Highlights of Iceland (round 2) and What I Would Do Differently

I had been planning my second trip to Iceland ever since the first one – the places I’d return to, the sites I’d make time for that I had previously missed, the method of getting around, what time of year, and so on. Nearly every site in Iceland is the kind of place that would be a highlight anywhere else, so while I liked the idea of having no real plan and no reservations, I ended up doing plenty of research and mapping out the coordinates of everywhere I wanted to go. We still had no reservations, so there was flexibility if we wanted it, but I also appreciated having a plan to sort of guide us along the way. Overall, it turned out fantastic, but below are the real high points for us, and the things that were better in thought than in practice.

The Highlights

When looking back at this trip, the moments that stand out in my mind the most are the ones where we got away from the crowds. While Iceland is no New York City or Paris, it does have its fair share of tourists these days, and crowds of people are not what you’re looking for when you’re taking in beautiful landscapes and nature. The first place we visited that gave us that wonderful combination of solitude and that “WOW” kind of beauty was…

Aldeyjarfoss – A stunning blue waterfall being forced through a narrow opening between tan basalt columns. The contrast of colors here, the rather barren surroundings, the cool rock formations made this just a truly unique waterfall. It was a long detour to get there which deterred most people, so we got to just sit directly across from it and enjoy its magnificence. The beautiful sunshine we had that day didn’t hurt either.

 

Continuing clockwise, the rest of the highlights were…

The East Fjords – I 100% fell in love with the fjords. Seyðisfjörður was an idyllic little town, Mjóifjörður offered the most stunning views and weather the whole way through, and just zig-zagging through, driving along the coast through the fjords was heavenly. Where mountains and ocean meet, magic happens. Dreams of spending my summers in Mjóifjörður or Seyðisfjörður will be following me for quite awhile, I expect. They also made me feel like I need to come back to see the Westfjords next!

 

Jökulsárlón – The only real touristy place on this list, and I think part of it was due to low expectations. Jökulsárlón was pretty “meh” to us the first time we visited. It had been overcast and dreary and the shoreline was packed with photographers and their tripods. This time, the sun shone brilliantly on the ice, seals were swimming around, and it was just so much more spectacular than we had remembered. A pleasant surprise.

 

Þakgil – Absolutely, the best campground I can imagine. As with most of our favorite sites, I almost decided to not go due to the effort in getting there. I was sick, and we had to drive about an hour on a rough gravel road over a mountain with the wind howling in order to get there. But the views the entire way were out of this world, and once we reached the peaceful little valley, the sun shone and the wind calmed. We hiked through flowers and berries and across streams to climb up and get a view of the area. The campground was beautiful and had a neat little kitchen in a cave. It was my happy place.

 

Kvernufoss – We almost didn’t find this waterfall. Through persistence and luck, we just happened to find the river that eventually led us the rest of the way, all the while Anthony was teasing me about trying so hard to find just yet another waterfall in Iceland. But then we reached it, and we had it completely to ourselves, and it was just beautiful. It slammed into the rocks underneath it, the sound almost deafening close to it. There was a little path behind it, but even being 50 feet in front of it, we were getting soaked. There are countless spectacular waterfalls in Iceland, but Kvernufoss was my favorite of them all.

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Gjáin – There was nothing specific here to just blow you away, but as soon as I looked over the edge down into this little waterfall-and-river-filled valley, it felt like a special place to me. An easy place to explore and enjoy the natural world. It would be a fabulous spot for a picnic on a nice day, listening to the water flowing around you and the birds chirping.

 

 

What I Would Do Differently

Sleeper Car – This one pains me to say because I adored our little Jimny, and the top tent was such a fast and easy solution to camping. However, the top tent somehow leaked during the day causing us to have a sopping wet mattress a few nights. While I still don’t think we would have wanted to spend the time putting up and tearing down an actual tent every day, I think having a bigger vehicle with a mattress inside to sleep would have been nice.

Bring a Hairdryer – I always try to pack light when traveling, and while camping around Iceland, this seemed even more of a necessity. I rarely even blow-dry my hair in my day-to-day life, so why would I think I needed to while living out of a car?! Thus, the hairdryer stayed home. After my first shower while camping, though, when I had to go sleep in my cold top-tent with wet hair, I realized my mistake. I skipped washing my hair for, like, four nights after that, and any of my fellow ladies with fine blonde hair will know that that’s a big deal. Some of the public pools/paid hot springs do have hairdryers provided in the bathrooms, so if you find those, you’ll be ok. I didn’t realize this until the end, though. But at least I did bring dry shampoo which was a life saver.

Do a Tour – To be fair, I did try to do a tour. I had booked a helicopter ride for us as an elaborate present to ourselves, but the weather didn’t work out either of the days we were in Reykjavik. I think having something to break up the drive-hike-camp routine is a good idea. Don’t get me wrong, the drive-hike-camp routine is a great one in Iceland, but it’s still nice to have something different to do at some point on your trip, whether that’s snorkeling or horseback riding or whale watching.

