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Moonlike, With a Touch of Steamed Egg

overcast 4 °C

DW - Iceland is the most diverse and naturally beautiful place we've ever been, and likely we ever will see. Words cannot describe how amazing this place is, but I'm gonna give it a crack anyway...

We booked our flights many months ago, as I was especially keen to visit one (1) of the most isolated countries in the world. We didn't know much about Iceland, but thought it sounded cool, so that was enough for us. Since our flights were booked, here's a couple of things we'd been told by people who'd been before:
1. It's like visiting the moon
2. The whole island smells of egg, a smell you can't get used to
3. Iceland is super expensive
The only other things we knew about it were:
1. Björk is from Iceland
2. It made worldwide headlines a couple of years ago when the ash from an erupting volcano brought London airports to a grinding halt for weeks

So anyway, here's how our Easter long-weekend in Iceland went...

Day 1: Steamers & The Golden Circle -
Iceland's most famous driving route, we thought it best to get it done early in the trip, especially as it was Good Friday and there wasn't much cracking in Reykjavic (the capital city, where we were staying. Actually, on that, Loz did an outstanding job finding our accommodation... It cost us just €90 for 4 nights, amazing price given that Iceland was meant to be exxy. That's the cheapest accommodation we've ever had, and it was great, despite egg water, but more on that later. Essentially we were staying in the back room of someone's house, kind of like a B&B without the breakfast, more of a B I guess.). So we set out on the Golden Circle in our little shitbox (not impressed with the hire-car this time round, a Hyundai I20 or I30: rubbish on fuel, and no guts).
Being the most famous route of Iceland we didn't really know what to expect, maybe overrated? I have to say that it did not disappoint in any way, and when you're shit travelers like us (and don't do any research on where you're going before you go), most surprises are good surprises because you have no high expectations to be crushed!
As soon as we were out of Reykjavik the fog disappeared and we were on a long stretch of road surrounded by lava fields. Now, I'll explain now that there are no current erupting volcanoes in Iceland so 'lava fields' isn't what you might expect... The lava fields are kilometers of black rock with this freaky spongey green moss over the top, very very cool and soft. In the distance you can see ice-capped mountains, very very scenic. We kept passing these random patches of white, and started to speculate what they might be as we couldn't put our finger on it... I thought (and secretly hoped) it might be froth from a volcano, and Loz eventually correctly identified it as snow/ice. I know the country is called Iceland, but it's not covered in ice (I think that might be Greenland), although there is a lot of snow around, given we're coming into Summer.
Anyway, on our way to Geysir we came to the top of a hill overlooking a small town with random holes throughout, with steam coming out into the air (they're technically called 'hot springs' but we've termed them 'steamers' as it sounds way cooler), wow! We stopped, took some snaps then hopped back in the car and approached the steamer village to get a closer look. At the bottom we found a pretty lake which we followed upstream until we came face to face with a steamer (steamer, there I said it again). The smell of egg at this stage became very strong, and I started to dry-heave, I can see why someone told me this place smelt of egg, this was pungent, worse than our first shower in Mexico!


Back in the car we continued on the Golden Circle until we reached Geysir, the most famous Iceland steamer, known to 'erupt' every 8-12 minutes. It exploded when we first arrived, up to 50-odd metres into the air, freaking amazing! Up for a closer look, faces covered for the egg smell, we passed several mini-steamers with bubbling water and mud, impressive. Once right beside Geysir it erupted again, then again immediately, oh yeah, bring on the doble! I raced up the hill through the stickiest of mud to get a high-shot whilst Loz, now a Geysir expert, watched several new tourists scared out of their wits when it exploded. What a great start to the day, what else could it bring?


Next stop was Gulfoss, Iceland's most famous waterfall, not far up the road from Geysir. From the road you can see a slight splash back in the distance, and it doesn't look all that impressive, what's the fuss all about, this can't be that good as there's no mountains for a waterfall here...?
Once you approach the actual falls it becomes obvious what all the fuss is about, as you hear and feel the roar of this monster! As it comes into view, your jaw drops a little, even more-so the closer you get, as you realise just how big, powerful, and enormous this beast is. Having seen very little waterfalls in our time (I think the biggest I've seen is Dangar or Wollomombi Falls near Armidale, and that one on the way to Coffs, in the mountains), we were suitably blown away by Gulfoss. What amazed me more than anything was how close we were able to get to the falls; you could all but reach out and touch it, only to be taken by the force, never to be seen again. A small ankle-high rope, all between you and your demise, impressive stuff for a sad case like myself, easily pleased really.


