Iceland: The Wild West

It’s long been a dream of mine to visit Iceland, from the first time I saw programmes about it on the TV I’ve been intrigued and fascinated by this place. In recent years, Iceland has exploded in popularity thanks in no small part to Instagram as well as Hollywood choosing it as the location for a number of its biggest blockbusters including Oblivion and Prometheus. The opening sequence of the latter is simply stunning and further compounded by fascination with this island.

When it was suggested we visit Iceland as part of our big trip last year, you could say I was a little excited! Cue months of researching and discovery on all the must see sights around Iceland as well as the best methods of being able to do so.

We settled on hiring a camper van from Kuku Campers and would do a clockwise lap of Route 1, the main highway that circumnavigates this rugged place.

Coming into land at Keflavik Airport was a mixture of excitement and intrigue as a thick layer of fog prevented us from seeing much on the ground. We got brief glimpses of the volcanic landscape south of the capital as we came in to land and then we were there.

We met up with the rep from Kuku and hopped into a minivan that would take us and another bunch of excited tourists to their HQ to pick up our noble steeds. They obviously didn’t get the memo that we were from Tasmania, as the heater was clearly set for people who had come from the great deserts of Australia and not the cooler climes of Tassie, it was boiling hot.

Eventually we reached Kuku HQ and bundled out into the far more pleasant icy windy air (I’m one of those weirdos who likes the cold) and waited to get the keys to our home for the next several days. Our home/wheels for the round trip of Iceland was a Dacia Dokker, a sort of mini tradies van with a sliding door on one side and van doors on the back. In the back there was a mattress to sleep on, a little curtain to block out the light from the front and a cool custom shelf with a number of plastic containers filled with the essentials like a gas cooker, pans, cutlery and cleaning products. The rest of the space we promptly filled up after a trip to a Bonus store, a common supermarket chain with shops in almost every town in Iceland. It was pretty easy to figure out what everything was and we loaded up on the essentials without being too adventurous with some of the more difficult to pronounce products 🙂

With our luggage loaded, supplies ready for dinner and our sense of adventure at the ready, we hit the road at last and ventured towards our first port of call, Akranes. We had purchased a Camping Card for the trip, which allowed us to stay at a number of designated campsites around Iceland. The campsite at Akranes was pleasant enough and we got there just as evening was beginning to close in. We cooked up some pasta and went for a stroll along the black sand beach just over the brow of a grassy hill that marked the edge of the camp grounds.

A black sand beach, a far cry from Tasmania’s golden shores.
Further up the beach the rocks had yet to be turned to dust.

The following morning we set off for our first sightseeing trip of the holiday. The previous evening had been a murky dark affair and so we didn’t get to see much in the way of scenery. Today was brighter and we started to see glimpses of the epic Icelandic landscape and by glimpses, I mean literally everywhere you look, your eyes are met with something stunning. Every rounded corner revealed a new “holy s**t would you look at moment”, this place is something else.

We were going to check out Glymur Waterfall and arrived at the carpark with a light mist blowing through. The car park was pretty big and was fairly empty when we arrived. Donning our hiking boots and rain jackets, we went through the gate and started making our way towards Glymurfoss.

The trail was pretty easy going albeit with several optional paths that had been gouged out over the years. We chose to go left and before we knew it, we had ended up on the “wrong” side of the main path. We could see other walkers struggling across a rather slippery looking log with cable handrail before having to struggle up some pretty muddy slopes that ran perilously close to the cliff edge.

We decided to keep going on this opposite side of the river and figured if there were paths, there would be a view. It got a little sketchy in parts as we wandered down random trails through some low lying bush but eventually we emerged next to the cliff edge marking this side of the river and there it was, Glymur. I remember having a feeling similar to the one I had several years ago when we visited Yosemite National Park. I couldn’t believe I was actually here, a place I’d dreamed of visiting for years and now here I was, amongst it. I was rather elated to put it mildly.