 

I loved this trip. Iceland is beautiful and interesting, and we had a good amount of adventure. I think the most important thing when planning a similar one is to have some flexibility in your schedule, pack plenty of layers and water-proof gear, and be prepared by checking the weather and road closures every day. Things will almost certainly go wrong as they tend to do while traveling, but just adjust and enjoy!!

The End of the Ring Road

The four of us decided to head a little north on day 10 to visit Gjáin. But first, since we were already in Flúðir, I wanted to check out a tiny hot spring Anthony and I had visited last time, Hrunalaug. I had read shortly after our first visit that some tourists had trashed the place and that people should stop visiting, so my purpose was to just see it and snap a couple pictures. But as we got closer, we noticed there were a couple small signs showing people how to get there which seemed odd if the owners didn’t really want tourists there anymore. And then we arrived, and it looked like the little “changing room” part had been kind of rebuilt and looked nice.

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A different couple was leaving as we got there. The boys decided they didn’t feel like getting in, but after seeing it, Theresa and I made the decision to change and hop in. I have to say, it was my favorite hot spring of the trip. It’s definitely tiny, and I could see how groups of disrespectful tourists could trash it, but having it to ourselves that morning was wonderful.

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Afterward, the drive up to Gjáin included another awful gravel road, but fortunately we only had to stay on it around 3.5 km. At one point, I had to hop out and open a gate for the cars to get through, and shortly thereafter, we saw a few cars parked. As much as I like having places to myself, I was kind of happy there were other cars there because otherwise, I would have had no idea where to go.  We pulled up and looked over the edge down into this beautiful little valley filled with small waterfalls and rivers.

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We climbed down and started exploring. It’s a relatively small area, but it’s the kind of place that you just want to keep climbing up cliffs and crossing rivers.

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I had seen it referred to as a “magical little fairyland” before, and while we didn’t notice any fairies, I thought it was an apt description. If fairies exist, they live in Gjáin.

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During our explorations, we would randomly run into each other or see each other across the way, making for a fun little game of hide and seek.

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We eventually saw some darker clouds moving our way, and since we weren’t wearing our waterproof gear, we decided it was probably time to stop playing around and find our way back to our car.

Four river crossings later, we were climbing back up the steep hill to where we parked. We had planned to visit nearby Haifoss, the second tallest waterfall in Iceland, but as we were all tired of those terrible roads and had seen our fair share of waterfalls already, we decided to skip out. Instead, we drove just a couple more minutes and crossed a footbridge to visit the Viking-era longhouse, Stöng, which was an interesting little stop.

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We ended up at the campground in Hveragerði for the the evening and killed some time by walking around the tiny town.

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We decided to go to the local pizzeria and brewery for dinner which was really pleasant. Eating out and drinking out are both very expensive in Iceland, but this place was reasonable, and we even splurged on a couple of beers. After “roughing it” for the past over-a-week, it was nice to take it easy and treat ourselves a little bit.

But then we ventured back in the rain and climbed up into our damp top-tent for our final night of camping. After I had shivered all night long a few nights, I had bought some hand-warmers to put in my socks at night, but I was all out of those, so I was afraid I would be back to shivering all night again, but I managed to stay cozy enough.

The following day, we did the hike to the Reykjadalur hot river. The way there was uphill (and pretty steep, I might add), and it was rainy, and overall, not the most pleasant of hikes.

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It took around an hour to reach it, but fortunately, we had beat the crowds. We found a spot that seemed the right temperature for us, changed into our swimsuits and climbed in.

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It’s definitely a cool place, but after all the other hot springs we had visited, it was a little lack-luster.

Getting back out into the cold rain and changing was pretty miserable, but after a few minutes, we were marching back (downhill this time) to our car. The walk back took about 40 minutes. If you have bad knees, it would be pretty difficult due to the steep decline.

At last, we made our way back to Reykjavik and bought some ice cream to kill a bit of time before checking into our AirBnb.

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We walked the 15 minutes back to our new little apartment, which was close to the harbor. The AirBnB was lovely, and felt like we were living in luxury after camping 9 nights. We all had a chance to take nice, hot showers and not freeze to death afterward, and then got ready to go out to dinner. There was a nice Indian restaurant not far away, so Ty got to eat Indian food for the first time (he had a lot of firsts on this trip, not all of them as pleasant as Indian food) which I can proudly say he is now a fan of.

Since it was our last night in Iceland, we decided we needed to grab a beer afterward. There was an Irish pub we had seen earlier called The Drunk Rabbit that looked like a good time. So for our last night in Iceland, we ate Indian food and drank beer at an Irish pub because why not. There was a large wheel behind the bar. Theresa asked about it, ended up paying a couple bucks to spin it, and it was looking like it was going to land on one of the many “Bad Luck” slots, but after a second delay, it ticked over one more slot into “6x Heineken,” so our decision to have a beer turned into a small party at The Drunk Rabbit.

