  Then we had to skedaddle, as we had to head out to one of our key adventures – kayaking in the Glacier Lagoon.

Black Sand Beach
Black Sand Beach, waves, surf
Black Sand Beach, waves, surf

The sights along the road were stunning, with a couple of spots where huge chunks of ice were floating down the river out to the sea. We met up with our guides from Glacier Kayak Adventures just past Diamond beach and the Jokulsarlon glacier lagoon. After being fitted in drysuits and life vests we were off to the Lagoon in off road vehicles. We lucked out and had the most gorgeous day with a beautiful blue sky and almost no wind. The day before they had to cancel the excursion. The location and scenery were breathtaking and we had an amazing time paddling along the glacier and into glacier caves. We even had the opportunity to hike a bit on one of the sections of the glacier. Our guides were excellent, and shared their knowledge and a few laughs with the group. After our tour we had to double back to Jokulsarlon glacier lagoon to explore and take pictures until the sun began to set and we had to head off to our campsite at the Viking Café  near Hofn.

Jokulsarlon glacier lagoon
Jokulsarlon glacier lagoon
Jokulsarlon glacier lagoon

We arrived late at night after traversing a long gravel road. We checked in and found our parking spot while still more travelers arrived. Campervans were parked side by side within a couple feet of each other so close that you had to watch when you opened your door. You should always hang on to your door as you open it up as the wind has been known to rip car doors off their hinges (that is not covered by insurance). During the night the wind blew so violently that the campervan rocked from side to side. In the morning the wind had died down a bit, but not enough to bother trying to cook breakfast when the Café offered coffee and “Vaffla” (waffles) with chocolate or rhubarb sauce, delicious. Included in the price of camping was access to the beach where there is a weather station, the remnants of an American army barracks, and of course the Viking village. Well not a real Viking village but a realistic film set as we found out later. The wind and driving rain mixed with sand made the walk less than idyllic but the scenery at the base of Vestrahorn was beautiful. Then we made our way to the Viking village. The village is so well constructed that you could be easily convinced it was real except for the passage of time and the elements on these types of structures. But that’s no fun, is it?

Vestrahorn, Iceland, Lave formations
Vestrahorn, Surf, black sands, Iceland
Viking village, Vestrahorn, Iceland,
Waterfall, Iceland, Rjukandi waterfall

The Road North

The Ring road now hugs the coastline as you navigate many of the east coast fjords, fishing villages, cliffs and small villages. A few photo stops along the way and a lunchtime stop at the Saxa Café in Stodvarfjordur. We had a delicious bowl of plokkfiskur which is a traditional Icelandic fish stew.  Then a few minutes to explore the village and check out the local handmade crafts, fuel-up and we were on the road.  One more overnight camping and we were making our way to Lake Myvatn. We had a few key destinations planned as we embarked on this trip and that meant we could not stop at all the cool sites along the way, even though they were not that far off the road as you look at a map, and I do suggest you get a good road map when you start planning to get the most out of your trip. But sometimes you happen upon a vista or a waterfall and you just have to stop, like the Rjukandi waterfall. The next scheduled stop was Dettifoss and Selfoss. Again, such awe-inspiring waterfalls with easy access and lots of parking. We had sunshine, rain and rainbows as you can see in the photos. It was sunny and warm when we set out but half way on the hike the temperature dropped quickly and we had snow flurries, combined with the spray from the falls, I could not feel my hands by the time we got back to the campervan. Note to self: bring two sets of gloves next time.

Lake Myvatn and its geothermal area were where we hung around for the next couple of days – moving at a bit of a slower pace, enjoying some incredible weather, exploring the beautiful lava formations in the lake, doing a few hikes, admiring the Icelandic horses, and of course enjoying some local ice cream. Our campsite was high on a hill so we pulled out our camp table and chairs enjoyed some great Icelandic beer from Einstok, and in the beautiful clear evening we experienced our first incredible display of the aurora borealis. No trip to Myvatn would be complete without a visit to the Myvatn Nature Baths . This was such a great spot. Can I also say this one was my favourite? With a swim up bar and natural setting, and I admit, I like the smell of sulphur. It can get busy at the check in with bus tours arriving all the time but they are staggered and the lagoon is large enough that it never felt crowded.

