When we first decided to visit Iceland, our plan was to hire a car and drive ourselves. Read that as my daughter Stacey would drive and I would navigate. Yet after reading blogs written by travellers who had taken this option, we decided a tour might be safer. It was more expensive but better to be poor than dead.
From Reykjavik, our driver Jens (pronounced ‘Yens’) took us across the top of the mountain where the wind and fog were quite scary. Especially the wind! I had visions of us being blown off the mountainside never to be heard from again. Stacey had read about trailers being caught in a gale and dragging the minibus off the road with them. But luckily, I was so tired I mostly dozed, so there were no kittens left on the side of the road. (Family joke… meow, meow, meow).
At 9:30am the sun peeked over the horizon. That’s a slight exaggeration, but it gradually became less dark. After driving for hours, we stopped at a garage to stock up on lunch items. Fortunately, I had sandwiches already prepared so I bought a coffee and a vitamin drink. The coffee was the worst I’ve ever had but I drank it all the same. We travelled to Black Beach: Reynisfjara Beach.
Walking down the track to the beach and reading several “Danger! Warning!” signs about the sneaker waves, I determined I was going nowhere near the water’s edge! Black gravelly sand crunched underfoot. Sneaker waves be damned. This was huge ferocious surf and you’d be a fool to go anywhere near it, but of course, people did. You’d have zero chance of survival in that cold tumultuous seething maelstrom.
The hexagonal basalt columns resembled those at The Giant’s Causeway in Ireland but alas, there was no Finn McCool legend to go with them. After another couple of hours, we reached the spot for the Glacier Walk.
People were being put into harnesses and helmets and given crampons and an ice pick. It was at this stage that I decided that the glacier walk wasn’t for me so I sat in the minibus for the next 3.5 hours. Better than dying in a crevasse somewhere. Stacey finally emerged from the pitch darkness, saturated to the skin and totally exhausted. “Awesome!” she said.
Another two hours to our destination for the night — the Hotel Edda at Höfn. Being too exhausted to go out to a restaurant for dinner, we feasted on boiled eggs (leftover from breakfast), popcorn, nuts and salted caramel Baileys. It wasn’t long before we were both asleep.
We both woke early and decided to go aurora hunting. Our hotel was on the edge of the harbour so we headed out into the blackness along the sea wall. I was glad I was with Stacey, as I wouldn’t have done this walk on my own.
There were weird iridescent grasses in a marshy area, which were really eerie. We walked out to the end of the sea wall. The sky was clear — filled with stars — but no Northern Lights. We headed back along the road and reached our hotel just in time for 7am breakfast.
I was actually more thirsty than hungry, so drank a few glasses of orange juice before settling on blueberry jam on toast. Except the blueberry jam was cream cheese. I put the second sachet of cream cheese back and chose one with strawberries on it. Strawberry jam will have to do. Except it was capsicum cream cheese! I am going to have to wear my glasses to breakfast in future.
Filling our reusable with coffee, we headed to the van. I wasn’t giving up my shotgun seat for anyone, and Stacey wanted anywhere except the back seat.
Off we headed to the Ice Caves. Jens suggested it would be too difficult for me, so I stayed with him in the van and visited the Ice Lagoon instead. It was cold but oh so beautiful! Unique. The photos don’t do it justice.
It started to rain so I scurried back to the warmth of the van and we returned to pick up the ice cavers, then back to the Ice Lagoon for them. By now it was pelting so I stayed in the van. I was so pleased I had visited it on my own before it rained.
A short trip away was the Diamond Beach where pieces of ice from the glacial icebergs had washed up on the beach. I wanted to see it and jumped out even though the rain was almost horizontal. It cut into my face like glass shards and I could only stand it for about 30 seconds before I high-tailed it back to the van.
Later I learnt it was hail. No wonder it hurt!
Unlike the previous day where we ate on the road, we had a stop for lunch. I had prepared Ryvita with meat and cheese as well as some homemade biscuits, so I bought a hot chocolate. On the way to Vik, our overnight stay, we stopped in the middle of a moss-covered lava field that was created by the eruption of the 25-kilometre volcanic fissure over an eight-month period from June 1783 to February 1784. Lava and poisonous gases devastated the island’s agriculture, killing much of the livestock. It is estimated that a quarter of Iceland’s population died during the ensuing famine.
The effects of this eruption were widespread throughout Europe and almost killed off Iceland as a nation. The eruption caused catastrophic consequences for weather, agriculture and transport across the northern hemisphere and may have helped trigger the French revolution.
We arrived in Vik in daylight and drove to the top of the hill to see the spectacular view. We were going to get to our accommodation in daylight! But no, we had a 45-minute stop at a huge shopping centre where we bought dinner: curried herrings, blue cheese, béarnaise potato salad (I think), cherry tomatoes, roast beef slices and a baguette. We had enough left over to make sandwiches for the following day.
Our biggest surprise and joy awaited us at the Hotel Katla: a thermal pool! We jumped in as soon as we had dumped our gear in our timber-lined room. Dinner could wait.
The pool was heaven. When I was suitably wrinkled, I had a lovely hot shower, put on my nightie, jacket and thongs and headed back to our room.
We realised we didn’t have a knife, so Stacey sent me to the bar to ask for one. This was the friendliest crowd I had encountered. Everyone said “hello”. I didn’t
connect the dots. I had forgotten I was dressed in my nightie!