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We giddily walked back to our apartment after, getting lost along the way. We hung out listening to music until bedtime, anticipating an exhausting day of travels ahead.

Cheers to the countless memories that were created in Iceland, on our second trip to this beautiful country. Who knows if we’ll be back… There are so many wonderful places to visit on this planet… but we still haven’t gotten to see the Westfjords of Iceland ;).

Landmannalaugar

We caught sunrise at Seljalandsfoss (which, by the way, the path got closed down the day after we left due to dangerous rockfalls) and checked out Gljúfrabúi once more before moving on.

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And now, I think it’s time to share the story of the windshield.

When we picked up our rental car, we looked it over in the rain, determined it was good, and started heading out. We had just left the parking lot when I discovered about a 6 inch crack in the bottom middle of the windshield. So I had Anthony turn the car around to go alert them to it, afraid it was going to spread. They came out, said it was just a surface scratch and that they’d write it down, and that now we had “extra” gravel protection because a broken windshield is a broken windshield, no matter how broken it is. We accepted this and moved on.

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On the second day of our roadtrip, though, we discovered it had somehow grown another 6 inches. We had been bouncing around on some rough gravel roads, but were still going well below the speed limit and definitely did not have any rocks come up and hit the windshield, so this did not bode well for the rest of our adventurous vacation.

On the third day of our roadtrip, we had to go on that crazy awful road to Asbyrgi, and the crack grew another 6 inches. After this, I started cringing and second-guessing any gravel road we had to go on.

So on the eighth day of the roadtrip, we planned to go to Landmannalaugar. Landmannalaugar is in the highlands of Iceland, and most of the way there is on F roads (rough mountain roads).

It started out ok. Somehow the first F road was paved, and my spirits were high. But then we got on F208. The road seemed to just disappear at times and had washboard gravel/potholes the majority of the way. When it wasn’t washboard-teeth-chattering gravel, it was massive potholes that tossed around everything in the car. We were going about a quarter the speed limit. And even though the car rental place told us we don’t have to worry about a broken windshield, I definitely still worry. And so about halfway to Landmannalaugar, I very much wanted to back out and turn back to paved roads. Anthony, on the other hand, had the mindset that we had already driven all the way, we might as well finish it. I finally agreed, and we continued on.

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At last we made it. I wasn’t going to risk crossing the river, so we parked in the first parking lot before it.

And I have to say, I think Landmannalaugar is probably worth that hellish drive. I’ve always thought that the pictures I had seen must be photoshopped like crazy or have some kind of filter, because they always look like paintings. But that is literally what the mountains look like in person – like paintings. I’ve never seen anything like them.

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We also spent some time in the natural hot springs there on site. You can pay for a day pass at the office and use their facilities to change, but most people just strip down and change right at the water.

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There was a cool river joining up with some crazy hot streams and it created a nice little balance.

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We had planned to camp there that night, but since I have been freezing at night anyway, I wasn’t sure camping in the highlands was the best idea. And I have a cold. So after some time, we hopped back in the car to head back.

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I was less nervous on the way back, so we enjoyed the views some more.

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There were a couple lovely lakes on the way.

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We ate at a delicious Ethiopian restaurant in Flúðir before driving a couple minutes to the “Secret Lagoon.” It’s not exactly secret, but it is less busy than the Blue Lagoon and was a pleasant soak, and I got a nice shower and a chance to blow dry my hair (!!!) out of the deal. When you’re camping in cold temperatures, it’s nice to have dry hair, so that alone was probably worth the price.

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We met back up with Ty and Theresa and hung out at the campground, drinking some wine and sharing our stories from the day.

The windshield crack did not grow at all that day.

 

Chasing Waterfalls

It broke my heart a little bit leaving our little heaven at Þakgil, but we enjoyed every minute of the drive back to the Ring Road, stopping to explore areas that caught our interest.

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Our little Jimny climbed up and down that mountain like a beast, and I almost wished the drive was longer.

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We stopped to get views of Vik as well as the lighthouse at Dyrholaey to catch the views out over the black sand beaches.

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And then it was waterfall time. We stopped at Skogafoss first, joining the small crowds there.

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And then we climbed the billion stairs up to the top, which really doesn’t give you a great view of Skogafoss or anything.

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But walking along the river at the top does. Lots of little waterfalls and canyons along the way.

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You also get a view out over the plains. I decided to repeat a picture that we took on our first trip here.

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Once we were tired of walking, we headed back down and drove to find neighboring Kvernufoss. I had coordinates for finding Kvernufoss, but they somehow took us to someone’s house. I was determined, however, and had Anthony park the car, so we could go walk around to find it. He teased me about how hard I was trying to find this waterfall, after the hundreds we had already seen.

