Iceland is Niceland
Our little camper van that took us on the roadtrip of a lifetime!
Four Canadians in a Campervan
By: Chelsea, Kevin, Liz, and Aaron
Our little van that took us on the roadtrip of a lifetime!
Leaving from Canada on Saturday February 25, where we are used to large amounts of snow and cold, it was still a shock to the system arriving in Keflavik at 4:00 am local time to a record snowfall! Iceland didn’t seem so prepared either. After retrieving our baggage, which was stuck in the snow for 2 hours, we knew our first stop was the duty free shop: stock up on rum and some new beers to try! We embarked on our FlyBus to Reykjavik at 6:30 am, arriving at the bus station in the dark and with snow drifting around the parked buses. In the pink hue of the morning, cold and in an unknown place, we were a little miserable. What better to do than to begin our adventure as soon as possible to lift our spirits! We stowed our bags in the lockers at the bus station (saviours!), grabbed a bite to eat in the cafe, and headed out into the snow as the morning gained light.
Early morning view of the harbor and Viking statue.
Chelsea and Aaron had never been so close to ocean water before!
To say there was a lot of snow is almost an understatement – everything was buried! No sidewalks could be found, and parked cars were barely visible in the sea of white. It actually made for quite a beautiful sight. We walked through the streets and trudged through knee-high snow to get close to the landmarks, making our way to see Hallgrímskirkja, The Harbor, Harpa, and into the city centre. We stumbled across The City Museum: Settlement Exhibition and went inside.
What we found was an interactive and educational exhibit about the first settlements in Iceland, centered around authentic ruins of a longhouse that was unearthed underneath the building. It was very cool! As we left the building, Aaron opened the door and a piece of snow melting off the roof plopped right on his head! It was like it was just out of a cartoon and it was hilarious!
From there we made our way to the duck pond, and walked across one of the main streets in search of more food or interesting things. We had walked quite a ways and decided to cross an item off our trip bucket list as we were very close: The Phallological museum of Iceland. Even if you are not travelling to Iceland (and especially if you are) you should watch the documentary ‘The Final Member’, about the search for the final specimen to complete the collection in the museum. Quite amusing!
After this we started walking back the way we came in search of food, but by this time everything was very busy, very expensive, or very not vegetarian. So we continued to walk back to the bus station, taking all the little side streets and admiring the beautiful and unique houses. Near the bus station we found a Subway, and that was more than good enough for us!
Record snowfall amounts in Reykjavik on our first morning.
After filling our stomachs we were beyond tired (having been awake for almost 24 hours and doing lots of travelling), but we had one problem: our AirBnb wasn’t available for us until 4:00 pm… still 3 hours away. Luckily the nice people at the bus station did not mind as we hunkered down at a table in the corner, changed some wet socks, and took turns napping (except for Liz who stood watch over our stuff – thanks Liz!). Finally it was time to head to our AirBnb, so we grabbed a cab and set off! We could not have been happier to find a cozy space and comfy beds, which were immediately used to sleep. We spent the rest of the night relaxing and drinking our beers, deciding on our plan of attack for the next day! We had a small list of things we wanted to see in Reykjavik and were just going to wing it.
(Bottom) Liz and Aaron being romantic to go along with the gorgeous views.
Our second day started with a bus ride on the local transit to a bus stop along a highway that we hoped would take us to Perlan. More trudging through snow and makeshift sidewalks created by other people’s footprints, and we found our way to Pearlan. At least we can say we got a good workout! Here you can climb to the top and get 360 degree views of Reykjavik as far as the eye could see – on a clear and sunny day it was spectacular! Definitely a must-see in the city.
We then set off walking again, following all the roads we could find with sidewalks, zig-zagging our way back to downtown Reykjavik. With more determination to find food than the day before, we did the most tourist-y thing we could think of: eat at the American Pub! Over beers and fries we decided on our next activity, and thank goodness Liz remembered we had Whales of Iceland on our list of things to see. So off we walked, down to the harbour and to Whales of Iceland. I would highly recommend this exhibit, it was beautiful and fun to walk around with full-sized whales (and upon looking at the brochure when we returned home, I’m fairly sure you can have weddings here…we can all dream!). After purchasing some souvenirs, and some snacks at the Bónus around the corner, we made our way by foot and bus back to our AirBnB for our last night before camping.
Aaron fully immersing himself in the Whales of Iceland exhibit.
On the Road
The First Day
In the morning we packed up our stuff, called a cab and made it to pick up our campervan! Not without a few hiccups involving going to the wrong address of the rental place…but nothing an awesome cab driver couldn’t fix! First stop on our way was to hit up a Krónan and buy a few groceries for the trip, which turned out to be way cheaper than eating out, and more of an authentic camping experience.
