Iceland – The Land of Fire and Ice

If you ever fly to America from England, don’t miss the opportunity of stopping in Iceland along the way. Flights with Iceland Air can be reasonable if you keep a look out for specials.  I was able to fly back to England from Washington DC for just £329/$530.

Iceland is located on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, which makes it one of the most tectonically active places in the world. There are over 200 volcanoes located in Iceland and over 600 hot springs.  Geothermal power currently heats as much as 89% of the houses in Iceland.

Lakeside Reflections

Their currency is the Icelandic Krona and at the time of writing this blog post, the following exchange rates applied:  £1 = 197ISK        $1 = 122ISK

I arrived at an unsociable hour in the morning, still bleary eyed from my flight with my body thinking it was 02:00 in the morning.  The joys of travelling east across timelines.  I had reserved a car and sure enough, someone was there to meet me at International arrivals with my name on a board.  I was driven to a little car rental place just around the corner from the airport, asked to fill in a form and handed my keys.

Not realising that Iceland adopted the US/continental way of driving, my stomach sank when I realised I would be sitting on the left and driving on the right.  It is also law to drive with your lights on at ALL times so do remember to switch them off when you’re parked because garages are not exactly on every street corner.  Also, ALWAYS make sure you have enough petrol!!! Unless you’re in Keflavik or Reykjavik, you’re actually very remote!

Winding roads and mountains

I headed east.  It was so strange driving through the countryside.  It would be nothing but plains of black or brown gravel…

Black gravel plains.

…but then around the corner, huge mountains would appear and the landscape would be pretty green Lupins with their distinctive leaves, and blue and white flowers.

Fields of Lupins

Gorgeous Scenery

Then around the next corner would be lime green moss-covered lava piles and more mountains but this time majestic waterfalls.  It was like a different world was waiting around each corner.

My first stop was the small town of Vik and on my way there, I passed Seljalandsfoss Waterfall.  Many tour buses were already parked up but I still managed to find a spot easily.  I love waterfalls and I stopped here to nibble on some lunch while admiring the wonderful view.

Seljalandsfoss Waterfall

Smaller waterfalls can be viewed along the road that runs along the south coast of the island.

The land of many waterfalls

Around the corner from Vik, you can view some interesting sea stacks standing on a black sand beach.

Black Sand Beach

Judging from the many tyre tracks in the sand, someone had recently been having some fun…

A short distance away, the second waterfall was bigger and more impressive – Skógafoss.  What an incredible sight!

The powerful Skogarfoss Waterfall

The power of the water coming over that ledge is incredible. There is a camp site at the base that is so close I wasn’t sure if the thundering sound of the water would soothe you to sleep or keep you awake for hours.

In Vik, you will find just one petrol station, one restaurant, one hostel, a church (which stands on a hill overlooking the town and is very pretty at night) and a few houses and industry buildings.  It’s not exactly a thriving hot spot, but the hostel, simply called Vik Hostel, was clean, friendly, and did a fantastic breakfast. One night cost 7030 ISK (£36 / $57)

Breakfast at Vik Hostel

I was thinking that night about when the Iceland volcano and its ash cloud caused all the disruption back in 2010 and I checked on the internet to see where the volcano was.  Hmm, it was just over the hill…

Volcano is where the marker is – hostel is on the coast just below and to the right

The next day, after enjoying the hostel’s great breakfast, I headed further east towards Jökusárlón, a huge lake with floating icebergs which have broken off from the gigantic glacier there (if you look at the above picture, the glacier that I was going to visit, is the HUGE white splodge on the right).

The drive is long and, in parts, quite monotonous but when you catch your first glimpse of the glacier, it is really quite exciting.  Glaciers and ice caps cover about 11,400 km² out of the total area of 103,125 km² of Iceland. The one that I was looking at was called Vatnajökull and is not only the largest in Iceland but also the largest in area in Europe.  It covers 8% of Iceland.

First glimpse of the glacier (the white which looks as it it has been poured around the mountains)

Just when I thought I would need to stop and stretch my legs, I caught a glimpse of something bright on my left through a gap in some sand dunes.  I pulled over to investigate and was absolutely blown away.  A lake with floating icebergs – I had reached Jökusárlón.

Glacier Lake at Jökusárlón

I couldn’t stop gaping.  The sight was beautiful.  The air was crisp, bitterly cold and deathly silent.  There were 100’s of icebergs floating on the lake and in the distance, I could see the edge of the glacier.

A boat speeds its way across the lake, the massive glacier lies across the back of the picture.

I was frozen…not from the temperature but from the beauty I saw before me.  From reading about volcanos last night to standing in front of a glacier watching ice bergs floating past me.  This truly was the ‘Land of Fire and Ice’.

I lost track of how long I stood there but I suddenly became obsessed with seeing the glacier up close.  I spotted a van with huge protective suits hanging outside and I headed over.  They offered boat rides out to the glacier and I booked immediately. 5900ISK for one hour (£30 / $48).

I had a few hours to wait so I headed over the bridge to the small cafe and enjoyed some hot chocolate for 350ISK (£1.77 / $2.87) while watching some people strip off and have a quick swim in the lake. Yes, it’s true. I would have taken photos for proof but it didn’t seem right somehow! There was also a clean toilet in the cafe building which was very welcome after a long day’s driving.