A typical view out the window as you drive around Iceland. I’m not even kidding.
Making our way up towards Glymur, it always pays to turn around and look back behind you.
The canyon carved out by Glymur along the Botnsá river. What you can’t see in this photo is the hundreds of gulls gliding through the canyon.
Two hikers exploring distant vistas.
Glymur in all it’s glory. Sometimes taking a “wrong” turn works out pretty well! Glymur used to be considered the highest waterfall in Iceland before being usurped in 2011.
Glymur was our first taste of the massive volume of water that flows down from Iceland’s highland glaciers.
You probably can’t make it out but there’s a hikers pole lodged under this part of the falls. This was our first taste of people being dicks.

The next stop on our Iceland round trip was to be an exciting one. I had been mesmerised by the volcanic activity in Hawaii earlier in the year and now we were about to walk around the crater of an extinct volcano in Iceland…..awesome! Grabrok Crater is the result of a fissure eruption around 3,400 years ago and is part of a system that created the expansive lava fields in this area. That’s another exciting thing about Iceland, every bit of ground you stand on is from volcanic activity, ALL of it and Iceland is over 100,000km2. That is a LOT of lava!

Layer after layer of volcanic rock, laid down one after another over millions of years.
Gemma making her way up to the crater rim of Grabrok.
That dark patch in the middle, yup that’s where boiling hot liquid rock spewed out of thousands of years ago, pretty cool huh? Well it’s cool now thankfully.
It’s hard to imagine what this must have looked like when it was erupting but again those fissure eruptions in Hawaii in 2018 give you a pretty good idea.
Grabrokarfell, one of the three craters at this site.
Some cool volcanic rock that looks like a blob of lava that solidified.
The remains of a former settlement next to Grabrok Craters.

The next leg of our journey around Iceland took us to the Snaefellsnes Peninsula. It has been described as an Iceland miniature as on it you can find examples of pretty much everything that is within the epic Icelandic landscape. Unfortunately our arrival on the peninsula coincided with the arrival of a nasty storm front coming in off the Atlantic.

We had a few places marked off on the map such as Eldborg Crater and
Gerðuberg Cliffs but with the weather being atrocious we decided to just keep on driving and try and make it to the next campground and see what we could see along the way. The only issue with this is there’s not many places to stop and pull in at the side of the road in Iceland, at least not safely.

We decided to make a couple of stops along the way rather than just driving through, after all we’d come all this way and it was only a bit of rain at the end of the day. It’s Iceland, not the Caribbean, so you should expect a little bit of inclement weather no matter what time of year you come here.

After checking out a few spots on our way around the far edge of Snaefellsnes Peninsula we reached our campground at Olavsik, thinking everyone would go to the Hellisandur one a little further back up the road. Turns out it probably didn’t matter as even in late Summer, the campgrounds are very populated, I’d hate to think what they’d be like in the height of Summer. Cue an evening of waiting for a spot to make dinner before rushing through that and squeezing out of the communal kitchen as fast as we could to let the next people in, so relaxing haha.

Iceland’s campgrounds are perfectly sized for the locals and a few years ago before Iceland exploded in popularity they would have been perfectly adequate. They’re now bursting at the seams and I think the powers that be have been taken by surprise and haven’t had enough time to catch up with the number of visitors coming to their stunning island.

The following morning, the storm front was still raging over Western Iceland but was scheduled to clear as we pushed onwards and around the top. One sight that was high on my list of must-see places was Kirkjufell an iconic peak that you’ve no doubt seen thousands of photos of on Instagram. It was absolutely bucketing down when we arrived and we didn’t have time to wait around for the weather to clear. Gemma was fairly certain she didn’t fancy getting out of the car but I REALLY wanted to get a photo, I don’t know why, it was going to be a shit photo no matter what. Was it worth getting absolutely soaked for? Hmmmm probably not haha.

All the colours of the rainbow. Alas grey was to be the colour of choice the next couple of days.
Waterfalls defying the laws of gravity by flowing UP.
Weeeeeeeeee! Driving through lava fields is fun.
Rauðfeldsgjá Gorge. Gulls just love flocking to these sorts of places and they’re spoilt for choice in Iceland.
The rocky shoreline of the Southern Coast of Snaefellsnes.
Djúpalónssandur or Black Pearl beach. Named after the boat from Pirates of the Caribbean of course.
Lava, lava…..everywhere!
Behold! My masterpiece, my Magnum Opus, the greatest photograph I have ever taken 🙂

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