We found a little path with a ladder over a fence which seemed like a good option.

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We walked through a field and decided we would go as far as this hill up ahead so we could see around it. Once we got there, we found a river. Another good sign. So we kept walking.

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And there she was. We followed the tiny path all the way to the waterfall, and it may have become my new favorite. We had it all to ourselves, and it was tall, you could walk behind it, and it hammered the rock underneath it. I decided it was “our” waterfall, and my new happy place. If only I could just come back there anytime I wanted.

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We grabbed a bite to eat, and then off we went to Seljavalaug, the warm swimming pool in the beautiful valley. We enjoyed the walk over there, but got there to discover the pool had just been emptied. It would have been a beautiful day for a swim too.

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We continued on to our campground for the evening, Hamragarðar, which is right next to Seljalandsfoss. This was another shock for us, since our last visit to Iceland, we had beautiful Seljalandsfoss all to ourselves, and it was my favorite place in the world at the time. It was still absolutely magnificent, but the parking lot was overfilled with tour buses and cars this time. Either way, I still enjoyed it.

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What I enjoyed more, though, was little Gljúfrabúi, which was directly in front of our camping spot. This waterfall falls behind a cliff, but has a hidden entrance to the side. You have to walk through a stream to get to it, but once you’re in there, you just get soaked by the waterfall staring all the way up it and the mossy walls around it. It was gorgeous. Unfortunately, our GoPro decided it didn’t feel like taking good pictures in there.

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We had reunited with my brother and his fiance at this point, so we all hung out, cooked some dinner in the kitchen area, climbed up the cliff to look down into Gljúfrabúi, and caught up on each other’s travels. All in all, a pretty successful day.

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Revisiting the Old, Discovering the New

Skaftafell was beautiful in the morning light, but we decided to make it to Fjaðrárgljúfur canyon before making ourselves breakfast.

A relatively short drive later, we bounced down another rough gravel road to the parking lot.

You can walk two minutes down into the canyon from there, so we did that first. We waded out into the river a bit, trying not to get water in our shoes, to get better views down the way.

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We then walked along the rim for awhile checking out the various angles and rock formations.

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We made it back to the parking lot and grabbed a picnic table looking out into the canyon to heat up some oatmeal and coffee. Soon enough, crowds of people were arriving. We packed up our stuff and moved on.

We drove through the craziest little landscape on the way to Vik. Mossy lava rocks everywhere.

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During this drive, we saw a tiny little arctic fox! Cutest damn thing I’ve ever seen, but as soon as we realized what we were seeing, we were speeding by it, and it was running back away from the road.  Icelandic arctic foxes are typically found in the Westfjords, which we didn’t have time for, so I certainly wasn’t expecting to see any on this trip. Pleasant little surprise.

We stopped by Hjörleifshöfði, which is basically an island that juts up out of the black sand plains near Vik. It also has a small Viking burial ground on top of it. The plan was to hike to the top to take in all the gorgeous views, but it was very windy, and I was pretty sure it would not be safe to stand on top of a little mountain with nothing to block the wind. Or to leave our car parked on black sand in an area that’s known for sandblasting cars.

So we drove along the south side and snapped a picture of the cave instead, and then continued on.

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We stopped in tiny little Vik for awhile.

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We had some delicious mushroom soup and margherita pizza at a cute little restaurant up on the hill.

Afterward, we drove over to Reynisfjara black sand beach. This was the first real shock of our trip. The last time we had been there, we literally had the entire beach to ourselves. This time, tour buses and cars packed the parking lot to where people had to park along the road. Tourists were everywhere, climbing up the basalt columns for pictures.  On the plus side, there were dozens of puffins flying around up there, diving off toward the ocean.

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We had some time to kill, so we went on to Dyrholaey, which was Anthony’s favorite place last time we were here. We had sat on the black cliffs for awhile, watching and feeling the strong waves crashing against them. This time, there still weren’t that many other people there, but the waves were much calmer and it had lost its magic a bit.

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After going back into Vik for a little shopping, we decided to go ahead and go to our campground, Þakgil, which was around a 45 minute-1 hour drive along a rough gravel road over and down a mountain.

The drive was insanely gorgeous. We left cloudy and black Vik for vibrant green mountains with the sun peaking out more and more.

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It was also a bit perilous in parts as we were crossing little narrow land bridges with steep drop-offs and lots of wind. 100% worth it though.

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The views got better and better, and then we arrived down in this lovely valley where the campground was located.

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We selected our spot next to the little bubbling brook and then decided to go explore. We had to cross a couple rivers to get over to this little mountain we wanted to climb up, but it didn’t take us too much time.