Iceland, Waterfall, Selfoss
Waterfall, Iceland, DEttifoss
Iceland, Myvatn, Geothermal Area
Myvatn , church, Lake, Mountains
Myvatn, Iceland , Lake , Mountain
Myvatn, Lake, Sheep,
Myvatn lake, Aurora Borealis

After a wonderful soak we headed north to Farrakhan. This is one of the northern most villages in Iceland. The reason? We wanted to go as north as we could on this trip… reason enough for us. We even didn’t know about the Heimskautsgerðið – the “Arctic-Henge” a modern sculpture “Similar to its ancient predecessor, Stonehenge, the Arctic Henge is like a huge sundial, aiming to capture the sun rays, cast shadows in precise locations and capture the light between aligned gateways.” More information here: https://www.northiceland.is/en/place/arctic-henge. But what an amazing site to come upon. Farrakhan is a small village and has a tiny campsite next to the ocean, or to be more correct the Norwegian Sea, just south of the Arctic circle. Farrakhan was a major Herring export port and there are a couple of monuments to that bygone past. Still an active fishing village, we watched the boats arrive with their catch of Arctic Cod and other fish. This was the only place where we came across a person who did not speak English. We just wandered around the village and walked up to the church and graveyard, and the lighthouse. In the evening we were presented with yet another display of the aurora borealis and even a meteorite.

Raufarhöfn, Arctic hedge
Raufarhöfn, Lighthouse

If You Can’t Go North, Go South.

Next stop Húsavík. There are many beautiful places and cities in Iceland, and if you go, you will find your own, but for us it was Húsavík. Maybe it was watching the Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga, multiple times, or just walking around the town, or the sea air, but Húsavík felt like “our home town”. We came for the whale watching but stayed for everything else. Húsavík is a very picturesque port city. Wonderful to walk around. Great little cafes, and often called the whale watching capital of Iceland, but the people of Akureyri might have something to say about that. It has several museums, though we only had time for the Whale Museum. It is fascinating, with loads of information on whales, the history and politics of whaling and current practices. They show films and have full size skeletal displays of whales from that region. On the lighter side, there is the Jaja Ding Dong bar and the Eurovision exhibition in the Cape hotel https://eurovisionhusavik.com/. It is an exhibition dedicated to the Eurovision song competition and the Icelandic relationship to that contest, along with props and videos from the Eurovision Song Contest movie that was filmed in Húsavík. Now this might not be for everyone but I found it fun, interesting and informative. More popular is the Geosea – Geothermal Sea Baths . What is unique with these baths is that the water in the baths is a mixture of clear spring water and ground water that is geothermically heated and comes up from the sea. It is also an infinity pool overlooking the harbour. The geothermal sea water does not seem to have much of a sulphur smell to it, so you might find that a bonus. This is a spot popular with locals and tourists alike. It is not as big as the other nature baths we visited so the space is more shared, but the view overlooking the harbour at sunset is remarkable! We had time for one more stop before we called it a night and that was to drop into the craft brewery we saw on the way back to the campsite. Húsavík öl is a tiny brewpub which we had a some great beer and delicious local cheese.  https://www.facebook.com/husavikol/ . Not much of the aurora borealis tonight and we are faced with the realization that or trip to Iceland is soon coming to an end.

Husavic Harbour
Husavik ,harbor, church

Back to the Beginning.

It was an early start and a long trek back to Reykjavik, with a couple of stops along the way for lunch by a river, and fueling up again. What I was focused on was spending the evening in Reykjavik, one last walk around the city, some last minute souvenirs and most importantly, some Kjötsúpa which is the traditional Icelandic lamb soup. I saw it was being served at the Café Loki and it was on my must have list ever since, as well as maybe some fish and chips. This kind of meant two dinner stops, but we were up for it. We found parking just outside of downtown, so getting lost was unlikely, and it was right near the Canadian consulate. Had we arrived earlier we would have stopped in for tea, but all the lights were off, (probably on purpose) so I did not ring the door bell. So great lamb soup, great fish and chips, good beer and a beautiful last evening in Reykjavik. We were feeling a bit melancholy as we jumped into the campervan to head south for our last camping experience. We wanted to be near the airport and the drop off for the campervan so we could have a leisurely last day, so we headed to Grindavik where we could drive to various sights the next day before we dropped off the campervan. And on our last night Iceland did not disappoint. As we pulled into our campsite, we were given the most spectacular exhibit of the aurora borealis yet. We pulled out our lawn chairs and our blanket and watched the show dance across the sky. With shapes and swoops we never experienced before. It seemed to last for hours.