On a high, we continued on the circle until we followed some tour buses down to a lake, seems we were in some sort of National Park. This was the place of the world's first parliament, established sometime between 1-1,000AD (quite the historian I know). Behind where the parliament once stood was another impressive (although now that we'd seen the big mumma it seemed like a baby) waterfall, and another just down the road. We spent quite a bit of time wandering around between the falls, a great way to spend the afternoon.


Back in Reykjavik we hit a nice little part of town and found an Icelandic bar. Side note, is it Icelandic, Icelic, Ice, or something else? That's one (1) thing we never worked out, hmmmm. So, we cheersed (it's a word, whatever) some delicious local lager and recapped on the amazing day we'd had. Iceland was quickly one (1) of our favourite destinations and we'd been here less than 24 hours. Just up the road we had a lovely dinner(I was hoping to try whale but didn't see it on the menu) and started to get a feel for the prices here. Now obviously the Aussie Dollar is still very strong against most currencies, but we were pleasantly surprised by the prices across most things in Iceland. Most things were similarly priced to home, some more, some less. Overall we reckon it was cheaper than Copenhagen and maybe slightly more than Oz, but not by much on the current exchange.
After dinner were hit an ice-creamery across the road where we shared a traditional Icelandic dessert of local soft-serve ice-cream with three (3) mixers (not dissimilar to Cold Rock but with soft-serve), delicious and a lovely man who served us too, the people in general were lovely for our entire stay.

One (1) thing I've forgotten to mention is the Icelandic horses. I'd call them a mix between Shetland Ponies, and Clydesdales, weird but beautiful. Loz fell in love with them straight away, immediately naming one (1) who posed for photos 'beautiful'. The horses seemed to be everywhere throughout the island, often farmed and used for horse riding tours, and I think they may eat them too, although we didn't get the chance to taste any.


Back in our room we did some research on the Northern Lights, hoping that we might be able to see them dance while we were here. Iceland is one (1) of the limited places in the world where you can see the Aurora in action, but the weather must be clear, which it wasn't that night, it was cloudy. Oh well, we thought, maybe tomorrow...

Day 2: The Volcanic Drive & Glacier Hike -
The night before we booked a glacier hike on Mÿrdalsjökull, Iceland's second biggest glacier, situated on the South coast. We'd picked up a plethora of brochures from the Tourist Information and found that there was some nice driving near the coastline on the way down to Mÿrdalsjökull, so we went for it.
Back through our first-found steamer-town we located a bakery with the most amazing food for breakfast, the softest of soft donuts, like you wouldn't believe. Driving is the only way to see Iceland I'd say; there are numerous tours available out of Reykjavik but doing it on your own time is well worth it (and a hell of a lot cheaper than tours). The 'highways', I'd say are a loose term, as they're just 2-way roads, and they're amazingly picturesque. On this particular drive we passed through lava fields with mountain-high volcanoes on our left, and black (ash) beaches to our right, very moon-like we thought...
In the distance I spotted what looked like a waterfall in the clouds, shooting off a mountain (as they tend to do). When we got closer we realised that it was just that, and was bloody gigantic, Seljalandsfoss. We pulled in and walked all the way to the bottom of it, you could literally walk right under it if you wanted to be squashed by a waterfall. We quickly became soaked from the splash back, oh well. Already soaked, I followed a path which took me right behind the fall; you were able to walk right around behind it, with it falling over in front of you. I became brave and got as close as I could, until I was getting splash back so hard it was beginning to hurt my face! Another impressive waterfall, and so different to the ones we'd seen the day prior.


Continuing on the volcanic path, we reached Skógafoss, another powerful waterfall, this one wide and high, 50+ metres to be almost exact. We walked all the way to the top and also got some great 'jumping' snaps at the bottom on the black sands.


With time moving along we continued until our turnoff for the glacier walk. Unfortunately we had to sit for about 1.5 hours as the before tour was running late, but eventually we got given our hiking books, crampons (those spikey things you attach to your shoes to give you grip on the ice) and were on our way to the glacier. Along the way, the guide ran through a checklist for everyone: Crampons, check; hiking poles/axes, check; gloves, shit. We're such shit travelers! We powered on, gloveless, wearing not much but jeans (Loz was in trackies) whilst those around us were geared up to the wazoo with big weatherproof jackets, gloves, beanies, the works, wow we are shit!
Anyway, the glacier hike was really good, something I'd certainly recommend doing whilst in Iceland. Glaciers are essentially mountains made completely from ice, and last for hundreds, thousands of years. The glaciers in Iceland are a little unique in that they're not the crystal white you might expect a glacier to look like. Instead, they're a mix of black and white; the white is snow and ice, and the black is ash from a nearby volcano that erupted in 1918, nearly 100 years ago, wow! Bloody amazing how this whole country is basically just one (1) giant volcano, covered in ash, ready to explode imminently. We hiked for about 1.5 hours, seeing some beautiful water streams and a magnificent lake in the middle of the glacier. We were on the beginner tour so didn't do any climbing (like on Ciffhanger etc) or tunneling, but it was a bloody good experience, and one truly unique to Iceland.