And the base of that little mountain became my happy place. A crystal clear, freezing cold little spring ran down through it. Little flowers and berries and soft moss were everywhere. Just so peaceful.

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We climbed up a ways to see as much of the valley as we could. (See if you can spy our tiny Jimny in the pictures below.)

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And then after relaxing awhile, we decided to try and find our way back. Instead of crossing where we had the first time, Anthony decided we should follow this path because surely it would bring us to a better crossing point. So we spent a good 30 minutes just following along this path, hoping there would eventually be a shallow point to cross, but nope. So we turned around and went all the way back to where we had crossed before.

The campground had a little kitchen set up in a cave, so we wandered over there to cook our dinner.

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And then the rest of the night was spent just enjoying our stunning campground, sipping some red wine.

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Journey to the South Coast

We left our little campground in the East Fjords before anyone else was even getting up.

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This meant we had the roads all to ourselves as we drove along the coast, passing through Stodvarfjordur and Breiddalsvik.

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It was definitely the best weather we’ve had all trip. It was warm and sunny and absolutely beautiful. The water sparkled in the sunlight, and when we eventually reached a point where we were driving with fjords on our left and glaciers on our right, I didn’t think it could get any better.

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We stopped in Hofn for a quick lunch and some groceries and gas, and then were off driving, catching up with all the tourists that make it as far as the south coast and no further. And the horses.

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We saw a massive black sand beach along the side of the road, so we stopped there, trying to run up the black pebbles to get the views of the black sand meeting the ocean with the mountains in the background.

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After that good fun, we continued on past countless mountains and waterfalls.

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And then at last, we made it to Jokulsarlon. We went to Jokulsarlon the last time we were in Iceland, and we honestly didn’t get the hype that time. But it was cloudy and dull the day we had been there before. This time it was brilliantly sunny, and suddenly, we understood why everyone is so obsessed with it.

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We could see little seal heads popping up out of the water here and there, bathing in the freezing cold glacier lagoon.

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Once we had our fill, we crossed the road to the Diamond Beach, where chunks of ice land on the black sand. While it’s certainly pretty, we didn’t feel the need to spend too much time here.

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We passed several outlet glaciers and eventually turned off a rough road to get down close to it. We had hiked the glacier last time, which was at the end of winter, and we could tell it had retreated quite a bit at this point. It was still quite pretty to see.

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Our ending spot for the day was Skaftafell National Park. We got there early enough to set up camp and then do a hike through the park. I had some directions for a good loop hike to do, but apparently my directions were shit. We walked all the way up to Svartifoss just fine.

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But then we continued on past it up another hill before realizing we had gone the wrong way. The day was still young, so we decided to go ahead and turn around and continue the hike we had planned to do. I hadn’t realized how long nor how difficult nor how damn hot it was going to be, though. I almost quit when we reached a point where I was barely able to lift my feet anymore and was just constantly kicking loose rocks, and then we see a sign saying the viewpoint was still 1.7 km uphill.

But, as Anthony tends to do, he strongly suggested we continue on. So I whined the whole way, but I did continue on. All. The. Way. And there we were, glacier behind us and glacier right in front of us, with views out over the plains as far we could see.

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We sat down to drink some water, eat a cliff bar, and cool down.

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And then we looped back down. Knowing how far we had gone and how high we were, I was expecting a pretty constant downhill walk. But no. Instead, it stayed level for quite awhile, and then turned into practically a downhill sprint.

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There was one point where the path drastically narrowed and there was a very steep, dramatic drop-off right next to it. A split second after I said “Wow, this looks dangerous,” I tripped on a loose rock and fell. Luckily I felt straight down onto my ass instead of to the side at all, and Anthony and I were laughing about it 2 seconds later.

At last, we made it down, and walked back to our little campsite.  We enjoyed our views of the mountain in front of us as we relaxed for the evening before heading up to bed. The northern lights made another very weak performance during the night.

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The Magical East Fjords

Happy, happy day.  As sad as we were to leave our peaceful little heaven at the Ásbyrgi campsite, we knew we were heading somewhere we would love.

We took road 864 back from Ásbyrgi to the Ring Road, which was somehow even worse than the road we took there. Well, really, it didn’t start off all that bad. We made it to the east side of Dettifoss without too much trouble. The mist and fog and rain that had set in the night before was still hanging around as we hiked out to the massive waterfall, but I do have to agree with what I had read online, that the view from that side was better.

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Every spot I stopped at, I decided I needed to get just a bit closer, until I was standing near the edge right by the waterfall. I almost felt like I was just going to be sucked right into it. It was just so big, and so powerful.

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But then we left Dettifoss, and the road was just ridiculous. It took us so long to bounce our way over the potholes back to the Ring Road.

And then we were flying down the road, taking in views of mountains and valleys and waterfall after lovely waterfall.

