This year, I was lucky enough to be able to travel to the incredibly unique country of Iceland. Before I went, I always thought – like many people – that Iceland was green, and Greenland was icy. This may be true, but it meant I wasn’t fully prepared for how snowy and cold Iceland actually was!
Iceland is a stunning country, with a vast flat landscape surrounding a number of large mountainous regions in its centre, created by an active volcano. Those who watched the news back in 2010 will remember the catastrophe that caused planes to be grounded for a number of weeks in late March. What people may be less aware of is the impact that the eruption of Eyjafjallajökull had on the people of Iceland – but we’ll come to that later.
Ferðast frá Birmingham til Reykjavíkur
“travelling from Birmingham to Reykjavik”
We arrived early at Birmingham International Airport, ladened with more luggage for a four-day trip than I would usually take on a two week holiday – and it was definitely an experience travelling with giant ski jackets and waterproof boots, while most other holiday makers were heading off to warmer climates to get away from the March rain in the UK. The flight to Iceland was a lot shorter than I expected – just under two hours! When we arrived at Reykjavik airport – not the central airport, but at the International Airport in Keflavik, we picked up our car and headed South East towards our first hotel.
The first hotel we stayed at was the Hotel Rangaá, situated just outside the small town of Hella. On the way, we took in the beautiful sights and we were in awe at the complete flatness of the land and the lack of trees. Imagine you’re in a beautiful, but flat countryside, which allows you to see for miles and miles, with the landscape seeming to carry on forever, only changing height due to the uneven ground, with the occasional horse and one or two-storey building.
We decided to stop for dinner at the local golf club, which offered an even more spectacular view from the first floor, overlooking the golf course and miles of Icelandic countryside. Being one of the most popular golf clubs in the area, we were surprised to find out that a room with less than ten dining tables was enough to suffice the busiest of services. On the menu, staying true to my usual holiday feasting rituals, I went for the oddest thing on the menu – horse! Surprisingly delicious, and tender, horse steak had a unique flavour – a cross between a high-quality beef and duck. I also got to try some Minky whale steak – something which was more game than seafood as I expected!
Við sáum endalaus fossa sem hægt er að ganga á bak
“we saw endless waterfalls you can walk behind”
The Hotel Rangá was beautiful – mainly one storey high, with just one extension above the bar area. The whole building was made out of wood – something which we were surprised at given the lack of trees. However, we were told by the hotel manager that most of the wood in Iceland comes from booming trade with Norway. There is only 1.3% of Iceland which has forest on it, giving it the title of one of the most deforested countries in the world.
After a fantastic first nights sleep in the hotel, with stunning views all around, incredibly comfy beds with traditional blankets, and a yummy breakfast to look forward to in the morning, we were set for our first day of exploring with Oli, a hilarious guide from Superjeep. Oli took us to all the best places to see based on the weather, and the kinds of things we were interested in, easily navigating the bumpy off-roads in his giant wheeled jeep.
The first day saw us travelling towards the South West, discovering a beautiful waterfall which allowed us to climb up a long staircase to the top for a stunning view at the dramatic difference in the Icelandic landscape going from giant mountainous ranges to flat pastures in just a few feet. We learned that this dramatic landscape comes from years of volcanic eruptions and a draw back of the sea, with the original edge of Iceland having the shore right up against these mountainous ranges, which now sat miles away from the ocean. We also took a trip to another waterfall, which you could climb inside through a thin gap in the mountains.
Eldfjall sprakk í mars 2010
“the volcano exploded in March 2010”
Our second day in Iceland also included a trip that I won’t forget in a long time, as it included a unique look into the effect the eruption of the active volcano Eyjafjallajökull had on the population of Iceland, and one nearby family in March 2010. We were all affected by the news of the ash cloud that was making its way across Europe, especially those wanting to fly, with airports grounded across the world. But, nobody seemed to take much notice of the effect it had on the people of Iceland.
We wanted a short film of the family and their farm, who were devastated by the ash cloud for years after the volcano exploded, and learned more about how the people of Iceland came together to clear the thick blanket of ash that covered the landscape. It was heart-wrenching to see how much the people banded together, and how much they actually had to deal with. An ominous feeling as we sat in a room that was heated by water pipes which used the magma of the active volcano underground to heat it.
Sandur fjara svart á Víkinni lítur út eins einlita mynd
“the black beach at Vik looks like a monochrome photograph”
On day three, we took an off-road experience tour with Oli and his Superjeep in two different senses – one trip down south to the black sand beach at Vik, and one into the valleys of Thórsmörk.
The black sand beach was stunning, and unlike any other volcanic beach (or any beach for that matter) that I had ever experienced. The photos taken all look like they have been edited into black and white, but this was the actual visual effect you got when arriving. The vast flat beaches meant that you could only see the mountains in the distance, whited-out with snow caps, and the rolling waves on the other side, grey and white with the cast over sky. As we drove along the beach, I got the overwhelming feeling of how much of Iceland’s landscape is formed out of volcanic activity.
Hellar eru aðeins aðgengileg í vetur þegar vatnið er frosið
“the caves are only accessible when the lake is frozen”
A much less smooth off-road experience then took us into the heart of the valleys by Thórsmörk – a range named after the Norse God, Thor. A part-time fjord, the area is only accessible throughout some months of the year, when the source of the fjord is frozen enough to allow for cars to drive across the snowy landscape, and into the heart of the valley.
Surrounded by mountains that looked like they had popped up from nowhere, we drove for over an hour, taking in the stunning landscape and trickling rivers until we ended up at a jaw-dropping ice cave, formed out of the frozen fjord source. While we couldn’t get all the way inside, we had a fun mini-trek up to the cave which was a stunning light aqua colour with the frozen water thicker than most houses!