Finally, the time arrived and 10 of us jumped into the boat and headed out across the lake.

Suited up and ready to go

It was amazing and the absolute highlight of my trip.

Icebergs the size of small buildings are scattered around the lake.

The skipper took his time weaving inbetween the ice bergs, pointing out various features. We all excitedly took photos.

Blue tinged icebergs floating on the lake

It was dangerous too – we were told that we would most likely die within 2 minutes if we fell into the water.  We found this a pretty good incentive to stay firmly IN the boat.

The Glacier

We finally reached the glacier – it was …just…so…huge!!!  The picture above shows where huge chunks of ice have broken off.  The height here was roughly 50m. The black bits you can see are ash deposits from the volcanic eruption in 2010.

After and hour, we headed back to shore and it was time to start my journey west, back to my hostel, Hotel Edda Skogar, close to the Skógafoss waterfall.  Because of its proximity to the waterfall, this was the most expensive accommodation of the trip.  It was for a twin room with washing basin, communal shower room and toilet.  All very clean almost to the point of being sterile.  One night cost 14,415ISK (£73 / $118) and included breakfast.  

I arrived late in the afternoon but with enough light to enjoy some photography.  There were also less people around and I enjoyed some quality time with the waterfall.

Skogafoss

The next day, I made sure I ate enough breakfast to last me the whole day and I headed further west back towards Keflavik.  But there was just enough time for a small detour inland to see one of Iceland’s most popular tourist attractions.  Yes, you guessed it – another waterfall – Gullfoss (Golden Falls).

Gullfoss Waterfall

It is made up of two waterfalls, one that plunges 11m and the other 21m. The average amount of water running over this waterfall is 140 m³/s in the summertime and 80 m³/s in the wintertime. The highest flood measured was 2000 m³/s. That is a serious amount of water.

After this, I happened, quite accidentally, upon a natural hot geyser.  I did what any visitor to a hot geyser would do… I waited for it to erupt.

It’s going to blow…..

Apart from the sulphurous smell, the area is quite pretty.  There were 2 geysers that erupted and various other bubbling springs quietly turning their surrounding areas a suphuric yellow colour.

Erupting hot water geyser

The last thing I wanted to do on my mini-adventure to Iceland was to visit the ‘Blue Lagoon Spa’.  After all, you can’t visit Iceland without a trip to this natural spa.  It is located in a lava field and the steamy waters are part of a lava formation. The warm water, which range in temperature from 37C – 39C, is rich in silica and sulphur and is reputed to heal common skin conditions such as psoriasis.

The relaxing pool of the Blue Lagoon natural geothermal spa

On entering you choose your price package.  For basic entrance and a towel, you pay €35 / £28 / $45.  (I think it’s completely worth it for the experience.) Strict rules ensure you shower completely BEFORE and AFTER using the spa.  Once you’re outside, just find a free spot and leave your towel there.  I chose to put a large stone on top of mine so I remembered which one was mine.  All the towels are white, so you don’t always know exactly which one is yours.

I found the spa experience luxuriously relaxing.  The water felt silky and for the first time ever in my life, I was able to float perfectly without my legs sinking.

A white creamy body scrub is available in wooden buckets on the side of the spa’s main pool.  It stung a bit like it was salty when you first put it on and it felt like it was drying my skin out but admittedly, my skin felt very soft and smooth afterwards.

I spent just two hours there.  I get bored quickly and even though it was relaxing, there was only so much floating I could enjoy.

My hostel that night was G. G. Guesthouse in Keflavik, just around the corner from the airport.  It is run by a very friendly man called Eirikur.  He offers an airport taxi service.  One shuttle is included in the room rate, a further €10 is charged if you want picking up AND dropping off.  His hostel was clean, had a full kitchen and shared shower facilities.

I loved Iceland.  I would love to go back at some point and do a little bit more walking.  My dodgy ankle prevented me from doing as much exploring as I would have liked.  If you don’t mind being remote, being on your own and far from civilisation and surrounded by some of the best things that nature has to offer, then Iceland is definitely worth a visit.

Iceland Tourism
http://www.visiticeland.com

Iceland Air
http://www.icelandair.com

Vik Hostel (They don’t have their own website other than a FB page – I booked through a hostel booking service)
https://www.facebook.com/vikhostel

Hotel Edda Skogar (Hotel Edda is a chain)
http://www.hoteledda.is/en

G. G. Guesthouse (does not have their own website)
http://www.hostelworld.com

 

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3 Responses to Iceland – The Land of Fire and Ice

  1. Pezzy says:

    Fantastic. Always fancied a trip to Iceland and don’t need to now ! 😉

    Now, if your next article involves thrones …..

    Anyone just flicking through and stopping on the picture of you wearing all your waterproofs, might just read the end of the paragraph above – where you explain that the toilet was clean. They should be be aware that the photo and the clean toilet are unrelated and read the whole story. Though I’m sure by now you’ve come across a toilet somewhere where such attire would be correct.

    • admin says:

      Thank you :-) You’re right, it did read ‘strangely’ so I’ve made the necessary changes. Thanks for pointing it out…

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