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Iceland is ridiculous with its waterfalls. You’re just driving along the Ring Road, and there will just be a little pull off to walk up to some gorgeous waterfall that you know nothing about.

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We reached Egilsstadir, the gateway to the East Fjords, and stopped to refuel and grab some groceries. And then onward we went, our little Jimny climbing up a mountain, looking out over forests (in Iceland!!) and beautiful land as far as we could see.

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We were clearly in a cloud at the top of the mountain, but as we started climbing back down into the town of Seyðisfjörður, the views started getting clearer and prettier.

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We pulled into a parking lot and were mesmerized. Seyðisfjörður is quite possibly the most picturesque little village I have ever seen.

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We walked through the streets and checked out the little blue Church.

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There was a ferry docked, but somehow there weren’t many people around. We walked the sidewalk along the fjord for awhile, and then stopped in a pub on the water for some lunch, where I had a wonderful veggie burger and baked potato.

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We considered just staying there the rest of the day since we liked it so much, but the day was still young and we already had a lot of ground to cover the next day. So, we climbed back up the mountain, the weather having cleared up a bit to allow us to see the fjord and the little waterfalls along the way better.

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We drove south and turned off toward Mjóifjörður. I almost chickened out of going after seeing the condition of the road. I looked at Anthony and said “I don’t know, maybe we should just skip this one.”
And he asked, “Well what’s going to be there?”
“Just some beautiful fjord.”

And so of course, Anthony decided we were going. And I am SO glad he did.

Not many people know about Mjóifjörður, or at least don’t make a point of going. It’s far off from the Ring Road for one thing, and the road there is rough, and there is barely even a town in the fjord (population around 35). But I had read online that it was beautiful and that the little fjord had wonderful weather from being so well-protected and that was enough to put it on my radar.

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The views the entire way there were insane. Waterfalls everywhere we looked. And sure enough, the weather became sunnier and warmer and calmer the closer to that fjord we got. I swear it is magical. I fell so in love.

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One of the only named waterfalls on the way down is Kliffbrekkufossar, which is actually a series of stepped waterfalls. And it was stunning.

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I saw so many other little waterfalls in the distance that I wanted so badly to go try to explore. But the fjord itself was stupidly beautiful itself, and it was calling our names, so we drove down and along the water until the little town. I daydreamed of going totally off-grid and staying there for the rest of eternity. Ok, so maybe not for winter. But I could totally live there for the summer.

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We slowly made our way back to the paved road, and drove down to the next fjord for the night, Reyðarfjörður.

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They had a lovely little campground next to a duck pond looking out at the fjord.

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It was absolutely freezing, so we ate some soup and drank some hot chocolate to stay warm, and huddled up in our top-tent for the night. We set an alarm for the middle of the night to see if the Northern Lights would make an appearance, and sure enough, they did, but it was a weak showing. Possibility looks good for tonight, though, so fingers crossed!

Myvatn and Asbyrgi

We slept in on day 4. And by that, I mean we got up at, like, 7:15. We tore down camp and wandered over to the campground’s cooking facility and made ourselves some oatmeal with bananas and brewed some coffee. I always like people watching in those situations, see what food they’re making for their camping experience, what gear they’re wearing for their trek around Iceland.

We were finally ready to be on the road a little after 9, and our first stop of the day was Grjótagjá cave (aka, Jon Snow and Ygritte’s cave). The cave is cool looking, but the best part was the hot spring inside of it. It’s supposedly too hot to get in, but it felt pretty great, in my opinion. You can then climb above the cave and see steam coming out of all these fissures. It was a unique experience.

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And then we drove through some of the most bizarre landscapes I’ve ever see. Steam was just coming out of the ground everywhere we looked, and then we came across a (very smelly) steaming, milky blue body of water with colorful mountains behind it.

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After a few minutes of this, we were at the Hverir geothermal area. I couldn’t breathe through my nose due to the sulfur smell, but oh my goodness, it was one of the coolest places I had seen.

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We’d walk by steam vents and see bubbling mud pits around us. Really, really unique.

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After a small bit of hiking, we made our way to the Myvatn Nature Baths, kind of the north’s version of the Blue Lagoon. It’s a small lake of hot, milky blue water. It’s less tourist-y than the Blue Lagoon, and also cheaper. We relaxed in the hot water for awhile, which helped with my achy back.

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At this point, we were starving, so we stopped at a restaurant next to a farm with a view of Lake Myvatn. They had “geysir bread” there, which is bread baked underground by geothermal heat and is pretty tasty.

We had a long drive to our next campground, so we got moving, turning off the Ring Road after a little bit, passing barren, hardened black lava fields. I’ve heard Iceland be described as “like another planet” so many times that it’s cliche, but it is so true.

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In the middle of this crazy landscape was Dettifoss, Europe’s most powerful waterfall. We made a short stop here, hiking down from the parking lot. It may not be the most picturesque waterfall in Iceland, but it’s really impressive. The darker, grayish color comes from all the black sediment from the lava rocks.