Einstök foss búin til af jarðskjálfta
“a unique waterfall created by an earthquake”
After saying goodbye to our lovely guide – this time dripping wet from walking behind one of the largest waterfalls in the area, the following day we made our journey back to Reykjavik, stopping off at some amazing sights along the way. Our first stop was to Gullfoss, one of the most famous waterfalls in Iceland. Located in a canyon at the edge of the Hvítaá River, its unique shape makes it look as though the river is simply falling off the land into the centre of the world. Gullfoss’ two-stage waterfall was formed hundreds of years ago by glacial activity, which tore a strip in the landscape, causing the river to continue to carve its way downwards.
Ef helstu goshver springur, þú ert í vandræðum
“if the main geyser explodes, you’re in trouble”
Our second stop of day three saw us travelling towards one of Iceland’s many active volcanos. The Strokkur geyser isn’t always active, but there are plenty of other smaller geysers around the area which blow up every couple of minutes, which cascaded us in not only a spraying of warm water but also released a horrible sulphur smell. We were a little disappointed when reading the signs that the main geyser hardly ever goes off, until we were told by locals that it only explodes when the volcano pressure is so great that it’s about to erupt!
Róandi heitt vatn með endurnýjunar drullu
“soothing warm waters with regenerative mud”
After three days of high-intensity sight seeing and driving, we were delighted to finally make it to the Blue Lagoon Geothermal Spa in Grindavík. Housing naturally sourced, and naturally heated, geothermal seawater, the Blue Lagoon has become a famous tourist spot due to its ‘miracle’ skin care benefits. With high levels of silica in the water (giving the sky blue water its creamy undertones) it’s incredibly easy to float around in the streams and leaves your skin feeling silky smooth. It’s even been shown to have a positive effect on those suffering from psoriasis!
While at the spa, we were able to bathe in the warm waters and swim around but were also given free silica mud masks which left my skin feeling amazing and hydrated – and bought out some annoying spots that had been plaguing me for a few days – good as new! There was also a number of private mini-lagoons where you could grab a seat and a bar where you could grab a drink while dipping your feet in the lagoon. We also spend a good half an hour in the sauna, heated by the water and geothermal qualities of the surrouding hot springs.
Falleg borg með töfrandi mat og skoðanir
“a beautiful city with stunning food and views”
After the lagoon, we travelled to Reykjavik, where we settled into our city centre hotel before setting off in the late hours on a trip with Superjeep owner, “Afi” (meaning Grandpa in Icelandic) – and the hunt for the Northern Lights started! The Northern Lights are something that, no matter when or where you visit in Iceland, is on your list of things to see. But they are possibly the hardest thing to find. Luckily, the guides work together with a number of companies, not to beat each other to the lights, but to make sure that every tour company and tourist gets to see them.
W didn’t manage to find the lights on the first night, but we had got a unique view of Iceland, and a reminder of how vastly sparse the country was as we drove into the darkness and up hills to find the lights. Eventually, we ended up having a mini party with a number of other Superjeep tours with hot chocolate with vodka in the snow.
On our second day in Reykjavik, and the last full day of our holiday, we explored the city in all its glory, discovering a number of graffiti hotspots, stunning sculptures, and my favourite building on the harbour – the Reykjavik Opera House, Harpa. The coloured glass used in the structure of the building is meant to symbolise the dancing of music notes, but to me, it looked more like a fish! The glass also created coloured streams to be cast down when the sunlight hit it just right, creating coloured spotlights for visitors to stand in.
The food in Reykjavik was also excellent. We decided to go for two different themes – traditional and extraordinary – in our plight for trying the best food in the city, which led us (for lunch) to a small restaurant of just one room which served only one thing – soup in bread! The traditional setting was the perfect companion for the meal of lamb stew served in a hollowed out homemade sourdough loaf – and it was to die for! We also discovered an interesting bar which served every flavour of burger you could imagine which stole the hearts of Pete and I (and my Dad until he was dragged off for a more traditional meal) – the Lebowski restaurant.
Decorated in stylings from the film, The Big Lebowski, it featured little anecdotes from the film and plenty of tenpin bowling memorabilia. The details were so well captured too – with everything from carpet surrounding the bar with a “no urinating” sign, to the interior of one of the dining rooms being a replica of the inside of Lebowski’s house! And the food wasn’t half bad either!
Einu sinni á lífsleiðinni reynslu
“a once in a lifetime experience”
Full of Lebowski burgers, and all packed ready to set off at 5 am for the airport, we crashed into our beds for a whole 20 minutes before jetting off with Afi again to hunt for the Northern Lights. We didn’t think we would see them again and were feeling disappointed – especially with it being 11 pm. But, Afi and the Superjeep group showed us why they were the best light hunters, and took us and a few others groups off-piste and into fields of thick snow, which came up almost above our ankle boots, and we stared into the clear sky. About 20 minutes went by before a flicker of green faintly started to appear in the sky.
About 20 minutes went by before a flicker of green faintly started to appear in the sky and we waited in anticipation, once again with our vodka and hot chocolate treats, until the lights came into full view, with dazzling streams of green, yellow and purple above us. The perfect way to end the trip!
If there is once place I would highly recommend visiting for anyone who loves the cold and exploring on their holidays, Iceland is at the top of the list! Although we only spent a few days there, we saw so much beauty and so many unique and incredible things – and ate so many unusual foods, including horse, reindeer, whale and puffin (much to my Mums horror). I can’t wait to go back and explore the North of the country when time and funds allow.