Iceland; 16,200km to the Other Side of the Earth

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Louise Beaumont, husband Jay and three year old Perissa embarked on a quest to the Land of Ice and Fire. Their Icelandic adventure took them full circle around the country, taking in all the sights of what can only be described as an epic road trip.

I will admit –  Iceland was never at the top of my travel bucket list, and for a few reasons. 

A. It is LITERALLY the other side of our Earth (from Port Macquarie, Australia).

B. It’s cold; most of the year below 10°C. 

It just sounded a bit dull, far from history and city lights, no notable attractions … But, nonetheless, the opportunity came up to travel to this marvellous location as part of a holiday in May, and here is the tale of our adventure.

Why Iceland?

I honestly can’t pinpoint the exact moment I chose to travel to Iceland. There were a couple of times over the last few years, however, when my interest was piqued in discovering this remote island. There are the Northern Lights, of course; then there were the Game of Thrones scenes that made the country famous. However, I think at the end of the day I just wanted to do something really different, something that challenged us as a family, and pushed the boundaries of type of travel we normally chose.

We visited Iceland in June 2018 – the beginning of their summer, when we knew it would be warmer and more enjoyable. The temperature was around 8°C during the day – which with a thermal layer and a good coat (and rain jacket!) was mostly pleasant. Going in June, we knew we would be in the high season – when there were bound to be crowds and higher prices. So we made sure in our planning that we allowed for extra costs, and looked for budget conscious options wherever possible.

Getting there – we decided on Qantas from Sydney to London (with a short stopover in Singapore) and then Icelandic Air through to Reykjavic.

Once you’re over the 24 hours from Sydney to Heathrow, London, it’s another three hours on to Iceland. So, as I said, the other side of the Earth!

Landing at 11pm, in daylight! was our first introduction to this magical land.

Getting around Iceland on our own was super easy! We chose to hire a car, so we could set our own pace – which was generally up early and out to #btb (Beat the Buses!)

In recent years, Iceland’s tourism numbers have grown a staggering amount. With roughly 300,000 inhabitants of the island, there were nearly 2.2 million foreign overnight visitors in 2017, according to the Iceland Tourism Board. So, summer + tour buses = we were getting out and about early to see the attractions. The Itinerary and the Highlights.

We set out our itinerary based on following the Route #1 Highway, known as the “Ring Road” anti-clockwise around the whole island; and we booked a car and nine nights of accommodation in advance.

Booking the accommodation was the hardest part of the whole trip. I was looking at least four – six months out, and due to the summer season, and high visitor numbers, it was really hard to find affordable accommodation. 

Most of the places we stayed at were 3 star guest houses or hotels, at prices of over $200 per night! Hotels were very few and far between, and prices were well over $350 per night (hello sticker shock!) Even hostels (backpackers) were well above the average per night stay. In the end, we tried to book the cheapest accommodation, within reasonable amount of driving time each day. 

The attractions in Iceland are easy to locate and well signposted.

Day 1 we headed for the Blue Lagoon, located about 40 minutes from the capital of Reykjavic. The Geothermal pools located among the volcanic landscapes were a soothing treat for us after travelling. At about 38c, these pure springs, heated by geothermal gases. It was a unique and fun experience, swimming in the warm water, complete with swim up bar and silic mud mask bar – exquisite! 

Day 2 we visited The Golden Circle – taking In Phlingviller National Park, The Geysir, Gullfoss, and Kerid Crater.

Highlights: The Philingviller Park was amazing – seeing how the Earth just cracks in half and rises up out of the ground, where its crust looks like a moss covered chocolate brownie!

Walking through the valley was mesmerising!

Nearby we visited the Silfra Fissure, where the two tectonic plates (Eurasian and North American) are separating at a rate of 2 cm per year! You can snorkel and scuba dive between them in the world’s “clearest” fresh water.

Heading further south east, we visited the Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon, which sits at the base of the Vatnajokull Glacier.

The tour of the glacier lagoon and subsequent visit to the beach were simply amazing. “Glacier Bay” and “Diamond Beach”, as they are known, are one of the major attractions in Southern Iceland, with giant pieces of glacier breaking away, and then floating out to sea, only to be washed up on to the black sand beach. These giant “diamonds” scatter the shore – it was truly a place of wonder.