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Knowing we would be seeing it from the other side on the way back, we quickly ventured on. Unfortunately, the road we were on, 862, turned into the roughest gravel road I’ve ever seen in my life right after Dettifoss. We were hovering around 30 km/h the whole way, bouncing around on potholes.

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The crazy moon-like landscape just all of a sudden turned into a lush vegetated one.

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After gritting our teeth for probably 45 minutes, we turned down toward Vesturdalur, which was a beautiful little detour.

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We went on a short walk, checking out the bizarre rock formations and the pretty plants.

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And then it was back on that terrible road the rest of the way to Asbyrgi. Asbyrgi is a U-shaped canyon that was carved out by a massive glacial river flood, likely caused by a volcanic eruption underneath the source glacier that caused an immense amount of melt water.

We first ventured to the interior of the canyon to hike through a small forest.

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We climbed up to a little viewpoint of the pond and forest and canyon. It was insanely peaceful, which is not a word I usually use to describe Iceland.

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We went back to the campsite to pick out a spot before doing the hike along the giant rock in the middle of the canyon. That hike eventually brings you to a spot where you are directly across the U of the canyon, but dense fog settled in, and I knew we wouldn’t be able to see anything. Instead, we took it easy and drank some wine, cooked some dinner, and hung out at the campsite, which was our favorite campsite ever. It was pretty, it was quiet, the facilities were nice, and I kinda just wanted to stay there the rest of the vacation.

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We got a good night’s sleep up in our top-tent, rejuvenated for a day heading to the East Fjords.

Adrenaline-Fueled Roadtrip

Day 3 was a long driving day, and we covered a lot of ground. It started out as rainy as the day before. We woke up at 5:30 after not sleeping terribly well, and we got on the road to our final Snaefellsnes stop: Landbrotalaug. Landbrotalaug is a tiny little hot spring out in the middle of nowhere. You have to cross some water to get to it, and once you’re there, it can only fit two people.

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Once we were back on the road, we weren’t really able to see Eldborg crater through the rain and fog, so we just cut up across the peninsula and started making our way back to the Ring Road. People in Iceland apparently are not early risers like us, so we were not able to get any coffee until around 10, at which point, we were dying for a nap. But the caffeine perked us up just enough that we were able to push onward.

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I had one stop planned for before we got to Akureyri, not really knowing much about it, but figured we needed something to break up the drive. Kolugljufur was just about 10 minutes off the Ring Road, and once we got there, I was so happy with myself for finding out about it online. It’s a canyon with a few waterfalls, and it was gorgeous.

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We walked around to the various cliff edges trying to get every view we could for around half an hour until our hands and noses were numb.

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After that, we were refueled by both the caffeine and the adrenaline, so we had no problems continuing our roadtrip. We drove up and down mountains, looking in awe at mountains and valleys and bubbling brooks all around us. At one point, we turned a bend, and saw SUNSHINE. And we were driving right toward it!

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By the time we got to Akureyri, the largest town in the North with a population of around 18,000, the weather was just beautiful. I took my jacket off while we walked around town. We ate some lunch, sat in a little park, checked out the bay, and took the long way back to our car.

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We left and ended up passing Godafoss on our way to our next stop. I had planned on saving Godafoss for the next day, but since we were already there and the sun was shining, we stopped and parked. It is truly beautiful. However, it’s right on the Ring Road in addition to being gorgeous, so there were tons of other tourists there, all taking their turns getting the perfect selfie with the waterfall in the background, so it was a lot of waiting around to get the right views of it. Still definitely a worthwhile stop.

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Then, we had a big detour off the Ring Road to get to Aldeyjarfoss. Aldeyjarfoss is very slowly growing in popularity, but it will add close to three hours to your Ring Road journey, driving down very rough gravel roads there and back, including an F road that 2wd cars are not allowed on, and then a 20 minutes roundtrip walk on a fairly steep rocky surface, so most tourists still don’t make it there.

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When we arrived, we had it to ourselves. And it was definitely our favorite waterfall so far. We drove along a stunning blue river to get to it, and once we were there, we learned that that large blue river all came from this waterfall with a rather narrow opening. So the water was just gushing out between all these incredible basalt columns. The contrast of the blue water and the basalt columns everywhere you looked was just really cool to see.

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Since we didn’t have anyone else to worry about trying to get the best view, we sat down on the cliff right across from it, and just enjoyed it for awhile, sun shining and warming our backs.

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Once we had our fill, we turned back and headed all the way back to the Ring Road. I had planned on staying at a campsite there near the waterfall, but it was still only 5pm, so we decided to keep moving. We drove down south around Lake Myvatn, taking in the views. There were so many stops we should have made, but we were tired, so we kept driving until we got to our campsite, around the northeast corner of the lake.