On the way home we tried traditional Icelandic hotdogs (mystery meat with dried onions, fresh onions, and sauce), fanbloodytastic. Again it was cloudy so unfortunately no Northern Lights; what is cool is that the days are really long towards summer though, sun up at 6:30am and down at 9:30pm, brilliant. In the middle of summer you can even go midnight skiing in parts as the sun's still up, cool I know.

Day 3: The Saga Circle & Wangfest 2012 -
Having covered East and South-East of Reykjavik, on Sunday we headed North-East on what is known as The Saga Circle (I've no idea why it's called that). Another beautiful egg-shower and we were on our way in the little shitbox, with a couple of Tourist-Info recommended spots in mind.
Just North of Reykjavic we came across a large inlet of water from the ocean (Hvalfjörõur), with the option of taking the tunnel underneath to the other side (ala Sydney Harbour Tunnel) or the traditional 'old-school' way around; naturally we went for the latter. It was a beautiful drive between snow-capped ash mountains and a seemingly untouched body of water. There was next to no traffic, about 20 minutes between cars I reckon, beautiful, just how we like it. Once we reached the throat of the inlet (the start of it is called the 'mouth' so why can't we call the end bit the 'throat'? Maybe we should call it the 'arse' instead), we went slightly off-track in search of Iceland's highest waterfall... We weren't sure if that meant its' highest altitude waterfall, or biggest drop; either way we were interested. The road had turned to gravel and our little car with tires no thicker than a layer of burnt skin (more on that later) was only half as nervous as I was; I really hate changing flat tyres, it's a really shit job. Anyway, to the car's credit the tyres made it through, and we reached the end of the road, no driving any further, the rest must be hiked, damn it! Admittedly we did know there would be a hike involved to get to the waterfall, but it was only 3'C outside, with a bitter icy-wind, and it was now raining, thick, heavy rain. Here we were, shit travellers, in the same gear we'd worn glacier hiking less than 24 hours prior, clearly not prepared for such a hike (it was only 5.5kms round-trip but it was cold and miserable). So we opted away from the hike and backtracked to the throat of the inlet. We've since looked at photos of the falls we missed on Google and we hold no regrets in the decision we made.

Fully around the inlet and back on random dirt roads, feeling slightly lost, we eventually found our way to what we'd been looking forward to most on our NE adventure; Hraunfossar & Barnafoss. These are two (2) waterfalls no more than 200m apart, both amazing in their own way. Hraunfossar was completely random with water just appearing and falling from rocks on the side of the below river, not falling as you'd expect a textbook waterfall to go. Barnafoss proper impressed me; it was absolutely ferocious and bitter at the world! So much water, powerfully and angrily dropping down a series of smallish rocks, forming huge white-filled 'spas' at any chance. We managed to get right up and personal with it, and could've almost touched if had we pushed the boundaries, but it was too angry this fall, not worth the risk we thought. Between the two (2) falls was a crossing bridge where Loz, in the distance gave me a good few minutes of dancing with no music, I'll work on the video and get it published sometime soon, well worth a look!


Next stop was Borgarnes, a smallish town on the edge of the water, barely connected to the South. We sat on a cliff-edge (in the car) and ate our lunch, a nice setting for delicious sangas. At this point we tossed up between continuing North for another two (2) or so hours (leaving us 4 hours from Reykjavik) and going back to Reykjavik for a swim as the Icelandic people do in their geothermal pools (pools heated by the steamers); hmmmm not really a decision...
So we turned around and found the locals' faourite pool on top of a hill in Reykjavik; it cost bugger-all to get in, we were excited! Once we bought our tickets we were separated into men's and women's changerooms which were life-changing experiences. Being a traditional Icelandic pool, everyone in the changerooms was starkers, something we're clearly not used to. It was mandatory to shower before entering the pools and privacy just isn't a consideration for the people here. Here I am, in a communal shower, surrounded by wang, not feeling comfortable in any way. Loz's experience was much the same, she was almost in shock when I met with her in the pool! The pools themselves were tremendous; the coolest was about 30'C (we think) and hottest was 43'C (that's farking hot!). We, like school-children, changed pools about every 5-10 minutes, whilst the locals stood their ground for what appeared to be hours. It was pretty chockas, but apparently visiting these pool is Icelandic peoples' favourite past-time. A great afternoon, despite the wang-fest before and after the swim!