Next stop, get a full tank of gas, and wouldn’t you know it, none of our credit cards worked at the gas stations. We ended up buying prepaid cards from N1 as we were told we could also use them at unmanned gas stations. So our fingers were crossed this worked out for us along the way, and considering we’re not still stuck in Icelandic backcountry, we can tell you it surely worked!
Hiking to Eldborg Crater – we were four of the only six people on the trail! Beautiful!
Finally we were on the road!! We were all so excited to get out of the city and start seeing some beautiful landscapes. Our first stop was Eldborg Crater, which boasted a 1 hour hike to the top of the crater. It was too good to be true! The hiking was on uneven terrain and a steep uphill at the end, but the views were spectacular and we would all do it again in a heartbeat.
After getting back to our van we head off for Þingvellir to camp for the night. We got there just as the sun was setting, parked at the visitor center where we would camp for the night, and took it all in – we are sleeping among mountains and the meeting of continental plates! Þingvellir had heated washrooms and showers, which were well used by us as the temperature dropped to -14 degrees Celsius in the night. After making dinner on our camp burner, we huddled up with some blankets to watch the Northern Lights as they put on a little show. Our first viewing! It was great.
Our first night camping in the van! Liz and Kevin are starting
up the stove and we settled in for a very cold night at Þingvellir.
The Best Day
Woke up and our car wouldn’t start thanks to cold temperatures, and we weren’t the only ones. We got a boost from a very kind couple from Singapore, after they had gotten a boost from someone else. It was a later start to our day than we anticipated, but we were back on the road (and warm again). You’re probably thinking: “This doesn’t sound like the start of the best day”, but everything we saw throughout the day and the experiences we had were so worth the little problems we encountered.
First we drove to the continental plates at Þingvellir and saw our first waterfall (and took lots of pictures, of course). Next, we drove on to see Strokkur, the Geysir which erupts every couple of minutes. We watched it a lot of times! And the landscape of the Geysirs is awesomely cool. Next was Gullfoss, a magnificent waterfall, which reminded us of Niagara falls (because we’re Canadian).
Unfortunately due to slippery trail conditions we couldn’t get as close as you may be able to in the summer, but we were still in awe. Then we head to Flúðir, and on the way saw fluffy horses on the side of the road! We had been seeing them along the way so far, but never so close we could get out of the car and touch them. They were so cute and friendly!
Horses on the side of the road we got to meet, and touch (and smell)!
After this we went to the Secret Lagoon and had our first hot spring swim, and our first nude shower in a public change room! The lagoon was soooooo warm, and at times the large amounts of steam would block out the other people in there, making it seem like a magical experience alone in a natural spring. Finally we drove to Hamragarðar where we had the best campground!
View of the famous Seljalandsfoss waterfall from our campsite. Can you believe it?!?
Literally 150 metres from a cliff face with waterfalls. We hiked inside the waterfall Gljúfrabúi and had the most spectacular experience with the water rushing down right in front of us.
Tip-toed on rocks sticking out of a stream to get this close. Totally, amazingly, worth it!
At this campground we were able to cook inside, which was very nice, and we got to hang out with Cat the cat, and the nice Irish girl working there.
Chelsea playing with our new friend Cat!
As it got later into the evening we had broken into the rum, and a Northern lights display started up. We went outside and polished off our rum while watching the northern lights and hiking to the lit up and empty Seljalandsfoss waterfall. It was the most magical night.
An iPhone camera cannot do it justice.
The Wet Day
We woke up after a good sleep – maybe it was the rum, and maybe it was the warmer temperatures that night. We drove down the road to see Seljalandsfoss during the daylight. There were paths that led behind the waterfall, so we tackled those, getting completely soaked by the spray and being very careful not to slip on the layers of ice, which many other tourists were struggling hard with.
Looking out from behind the waterfall. The power and beauty were awesome.
We changed into dry clothes and continued on to the secret hot spring, eventually driving down a really bumpy road! If we had a 4WD camper, it probably would have been ok, but in a 2WD camper van it was a bit treacherous. After spotting a pothole the size of our van, we decided to park a little ways up the road from where all the other cars had gone (those daredevils!). We hiked to the hot spring which is situated between mountains and rock walls, right beside a beautiful river. It was not as warm as the one in Flúðir but you definitely couldn’t beat the view!
The hot (warm) spring in the mountains!
We dried off (again) and headed for the plane crash on the beach near Vik. The internet made this sound like a well-kept secret and the entrance to find it very difficult, so we drove past a huge parking lot three times before we figured out it had changed since the blogs we read were posted. Honestly, the hike to the crash site was terrible. An hour long down a featureless-black sandy-nothing to see-occasionally a big rock road, slowly getting further from the mountains and closer to the ocean (very slowly). We suggest an enterprising local could make a fortune ferrying people back and forth in a wagon! We got to the plane crash to find it covered in tourists, so we snapped a few pics and looked around inside, then continued on to the ocean.
