By Helen & Pod Jones-Kelleher, July 2019.
How would I describe Iceland?
‘The moon with atmosphere!’
The people are welcoming, the wildlife captivating and the scenery… well, it’s literally out of this world!
We visited in early July… and boy were the days long. The sun set for a couple of hours just after midnight – but twilight and dawn seemed to fill the gap. We were glad of our eye masks at night!
Of course, long days mean you can pack even more touring and sightseeing in… so we did. With hit many of the well known attractions including the standard tourist trail of the ‘Golden Circle’ – the Blue Lagoon, Gulfoss (the Golden Waterfall), Geysir and Thingvellir. Thingvellir is the site of the first ever Parliament in the world (in 930AD) and is also where the growing divide between the continents underneath Iceland can be seen. As one local put it, with Iceland growing by 2cm per year, 350,000 Icelanders are slowly but surely taking over the world!
All fantastic places to visit but, for us, there were three highlights: our overnight stay on Vestmannaeyjar, travelling east to Vatnajökull and the Glacier Lagoon, and the drive on the F208 to Landmannalaugar.
The Vestmannaeyjar Islands are a short ferry crossing off the south coast. As we arrived on the main island of Heimaey, we joined Eyja Tours for a 2 -3 hour tour around the island, learning about the history, flora and fauna of the islands. The tour was excellent (the guide’s family has been there since 980AD after all!) and it meant we were introduced to the sites we wanted to explore some more later that day. With the sun not really setting, we had another 6 hours exploring the island. So we did some serious puffin watching and we walked up Eldfell, the volcano that erupted in 1973 covering half the town and destroying 360 houses; everyone got away safely, thankfully. From this vantage point it was easy to see the lava flows and how it had affected the island.
After Vestmannaeyjar, we headed east on the mainland through a landscape of glaciers, lava flows, waterfalls and lagoons which is truly stunning. We continued to Vatnajökull, Europe’s largest glacier, and took an organised tour with Glaciertours.is up onto the ice; they offer a skidoo trip on the glacier – but we took the option of the ex-Swedish Army tracked vehicle – fun! It was a winter wonderland in the middle of summer. On the way back to the hotel, we stopped at the Glacier Lagoon. The tide was coming in against the icy river flowing down from the glacier. This created a whirlpool of icebergs swirling around and crunching into each other. It fascinated us for hours – literally.
But the most amazing day was the day we drove from the south coast into the Central Highlands of Iceland. We took the F208, a road that’s only open in summer and is limited to 4WD vehicles; we’d checked that the rental company was happy for us to take their VW Tiguan there. Wandering through a truly a Lunar landscape, the F208 is more like an off-road trail requiring us to ford twenty seven rivers, all of which were fairly shallow thanks to the dry weather, but we still had to check the best place to cross as it could be deep in some places. Every twist and turn brought a new scene and a new adventure. We arrived at Landmannalaugar sitting among long extinct volcanoes covered in the most amazing colours. Thanks to the geothermal springs there, the local river doubles as a thermal pool – so in we jumped! A wonderful place and a welcome stop after driving on lava and stone track roads.
Iceland is a wonderland and we had a great holiday, with thanks to John for planning out a great route and encouraging us to drive through to the centre – the best part of the journey! Just a shame he wasn’t able to come along with us!