The campsite was really nice, which explained why there were dozens and dozens of tents already set up. There was an office to buy bottled waters or some beers, there was a cooking facility, hot showers, 2 different areas with bathrooms, and some decent views of the lake. We settled in, took our showers, ate some food, and called it a night at 9:00, calling the day a success.

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Snaefellsnes Peninsula

We woke up Saturday morning and walked to Braud & Co, pretty much the most amazing bakery I have ever been to. Anthony got a delicious, buttery croissant, and I got a gooey cinnamon bun, and we got a loaf of fresh baked bread to go for eating on the road.

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We picked up our rental car, a tiny 4×4 Suzuki Jimny with a rooftop tent, and ventured out. So this is what we will be living out of for the next 9 nights. I am simultaneously super excited and very nervous.

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We immediately headed toward the Snaefellsnes peninsula. We had wanted to go last time we were here, but the weather was no good for it. Not that it was much better today! But when visibility is decent, there are endless beautiful views. Waterfalls and mountains and rivers every where you look.

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We cut across the peninsula, missing out on Stykkisholmur and who knows what else, but the road across was a great little detour. And then our first stop was Kirkjufell, the most photographed mountain in Iceland. Excuse my super goofy hat.

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We left and drove along the coast awhile, and as soon as we passed into Snaefellsjokull National Park, weather took a turn for the worst. We drove between lava fields unable to see anything further than 20 feet from us, with the wind constantly beating us.

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We turned toward our next stop Djúpalónssandur and once we arrived, parked into the wind and sat there. After awhile of seeing several other people coming back from the little hike, looking wind-blown and slightly miserable, we decided we should probably join in on the fun. We could barely get our car doors open, but once we started hiking down, the rock formations blocked the wind a bit.

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That is, until we reached the actual beach. And then I could barely open my eye against the wind, so backward we went. But hey, checked that off the list.

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We waited out the wind a bit more and decided we needed to get on the road at some point, so we headed toward Hellnar. We had intended to do a 2 hour hike along the coast, to Arnastapi and back, but clearly, the weather was not going to work for that. So, we ate some soup at a cafe, and by the time we came back out, the wind had lessened, and visibility was clearing a bit. We drove to Bjarnafoss, which I figured was just going to be a quick photo stop, but then we saw a small path to the waterfall, and we enjoyed the surroundings and newly decent weather so much, we decided we needed to spend some time exploring.

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Anthony was so amazed by a tinier waterfall up over a different direction that just kept levitating up into a cloud, but of course, we couldn’t really get a picture of that. Bjarnafoss and its river, on the other hand, I got plenty of pictures of.

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After that, we made our way to Budarkirkja, one of the first wooden churches in Iceland. It was awfully picturesque with the beach in the background, but it was starting to drizzle again and I was worried about my camera, so we didn’t stay long.

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Our final stop for the day was Ytri-Tunga beach, where you can often find seals. We did see seals, but we only saw their little heads popping out of the water here and there. They were all too shy to come join us on the beach.

So we decided to call it a day and head to our campground. I had done a lot of research on campgrounds, and had found ones that were a bit more protected from the wind. Well, I thought I had anyway. We arrived at the campground, which was basically on the beach with no trees or mountains or anything nearby, and Anthony kept teasing me, “So this is sheltered, huh?”

We went inside the guesthouse to pay for camping, and I asked the guy working, “So is it supposed to be really windy all night?”
He kind of smirked and thought for a moment and asked, “Where are you guys from?”
“Kansas City.”
“Oh, you have tornadoes, you’ll live.”

SO with that reassuring assessment, we drove out to the field to park our car and set up our top-tent, but I, confused as to why I marked this campground as “well-protected” decided to research. And that’s when I discovered that there are 2 campgrounds 10 minutes apart with the same basic name and I had meant to pick the other one, at the base of some mountains.

Anthony, being the sweetheart he is, decided he’d go talk to the guy to try to get our money back. We couldn’t admit to my research mistake, though, so he came up with some story of how we actually meant to meet up with friends at this other campground, and the guy didn’t seem to care about the story and said, “Oh, so you want your money back?” But then didn’t have exact change, so we ended up with an extra 100 ISK out of the deal (which is less than $1, but hey, we’re still richer).

We backtracked to the other campground… except it didn’t exist. At least, that’s what the people at that guesthouse told us. They insisted they didn’t have camping there. So BACK we went. But in-between the 2 was a different guesthouse, so we stopped there, and SUCCESS! They had a campground. Still not exactly sheltered, but we obviously couldn’t go back to the first one, and this one was cheaper anyway.

After getting ready for bed in the freezing cold, we popped open our top tent to test her out. It was perfectly comfortable up there, but it was still super windy out, causing the sides to flap around and be noisy. All in all, not our most restful night we’ve ever had, but we’ll do.