Earlier this year we fell head over heals in love with Iceland on a four day photography break. (Just me and my favourite man whilst the kids were safely tucked away at home with grandma). Over our three night’s stay we drove over 600km a day and covered a considerable stretch of the south coast. For us, it was the perfect get away. We would drive, see something and stop. Walk, climb, take pictures. Drive, stop, eat, take pictures. Talk. With no interruptions. Wonderful!
I felt instantly at home in this tiny, north Atlantic country, first populated by Norwegian Vikings. I loved every second spend in this raw and unspoilt wide open landscape with its mountains, volcanoes, glaciers and black sandy beaches. Iceland is a young country with only 300 000 inhabitants. It’s clean and safe and has a population with the longest life expectancy in the world. The Icelandic police don’t carry guns; crime is low and violent crime is almost nonexistent. For our entire stay and and epic drive in this forestless landscape – there were almost no people around and very few cars too.
Hot springs are dotted arodund everywhere and the majority of Iceland’s energy is from renewable sources, and over half of that is geothermal electricity. Electricity generated from thermal activity keeps people warm and snug for free. Imagine to have free heating, how wonderful wouldn’t that be!
There are 130 volcanoes in Iceland and on average, one volcano erupts every five years. Perhaps the most famous ones are Hekla, Katla and Eyjafjällajökull. Eyjafjallajökull is situated in south Iceland, right next to one of Iceland’s most dangerous volcanoes, Katla. Historically Katla erupts right after Eyjafjallajökull and causes much more damage. Katla can cause devastating glacial river floods when it erupts and volcanologists are expecting another eruption from Katla soon.
We landed in Reykjavik (Smoky bay) with Iceland Air on an afternoon flight, picked up our hire car and drove north for 2 1/2 hours to Husafell. A newly built hotel between lava fields, surrounded by glaciers. Here, we had the most spectacular meal we have ever eaten. Cured salmon with dill oil, saffron and lemongrass mayonnaise, home made crisp breads. A seafood soup with the freshes seafood we have ever had. Raw clams and prawns served in a handmade ceramic bowl with a dollop of fresh Icelandic soft cheese. A mussel broth was poured over and this cooked the seafood enough. Our main was fillet of beef with langoustine tails. Sweet pickled dilly parsnip, parsnip crisps, parsnip and vanilla pure. Pickled red onions, marsala and red wine sauce, mushrooms and crispy kale. The meal had the perfect mix of textures, the salty and the sweet was fantastic.
We set off early the following day, eager to get out into nature and use our cameras. We drove through the Hallmundarhraun lava field up towards the Langjökull glacier as far as our little rented Renault would allow but had to turn back as the road we planned to take down was closed. Everywhere we turned that day, there was a rainbow.
At the Hraunfossar waterfalls the water cascade gloriously from underneath the edge of a lava field and spilled into the glacial river Hvítá. We had not seen another person all day until now, it was not overly crowded but still enough people to take some of the experience away. The best spots were definitely the ones that we didn’t have to share with anyone else.
Making our way south we stopped by a deserted house to say hello to the sheep and to take some photographs. We drove through beautiful landscapes, past volcanoes and through rain and mist until we reached Þingvellir (Thingvellir) and started dipping in to the Golden Circle.
Þingvellir National Park was founded in 1930 and was later expanded to protect natural phenomena in the surrounding area, and became a World Heritage Site in 2004. Þingvellir is a site of historical, cultural, and geological importance and is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Iceland. It lies in a rift valley that marks the continental drift between the North American and Eurasian Plates.
Because we were close, we stopped at Geyser with all the other buss loads and although it was fun to see the water shooting into the sky, the best part of that visit was the fabulous Icelandic jumpers we picked up from the gift shop. Next stop on the Golden Circle was Gulfoss; Iceland’s most visited waterfall. Even though it was full of people it was worth a visit. The rainbows were spectacular!
We found our hotel and had a plain lamb dinner at a chain hotel not worth mentioning. The Icelandic beer however, was amazing and lethal. We drank Borg and Viking and Einstök. Some of which you can find imported in the UK here and here. Learn more about the Einstök brewery here.
The following day we skipped any waterfall or site that had buses parked in front and found our own. Iceland is full of waterfalls! We walked over fields and climbed up hill sides and said hello to sheep. We drank glacial melt water from little rivers and tried not to get blown over in the wind.
We continued driving east and reached Glacier Lagoon in the evening and spend a few spectacular hours there watching the seals swim in the lagoon and the ice bergs melting slowly and floating out to sea. By the time they reached the sea they would be fragile and sea through, small ice peaches breaking off and floating ashore onto the black lava sand like little icy jewels. On the way back we stopped at Svinafjellajökull, by then it was 10 o’clock at night and still bright as daylight. We had bought some booze at the airport that had been sitting in the car since we arrived and we had missed our hotel dinner closing time anyway. We poured gin & tonics on top of the glacier; it seemed like the right thing to do under the midnight sun. A little bit of Sweden meets England in Iceland.