Day 4: Burnt Feet & The Blue Lagoon
My key learning from Iceland, other than the fact that it's an amazing place, is don't step in lava... It tends to be incredibly hot and it will burn the shiser out of your feet!
Our last day, leaving day :(, but with so much still to look forward to we weren't sad in any way. We packed our bags, checked ourselves out of the person's house we were staying (didn't see a single person while we were staying there, weird) and drove South towards the Reykjanes Peninsula for our final circular drive of the trip. The GPS seemed to take us off-track which turned out for the best (we think) as we drove through the most vast and beautiful landscape, over and around volcanoes (obviously not active), and beside craters full of crystal blue water, this is Iceland. Unfortunately our camera had lost battery about two (2) days prior so our photos taken on our shitty iPhones and video camera do no justice at all.
We eventually came to a steamer area, the eggiest of all steamers! There was so much steam everywhere, and bubbling water and mud all around, very cool. We wandered through, shirts covering our mouths to prevent us from vomiting from the smell (so so bad, and so difficult to explain) and went in search of the 'grand' steamer atop a hill nearby. It was a steep walk up what was basically just ash, and quite impressive at the top, so much steam coming out of this sucker, the grand pubar. Me being me, I stepped up for a closer look, trying to get a good possy for a great photo of me and sir steamer... Unfortunately I took one (1) step too far, in boiling hot mud (basically lava) and my leg started to sink, oh my god! Thankfully my instinct made me turn around and head back to where I'd come from (not further into the mud), but in the process my second leg started to sink into the lava, ouch. I made it out (obviously) and started hopping around like a fool, clearly in shock. Loz was scared and thankfully made me take my shoes and socks off straight away to let my burning feet cool down. I started to see the skin on my feet peeling and thought to myself, 'this can't be good, this can't be good at all'.


After minutes of worrying and just trying to let my feet chill, I threw my grotty socks back on inside-out and my now grey (previously white) coloured shoes. We scurried to the bottom of the hill to assess the damage. By this time huge blisters had formed on the tops of both feet and things weren't looking great, I was a little worried inside but tried to stay calm as Loz can tend to panic if things go pear-shaped. Although worried I knew I'd be okay, and we continued (bare-foot) towards the Blue Lagoon; not going to let a little burn ruin my Iceland experience.

It's such a shame our camera was out of battery for the Blue Lagoon because the photos we have just don't capture the colour of the water properly; they almost make it look dirty. It is truly one (1) of the greatest places on earth, an absolute must-do in Iceland! It's a huge natural pool (essentially it's a crater), heated by steamers (about 37'C I think), and the water is the palest of blues you'll ever see. It's milky and not transparent in any way but it feels like it's doing wonders to your skin. Every second person is walking around with their face covered in this white sludge stuff (no idea what it is, but it's meant to be good for your skin), which we also got on-board with. There's a pool bar (yep), where we sank some Viking Lager (delicious), and we stayed in the water for hours, my feet stinging, but I felt it was doing them good. The Icelandic people believe that the Blue Lagoon has special healing powers, so I thought it might be good for my newfound burn injuries.


Now fully relaxed and not at all ready to leave, we were back in the car and on our way to the airport for a leisurely check-in. Loz, the darling and caring wife she is grabbed some makeshift curing supplies at the first open supermarket we could find (it was Easter Monday so bugger-all places were open); a pair of grandpa slippers (I was still barefoot at this stage and my grey-clad shoes were my only pair), some lubricating cream, and paper-towel (makeshift bandage). Whilst she was getting the supplies I checked our calendar to find that I'd got the time wrong on our flight, we were due on the plane in about half-an-hour, and we still weren't at the airport, shite!
Cruising at record pace, we raced to the airport, and ran in to check-in, still barefoot! We managed to make check-in, then returned the hire-car, and sped back to the terminal to scoot through security, immigration, and board the plane with no time to spare. At least we spent as much time in Iceland as we could!

Although we never did get to see the Northern Lights (it was cloudy every night we were there), Iceland has to be one (1) of the greatest holidays we've ever had. There is certainly no place we've been that is anything like it, and yes, it is like visiting the moon! I would love to go back and spend a fortnight, driving around the whole island, and we'd highly recommend anyone in the US or UK/Europe add it to their agenda, you'll never forget it. And if you feel you'd like to take a part of Iceland back home with you, just step in some lava, that stuff will stick with you for a while; I think I'm gonna go to the doctor now :)


Posted by Team W 09:47 Archived in Iceland Tagged landscapes waterfalls lakes snow travel volcano ice glacier iceland northern_lights reykjavik geysir blue_lagoon gulfoss golden_circle black_sand

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