I don’t get overly excited about many things. Off the top of my head; Nutella and strawberry waffles, a good night’s sleep and lists are the main things that come to mind. And Iceland. Initially when writing this post I wrote a day-by-day account of what we did. But it was long and boring, and it definitely didn’t do the experience any justice. So below are the highlights, in no particular order because it was all the best.
1. Driving the Ring Road
There is pretty much one main road in Iceland that you can take. We drove past glaciers, around mountains and waterfalls, through snowstorms and into the Northern Lights. Our little campervan also served as our accommodation and kitchen. It allowed us to follow our itinerary along the ring road at our own pace and to stop wherever we wanted.
This is the route we took. We covered approximately 1338km over 7 days.
2. Jökulsárlón lagoon and Black Diamond Beach
Turns out this is an incredibly famous lagoon that is full of glaciers. We had zero idea of this. On top of that, the magic of visiting a country in non-peak tourist season meant that we shared it with a grand total of two other people.
5 minutes away from the lagoon is Black Diamond Beach, where glaciers just sit on the sand. We played on glaciers, and our butts got wet and cold, but it was worth every minute.
3. Excellent camping spots and our first glimpse of the Northern Lights
On our second night, a local advised that for us to see the lights, we needed to drive out of town away from any ambient light and just be patient as the lights generally appear between 11pm-2am. So that’s what we did. We drove out about an hour from Hofn, parked on the side of the road and looked up. Giant, white streaks were flickering everywhere above us. These white streaks are one version of the Northern Lights, and while they aren’t the emerald green colour everyone thinks of when they think of the Aurora Borealis, it was still pretty amazing. It was freezing cold, absolutely silent around us, and these enormous, ghostly arches were just forming shapes above us. I finally fell asleep at 2.15am because I couldn’t stop looking up.
Ed woke me up the next day with a, ‘Zahara look where we parked the car’.
At first we thought we were so lucky that we had stumbled across an incredible overnight spot, but as the trip continued, we realised that this was just Iceland. It is phenomenal no matter where you look, without a word of a lie. Just behind the campervan was a small waterfall and creek.
This is another one of our camping spots:
4. The Northern Lights
Ed checked the aurora forecast on our 3rd night, and it was at a 1 or 2, so a very low chance of seeing it that night. Right before bed, I decided to just look outside one more time to make sure there was no streakage situation happening nearby. I saw the tiniest, faintest green flash very far off in the distance. We both said, ‘let’s go’, and off we went towards the flash. At this point it was around 10pm, and we drove for maybe an hour or so before we saw a faint green form just in front of us. So we pulled over and hopped out. Slowly, the faint green streak became brighter, and larger, and started branching out. Within moments we were watching the Northern Lights. Massive green arches, just like the ones from the night before, were flickering, twisting and dancing directly over our car. The lights moved from dark, to pale to fluorescent in colour. Every so often they would spark into shades of purple. We just watched the sky in silence. Ed fell asleep before me because he is a normal human, but there was no chance I was sleeping while this was happening. So I stayed up for around 3 or 4 hours until the show was definitely over, before realising that it was nearly 3am, and I had rung in my 29th birthday under the Northern Lights.
I had read that some people have tried several times to see the lights without luck, while others only see a flash of it here and there. We saw it for 5 out of the 7 nights that we were there and I am still pinching myself at how lucky we are.
5. Snorkelling at Silfra
We did this on a recommendation of a friend, to whom I will be forever grateful. In the Thingvellir National Park, lies a fissure that is located where the North American and European continental shelves meet. It is the only point where you can snorkel or dive between shifting tectonic plates. On top of all of that is the fact that the National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. All just very casual.
We wore heat suits under which we were completely clothed. This was excellent considering the water was 3 degrees. Our hands and face became slightly wet, but otherwise we were bone dry once we finished. The shades of blue and the visibility were incredible. The photos are blurry because they’re from the GoPro, but you get the jist. Pretty colours. Tectonic plates. Nature is good.
Also we looked very desirable.
6. The scenery
At any given time, we would be face to face with this:
This gross sunset…
And my favourite. All you can see are parts of the mountains and some signposts. We drove through a snow storm for close to an hour, and that was what was around us.
Iceland is the worst.
7. Climbing a Crater
We did this on my birthday. If I had realised how high this crater was, I definitely wouldn’t have done it because I have a significant fear of heights. It was exhausting on the way up, and not to mention that I couldn’t look around because I was certain I was going to roll down, just like the small rocks I was dislodging with my feet. But we took our time and got there eventually.
Coming down was another issue altogether, because hey, what’s more fun than walking down a steep crater that is covered in snow. The answer is everything. Everything is more fun.
This was up there with one of the best holidays we have ever been on. It was unlike any other experience, and was honestly nothing short of magical. I have only good things to say about Iceland, and can’t recommend this country highly enough for your next destination.