Along the way we visited about four waterfalls, including the 60m Skógafoss, and our favourite – the Seljalandsfoss – which we could walk behind. Iceland is famous for its waterfalls, as there are over 10,000! 

If you plan to visit Iceland on a short trip, then the three – four days of Reykjavik, Golden Circle and South Coast is all you need to see. But for those looking for adventure, then travel on!

Days 5 – 6 saw us skirt round the south and into the eastern fjords.

The long and winding road can be seen around the base of the huge mountains. Cars travelling on the further eastern side look like ants against the giant mountains.

Surprisingly, it is a quick trip zigzagging in and out of the fjords; the road is flat, and easy to navigate.

We averaged 300 km per day and about four hours of driving, which may seem like a lot – but we were travelling in summer, there were no adverse weather conditions and with 23 hours plus of daylight, we were able to pack a lot into each day.

The paved road speed is 90 km per hour, and I would say we were lucky if we passed six – eight cars per day.

This land is vacant of people, towns, and sights between its capitals, but it is equally filled with diverse landscapes that leave you with mouth gaping and wondering how the Earth produces such contrasts.

There were gravel plains, lava fields, rocky outcrops, mountains that soar, glaciers, fields of green, fjords, and quaint fishing villages … sometimes all in the same day.

As we continued to head east, the major landmarks became few and far between, and without enough time to venture inland to the volcanoes, or further eastward to the villages, we maintained our course to get to the north- most capital of Akureyri.

Day 7 – Akureyri.

This was a highlight of the trip. Throughout the past six days between the ever changing landscapes, we found a few constants – one being the beautiful Icelandic Horses that featured on the many farms and homesteads of the country along the route. Other than the sheep, it was only horses and a few geese that we saw on the farms.

Horseriding was always on the agenda for this  trip, and when we searched for accommodation we also searched for somewhere that offered horse riding.

We settled on Skjaldarvík Guesthouse. This picturesque property offered horseriding and views of the fjords of the north of this magical country.

The Icelandic Horse (which is more of pony size) is also the only breed of horse in Iceland. They are stocky and sturdy – often used for sheep herding. Most of all they are beautiful, and their foals are divine! We must have passed thousands, and they came in all colour combinations. The most beautiful we saw was a chestnut colour with platinum mane and tail, and one that had black front and rear, and all white middle saddle area.

Our daughter, Perissa, enjoyed grooming the horses and riding them along the shore. 

Day 8 saw us turn the corner and head back southwest towards Reykjavic, but first we had scheduled a tour that we knew would be unique. 

After a four hour drive, we arrived in the town of Hussafell – the starting point for our journey up the Langjokull Glacier. At the top we had booked the “Into the Glacier Classic Tour”. As we had the 4WD, we decided to make our own way to the Kaki Base camp to meet the tour guides.

As we headed inland, the landscape began to change again. From rolling hills and green farms came snow capped mountains and gravel terrain, not unlike something from a movie about Mars! We soon found ourselves in 4WD drive mode and crossing a gravel plain. 

After a short drive of 20 minutes, we made it to the base of the Glacier and unloaded, ready for our expedition.

Into the Glacier is a unique experience. We travelled by modified glacier vehicles, through what can only be described as “whitewash” conditions. Bamboo poles poke out of the snow line along the road, so the driver knows where to go. In complete blizzard conditions, the tour operates, but they use GSP to locate the entrance to the tunnel.

After heavy snowfall, the only way to find the man made entrance is via GPS, where the staff then have to shovel the snow from the opening.

The glacier tunnel is a unique man made experience. As you enter the cave, you are taken down to about 25 m below the surface. 

Langjokull Glacier is the second largest in Iceland, and our tour below the surface allowed us to see and experience being inside and observing the magnificent “blue ice” that is buried deep below the surface.

After our tour we re-surfaced to be met with snow falling on the top of the glacier! Magic.

This was the last tour and experience on our round trip of Iceland and it was a great way to finish!

There is so much to see and do in Iceland – too much to fit in one story. If you intend to go in summer, you won’t see the northern lights, but you will be treated to the wonder of nature. 

Story By Louise Beaumont.

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