Having not long returned home from Norway, I was fairly relaxed about this trip to Iceland. I was not worried about the fact that the weather was going to prevent us from seeing the Northern Lights and neither was I worried about the cold and the snowfalls that were predicted. As I settled into my Iceland Air comfy seat and watched the complimentary movies and television, and looking up the best things to do in Iceland, I felt relaxed and ready to have a great road trip with three good friends. I was not prepared to fall in love. I was not prepared to be googling ‘Moving to Iceland’. But that is what five nights in Iceland will do to a person.
As I have said, the weather forecast was not amazing, so unsurprisingly, the flight was delayed, and when we touched ground in Keflavik, we were fascinated watching the snow plow out of the plane window as it cleared a path for our plane! It’s a clue to the prices in Iceland, that before you pick up your bags, that the biggest store is the duty free alcohol store. Top tip – either pack or buy duty free alcohol when you are visiting Scandinavian countries, as the tax on alcohol is high. As well as learning, that outside of the villages, there are not really pubs to visit. After the boys had stocked up on beer, we were ready to head to the Kef Guesthouse for a good night’s sleep.
The Kef Guesthouse is very close to the airport. They will pick you up from your flight, and will also drop you back to the airport in the morning to pick up your rental car. Due to delays, we arrived well after midnight, so they were a lifesaver to come and get us at that time! A good breakfast is included and the wifi is fairly strong. It’s clean and comfy, what more could you want from a very short stay?
I was on a road trip with my fav travel buddy Liam, and our friends Amelia and Glen. We decided to drive down by the southern coast for the first day of our trip. Our ultimate destination for the night was the Eyjasol Cottages in Reykholt. Welcome to Iceland, the land of unpronounceable names. One of our first sights was the geothermal power plant. This sounds a bit boring, but what we quickly came to realize about Iceland is that it is a land of fire and ice. There are many geothermal hot spots (which reminded me a lot of Rotorua in New Zealand), and that the landscape is very clean. There are about 330,000 people living in Iceland, with about 160,000 of these living in Reykjavik – which means that there are very few people to be found elsewhere.
There is a saying, that if you don’t like the weather, just wait five minutes and it will change. This is very true. I have hundreds of photos of the fronts coming in. And as we drove through whiteouts, gale force winds and brilliant sunshine, we realized just how true this was.
The scenery in Iceland is stunning. It’s stunning covered in snow, and from what I can see from photos, it’s stunning in the summer as well. It’s dramatic. The sky is huge. The mountains are volcanic. The fjords are clear. The coastline is jagged and smooth, within about a hundred meters of each other. It’s silent, untouched, clean, clear and the air tastes incredible. So when we saw the church at Strond in Selvogur, we stopped and got a little more than we bargained for. Just beyond this church, over a snow covered sand dune, is a lava reef where the Atlantic thunders. Standing on the edge of that reef, where we touched the frozen water, I felt like I could breathe again. The photos of this do much more justice to this feeling than what I can with words.
We drove further on, through snow, stopping at snow covered black sand beach that had a café on it, for a much needed comfort break, and marvelled at the juxtaposition between the snow and the volcanic sand. We stopped in Selfoss for lunch, very close to where we were staying for the night. We were keen to get there in day light as being winter the sun was setting early.
Eyjasol Cottages feel like they are in the middle of absolute nowhere. There is not a town or a pub to be seen anywhere nearby. The snow makes them feel quite isolated. These are self-catering cottages, which was great, as we had been shopping earlier that day for supplies and had planned on cooking roasts and being very cosy. This cottage was all that we had hoped for and more. Two bedrooms, a large living area and the best bit, a hot tub on the snow covered deck. By all means, hot tubs are amazing wherever they are and you don’t have to be in Iceland to enjoy them. You can search online for ‘hot tubs colorado‘ to see some installation ideas that exemplify how beautiful they can be in any garden, but there is something extra special about being surrounded by snow whilst you’re in one. As the night started to creep in, we tiptoed through the snow with a bottle of wine and all four of us relaxed in the hot water. It started snowing whilst we were in there and the snow was settling on the rim of my glass. If that is not magic, then I don’t know what is. We had turned all of the lights off, and were lamenting the cloudy weather as we were sure that above the clouds the Northern Lights were dancing. Well that night, our luck was in. For about ten minutes, the sky cleared. The stars were out and then at the edge of the sky the lights began to show themselves. That’s right, on a snow covered deck as the snow fell, we watched from our hot tub, in wonder as the lights graced us with their presence. Wow.
The next day dawned with gale force winds. After a hearty breakfast we headed out to the Pingvellir National Park, which is situated in the Golden Circle. First stop is the Haukadalur geothermal area, home to two geysers – Geysir and Strokkur. Geysir has been dormant for a number of years, but Strokkur will go off every 5-10 mins. There is something rather special about seeing this in the snow covered landscape, whilst being blown around by the wind. The day did not get above -4 degrees Celsius – so at least 4 layers and hats were required. From here we headed to see the Gulfoss Falls.
