Text and photos by Stefan Schnettler, Darmstadt, Germany. He is the Global Marketing Director for the leading data recovery company Kroll Ontrack. He went driving around Iceland with his family and was kind enough to share their experience.
Spending our summer holiday by driving around Iceland
This summer my wife Sabine, my daughter Lara and I made a dream come true and spent our summer holiday in Iceland.
Discovering the amazing Golden Circle
Mostly uninhabited, Iceland is a wonderful country, where you can hike colorful hills, experience the most powerful waterfalls, bathe in natural hot springs and in the famous lagoons and be blown away by the beauty of natural landscapes or strong winds! Immediately we experienced some of the most famous and exciting landmarks, the geyser Strokkur which erupts up to 30 meter high into the air, the beautiful waterfall Gullfoss which shines golden in the late afternoon sunlight and the Thingvellir national park where tectonic plates drift apart a few centimetres per year. This was one of the best things we saw when we went driving around Iceland.
Seeing the first view of a glacier
All three are impressive highlights on their own but above everything else we were touched with our first view of a glacier. When standing above Gullfoss waterfall looking east we saw Langjokull glacier shining on the horizon. The view was breathtaking.
The cozy hot springs of Hveragerði
The next day we stopped in the town of Hveragerði, the “greenhouse village”. We started our hike uphill to the Hengill geothermal area, stopping to take pictures or admire some particularly interesting hot springs and the waterfall. Everywhere we went, there were sheep on the hillsides. At one point we were wondering if there are more horses or sheep living in Iceland.
At the top of the hill hot springs arise from the earth. The water is so hot that you can boil eggs in it. Luckily it mixes with some cold springs further downstream and a naturally inviting-looking bathing area develops there. The atmosphere was relaxed and cozy, almost like a bathhouse where everyone knows each other We had read about this beforehand so we brought our swimsuits and had a relaxing bath in the small river. It was amazing to lie in the warm river water with the sun shining down on us.
Disaster strikes, we are stuck in Laugar!
We took a detour to the north west of Iceland and stopped at the camping site at Laugar in Saelingsdalur valley. We arrived late in the evening after a three hour drive and were quite tired. The weather was grey, windy and cold. All of a sudden, stuck in Iceland became a reality for us. Looking around the campsite there was no gravel space available for our large motor home. We tried to park on the grass and it felt ok. All of a sudden the front wheels got stuck in the mud. We remembered the warning words from the car rental to stay on gravel, but it was too late – the car would not move forward or backwards at all.
Helpful people come to the rescue
Our unsuccessful efforts to get out of the mud was the highlight of the day at the camping site. Many friendly people tried to help us to push the vehicle but it still would not move. Finally we noticed a guy driving a monster truck. Within minutes he hitched a rope to our motor home and pulled us out of the mud without any further problems.
We were very happy to be out of the „deep shit“ and enjoyed the rest of our evening. Next day Laugar rewarded us with a beautiful hike up the Svörtuklettar plateau with a fantastic view to the Miðfjörður fjord.
A trip to the moon at Hverarönd
From Laugar we headed to Akureyri and and lake Mývatn. The Mývatn area offers many highlights but I want to visit one in particular. Hverarönd is a large geothermal site, which is a „must-see“ Icelandic attraction.
Its boiling pools of colourful bubbling mud, the noise of the steam vents being forced up to the surface from the depths of hell, and the sulphur stench left a lasting impression on us. It is a moon like place on earth and quite spectacular. We were very lucky and enjoyed a great blue sky with nice white clouds. This created unique pictures and scenic impression.
Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon, my personal favourite place in Iceland
My personal favourite of our two weeks was the Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon, another amazing natural wonder of Iceland. It is next to the ring road and you can immediately see that it is a very popular attraction which does not hurt the experience. Arriving at the lagoon you feel like “beamed” into the arctic.
Arriving at the perfect time
We arrived at perfect time. Sun was shining on the icebergs while some dark clouds were sitting at the mountain in the background. This created a magnificent atmosphere. At the glacier lagoon, icebergs break off the largest glacier in Europe, Vatnajokull glacier, and float around the lagoon. We went on the boat trip on the lagoon. On the boat we sailed among the icebergs in the beautiful lake scenery of Jökulsárlón with the glacier in the background. As a special highlight we got to taste the ancient ice on the boat.
My favourite waterfall in Iceland is …
After staying at the campground in Vík village and visiting the stormy Reynisfjara beach, we continued our journey to Skógar and the famous Skógafoss waterfall. All the waterfalls, such as Gullfoss, Godafoss, Dettifoss, Svartifoss, Öxarárfoss and hundred more waterfalls we cannot name left a lasting impression. The most beautiful one for me was Skógarfoss. We walked up very close to the waterfall and got really wet from the spray.
The famous Landmannalaugar
Landmannalaugar is famous for its rhyolite coloured mountains. You can only get to it with a 4×4 vehicle or a special bus service. Starting from Hella village, we left the camper at the camping site and jumped on a bus. Two and a half hours later of being shaking in a bus and understanding why you can´t go there in a regular car we arrived at Landmannalaugar. This most beautiful landscape is situated in a valley between colourful mountains at the dark edge of the lava fields. Unfortunately this was one of the very few not so nice days we had during our trip. The weather was grey and misty. The mountains are so beautiful, that we didn’t want to miss to be there.
The Blue Lagoon and the Mývatn nature baths
While we not necessarily like to swim that much, both the Blue Lagoon and the Mývatn Nature Baths excited us a lot. The Mývatn baths are more intimate than the Blue Lagoon. They are not as touristy, plus the landscape there is very nice. It is far away from Reykjavík. For us us it has earned it’s “must do” status as much as the Blue Lagoon. When we arrived at the Myvatn baths, it was 7° outside. It was a gray evening with a little rain, which even turned into some light hail.
You ask yourself, why would you go outside and even go into an outside pool? But sitting in 36-41° hot water makes you forget everything and you just relax. Both the Blue Lagoon and the Mývatn Nature Baths were a very nice experience we miss.