A Song of Ice and Fire: My Road Trip Around Iceland
Hi internet! I just got back from a 10-day romp around Iceland. My boyfriend and I rented a car and circled the island clockwise, starting and ending at Reyjavik, the capital. It was a blast and I miss it already, even though we just landed yesterday.
This is the first of a three-part blog post series where I provide some snapshots of our experience in Iceland. In this post, I'll be focusing on nature in Iceland. The second and third posts will be about the food we ate and the towns we went to.
The main appeal of Iceland is its incredible nature. The island was formed through volcanic activity relatively recently in Earth history, and it has a really unique landscape as a result. There are lunar volcanic rock landscapes and active volcanoes that erupt regularly; massive glaciers that are mostly melting; beautiful mountains creating fjords on the coasts; thermal pools and geysers; so many waterfalls; and so much more. There are more sheep than people in Iceland and they are everywhere. They are very cute but they sometimes stop in the middle of the road, which we encountered multiple times 😅
We saw so much more than these photos can show but here are some snapshots.
Heading Northeast from Reykjavik
All of Iceland is beautiful, but the Northwest part is the least jaw-dropping. Going around Iceland clockwise was really fortuitous because the road trip kept on getting more and more epic as the nature stepped up its game.
The area around Reyjavik is extremely lunar and desolate, with volcanic rock everywhere, and very few trees. Things started getting more wooded as we headed north and east, even though the country has very few trees all-in-all. When settlers came to Iceland in the late 800s, 25% of the country was forested. Sheep grazing led to massive deforestation, to the point that we were surprised when we saw any forests at all.
Here is a pic of my boyfriend and I at the edge of Grabrok volcanic crater.
We drove to the Skagafjordur peninsula, a peninsulta with a lot of fjords.
Myvatn Lake is a geothermally active lake in north Iceland. It's very beautiful but there are midges literally everywhere and they gravitate toward people. The midges will harrass you so much that it's almost impossible to be outside without face-covering nets.
Below is Hverfjall crater, or as I call it Mount Doom. This is what's left of the volcano that erupted. We hiked up it, and it was one of the hardest hikes I've ever done because it's so sandy.
Here you can see a video of geothermal pools in the Myvatn area, with midges flying in our field of vision.
Near Myvatn Lake is Dettifoss, a scarily powerful waterfall. The water source is the Vatnajokull glacier, which is the largest glacier in Iceland and the second largest glacier in Europe. It holds more water than Lake Victoria.
After Myvatn lake, we headed east to the remote Eastfjords. The Eastfjords were personally my favorite part of Iceland. As the name suggests, Iceland's eastern coast is lined with fjords. The mountains are pretty peculiar as they have layers and are sometimes conical. They really give off a Lord of the Rings vibe to me.
We actually took a wrong turn on our way to our hotel in the Eastjords and accidentally had to drive up and down a very scary mountain, on an unpaved road, in extremely foggy conditions. It was a harrowing experience but the view on the descent was extraordinary. The photo doesn't do it justice.
Driving southward, the fjords petered out and glaciers became much more visible. South Iceland is more touristy than Eastern Iceland and the edges of the Vatnajokull and other glaciers are visible. Most of the glaciers are melting because of climate change. It is heartbreaking to see progress photos of the glaciers rapidly melting over just a decade or two. When the glaciers melt, glacier lakes form, filled with icebergs that broke off the glacier. The water eventually drains through the southern coast to the Atlantic Ocean.
This is Jokulsarlon lake, with the Vatnajokull glacier in the distance.
South of Jokulsarlon lake is Diamond Beach, facing the Atlantic Ocean. It's a black sand beach, with many icebergs.
The next day, we went on a lengthy hike up a glacier east of Vatnajokull glacier. On the way, we saw Svartifoss, a waterfall that is surrounded by black hexagonal basalt columns. This columns form when volcanic rock cools.
At the top, we were able to see the glacier.
Heading east along the Southern coast is more black sand beach, glacier views, and waterfalls.
Here is Skogafoss, a handsome waterfall with a rainbow.
Eventually, we ended up back at Reyjavik and did a small loop to the East. One of the sites is Geysir, the eponym of the word "geyser." It is dormant and erupts really infrequently, but there is a geyser nearby called Strokkur that erupts every 5 to 10 minutes. It was really fun to tensely watch it and wait for it to go off.
Before heading back to Reyjavik and spending our last night there, we headed to Thingvellir National Park, which is where the North American and European tectonic plates are drifting apart, causing a massive rift that is filled by a very deep lake. This is also the location of the first Althing, which is the name of the Icelandic parliamentary body created in 930. The area was really beautiful and peaceful, even though it was rainy and extremely windy.
Please stay tuned as I round out my coverage of the road trip with some snapshots of the food and towns of Iceland.
Thank you for reading!