As we drove there, we could all feel the car being battered by the winds, and when we arrived in the car park, we were struggling to put on the extra clothing we needed. As we started down the path towards the look out, a couple coming towards us were literally blown off the walk way. I was nervous about this, being relatively risk adverse, watching Liam who is very light being buffeted by the wind, I was worried about losing him over the edge. We battled the winds and I nearly made it to the lookout – I took a photo as I held on tightly to my phone, and hoped for the best. It’s hard to breathe in wind like that. Snow was being blown in my face and it hurt. Staying upright was a challenge. We arrived back at the visitor centre, panting and certainly awake and refreshed!
From here we began our drive to Vik. We drove through farmland and desolate looking landscape. We stopped for windswept photos next to overflowing rivers and after a quick stop for a sandwich, we were surprised to find the police blocking the road in the largest 4×4 I have ever seen. The tyres were nearly as tall as me. We sent Liam to find out what was going on, and if there was another way we could get to Vik. It turned out that the winds were so bad, that it would have been dangerous for us to travel to Vik, the police told us that there was a high possibility that the car could be flipped by them. I have seriously never been in weather quite this bad. It was a shame not to get to Vik, but there is not a lack of stunning scenery in Iceland, we decided instead to find a hot spring. Liam had tried a number of times to find this place.
The directions are not clear to Hrunalaug – it is truly a hidden gem. I am bit hesitant about sharing it with you all, but if you promise to keep it safe, I can show you! After a few false starts, google maps will take you up a driveway and you will run into a very angry woman – who can blame her, she has a steady stream of curious tourists on her doorstep – and a few missed turns we found it. Basically from the driveway that you should not turn down, you travel down the road and take the next right and drive for about 5-10 mins until you find the sign that says “no camping and no pooing.” True story. Then you walk for about 10 mins. And then you are rewarded with a natural hot spring. You can see it bubbling from the ground, and a small hut for you to get changed in. It’s a stunning spot and I would recommend it for those that want a truly untouched and unspoilt Icelandic moment.
Looking back, I wish that I had gone in. I was very cold after a day of being blown around and snowed on, and was hesitant about getting out in the winds. As it turned out, the cover had been blown off our hot tub at the cottages, despite being tied down, and it did not warm up in time for us to get back in it again that night. We cooked a roast lamb with trimmings that night, we all rugged up and listened to the wind buffet the house that night.
The next day dawned clear, still windy but much of it had died down, so we headed out to Grundarfjordur (Grin-da-fay-or-da is how you say that!). Whilst the wind had died down, it was replaced by snow. One tip that I have for Iceland is when you have the chance to pee, take it. Places to stop are few and far between. We stopped off at Thingvellir, where you can visibly see the space between two tectonic plates. Where else in the world can you see that? On our way to our stop for that night, we saw more stunning scenery, fjords, snow that was thigh deep and even a few seals in the harbour. And of course Icelandic Ponies, which sounds like it should be a cocktail, but instead are the Viking horses that are a feature of the landscape. Their hair is so soft, and they are very friendly – we stopped and petted a few of them.
As we arrived at Grundarfjordur Guesthouse and Apartments – the snow really started falling. We walked about 20 minutes to a nearby pub where I tried the local spirit. As it was being served, I asked the bartender what it was like, she replied “not so good.” She was right. From there we visited BjargarSteinn, a beautiful restaurant that serves delish wine and dessert. We met the owner and he told me about the things to do in the area. The area is stunning, home to glaciers, the harbour is often visited by orcas and is just isolated and beautiful. I wish that we could have spent more time there.
The next day, we awoke to snow. Snow everywhere. We would later find out that it was a record snowfall. I was so excited. I love snow. I ate brekky early and then went to dig out the car. It was a novelty for me. The other guests were out there doing the same. The snow was at least 30cm thick on the car. It was then that I was told that the roads out were closed, and that we might not be able to get to Reykjavik as planned. We decided to brave it and off we went. The drive was hard, snow everywhere and the graders were out, in some places only one side of the road had been cleared.
But we made it to Reykjavik for our one night there. The snow there was at least knee deep if not higher. I took a few tumbles before I discovered the joy of crampons. We walked around the city and marvelled at being back among people. Reykjavik is cool. The stores are full of amazing homewares, funky clothing and there are a number of record stores. The people are hipster and friendly. We decided to treat ourselves for dinner, so we headed to Canopy at Hilton. We tried a set three course menu, that I can highly recommend. The service was impeccable and we felt like it was a great way to spend our last night.
The next day, the city was still coping with the sheer amount of snow that was now clogging the streets. As sad as I was to be leaving Iceland, we were heading to the Blue Lagoon for one last Icelandic treat. This place is a bit special. Covered in snow, with temps of -5 outside, the water is warm and inviting. The steam makes it seem as though you have a private pool as you cannot see anyone else. We swam up to the bars, put the thermal mud on our faces and enjoyed the sauna, steam room and massaging water falls. This place is perfect for relaxing and forgetting about having to go home. We spent a few hours here relaxing, before it was time to shower and return to real life.
And with that, my trip to Iceland was over. I desperately want to go back. Amelia asked a day into our trip, “could you live here for a year?” And my answer was a resounding yes. I would love to live isolated for a year or so. I could get some serious writing done in Grundarfjordur, I would hike the national parks, swim in hot springs and my skin would be amazing with the fresh air and thermal waters. The people are friendly and you can travel very easily from here. What more could I want? The place is special and a bit like the stuff of dreams. If you ever get the chance to visit Iceland, take it. You will not regret it.
Photos by Nicola Whyte