iceland, Harpa concerthall, Reykjavik
Reykjavik , Hallgrimskirkja

The Last Day “The Elves Have Gone Too Far”

Our last day can only be described as bizarre. We woke up, had breakfast and were about to drive away and the GPS would not connect to the satellite. We had maps and I knew the basic direction we were to head out to go to the bridge between two continents, so we headed out. With spotty GPS coverage and without maps we arrived. We were almost the only ones there except for three business men in suits and two bus loads of boys from a British high school running around. The next was to be a non-descript lighthouse but the GPS led us to the middle of a small town. Out came the maps and we found it but it was like we were driving around in circles. It was getting close to the time we booked to drop off the campervan and we still had to pack up and do a final wipe-down of the inside before we dropped it off. We hit the home key on the GPS and started following it back to the same location we were to drop it off. We should have known better and trusted our instincts, but sometimes you trust technology over your instincts and you head, like us, down the highway in the wrong direction for way too long. Unplug the GPS, plug it back in and no help at all. The worst part was we were close when we stopped to fuel up and kept saying this is wrong but could not remember the exact road it was on. We missed our early shuttle to the airport and our last chance to get there was coming up or we would miss our flight. Head back down the freeway to the general area where we picked up the Campervan, manually enter the address into the GPS, follow the landmarks and road signs back to KUKU Campers. Arrive just in time, hold up the shuttle, unload the campervan. Luggage, sweaters, camera gear all piled up, out and into the shuttle, checked out of reception and off to the airport. We arrived just in time at the airport, repacked our luggage and checked in. What a last day to remember… Man those darn elves. Maybe they didn’t want us to leave.

Iceland, The Bridge between Continents (or Midlina)
Iceland, The Bridge between Continents (or Midlina)

A few final words…

Bridges and Tunnels

Except in the bigger cities and towns, many of the bridges along the Ring Road are single lane bridges and since there is not a lot of traffic, it works out well. You just drive up to the white line at the base of the bridge and you wait your turn and then you cross. But some of the bridges are long, and sometimes it is hard to know exactly who arrived first but someone usually offers to wait with a flash of their headlights and traffic moves along. Tunnels were an experience for us, not that we don’t have tunnels here but not 5 and 7 km long with occasional passing lanes. They just seemed to go on forever.


We did not see much wildlife on land. Though we did have good luck in seeing some whales. We did see some birds but I was hoping to see Reindeer as we drove across the tundra, and we were shut out from seeing Puffins again, just like on our trip to Nova Scotia. Luckily, there were no polar bears travelling on any ice flows from Greenland as they are not welcome if they have the misfortune of arriving. But if your timing is good you might see some or lots of wildlife, even arctic foxes. Lucky you.

Takeaways from the trip:

-Write down addresses, especially where you rent your campervan from. You might need it if the elves have anything planned for you.

-Take notes on which filters you used and what density. It will help you if you want to repeat it at a following location.

-Have a diary and make notes at the end of each night. It really helps when each day is full of so many great adventures.

-If you have equipment that is new or you have not used it for a while, test it out days, weeks before you go, and become familiar with it.

-Test and download a back-up of your images. I did not and somehow all the images on my Safari action camera were corrupted or did not record so most of the images and videos from the kayak trip in the glacier lagoon are gone.

-Be flexible once you get there; weather changes, opportunities arise, volcanoes erupt – you should try to go with the flow.

-Finally, as our great guide on the kayak excursion said “Put your phones and cameras away, take in a deep breath, and marvel at the beauty that is front of you” and do this often.

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Beau Photo Supplies Inc.
Beau Photo Supplies Inc.