Chelsea on the plane crash – “I’ve never been in a plane crash before!”
For 3 of us it was our first time being near the ocean, seeing it in all its glory, and touching it. We scoped out the spot where the waves hadn’t gone that far up into the sand, and were touching the surf when a bigger wave than all the rest came and touched us back! We were soaked up to the knees and our boots filled with water and sand. We are now running out of dry clothes. We change our clothes in the van and run the heater as we drive, with one of us sitting in the back seat and rotating the wet clothes in front of the heater to dry (this is surprisingly very efficient). We drove through Vik, stopping for a hot dog, and drive 2 hours to Skaftafell, where we camp for the night at the base of the largest glacier in Iceland, Vatnajökulsþjóðgarður.
Our home! Parked at Skaftafell for the night
The Ice Day
The next morning we drove to Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon to wait for our ice caving adventure! This is the one paid tour we had decided to do on the trip, and it was an amazing experience. We climbed aboard a massive ‘Super Puma’ truck that was going to drive us into the glacier.
What a bumpy ride! Liz was laughing the entire trip as we drove over massive ditches and up huge inclines! We explored the beautiful ice cave, which shined blue in the light, and went back into pitch black where it met with a glacial river. Our guide told us that this glacier is actually receding at a rate of 100 meters a year, as opposed to the typical 1-2m, and pointed out the terminal moraine where the glacier was last year. He also told us, that as this cave is attached to an underground water channel, we were really lucky to be coming when we did. Since their winter had been so rainy, and the week we arrived so sunny and clear, the water had receded at the back of the cave and this was actually the deepest into the cave they had ever been before.
(Top) Inside the ice cave where the ice glows blue. (Bottom) We had a lot of fun sticking our head
in a meltwater channel and pretending we were trapped in ice! Kevin as an archaeological find.
We drove back to the lagoon and took photos with the massive hunks of ice floating down the water. This place is beautiful! And of all the photos we took, photos of the lagoon were the ones that people thought were most stunning.
Chelsea, Liz and Aaron at the Glacier Lagoon. Continuing our streak of beautiful weather!
Next we drove across the road to the Diamond beach, where the tide deposits these huge pieces of ice onto the shore. What a beautiful spot!!! It is like an ice playground, and beyond amazing to think how old some of the ice you are touching could be, and what is locked in some of the visible layers.
Liz and Aaron at Diamond Beach. Ice chunks as far as the eye can see!
In the afternoon we drove back to Skaftafell for the night where we hiked a short trail before dinner. This trail had historical ruins of homes and farm buildings built on the hillside – very cool! Cheers to our last night camping.
Enjoying our last night with the van, cooking outside at Skaftafell.
The Driving Day
It was a bit of a bittersweet day knowing we were driving back to the city, and eventually home. Maybe the weather knew it too, because although it was mostly clear and sunny like previous days, the wind blew something fierce! We drove back through Vik, where we stopped at the church perched on top of a hill, and admired the cemetery above it. This place was very humbling after days of tourist destinations.
View from the top of the hilltop in Vik. Easily our favourite little town.
Just past Vik we stopped at Reynisfjara beach, renowned as one of the most beautiful beaches in the world. And it sure was. The basaltic columnar cliffs are almost mesmerizing, and the beautiful black sand (although blowing into our eyes) made a gorgeous backdrop to the crashing waves. We continued on our way back West along Highway 1 aka the Ring road, stopping at one last sight, the Kerið Crater Lake. This is definitely a must-see in summer, and we were a bit disappointed that the magnificent colours this site boasts were covered in snow and ice. The views, nonetheless were amazing, and we were able to climb to the top without getting blown off by the wind!! You could still see some patches of the bright red lava rock poking through the snow.
Us in our van home! Time to say goodbye.
Finally we made it back to Reykjavik and dropped off our campervan, saying quiet goodbyes to our little home for the last 5 days.
Back to Creature Comforts
Soon enough we were at our new AirBnB, where we snuggled up with blankets and beer, showered with hot water and soaked in all the comforts of being indoors again. The next morning we head off to the airport and back home to Canada. Although it is nice to be back sleeping in our own beds, I think there is a piece of us that wishes we were back in our camper, setting off on more adventures.
For those of you wondering if driving a campervan through Iceland in the winter is the right decision, we can happily tell you that we did it, with record snowfall amounts just fallen, and wouldn’t trade the experience for the world! Nothing beats going to bed at night, or getting out of bed in the morning, looking out the van window and seeing a waterfall, or a glacier, or mountains, or the ocean.
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